The sole British skipper in the solo round the world race has made impressive speeds since breaking the appendage on November 19, not only holding off the attack from second-placed Armel Le Cléac'h but also setting a new race record from Les Sables d'Olonne to the Cape of Good Hope of under 18 days. But after gybing just before midnight UTC, around 12 hours after passing into the Southern Ocean, he was able to deploy his remaining intact foil and boost Hugo Boss to speeds of more than 20 knots.
The speedo didn't stay there for long however as Thomson ran into the back of a front, blocking his path to the next low pressure train moving east. The duel between Thomson and Banque Populaire VIII skipper Le Cléac'h, raging since the November 6 start, is set to continue with the latter opting for a more southerly position to Thomson's route. With the forecast uncertain for the coming 24 hours it is a lottery as to which skipper will be at the front of the fleet tomorrow.
“It's going to be a bit shifty for the next 24 hours - it's not entirely clear what's going to happen,” Thomson said. “I've got light winds ahead of me and I'm bumping into a little front that passed me last night. I'm just trying to sail as best and as quickly as I can east. There's slightly more wind to the north so I'm favouring that slightly but our routings probably have Banque Populaire and I ending up in the same position.”
Seb Josse, the only other sailor to pass the Cape of Good Hope, today slipped to 290nm behind the frontrunners and must now wait for a depression forming to the south east of his position to scoop him up. Now in a completely different weather system to the leading pair, fourth-placed Paul Meilhat on SMA and Jérémie Beyou on Maître CoQ were still a day away from the longitude of the Cape of Good Hope. Being several days behind the pacesetters hasn't dampened sixth-placed Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir skipper Yann Eliès' desire to finish on the podium.
“We all know that in the Vendée Globe you have to be fast, but you also have to finish,” he said. “I can remember how, in the 2008 Vendée, Armel finished second while a month before the finish he was back in fifth place. I know that it can be done.”
The chasing trio of Jean-Pierre Dick, Jean Le Cam and Thomas Ruyant were the fastest in the fleet this afternoon with speeds cresting 19 knots. Dick, who finished fourth in the 2012/13 Vendée Globe, said he was determined to keep his boat StMichel Virbac at full throttle and his dreams of winning the race alive. “I’m not some old geezer out here for fun,” he said. “I am trying to attack.” More than a day behind there was a race within a race between six boats from Louis Burton's 11th-placed Bureau Vallée to Nandor Fa's Spirit of Hungary in 16th all split by less than 70nm.
Tune into the Vendee Globe Live show from 1200 UTC tomorrow for all the action from the race course, and expert analysis from sailing journalist Justin Chisholm.
Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss): “It's not always foiling conditions. I'm not always going fast enough to be able to use it. I'll be on starboard until about 4.30am or 5am and then I'll be back on port. There's not going to be much on starboard for the next 10 days so I have to make the most of it now."
Conrad Colman (Foresight Natural Energy): “I've recently had a few wiggles in my route – one was when I had to bear away to climb the mast to replace some crucial lashing, and another one I had to luff up to get round a huge storm cloud. Going up the mast is the worst job to do onboard the mast. It's really scary, it's really dangerous. You're 100ft or 30 metres up in the air, so the slightest movement of the boat or the smallest wave sends the tip of the mast swinging through an enormous arc and the thing that's really tricky is there's no-one here to help us climb to the top. We have to climb up a tensioned rope using two climbing handles but that requires two hands to do the job, so we're swinging freely. You can hit the mast easily so I was climbing with a helmet on because I've previously hit my head against the mast. Every time I come down I'm heavily bruised because of the violent movement at the top. You're having to hang on to the spreaders for dear life while getting thrown round like a rag doll. There's no way to come down without bruises unfortunately.”
Yann Eliès, Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir: “I think Morgan’s decision understandable. The pace set by the 7 frontrunners hasn’t given them any respite. Maybe if he could have taken advantage of a few days with more relaxing conditions, he could have recharged his batteries and would have seen things differently. That crazy pace for 17 days, damage and retirement… it’s not surprising he is feeling down. Morgan is someone, who says what he thinks. It’s not the first time he has said how hard it is to sail on these boats. That hasn’t stopped him from doing really well. I think it’s great that people say what’s on their mind. Morgan has shown that he has what it takes to win and will be back in four years from now.
Jean-Pierre Dick (StMichel Virbac): “It was a busy night with winds strengthening and changing direction. It was fairly tiring. Not much sunshine. The sky is very dark in some of the squalls. We’re going to have to gybe a few hundred miles before the Cape of Good Hope. After that we’ll be entering the Southern Ocean with a SW’ly wind. I’m determined to keep the speed up and stay in the race. Some boats have been forced to retire. That’s not something to be pleased about, but it does mean we move up the rankings. I’d like to get back up with the leaders. I’m not some old geezer out here for fun. I am trying to attack.”
Romain Attanasio, Famille Mary – Etamine du Lys: “We have had fine conditions for a few days now. I’m doing the Vendée Globe, so I’m happy. It is just that it’s a bit too hot. I’ve been stacking for the gybe that is coming up and after half an hour, I was covered in sweat. I’m trying to sail calmly and look after the boat. There are times when I say to myself, ‘wake up, Romain, you’re in a race’, but I don’t want to take any risks. The Southern Ocean is eight days away. I’m looking forward to that.” (www.vendeeglobe.org)