"It makes me wonder what problems he's got to be honest, he may be missing a sail, I did consider that as Jean is not a slow sailor, and I'm sure he isn't giving up the miles just to have the company," Golding said. "It did make me wonder whether Jean is not down a sail, or has a halyard problem, I don't know, it could be a lot of things, but anyway the difficulty we are having at the moment is the weather we are experiencing is not matching with the files, the various models, so, as a consequence it is a little bit of a Russian roulette."
Le Cam, normally the joker in the fleet questioning whether Golding has broken something, saw it like this: "The anticyclone has split in two so when you're right in the middle, it can be complicated," he wrote. "Last night, I had no wind and I was sailing against the current, so I was definitely not progressing fast."
Le Cam was back up to 12.1 knots on Monday afternoon, compared to Golding's 11.3, but Golding was still heading more directly to the finish and thus making a better VMG as they cross the latitude of Buenos Aires, over 1900 miles behind the leader. Six days ago Golding was 247 miles behind Le Cam.
There are duo and trios all over the fleet, having their races within a race, but Francois Gabart (MACIF) is not in an ocean match race with Armel Le Cléac'h (Banque Populaire) anymore. Expected to cross the equator on Tuesday around midday, Gabart is on his own 274 miles in the lead and apparently drawing away again on Monday afternoon, averaging 17.4 knots to Le Cléach's 14.9 in the last four hours. He is enjoying the southeast tradewinds, whereas Le Cléach is reaching in less favourable easterlies 350 miles off the north coast of Brazil.
"I'm doing my best to catch up with François but it will all depend on the conditions," Le Cléac'h said. "Let's see what type of conditions he faces in the near future. We'll attack until the end, giving all we have."
Gabart sounded even more relaxed than normal as he spoke to Vendée Globe TV: "MACIF is currently in a very favourable position because I faced good wind first, so it was great for a couple of days," he said. "But Banque Populaire will get that wind soon, so she will come back on me. Everything is going just fine for me. If I really wanted to complain, I'd say it's too hot, but I know some people wouldn't like me to say that."
Gabart is good humoured to a fault for some, but he has many reasons to be cheerful. To add to them, the Doldrums, lying three to four degrees north, are further south and less active at this time of year than when passed them heading south in November. Although that can change quickly. Gabart is 3,482.6 miles and about two weeks from the finish in Les Sables d'Olonne. A combination of fishing boats, dismasting, sudden keel failures and rogue harbour buoys saw the Atlantic claim seven of the fleet in the first two weeks of this race.
The boats have been under stress and everyone will remember that second-placed Roland Jourdain lost his keel bulb and was forced to withdraw with less than 1,800 miles to the finish in the last edition in 2008-09. Jourdain was 888 miles behind the eventual winner Michel Desjoyeaux, but a clear two days ahead of the third-placed sailor – Le Cléac'h.
Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac-Paprec 3) appears to have stabilised the losses in third, 706 miles behind, but averaging 17.1 knots. But in fourth, Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss), is watching his gain evaporate further west along the coast of Brazil. He was still only making 13.4 knots and just 11.3 over the last 24 hours and is resigned to further losses. "Not much I can do about the advance of Virbac, I hope to be able to get close to JP's speeds in the next day or so but the pessimist in me says I will bleed till the equator," he wrote this morning.
The battle is hottest between seven-placed Dominique Wavre (Mirabaud), Javier Sansó (EcoPowered ACCIONA 100%) and Arnaud Boissières (Akena Verandas). The Swiss sailor between them, has just been holding off his two rivals. To the east, Sansó, just two miles behind after gaining 71 miles in the last 24 hours, is heading towards a route that will skirt the St. Helena high, whilst Boissières, to the west, thinks he will be heading downwind first with the coming low-pressure system. The prize is to catch Golding, now only 255 miles ahead of Wavre, but for all of them the routes in this region remain highly uncertain, given the instability of weather situations.
4000 Cape Horners
Bertrand De Broc (Votre nom autour du monde and EDM Projets) is going to pass Cape Horn tonight buoyed by the support of the 4000 individual people who sponsored his campaign with sums from as little as 50 Euros upwards to have their names on the side of his boat. His project may have had a late start date but de Broc's crowd-funding is a triumph that will be capped by passing the Cape. Behind him, Tanguy de Lamotte (Initiatives cœur) continues to close and is just 138 miles behind.
At the rear, Alessandro Di Benedetto (Team Plastique), 816 miles behind de Lamotte, will have a difficult last few days in the Pacific as he fixes his gennaker halyard. The sail fell in the water and got stuck in one of his rudders. It is sort of accident that will have tested even his indomitable humour and certainly exhausted him. Hauling in the huge sail from the water may have been one of the few times he wished he was in the 6.5 metre boat he went round the world in last time.