Making for the Doldrums with a relaxed frame of mind
Whilst the solo sailors hone their courses to better negotiate their entry into the Doldrums, the leads and deficits amongst the fleet are constantly changing, as is highlighted by those in the west who have closed on the leaders overnight. As predicted by the skipper of Gitana Eighty, the three escapees –Jean Le Cam, Sébastien Josse and himself – have seen their lead melt and are now feeling the hot breath of the chasing pack on their necks. It is highly likely that their crossing of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone will add a bit more spice to what is already proving to be a hotly contested race to the equator. At the 1600 hour ranking, Loïck Peyron was back in pole position again, which he is exchanging at the mercy of the rankings with Jean Le Cam, positioned further east and hence closer to the direct course.
The ninth night at sea in this Vendée Globe 2008-2009 has been favourable for the chasing pack. This bunching of the fleet is not solely down to lighter winds for those up front but is also due to the direction of this air flow, which according to the skipper of Gitana Eighty has revealed itself to be a lot more north than east: “Unfortunately it was a calm night with less wind than forecast on the grib files, a lot less wind! There were some massive variations, which required me to be on deck a great deal.” Despite this presence up top, this didn't involve the backbreaking sail changes that appeared to be the case for some of the other competitors; Loïck opting instead to save on the difficult manœuvres and keep his energy levels up: “I'm not getting too agitated as regards all that! If it's about switching to another sail immediately afterwards then the appeal of the gains in terms of the effort required aren't attractive enough.” This sentence perfectly sums up one of the keys to the “Peyron method”.
The reduced pace of the ultra-modern 60 footers is certainly beneficial to the rear of the fleet, particularly for the second group still sailing in steady tradewinds. However, after nine days of racing, ten sailors have been able to make good their escape. This is a fairly small lead though on the scale of a round the world and the enlightened sailors know only too well how much easier it is to lose miles as opposed to gaining them. However closing on those in front is always good for morale of course!
Sailing in the middle of the afternoon at 11°16 north, Loïck Peyron is benefiting from weather conditions which are very difficult to comprehend from our European autumn: “It's hot inside Gitana Eighty, especially as I've had to close the forward hatches because it's too wet on deck. It's bearable though as there's not too much sun” explained Loïck Peyron.
During the traditional radio session with the race HQ, the background noise left listeners in no doubt: the monohull in the colours of the LCF Rothschild Group had found air again and was making the most of the conditions to slip along once more; a fact confirmed by Gitana Eighty's speed at the 1600 hour ranking. But for how long? According to the various grib files, which have been finding it very hard to agree with each other over recent days, the headache has only just begun!: “I'm sailing in the traditional way by setting myself points and closing on the wind I find on the water.I'm not forgetting to keep an eye on my little friends during all that though” the sailor from La Baule says reassuringly.
From this evening or tonight onwards, the solo sailors are likely to feel the initial effects of the Doldrums, with storm squalls potentially livening things up in the middle of the North Atlantic.
Back at the head of the fleet this afternoon, the monohull equipped by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild had a 22.5 mile lead over his loyal rival, the 60 footer skippered by Jean Le Cam, whilst Sébastien Josse was holding onto his podium place with a 38.7 mile deficit on Loïck Peyron. “I'm happy where I am! There are those who are worse off than me and… when you're ahead, you're ahead!” concluded a rested Loïck Peyron, ready to face up to the whims of the Doldrums.
Ranking on Tuesday 18th November – 1600 hours (French time)
1. Gitana Eighty (Loïck Peyron) 21,357 miles from the finish
2. VM Matériaux (Jean Le Cam) 22.5 miles from the leader
3. BT (Sébastien Josse) 38.7 miles
4. Paprec Virbac (Jean-Pierre Dick) 48.5 miles
5. Brit Air (Armel Le Cléac'h) 61 miles