Around northern Morocco, on the latitude of Rabat, the south westerly wind blows 10-15 knots, this will provide François Gabart (MACIF) with a perfect angle to optimize his boat. For sometime now the leader sails faster and more directly to the finish line than than his unrelenting competitor Armel Le Cléac'h (Banque Populaire). As the gap widens overnight he must be gritting his teeth and pushing forward in lighter southwesterly winds of 8-10 knots. The separation was 85 miles yesterday, but this morning the distance extended to almost 120 miles. Not a massive gap but one that is expected to increase further when François Gabart (MACIF) picks up speed once he is free of the grip of the high.
A cross to bear
He is deprived of his keel, with his ballast filled to capacity to stabilise the boat, this morning Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac Paprec 3) lies in third place and is heading north an easterly wind of 13-14 knots making top speeds of 11 knots. As he limps along keelless, his boat wounded, he continues to lose ground on Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) with a distance now of 170 miles between them. Both boats are heading towards a passage between two areas of high pressure used by the leading duo. If current indications are anything to go by it is only a matter of time before their paths cross. Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac Paprec 3) is still battling internally and soldiers on with 2000 miles to the finish. In 2004 Mike Golding completed the course without a keel, for only 50 miles and in 2008 Marc Guillemot finished 1000 miles from the finish without a keel. Safety is an issue, but also is the psychological need to complete the course. How safe is unsafe? What are the risks? Are they surmountable? Decisions, decisions. The Vendée Globe is a race of attrition that breaks hearts, boats and dreams. Will Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac Paprec 3) conquer it after all?
The Equator in two days
Separated by 2300 miles from the leaders, lying in fifth place, 110 miles from Recife and 500 miles from the Equator, Jean Le Cam (SynerCiel) continues along his path up the coast of Brazil. This morning, once again ahead of Mike Golding (Gamesa) by only 15 miles (and laterally 50 miles apart), Jean Le Cam (SynerCiel) was slightly faster (11.2 knots versus 10.7 knots average speed in last 24 hours). The pair have very similar conditions, continuing to be frustrated that the trade winds, which are expected to be here but continue to be absent.
300 miles behind, in 7th position, the conditions are more complicated for Dominique Wavre (Mirabaud) as he trudges upwind in light airs from the north-east and a messy sea. Still, he gained about ten knots, on a route halfway between Javier Sanso (Acciona 100% EcoPowered) to the east and Arnaud Bossières (Akena Verandas) to the west. Respectively, in 8th and 9th, the Spaniard and the man from Les Sables, made slow progress in light winds over the last 24 hours with 153 and 174 miles covered. Only 220 miles from Porto Seguro, in the northeast of Brazil, Arnaud Bossières (Akena Verandas) looks like he will reach the wind more quickly.
Best performers at the back
300 miles behind, and at the mercy of the weather Bertrand De Broc (Votre Nom Autour du Monde avec EDM) is experiencing different conditions. In a good wind southeast 15-16 knots, the skipper sails the direct route with a15 knot average over 24 hours, the highest mileage in the fleet of the 364 miles.
Pulling away from Tanguy de Lamotte (Initiatives Cœur) extending the distance to 350 miles, both skippers should maintain a course near the Brazilian coast and will soon be confronted with a significant drop in the wind. Alessandro Di Benedetto (Team Plastique) is slow this morning as he wallows in light winds. This period of calm may be welcome by the Franco-Italian skipper, who recently endured painful injuries and damage. On the bright side, a little more than 4000 miles behind the leaders, he still showed the third best growth in the last 24 hours.
The top 5 ranking 5 hours (4h UTC)
1 - François Gabart (MACIF) at 1491.7 miles from the finish
2 - Armel Le Cléac'h (Banque Populaire) at 118.7 miles (DTL)
3 - Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac Paprec 3) to 512.3 miles (DTL)
4 - Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) at 682.7 miles (DTL)
5 - Jean Le Cam (SynerCiel) at 2277.4 miles (DTL)