On Wednesday afternoon it is a different picture. The doldrums may have redistributed the wealth and Le Cléac’h may be able to bank some miles. Like all the top four skippers he is beginning to steam in his cabin in temperatures that will hover around 40 degrees celsius. But it is Gabart that will be feeling the pressure now. At 29, the youngest in the fleet, Gabart has seemed publicly impervious to stress so far and has been setting the pace since passing Le Cléac’h in the South Pacific on December 31. But as the finish line approaches the pressure will grow and their ocean match race could restart tomorrow.
Gabart’s lead is just 78.7 miles and falling fast. He is technically out of the doldrums and Le Cléac’h is in them, but weather files and what one finds on the water are not always the same, especially in this dreaded part of the ocean. “The weather files aren’t always reliable in this complicated area,’ Le Cléac’h said. ‘So we also use satellite images to see how different reality is.”
Seeing Gabart’s struggles from before he entered the doldrums, Le Cléac’h headed slightly east, only 30 miles, but enough, perhaps, to find a better passage.
Gabart was reduced to averaging just 7 knots in the last four hours and only 9.9 knots over the last 24 hours in which he has lost 127 miles. It is slow enough to suspect that he may making repairs. Le Cléac’h was still making 14 knots over the last four hours and 15.2 in the last 24. Normally Gabart would hope to extend away now but the forecast for the next 48 hours looks complicated and Le Cléac’h could catch him before he escapes.
Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac-Paprec 3) has also won back 200 miles on Gabart in the last 48 hours, having trailed by 706 miles on Monday and 504 on Wednesday afternoon. Dick continues to be the fastest in the fleet, averaging 15.9 knots over the last four hours and 16.1 over the last 24, covering 386.5 miles. The forecast suggest Dick will have these 14-16 knots southeast tradewinds until the equator and could make significant ground on the two ahead. It could yet be a three-horse race into Les Sables d’Olonne.
Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) will be hoping to make it four. He has only been able to watch in frustration, although his speed was picking up and he too should benefit once he passes the longitude of Recife and leaves the coast of Brazil behind. In the last four hours he has already begun to pick up the same breeze and speeds as Dick, averaging 14.7 knots.
Victory may be unlikely but he still has a chance of the podium and was already feeling more positive in his message earlier today: ‘Yesterday was supremely frustrating, but I had a fairly steady wind overnight and today has been encouraging so far,’ he wrote. ‘In 100 miles or so I won’t have to worry about the coast of Brazil and the wind should start to move more to the south east and hopefully I can ease the sails and go a little faster. I want to stay a good way off the coast for now to make sure I do not get any disruption in the wind caused by the land effect. The weather files show my doldrum crossing point should be less painful than the others but I have heard that one before and we will have to wait and see. I will be in the doldrums in two days.’
But fellow Briton, sixth-placed Mike Golding (Gamesa), continues to suffer. He was the slowest in the fleet over the last four hours – averaging just 6.4 knots and it will have been only small consolation that Jean Le Cam (SynerCiel) was only averaging 9.4 knots. But like Javier Sansó (Acciona 100% EcoPowered) behind him, he is happier on the eastern side of the middle group of five boats, away from the coast of Brazil. Given what has happened ahead of them between Thomson and Dick, the winner of the different strategies may not be clear until after the doldrums, but that’s another headache for another day for this group.
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