Vendee Globe – Macif’s Gabart makes furious push towards finish

Francois Gabart, Macif - 2012 Vendee Globe
Vincent Curutchet / DPPI
The Vendee Globe race has reached its ninth Sunday since the round-the-world journey for these sailors began way back in November 2012. Macif’s Francois Gabart continued to pad his lead heading into final stretches of the race, leading Banque Populaire’s skipper Armel Le Cleac’h by 252.2 miles and Virbac Paprec 3 skipper Jean Pierre Dick by 605.1 miles.

Another Sunday dawns, and for many in the Western world, they are slowly waking, thinking about coffee, chores, church, walks, newspapers, bacon sandwiches and some may be nursing aching heads, throbbing reminders of parties late into Saturday night, Sunday morning. But not for the skippers of the Vendée Globe who are experiencing their ninth Sunday at sea. Time and days, merge into hours and minutes as they sleep and wake irregularly, catching naps when they can.

After 63 days, their skin will be shrivelling, blistering, salt sores will be a constant reminder of the hostile environment within which they live. They will have lost weight, eating will become a function as they tire of the monotony and texture of their supplies. They will dream of fresh water showers, flush toilets, sharp new razors blades and the smooth creaminess of shaving foam, splashed faces with fresh water and soft, fluffy towels. Routines, which are taken for granted day-to-day, yet regardless of the landlubber life the skippers sailaway and the adventure is theirs. Instead, they will navigate the briny ocean, with its rhythmic motion, wondrous wildlife and constantly changing perspective, and with the wind as their engine, they will experience freedom and elation, unique in their solitude, as expansive as the seas upon which they sail. Perhaps it is them we should envy as we nonchalantly flick through the papers today.

During the 24 hours opponents François Gabart (Macif) have paid a heavy price. Averaging consistently faster speeds François Gabart (MACIF) is now 252 miles ahead of Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) and 605 on Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac Paprec 3). Sailing legend, double Vendée Globe winner and Gabart mentor, Michel Desjoyeaux said that he never pushed the boat 100% and that he always held something back. If the Goldonboy Gabart is listening to the master then maybe now we are seeing him release that little bit extra that he held back, just enough to comfortably extend his lead.

Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) must be wracking his brains for a solution. In 24 hours, the situation at the head of the fleet has changed considerably. Yesterday morning the deficit between Macif and Banque Populaire was 169 miles and now it is at 252 miles, a difference of 82.9 miles. Macif’s VMG is 3.4 knots faster and he has covered 391.8 miles, while Banque Populaire has only covered 300.5 miles. What does this mean? Perhaps it is because Gabart is closer to the wind? Is it the skipper or the machine, which enables such progression, at this key moment, near the end of the course? We may have to wait until arrival of Les Sables d'Olonne to understand how such a gap widened along the Brazilian coast.

Yesterday, Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac Paprec 3) declared his desire to unleash his assault on the front two boats, starting with Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire). This is a substantial goal with 605 miles between him and Macif and 353 miles to Banque Populaire. Virbac Paprec 3 lost 54 miles on Banque Populaire in the last 24 hours so he needs to get his skates on to fulfil his ambitions.

Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) shortcut up the Brazilian coast is in an inspired move and although he is 50 miles behind Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac Paprec 3) and has been busy overnight tacking around seven times, he is definitely still in strong contention to snatch back the podium place. This strategic gamble has regained him 250 miles and put him firmly back in the race since he rounded Cape Horn last week.

Across the South American continent, Alessandro Di Benedetto (Team Plastique) skipper of Team Plastique has passed the last mandatory gate Vendée Globe 2012 at 0230 GMT. Di Benedetto can finally focus on a direct route to Cape Horn.

Vendee Globe website