Vendee Globe: A portmanteau and ‘gunslinging uncles’, what's next?

Armel Le Cleach’h (FRA) / Banque Populaire -
© Armel Le Cléac'h / Banque Populaire
In the Vendee Globe, like many close relationships, the two French leaders are close to earning their own portmanteau: Gabac’h perhaps. Although, Armel has led the race for more days and may prefer Cléart, or if he is going the Brangelina route, Armois.

After 36 days and 13,000 miles at sea there were just 40.2 miles separating Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) from the leader Francois Gabart (Macif) yesterday morning. Le Cléac’h had clawed back 10 miles overnight as they sail their almost identical boats on an almost identical track into the Furious Fifties, a thousand miles south of Australia. Closer than any other boats in the fleet, the will spend their sixth Sunday together.

While the French shops are open this Sunday, exceptionally for Christmas, there are no days of rest in the Vendée Globe, especially for the dynamic duo. They slowed – albeit only to 15-16 knots - overnight in shifty conditions and Jean-Pierre Dick, after his black Friday, may see a chance of closing the 500-mile gap to the front that opened so suddenly. Dick was the third boat across Cape Leeuwin and will be watching closely for where the two in front make their tactical gybe north for the East Australia Gate.

VENDEE GLOBE 2012/2013 - ATLANTIC SEA / SOUTH EQUATOR - 27/11/2012 - PHOTO FRANCOIS GABART / MACIF - DAWN
© François Gabart / MACIF
500 miles north of Dick, Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) and Bernard Stamm (Cheminées Poujoulat), in fourth and fifth place, are another pair. They will cross the Cape Leeuwin longitude next and have a window to win back some of the miles they lost. They may finally get some benefit from what has been a difficult relationship with what was Cyclone Claudia. Thomson was averaging the best speed of the fleet – 21 knots – in the last four hours before the 0800 UTC ranking. Stamm, just to his north-west, was the second fastest, making 19 knots.

Their passage is not clear, the wind looks to be veering west today and they both have repairs to make but an 800-mile deficit is far from insurmountable with more than half the globe left.

Javier Sansó (Acciona 100% EcoPowered) is now semi-officially part of what at least one French writer is calling the ‘Gunslinging Uncles’. It is a broad term because there is over 400 miles and much ocean between their different tracks. But it does reflect Sansó’s gains in the last 36 hours and the fact that all four of these experienced campaigners are still in the hunt for podium places.

The first of their number, Jean Le Cam (SynerCiel), in sixth, was flying again this morning, averaging 18.5 knots over the last four hours, but Mike Golding (Gamesa) has had another frustrating night, twisting and turning south. There is a low pressure system almost on him but he still seems to be waiting for the benefit that Sansó had from it.

Dominique Wavre (Mirabaud), the fourth uncle, after his own black Friday, has been averaging 17 knots and was back to almost 100 miles in front of Sansó. But Wavre is further north and Sansó has the ideal track to the West Australia Gate.

'The last 24 hours and definitely all this last night, have been more entertaining...,…' Sanso wrote in his latest night message. 'Stacking, sail changes, three reefs 50.3 knots, five gybes. Well I'm pretty tired and need to rest and eat well and look after myself. A bit soggy today, I've been soaked several times ...I did not expect that the front would be so windy down here but we have to give 20% more to the wind so you can catch it's fingers....'

With nearly 4,000 miles between the first and the last, there are many different races within races in different weather systems now. Alessandro di Benedetto (Team Plastique) is the first to taste the new systems that move from west to east across the fleet. He has some 25 southwesterlies on the menu today with an early lunch at the Crozet gate. Bon appétit Alessandro.

Vendee Globe website