Boisterous conditions at the midway mark
Having set sail last Sunday, the head of the fleet competing in the Transat New York - Vendée passed the symbolic midway mark in the race last night after a little over four days at sea. At the front of the pack from the opening miles, Sébastien Josse is lying in 3rd place this Friday afternoon with Briton Alex Thomson leading the way. The hierarchy of recent days does not appear to have changed, but the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild and his travelling companion Maître Coq have now begun to close on the front runner. Indeed, yesterday Hugo Boss opened up a sizeable lead of over 100 miles at the 21:00 GMT ranking. However, this Friday, Gitana 16 was making the most of the more manageable conditions to make up nearly 60% of her deficit. At 14:00 GMT, the monohull fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild was just 40 miles shy of the leader.
Beyond the images, it's the sound that draws one's attention. In a video sent back to shore before he hit the powerful front he's currently negotiating, Sébastien Josse shared a sunset viewed from the cockpit of the Mono60 Edmond de Rothschild. From within this pod, the skipper keeps watch over his boat as if waiting for milk to boil. The hull swallows up a wave with a shrill whistling sound linked to the keel and the foils, a sound the skipper is having to learn to endure. Above his head, a cathedral of sail looms under a grey, threatening sky. As forecast, the wind has since picked up, reaching 35 to 40 knots in the gusts over the past few hours and, suffice to say, with the associated sea state, the average speeds match the effort put in.
With a view to the Vendée Globe, the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild was keen to race in conditions similar to those likely to be encountered in the Round the World so as to see how he and the boat measure up. After four days of racing, this return transatlantic sprint from the United States has certainly fulfilled the brief. At the edge of this deep, powerful low, Sébastien Josse's game plan is playing out as he wanted. He's endeavouring to remain conservative in the strategic risk taking, whilst maintaining an average speed that has seen him battling in the top trio since the start. That said, this would not have been possible without the skipper laying himself open and pushing back some of his limits. In fact, the sailor freely admits that sleeping on these boats and in these conditions is a real challenge!, tempering that statement with ultimately the body gets used to anything and saying that he feels nicely in synch and in harmony with the machine.
Heading towards a general bunching up of the fleet in the Bay of Biscay
Day after day, night after night, Sébastien Josse moves from the cockpit to the chart table, his senses and his powers of concentration working at full bore. Last night the anemometer was spinning. Right now, the skipper is sailing in sustained breeze to the South of a very active zone of low pressure; conditions that the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild will have to contend with throughout the weekend.
However, the fleet is heading towards a spell of considerably improved weather conditions, with almost the reverse scenario a few miles from the finish as the home straight is set to see the pace slow. Contacted this morning by his team, the skipper described the situation: We currently have 35 knots of established breeze, which is a little more than forecast. There is also a three-metre swell but the seas are well organised. It's rather pleasant for now. Last night the seas were a lot choppier and I stalled in the waves on occasion, which is always very full-on as the boat really takes a hammering. I've had up to 40 knots of breeze, but the strongest winds are behind us now.
Still leading the way since 04:00 GMT on Tuesday morning, Alex Thomson, the furthest North of the fleet, has lost a little ground. Jérémie Beyou, 2nd, and Sébastien Josse, 3rd, are continuing to sail similar trajectories on an intermediate course, but the whole physiognomy of the race could be about to change. Between the exit from this low and making landfall in Europe, a ridge of high pressure will scoop them up along with a large number of their rivals positioned further to the South: We're set to gybe this afternoon. The westerly wind will continue to be strong for a few long hours after this gybe and then it will ease to around 20 knots as it backs round to the South, explains Sébastien. In the latest grib files, the situation for the end of the race appears less complicated but however things play out, we'll have to get past a ridge of high pressure with some light airs over the last few miles. The weather will favour the pursuers and the various routing options predict that just about all of us will bunch up together against in the Bay of Biscay! We'll have to remain focused right the way to the finish line and be opportunistic.
As a result, the war of nerves is far from over as things are shaping up for a restart at the end of the weekend or early next week. The first competitors are expected in Les Sables d'Olonne on Tuesday or Wednesday if the proposed weather patterns prove reliable.
Transat New York - Vendée, position report on Friday 3 May at 14:30 GMT
1- Alex Thomson - Hugo Boss (UK) 1,319.8 miles from the finish
2- Jérémie Beyou - Maitre Coq (France) 38.3 miles behind the leader
3- Sébastien Josse - Edmond de Rothschild (France) 40.9 miles behind the leader
4- Paul Meilhat - SMA (France) 198.7 miles back
5- Tanguy de Lamotte - Initiatives Cœur (France) 201.9 miles back
6- Vincent Riou - PRB (France) 375.2 miles back
7- Kojiro Shiraishi - Spirit of Yukoh (Japon) 394.7 miles back
8- Fabrice Amedeo - Newrest Matmut (France) 529.1 miles back
9- Jean-Pierre Dick - St Michel-Virbac (France) 1,283 miles back
10- Yann Eliès - Queguiner-Leucemie Espoir (France) 1,302.5 miles back
11- Conrad Colman - 100 % Natural Energy (New Zealand - USA) 1,309 miles back
12- Morgan Lagravière - Safran (France) 1,310.7 miles back
13- Pieter Heerema - No Way Back (Holland) 1,319.8 miles back
Retired - Armel Le Cléac'h - Banque Populaire VIII