There is just over 50 miles to go before the fleet reaches the longitude of South Africa's most southern tip, the Cape of Agulhas, which serves as the true gateway into the Indian Ocean. However, the symbolic crossing of the meridian may go unnoticed by the competitors because they have their sights firmly set on the Gate of Crozet.
But the leading trio, lead by Armel Le Cléac'h (Banque Populaire) but with Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac Paprec 3) and François Gabart (MACIF) hot on his tail are engaged in a fight with unusual intensity. It will be recorded in the annals of Vendée Globe history as one of the fiercest charges into the Indian Ocean as the three pretenders shuffle continually up and down the leaderboard each day.
Over the last 24 hours the boats have slowed down following the record breaking speeds of a few days ago and it has given the skippers the respite they needed to be able to scrutinise their boats and ensure they are still in tact. "The sea is getting bigger and bigger. There are some 4-5 meters holes. The sun is coming back; we have softer conditions than the days before. It allows me to check out the boat. We have been sailing very fast for the last couple of days so it's important to check out the boat." Armel Le Cléac'h (Banque Populaire) said today, on Vendée Globe LIVE.
The next hurdle to overcome is which route to choose when negotiating the quickest path through the wallowing high, which blocks their road to the gate of Crozet. They have two options available to them; the short cut around the western edge of the high and then dive into the south, or make an attempt to circumvent the high on the south side, the longer distance but with stronger winds and then join it the eastern edge gate. By the first option they run risk of being trapped in the high and with the second, the software depicts a busy road south, traversing through a minefield of icebergs located between Heard Island and the Crozet Archipelago. Decisions, decisions.
Behind this trio, Bernard Stamm (Cheminées Poujoulat), and Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) appear to be losing ground. Thomson was pragmatic in his email report today, "At the moment, the rich are getting richer, the guys ahead are extending as I am from the guys behind. Once we all get into the same weather we will go the same speed until the 7th when the leaders and I will run into a high pressure, slow up and the fleet will compress again. It is like we are attached by a piece of bungy!"
Gradually, Mike Golding (Gamesa), Jean Le Cam (SynerCiel), and Dominique Wavre (Mirabaud) are making their way out of the weather system that assists leaders. "We are into the new breeze now, heading downwind and will get headed progressively to make the gate. It is a little too puffy for a spinnaker and the Code sails are never that good when you are trying to run deep. Everything is fine with the boat. I had a good look round yesterday when we flattened out. I was ready for the change. It was a lovely night, albatrosses by the boat. It feels like we are truly in the south." Said Mike Golding (Gamesa).
Jean Le Cam (SynerCiel), is regaining is ground and looking to take back from Golding. He lost valuable ground yesterday, diving beneath his boat to cut away a fishing net that was entangled around his keel.
For the pack at the back the wind is beginning to fill in for Javier Sanso (Acciona 100% EcoPowered), Arnaud Bossières (Akena Verandas) and Tanguy de Lamotte (Initiatives Cœur) are beginning to make progress down the track. Further west, Bertrand De Broc (Votre Nom Autour du Monde avec EDM) is reaping the rewards of his southerly track and enjoying speeds of over fifteen knots.
The new ice gate Amsterdam
Today, Mike Golding (Gamesa), echoed the sentiments of many, and as much as it may be an inconvenience for the skippers to have the fleet pushed into lighter airs by the introduction of new ice gate, not a single one of them wants to collide with boat breaking icebergs and growlers. "I think in the end they will shuffle all the gates and they have added another one. I have seen the detailed ice information and it is pretty clear why they have done it. There is a lot of known ice down there. They don't want us dicing with ice and so it is better to play it safe."
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