Belting along, whilst there's breeze
For the past 24 hours, Alex Thomson and Sébastien Josse have posted the best average speeds of the fleet: 18.7 knots for Hugo Boss and 18.4 knots for Edmond de Rothschild. These two foilers are slipping along in what is still a steady NE'ly trade wind, though it is set to ease over the coming hours, heralding their proximity to the doldrums, which is sprawled across their path straight ahead. Since the start of the weekend, there has been a certain amount of reshuffling of the hierarchy among the leaders. Indeed, following on from his passage through the Cape Verde archipelago, at 17:00 GMT on Saturday, Alex Thomson took back control of the fleet from Armel Le Cléac'h, currently lying in third place. Constant in his westerly separation, a position initiated on Wednesday level with Gibraltar, Sébastien Josse remains unshakeable. The skipper of the five-arrow racing stable has moved up into fourth place, making good speed, confident in his decisions.
What a week that was!
Last Sunday, the solo sailors were leaving Les Sables d'Olonne. The race had only just begun and yet, just seven days on, the head of the fleet is already sailing in the tropics, with the doldrums and the equator in their line of sight. Despite the high pressure zones slowing progress off Morocco and then the slightly late arrival of the trade winds, the hulls are powering through the miles. Madeira, the Canaries and Cape Verde, these Atlantic lands, all too familiar to offshore racers, are now behind the first third of the fleet. Aboard the Mono60 Edmond de Rothschild, Sébastien Josse has opted to distance himself from all these islands and their wind shadows. Adopting a fairly similar approach, Vincent Riou has also stuck to the outside track, whilst Armel Le Cléac'h had to put in some manœuvres yesterday to round the easternmost Portuguese archipelago. In this leading pack, the most extreme skipper is unquestionably Alex Thomson, who passed between Santo Antão and Santo Vicente. This radical option has enabled him to snatch back the reins from Armel Le Cléac'h, who had been leading the way since Monday.
Offshore of Africa, it will be as if a lead weight is upon them over the coming hours. Indeed, as the solo sailors reach 10° North, they'll have to put in a series of manœuvres to ensure they maintain a maximum amount of speed in a trade wind that is set to drop to around twelve knots as it takes on a bit of E'ly. The rhythm will ease again as they close on the famous Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone, christened the doldrums. Positioned above the equator, this region is where the winds of the northern and southern hemispheres come together, which is accompanied by squalls that are often violent. In the satellite images, the situation appears to be unequivocal. Despite being heralded as fairly inactive three days ago the doldrums has now clearly fleshed out somewhat. Indeed, it has stretched and widened, with lines of squalls highly visible in the sky. As a result, each of the competitors is seeking to line himself up as best he can; the corridor between 25° and 30°W appearing to be favourable. The hardest part is yet to come then for the sailors, who are naturally marked by the drag race already played out in the trade winds, which will soon give way to a war of nerves in the tropical storms.
Ranking on 13 November at 14:00 GMT
1 - Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) 22,002 miles from the finish
2 - Vincent Riou (PRB) 35.4 miles astern of the leader
3 - Armel Le Cleac'h (Banque Populaire VIII) 37.7 miles astern
4 - Sébastien Josse (Edmond de Rothschild) 43.6 miles astern
5 - Jérémie Beyou (Maître CoQ) 64.4 miles astern
6 - Morgan Lagravière (Safran) 96.3 miles astern
7 - Paul Meilhat (SMA) 103.3 miles astern
8 - Yann Eliès (Groupe Gueguiner - Leucémie Espoir) 181.3 miles astern