Spectator boats and press boats will not be leaving the port.
There is a heavy weather warning due to high seas, 3 metre waves and winds of 20-25 knots with peaks at 35/40 knots. The maritime authorities and local administration have prohibited pleasure boats from leaving the port of Les Sables d'Olonne from 7am Sunday 27th January.
Exceptions to the rule are the committee boat (to judge the finish) and two broadcast and photography support boats of the organisation. Offshore sailing is not prohibited, but it is firmly discouraged.
Vendée Globe LIVE for Sunday 27th January will be a live commentary of the finish, starting half an hour before the winner crosses the line. LIVE press conferences with the skippers will be broadcast after the finish. Please visit the website or web channel Daily Motion for the latest information.
The finish line is less than 20 hours away for François Gabart (MACIF). If he can safely navigate this final furlong without incident he will be crowned the winner of the 7th edition of the Vendée Globe. Yet, Poseidon throws one last obstacle in the way and smashes his fist down hard in the Bay of Biscay to create 3 metre waves and 20-30 knot winds, with gusts up to 40 knots. It is an angry, difficult, inclement welcome back after a solitary endurance adventure of nearly 80 days.
Armel Le Cléac'h (Banque Populaire) who is expected 3 to 6 hours later, will be treated to the same conditions. Land ahoy!
After such a prolonged time at sea, the first steps ashore are difficult. Upon arrival, skippers often falter as they step from the confines of the 60ft steed, into an adrenaline-charged emotional crowd. For the last two and a half months, their ground has been limited a 9m squared space, some of which is only accessible on all fours. They have inhabited a small carbon den, poorly insulated and in perpetual motion. The kitchen? A stove. The toilet? A bucket. The room? A chair. Human relations? No physical contact. The environment? A moving liquid desert.
In a matter of minutes, when MACIF docks on the pontoon at Port Olona, François Gabart, 29, will switch from one world to another. Shocked but charged with positive energy. Suddenly, it will make sense and shed light on all the harshness and beauty of his journey.
If he crosses the line first, as expected, Gabart will be the youngest winner in the history of the race.
But it's not over until it's over in this the cruellest of races and so before we begin our cheers in the channel we must gnaw our finger nails and wait with baited breath for the final curtain.
Alexander the Great is back on track
At 1830 GMT, Team Hugo Boss sent this report from Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss)
"Last night I saw some pretty strong winds, up to 30kts, so I am very glad I came down to stay close to JP. I know I would have been feeling very nervous indeed in these conditions with no keel!
It seems that JP has got the boat into a very stable sailing mode and is very comfortable with how the boat handles in these conditions. The weather will get better today for us both with the winds falling and his forecast for heading to the Portuguese Coast looks good.
Earlier today he called me on the phone to thank me for staying with him overnight and to also say he feels fully confident in his ability to now sail towards Portugal. With the good forecast and improving conditions, I am happy the big danger has passed and I have gybed and am heading back to Les Sables."
As global sports news is dominated by the shameless fall from grace by cyclist Lance Armstrong, just to the south east of the Azores in the little known sport of solo ocean racing Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) is emanating the spirit of sportsmanship and integrity after shadowing his fellow classmate, Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac Paprec 3).
In an exchange of emails that tugs at the heart strings, both these sporting heroes have conducted themselves with humility and dignity as they progress forward, slowly, waiting for the weather to unfold so to discover where their destiny lies.
Yesterday, Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) of his own volition decided to change his course and stay close to Jean-Pierre Dick. The Hugo Boss skipper proves once again that there is a great solidarity among competitors in the open sea.
This is demonstrated by the emails exchanged yesterday between the two skippers:
(nb: This is a translation and not the original English version sent by Alex Thomson)
Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) writes;
The sea is increasingly big today.
I'm not letting you navigate alone only when the wind will strengthen in a few hours. I'll come and join you gybe, navigate at your side until the weather conditions (wind and waves) become more moderate in the Azores.
I know you did not ask for assistance, but it will not make a big difference to my race and anyway, I have not see any other boats for a few months, I feel alone!
I hope everything goes well for you,
Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac Paprec 3) writes;
"Thank you Alex. It touches me deeply.
I will study the weather to see if I can continue to safely navigate to the Sables d'Olonne. I sent a photo with a message for you, "Alex, take this 3rd position with care" (take care of the third place). It is important to me!
Do not hesitate to call me.
Today, on the English version of Vendée Globe LIVE Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) explained his position.
"I came to the decision to stay close to Jean-Pierre Dick: there were strong winds forecast overnight and this morning, I was 90 miles away from JP and because it was going to get bigger and bigger, I knew I wouldn't have been able to help if something had happened. That felt uncomfortable leaving him in those conditions on a boat with no keel.
To me, it's no big deal, really. We're all part of the IMOCA class, and I believe this is part of the values of the class. But I've been rescued before by Mike Golding, it's just a completely normal thing to do when i decided to do it at 4 o'clock. I will accompany JP until he feels 100% confident with his boat and he has made a decision regarding his plans. I'll shadow him until he feels 100% comfortable."
And on the French version of Vendée Globe LIVE Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac Paprec 3) explained his position.
"The wind is much stronger now, 25-30 knots, with an agitated sea and 3-4-metre waves. The boat is doing ok in the waves, it's actually a good surprise. My ballasts are full and I'm sailing at an average speed of 12 knots, which is encouraging for the future. The weather should get a little rougher in the afternoon and then calm down.
I've thought hard about what to do next. I have decided not to stop in the Azores, that's for sure. But I'm still not sure I'll go all the way to Les Sables d'Olonne. I'll get closer to the Portuguese coast and then I'll see what I can do, depending on what I see there in terms of conditions. On the 28th or 2th of January, I'll decide if I can round Cape Finisterre safely.
I'm not obsessed with speed, I just can't use larger sails, it is much more reasonable now that my keel is gone. And I owe it to the shore crew and the people who have worked with me, I just can't take too much risk. My next challenge is Cape Finisterre, where the sea is going to be rough.
What Alex Thomson is doing is so nice and brave. The third place is very important, I want him to take very good care of it. What he's doing is a nice gesture, a true sailor's gesture. He's not close enough for me to talk to him on the VHF so we send each other emails even though we're both is energy-saving mode. I have his phone number, I'll call him after this interview. I thought I had seen his lights last night but it must have been a star."
In this instance, the spirit of the Open 60 class, the sport of solo sailing and the Vendée Globe have been tried, tested and found to be remarkable. Today, we meet a gallant, noble, humble Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) and a pragmatic, considered and grateful Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac Paprec 3). Sometimes, winning isn't everything instead support, sportsmanship and solidarity conquers over all. In this sport and in this race that is always the case.