Vendee Globe - Gabart regains lead from Le Cléac’h + Video

Francois Gabart, Macif - 2012 Vendee Globe
Vincent Curutchet / DPPI / Vendée Globe ©
In the Vendee Globe, from the delicious, unprecedented duel between François Gabart and Armel Le Cléac’h at the head of the fleet, sliding east towards Cape Horn 2400 miles ahead of them, right back to Italy’s 13th placed Alessandro Di Benedetto still 750 miles to the south and west of Australia’s Cape Leeuwin, the main focus of the day has been to just get through it incident free.

Speaking to home, family and friends, at Christmas is but a small bonus along the way, snatched when the weather allows, but several skippers today admitted they were simply appreciative that they are still going whilst other skippers who abandoned their race earlier would still gladly trade their place at their Yuletide fireside to be still racing in the Vendée Globe.


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For the last eleven days, or 4000 or so miles, the weather advantage has very much been gifted to the leading pair Gabart and Le Cléac’h. From the sublime fast moving frontal conditions which allowed Gabart to set a new 24 hours distance record days ago, even to their superior positioning which allowed them to stay with the system as their rivals successively tumbled off its back, the leaders have had the best of the winds.

But now, as a problematic low pressure trough develops ahead of Gabart and Le Cléac’h – essentially a confused tropical low pressure arriving from the north which will derail the leaders’ low pressure train – there might be the chance for the hard driving, vastly experienced Jean-Pierre Dick to take a bite out of the 478 miles deficit that the skipper of Virbac-Paprec 3 finds himself with.

Gabart and Le Cléac’h have the option to divert north to avoid the active trough, almost certainly losing miles to their pursuers, or to tough it out and try and punch through the knowing that there is the distinct possibility of becoming trapped and only being able to sail at the speed of the system.

And, indeed there, is the chance that the dynamic duo may each choose different options and finally split apart.

'I don’t think that I can be together with François and Armel at Cape Horn but my goal is to be maximum 200-300 miles behind. That is a lot, but, hey, anything can happen. You have to remember the example of Michel Desjoyeaux and Ellen MacArthur. And I feel like I still have some shots to play and I just hope I can.' the animated Jean-Pierre Dick reported earnestly today.

In the 2000-1 race which ended in Michel Desjoyeaux’s first win, the French skipper was more than 600 miles ahead of MacArthur who ultimately closed up in the South Atlantic to trade places back and forth with Desjoyeaux in the Doldrums.

While Dick had to give back some 10 miles of an initial Christmas gain of 53 miles as the leaders moved into the night, Virbac-Paprec 3 has been conclusively the quickest of the fleet over the last 24 hours. That said Gabart has stamped down on the accelerator in the early hours of his Boxing Day morning (Europe’s afternoon) to re-take the race lead by 2.1 miles from his long time adversary Le Cléac’h. The skipper from Nice, who finished sixth in the 2004-5 race, well knows the vagaries that the South Atlantic and retains his strong fighting spirit. Similarly Britain’s Alex Thomson, condemned to a Christmas of radio silence due to his lack of electrical power remains in good shape in fourth. Meantime Bernard Stamm, fighting his own past, was closing to Dunedin this evening where he is expected to continue his hydrogenerator repairs.

It might be cultural differences or perhaps a simple reflection of their diverse psychological approaches but rivals Jean Le Cam, now fifth, and Mike Golding seventh, displayed a markedly different attitude to Christmas Dinner. For the British skipper the delicacies packed by his team and family were set to stay on hold awaiting a better spell of weather, whilst Le Cam, whose partner runs a restaurant in Port La Fôret, made the clear point that he felt that no weather was going to come between him and his Ris de Veau and a good Bordeaux wine.

Jean Le Cam, Synerciel - 2012 Vendee Globe

'It is a fun part of everyday life and if we don’t have that pleasure then life is sad. It is part of the psychological balance. Jean Le Cam, psychology and food, I’ll write a book. Food is important for your mindset. To feel good in your skin you have to eat,' laughed Le Cam.

'I had nothing special,' admitted Golding, 'it is a bit boisterous, I had a readymade meal ready, but haven't attempted that it will wait until conditions are a little less dicey. I have opened some Christmas presents. The ones that shake and rattle like sweets, I've opened those, and the square and heavy ones that I know will be a book, I'll wait for! I haven't done anything properly and waiting for a calmer period to enjoy it more.'

After the top six, the chasing group have had a windy Christmas courtesy of a tough depression which has descended from the Australian latitudes. At the back of the system, Golding, Dominique Wavre (Mirabaud) and Javier Sanso (Acciona 100% Eco Powered) they have stayed to the north seeking to gain with more favourable winds. And behind them, on another system in the Indian Ocean Arnaud Boissieres (Akena Verandas) Bertrand de Broc (Votre Nom Autour du Monde avec EDM Projects) and Tanguy De Lamotte (Initiatives Coeur) have all had a good Christmas, blessed with brisk winds whilst Alessandro Di Benedetto (Team Plastique) is settling in for a powerful depression which is due to give him winds of more than 35-40kts.


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Mike Golding, GBR, Gamesa: The weather it looks pretty consistent, the only thing is that right now we are not doing what the file says we should be doing, but the file is indicating quite a lot of consistent breeze, it is all behind us, which is frustrating, so not necessarily pointing straight at the mark which is disappointing. It would be nice to settle on one gybe and have a few good days of good mileage without any problems.

Jean-Pierre Dick (FRA, Virbac Paprec 3): There is still some wind, but less than a few hours ago. It’s dark night outside. Things come and go. I manage to come back a bit.I don’t think we’ll get to Cape Horn together at the same time. My objective is to arrive 200 miles after the first ones. I thing I still have a card to play. I hope I’ll be able to play it, either in the Pacific or in the Atlantic. I could call my family yesterday. It was great even if here it’s not exactly what you can hope for at Christmas. I dont see much wildlife But I have seen dolphins and even a whale which almost touched my boat.

François Gabart (FRA, Macif): Merry Christmas! I’m fine. It’s dark night outside. It’s a little complicated but I’m still sailing fast so I won’t complain. I didn’t see Armel passing in front of me.The game is still great. I believe the gates bring more technical things and increase the strategy. The weather conditions are still interesting.

Dominique Wavre (SW, Mirabaud): My Christmas dinner was really good. It’s important for the morale. It allows me to think about your family. Thinking that everyone is doing the same thing at the same time allows you to keep your mind grounded. At the moment I have 25 knots. The sea is chaotic with waves coming and going in many different directions. The wind pushes Mike and me very strongly. Hopefully there was no damage. It was a very dangerous weather system. Last night I met some dolphins who started a race against the boat. It was wonderful. Unfortunately I couldn’t catch them with my camera. The dolphins were so much faster than Mirabaud.


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