The arrival in the disturbed air flow of the southern hemisphere, where the conveyor belt of austral lows circulate one after the other from west to east, has been much awaited by the competitors in the Vendée Globe 2008-2009. This is perfectly understandable given that they have spent the past ten days or so patiently waiting for this day as they battled upwind at virtually 90°to the direct course. However, as everything comes to those who wait, it was on Saturday night that the frontrunners were finally able to hang a left towards the Atlantic ice gate. Since that time the head of the fleet has had to put in a succession of gybes in order to follow the slight shifts in the WNW'ly air flow and make best use of the corridor of wind in the vicinity. “The wind is very changeable. It's oscillating between 22 and 25 knots with peaks at 28 knots. The pace of the swell isn't very organised yet but that'll come” explained Loïck Peyron to set the scene.
In fact, to the north of the fleet, the high pressure of Saint Helena is still looming above them like the Sword of Damocles, whilst to the south, a band of light wind is also beginning to form. This is the reason that the solo sailors are having to put in a series of manœuvres: “We're currently sailing in a band of pressure as the wind is lighter to the north as well as further south. The name of the game right now is to exploit the corridor of wind. I gybe when the wind fluctuates and leads me onto a tack taking me closer to the next mark. This succession of manoeuvres is rather tiring but that's the price you pay to make headway.”
Although the current configuration is only allowing the skipper of Gitana Eighty a small amount of respite, he's nevertheless had time to open the presents deposited on board by his nearest and dearest before the start: “I have a big bag containing a mixture of birthday and Christmas presents. As a result I've opened a few presents today and of particular note was a present from my eldest daughter as well as one from Gitana Team: a small, remote-controlled helicopter!” However, performance is always key and the ship's captain only wanted light presents. This decision was naturally respected and the sailor was very appreciative of this from the latitudes of the forties. Furthermore, on this special day, Loïck Peyron shared with us his pleasure of being back in the southern ocean. “That's it, we've made it here! I haven't been back here since The Race in 2001… There's everything you need: the albatross, the swell… all that's missing is the long sessions of slipping along on a reach as, for the time being, we're not sailing a straight course yet.”
Once again today, at the front of the Vendée Globe fleet, it's all about compromise. Getting yourself far enough south to benefit from a steadier air flow, but not too far south, on pain of losing your credit. Today's winner in this little game is Sébastien Josse. Indeed, at the 1600 hour ranking, the skipper of BT was continuing to lead and had even increased his lead over Loïck Peyron slightly, the British monohull 40 miles ahead. Hot on Gitana Eighty's heels, Yann Eliès is still on the 3rd step of this provisional podium.
Atlantic ice gate ahoy
This year, the race management of the Vendée Globe, headed by Denis Horeau, has opted to set eight safety gates for competitors in this 6th edition. Positioned in the Deep South, these virtual lines of latitude, which the solo sailors will have to respect at a given point, have been devised with a mind to anticipating risk. Indeed they will prevent the sailors from dropping too far south and will thus attempt to minimise any encounters with drifting ice or worse still, icebergs. It should be noted that these gates may be moved according to the results of radar observations performed by CLS Argos. The Atlantic ice gate is located to the south of the tip of Africa, at 42° South and between 01° and 11° East.
Ranking on 1st December – 1600 hours (French time)
1. BT (Sébastien Josse) 19,626 miles from the finish
2. Gitana Eighty (Loïck Peyron) 43.2 miles from the leader
3. Generali (Yann Eliès) 60.7 miles
4. Veolia Environnement (Roland Jourdain) 70.6 miles
5.PRB (Vincent Riou) 73.1 miles