Friday the 13th might be unlucky for some, but not for British skipper Alex Thomson who has pulled back 76 crucial miles on Vendée Globe leader Armel Le Cléac’h in the last 24 hours.
Thomson revealed yesterday that in order to stand a chance of overhauling French skipper Le Cléac’h before the finish of the solo round the world race he must get to within 50 miles of him in the next few days. At the 1100 UTC position report yesterday Thomson’s Hugo Boss was 227 miles adrift of Le Cléac’h’s Banque Populaire VIII as the pair passed to the west of the Cape Verde Islands. At the same time today that deficit was down to 151 miles as light winds forced Le Cléac’h to slow to just three knots, almost four times slower than Thomson’s 11.9 knots. Thomson too will see speeds drop as he hits the dead spot but with several days of light-wind sailing ahead before stronger south-easterlies fill in near the Azores even the smallest of gains were welcome.
Off the Canaries, the two frontrunners are on the edge of a low-pressure cell, which has completely modified the situation from what we usually see in the North Atlantic. The trade winds are being shut off and remain very light at this latitude and around the Tropic of Cancer, while the Azores high is building over Madeira. The two leaders therefore have at least 300 miles of sailing before they pick up a stronger SE’ly breeze. “The models are beginning to agree. I’m seven days from the finish and the latest ETA has me arriving early on the morning of 19th but that could change… There are several different weather patterns to get through before the finish. We’ll be getting light easterly winds to the Azores for two or three days, and then stronger winds with a high pushing us along towards the Bay of Biscay. We’ll then have a light transition zone before finishing upwind,” Armel Le Cléac’h told his shore team yesterday afternoon.
This clearly shows that the battle is still on, as the two leaders have to get around the Azores high, which is gradually moving towards the east and then the NE. They will only be on the home strait via the tip of Brittany after struggling with a ridge of high pressure 400 miles from the finish. We can imagine the gap between the two being reduced. Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire VIII) and Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) should be able to finish in a moderate NE’ly wind along the coast of Brittany and down to Vendée. It looks like there will not be a huge gap between them at the finish in Les Sables d’Olonne.