On this twenty-third day of racing, the atmosphere is still one of close contact sparring in the Vendée Globe 2008-2009, even though the leading group is now sailing in the forties, which is a zone famed for being the windiest on the globe due to the lack of landforms. Relatively spoilt by the weather over the past few hours, the solo sailors are heading towards the Atlantic ice gate, which the frontrunners are set to reach in 36 hours time. Aboard Gitana Eighty, Captain Peyron's birthday feast is but a distant memory and last night's forced ‘gennaker fishing' certainly wasn't an ideal gift…
Although Sébastien Josse is still leading the way around the world, behind him there has been an upset in the hierarchy overnight, with Yann Eliès slipping by into second place which had been held up till then by the monohull equipped by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild. Hard to contact yesterday, this Tuesday proved more favourable for a conversation between Loïck Peyron and Paris Race HQ, and enabled an explanation about nocturnal events at the top of the ranking: “All's well aboard. It's a little like the south… I had a slight issue with my gennaker which got wrapped around the keel last night. It took me a few hours to get myself out of the situation. My sail is intact but I'm going to have to climb to the masthead to change the halyard”. So there we have the reason behind this slight loss of ground; a halyard which is hard to operate and a 300 m² sail, which had to be hauled onto the deck of Gitana Eighty by sheer brute force… All that took a fair old while and zapped the energy so it was only natural, a few hours after this exploit, that the fatigue of the skipper of the monohull in the colours of the LCF Rothschild Group was evident: “I've been in my bunk for a few hours because I really need to rest”. At the same time yesterday, it was the leader Sébastien Josse who admitted to a need to ease off the pace. It has to be said that pole position is certainly an onerous task when the competition is breathing down your neck. Added to that is the impressive series of gybes – seven in 8 hours on Sunday – which can sometimes cause a sailor as talented and honed as he is, to drop off the pace slightly. In conditions like these though, experience is the best guide and should enable Loïck Peyron to regain the energy which very quickly characterises him.
As regards the weather, the leading group is continuing to make headway at the leading edge of a cold front and is reaping the benefits of some downwind conditions of between 20 and 25 knots. Since their entry into the antechamber of the roaring forties and the Deep South itself, the solo sailors have had to make a series of gybes, occasionally going in search of more speed to the south or favouring the direct route in a bid to gain some E'ly separation. It's a change of format today for the skipper of Gitana Eighty as well as his rivals, as they will be able to leave the manœuvres to one side and stick on port tack as far as the Atlantic ice gate. This relatively comfortable digression will enable them to find their marks for Deep South mode: “I've lost a bit of time on the technical details so I'm gradually going to have to get into the southern groove. The crunch is going to be knowing which is the right conduct to adopt as the Vendée Globe is very different to the one I encountered during my previous participation!” Suffice to say straightaway that the technical details Loïck Peyron was alluding to in the daily radio session certainly won't terrify the competition, as these are all part and parcel of daily life for the sailors of these prototypes. Indeed, these latest generation 60 footers are pure technological concentrates.
As a result, the coming hours will be filled by a few slots of rest aboard the monohull in the colours of the LCF Rothschild Group, so as to ensure the skipper is in great shape to tackle the first safety gate. Beyond that the sailors will be on their guard at all moments, the organisation having warned competitors of the presence of icebergs around 500 kilometres after this safety barrier. There is no doubt then… we have reached the south!
At the 1600 hour ranking, Sébastien Josse was still comfortably settled in pole position, though Yann Eliès had clawed back a few miles on him. As for third place, that had gone to Jean-Pierre Dick after he managed to pip Loïck Peyron to the post, the latter now around ten miles astern.
Ranking on 2nd December – 1600 hours (French time)
1. BT (Sébastien Josse) 18,577 miles from the finish
2. Generali (Yann Eliès) 37.7 miles from the leader
3. Paprec Virbac (Jean-Pierre Dick) 56.4 miles
4. Gitana Eighty (Loïck Peyron) 64 miles
5. Veolia Environnement (Roland Jourdain) 65.2 miles
6.PRB (Vincent Riou) 72 miles