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Vendee Globe: Decision time for the fleet as storm conditions loom

Vendee Globe

Heading west this afternoon and encountering building winds, skippers of the many of the faster foiling IMOCAs are preparing themselves for an overnight pounding, set to last five or six hours, when they punch through an active weather front which is forecast to bring them 40 knot gusts and big seas.

The reward for looking after their boats and themselves as best they can tonight will be some faster, albeit bumpy miles in a more direct, southerly direction.

While 30 year old Les Sables d’Olonne hometown hero Benjamin Dutreux tops the afternoon classifications due to his more southerly position, some 50 miles north west of the Ria de Vigo on the Galician coast, so also Nico Troussel on the new Juan K IMOCA 60 Corum L’Épargne has broken away from the other foilers and taken this southerly option which is considered to be safer.

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Dutreux on OMIA-Water Family (which was built in Cowes as BT), Troussel, Maxime Sorel (V and B – Mayenne) and Jean Le Cam have led a southerly pack inside the Cape Finisterre TSS (traffic separation scheme exclusion zone).

Troussel’s option may be related to taking a more conservative safe option, sailing more miles but with the benefit of less severe winds, to safeguard his boat which is in its first race. But the 46-year old double La Solitaire du Figaro champion was renowned in the world of the Figaro for taking flyers away from the fleet and often coming out smelling of roses. Such gambles and big gains gave rise to rise to the expression ‘doing a Troussel’.

Troussel was lying fourth on the afternoon standings, almost 100 miles south east of rivals Jérémie Beyou (Charal), Charlie Dalin (Apivia) and the hard driving Kevin Escoffier on the older PRB who is just seven and a half miles off Beyou’s leeward quarter.

The worst of the conditions will be tonight between 0200hrs and 0300hrs for this foiling peloton with average wind speeds above 30 knots and gusts over 40 knots, but by the morning they should be able to tack into the northwesterly wind and make faster miles down the track, albeit still in bumpy seas.

Nothing comes easily on the Vendee Globe and after breaking across a ridge of high pressure the next big question for this group especially will be dealing with Theta – a tropical storm which crosses their path between Thursday and Friday (the 13th!).

Routings today show a possible timing which would allow these quickest boats to pass the west side of it in the northwesterly wind, but this system is evolving rapidly and being caught in its path is worth avoiding.

After that, the trade winds are still not established and current timings to the equator are some three days behind the record of 9 days 7 hours set by Alex Thomson who led the 2016 race across into the south Atlantic.

“You have to be wise. This is not where the Vendée Globe is won, but this is where it can get lost,” says Damien Seguin on the Vendee Live program this midday. The Paralympic champion was speaking after diving to free a fishing net which was caught on the keel of his boat.

“I know that taking the southern option would maybe position me well for the short term and the gain is still there and it is a nice surprise to still be doing well close to the Galician coastline.

“Jean Le Cam and I crossed paths yesterday, and today again, it is great. We spent quite a lot of time together when preparing for the race at the boat shed and now we are here again here crossing paths.

“I feel fine after my dive this morning. I am dry and have had some food and a nap. Now I am going to tidy the boat a bit and then going to get another nap in to prepare for the storm tonight. We have had an intensive start to the race with lots of manoeuvres and we have to take care. It is not here that you will win the race, but you can lose it.”

In the meantime, Arnaud Boissières successfully scaled the mast of his La Mie Caline to free his halyard hook and release his trapped gennaker, a welcome relief for the Les Sables d’Olonne skipper on his fourth successive Vendée Globe.

Having had a composite expert add an additional pad and repair the hairline crack at the top of his mast Fabrice Amedeo is expected to head back out to restart at the Nouch buoy this evening.

“The the plan is to leave this evening around 22:15 to rejoin the race, well to start really as we never really got going before!” said Amedeo.

La Fabrique skipper Alan Roura reported in confessing that the upcoming weather was none too appealing from his point of view:

“It looks like being pretty nasty out here this evening and there could well be some damage in the fleet,” Roura said. “I have got everything prepared with sails ready. The deck has been cleaned up and everything inside is tidy. Aboard the boat, everything is fine.

“I have managed to get some sleep. I haven’t eaten much, but I have been drinking a lot and I feel better. I’ll try to send you some videos and photos between now and this evening – if I manage it.”

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