With 870 miles and around 48 hours to go before the arrival of Gitana 11 in Pointe à Pitre, the race is still far from being over and Lionel Lemonchois, although unruffled with more than a hundred-mile lead over his friend and competitor, Pascal Bidégorry, is constantly checking in his rear-view mirror. The “buffer zone” has been growing gradually with the passing hours, as the gaps stabilise and the stable weather conditions forecast all the way to Guadeloupe make a reversal of the situation increasingly unlikely. Especially as Lionel Lemonchois is gliding over an almost direct route towards the finish and his rivals are aligned on the same trajectory to the nearest few dozen miles. With the exception of Yvan Bourgnon, who was the first to gybe on Friday and is therefore well to the east of the leader: he will have to realign himself with the route via a new gybe that could cost him very dear, to the point of seeing Thomas Coville, or even Franck Cammas, pinch fourth place from him…
In fact, the only uncertain parameter remaining at this stage of the race is the rounding of Guadeloupe, which requires the soloists to go around the island via the west, passing beneath the wind of the La Souffrière volcano (1467 metres) to change tack at a mark off the shore of the town of Basse-Terre. Even in taking the bend very wide to avoid the wind effects of the volcanic relief, it will be necessary at one moment or the other to head towards the shore and pass from an established north-easterly fifteen-knot breeze to erratic and low winds. Leads can melt away very rapidly in these circumstances, which is not good for the nerves or the ranking… But 120 miles at twenty knots gives a margin of six hours. Lionel Lemonchois is perfectly aware that he needs to at least maintain this lead over his pursuers and consequently alternate between rest, analysis of the trajectories, and accelerations at the helm.
Lionel Lemonchois (Gitana 11) at 07:30 UT:
“Things are starting to heat up on board: for two days, the temperature has been gradually rising and so there are hot sweats in the middle of the tropical night. There are no squalls but a stable 15-knot wind on a flat sea. Pascal Bidégorry has taken advantage to make up ten miles on me in four hours, which I'm not too thrilled about! I'm sailing mainly on automatic pilot and sleeping as much as possible but I'm going to have to change tactics because Pascal needs constant scrutiny… He must be at the helm and I need to watch him very closely as there's still 870 miles left to cover! He's definitely the biggest threat, as Yvan Bourgnon gybed earlier on Friday and has found himself in the wind, Michel Desjoyeaux is on my route but 190 miles back, while Pascal is only 120 miles away but in my wind. This will be clearer at noon today but all the evidence suggests he'll be the one to watch … I came across Ocean Alchemist, Olivier de Kersauson's motor boat, and as I was at the helm, I took the opportunity to show off a bit: the wind was rising and I was going to switch to staysail, but I waited a little for the image and the sheer fun of it. Gitana 11 handles really nicely and sailing her in the middle of the ocean with the central hull showing on the surface of the water, on a smooth sea, makes for a really nice flying sensation! Ahead, the weather conditions appear to be stable with a north-easterly wind of fifteen knots all the way to Guadeloupe. No squalls, no wind shifts, and I should arrive before a small area of low pressure forms, which will probably hinder those who are 300 miles behind… In terms of my physical condition, things are gong well as I've been able to sleep and recharge my batteries over recent hours. But I'm starting to get a bit impatient to finish! It's not so much weariness, as for the last few days it's been quite warm and fairly absorbing on the water with harsher conditions, but now with fifteen knots of wind compared with 20-25 knots before, it's obviously less exciting… Especially when you're going in the same direction for 48 hours! There's just the rounding of Guadeloupe left : I know the area a bit and it's better to arrive there at night. I don't yet know when I'll land at Pointe à Pitre, but at this pace, it should be Monday morning!”
Whereas for the group of pursuers within 350 miles of the leader the weather situation should not change too radically, it risks being a whole different story for those behind them: Alain Gautier, then Claude Thélier, Thierry Duprey du Vorsent and Antoine Koch are going to have to contend with at least one area of low pressure coming from the Antilles and with an eastern wave arriving from Africa... Apart from the fact that these trimarans could face a headwind, the trade winds will be broken up for several days! This is therefore going to result in a clear slowing down of this group, which is already two days behind the leader. Having said that, they could still beat the record time set by Laurent Bourgnon between Saint-Malo and Pointe-à-Pitre (12d 08h 41' 06''), but that's by no means certain… As for Steve Ravussin, still stopped at Horta (Azores) to change his central rudder, this change in the weather is not going to help his completion of the course. But Thierry Duprey du Vorsent on Gitana 12 still has a chance of gaining ground on Claude Thélier before the finish, as he's only a hundred or so miles ahead of him. Thierry needs to take maximum advantage of the beam wind still blowing between the Azores and the Antilles at over twenty-five knots…
Thierry Duprey du Vorsent (Gitana 12) at 07:00 UT:
“After spending Thursday night under squalls, lightning and thunder, Gitana 12 spent yesterday sailing in a cross sea with a north-easterly swell! The sea was very short as when the bows were in a wave, the next one was already right behind us and pushing us wickedly… And all this with a 20-23-knot north-easterly wind. And at the end of the morning, I got a bit of a fright: I had mainsail up with one reef and solent jib, when the boat planted her floats and central hull right up to the cross arms when coming down from a wave. I was at the helm and I tried to release the solent jib but the sheet didn't slide on the winch head. Consequently, Gitana 12 was not in a very standard situation… I cut down, in a slightly extreme fashion, to two reefs and staysail, so I was advancing a lot slower but while I lost ground on my comrades, I was at least able to rest and sleep. Last night, the sea started to flatten out and we only had the much longer northerly swell. However, the wind is now stronger with 25-27 knots and squalls of 32-35 knots… I've still got two reefs and staysail up but I'll soon be able to bring down at least one reef.”