Rich WIlson Arrival Vendee Photo Olivier Blanchet / DPPI / Vendee Globe

Finish arrival of Rich Wilson (USA), skipper Great American IV, 13th of the sailing circumnavigation solo race Vendee Globe, in Les Sables d’Olonne, France, on February 21st, 2017 – Photo Olivier Blanchet / DPPI / Vendee Globe
Arrivée de Rich Wilson (USA), skipper Great American IV, 13ème du Vendee Globe, aux Sables d’Olonne, France, le 21 Février 2017 – Photo Olivier Blanchet / DPPI / Vendee Globe

American skipper Rich Wilson crossed the finish line of the Vendée Globe solo round the world race off Les Sables d’Olonne on the west coast of France this afternoon (Tuesday 21/02) at 1250hrs UTC. From the fleet of 29 boats which started the 27,440 miles singlehanded race from Les Sables d’Olonne on Sunday November 6th, Wilson and Great American IV secure 13th place in an elapsed time of 107 days 48 mins 18 secs.

Wilson, at 66 years old the oldest skipper in the race, successfully completes the pinnacle solo ocean racing event for the second time. He improves his time for the 2008-9 edition of the race, 121 days and 41 minutes by a fortnight, thereby achieving one of the key goals which drew him back to take on the race for a second time. Whilst racing he also delivered a daily, multi faceted educational programme to over 750,000 young people in more than 55 different countries around the world, another of the fundamental reasons Wilson returned to the Vendée Globe. He becomes the fastest American to race solo non stop around the world, beating the 2004-5 record of Bruce Schwab of 109 days 19 hours.
 
The hugely experienced American skipper who is a lifelong mariner and a native of Boston,Massachusetts, adds to a remarkable catalogue of achievements under sail over an extraordinary career spanning nearly 40 years, including three record passages including San Francisco to Boston in 1993, New York to Melbourne in 2001, and in 2003 Hong Kong to New York.
Wilson crossed the finish line on a cool February afternoon, emerging from the grey skies of the Bay of Biscay, with scarcely a rope out of place. His Great American IV returned to Les Sables d’Olonne in almost exactly the same, near perfect condition as they left in early November. Wilsonhas dealt competently with a range of small technical problems, notably gripes with his autopilot system, his hydrogenerator system and some modest sail repairs. To finish two Vendée Globe races with both of his boats in great condition is testament to his impeccable seamanship, his ongoing focus and discipline to stay within the prudent protocols he sets himself, looking to achieve high average speeds and sail very efficiently while keeping the skipper and his boat safe. The efficiency of his actual course, that is how direct a route he sailed, is almost exactly the same as that of race winner Armel Le Cléac’h – sailing around 27,450 miles and is only bettered by the fourth to sixth placed skippers Jéremie Beyou, Yann Eliès and Jean Le Cam who sailed around 300 miles less.
Wilson is in no way a crusader looking to prove a point about the capabilities or achievements of older solo racers or athletes. Suffering from asthma since he was an infant, he has also considered age a mere number but strove to be as fit and strong as he could be prior to both races. ‘I am not ready for the pipe and slippers. Age is just a number.’ Wilson said many times before the start. That said his success today will be a huge inspiration to older people around the world to pursue their dreams and follow their passions. His boat for this edition of the race, an Owen-Clarke design which raced to seventh with Dominique Wavre in 2012-13, is faster but more physical than Great American III.
Along the route Wilson has told the story of his race with clarity and passion, his educated and inquisitive mind ensuring topics have remained interesting and informative with a broad appeal to all ages. A former maths teacher he has graduate degrees from Harvard Business School and MIT and a college degree from Harvard. He enjoyed regular communication with many of the other skippers in the race, most of all Alan Roura, the Swiss 23 year old youngest racer who finished yesterday.
Rich Wilson’s Race
7th Nov: Replacement of a batten car on the main mast track, sailed with conservative sail selection not wanting to make a mistake while tired. Hydrogenerator propeller pitch control pump leaked all of its hydraulic oil into the box.
12th Nov: In a squall the boat took off, and then the autopilot decided to stop. So the boat turned up toward the wind, and lay over at about 45 degrees, with both sails flapping. I rushed into the cockpit and grabbed the tiller. Unidentified autopilot problem fixed.
17th Nov: First part of the Doldrums further north than was predicted. Sudden squalls.
19th Nov: At 0450, Great American IV crossed the Equator. 12th crossing under sail for Rich.
24th Nov: Getting to know the boat well. Gained miles on those ahead. Nice chat with Tanguy de Lamotte.
1st Dec: Peak speed of 24.7 knots. “I don’t understand how the leaders can deal with the speeds, and the stress that comes with them”
6th Dec: Entered the Indian Ocean. More Work on the Hydrogenerator
9th Dec: Chats with Alan Roura, and with Eric Bellion. ‘The three multi-generational amigos, me at 66, Eric at 40, and Alan at 23’13th Dec: “Pushing very hard to get east across the top of the Kerguelen Shelf before the big depression gets here in 36 hours. Our plan is to then head southeast to get to where the strong winds will be. Eric has chosen a north route, Alan and Enda look as though they are working on a similar plan to mine.”
15th Dec: Average of 45 knots wind for a 16 hour period, and our thundering sprints of boat speed from 10-12 knots into the mid-20s, ricocheting off waves
20th Dec: “Interesting encounter last night with Enda O’Coineen”
21st Dec: “Fantastic encounter today when my friend Eric Bellion came roaring up from behind us and passed us close aboard”
25th Dec: “We are a long way from home, and have a long way to go. Usually in my voyages, I haven’t gotten too lonely. But today I did. I’m sure it was exacerbated by the big depression that is forecast to develop ahead of us.”
31st Dec: Crossing the International Date Line
1st Jan: “We are in the gale. We have 35-40 knots of wind now and it looks as though this will last for another 18 hours. The violence that the sea can heap on a boat is not describable.”
5th Jan: “the nicest day of sailing that we’ve had in one might say months”
7th Jan: Exactly halfway
13th Jan: “We were in the bulls-eye of the strong winds for the depression. Solent to staysail to storm jib, and 1 reef to 2 reefs to 3 reefs in the mainsail.” Autopilot malfunction.
17th Jan: Cape Horn
18th Jan: “We went west of the Falkland Islands, behind Alan Roura, who followed through the Lemaire Strait”
22nd Jan: “A very bad night last night. We had 35 knots of north, steady, up to 38, which created a big wave situation, with cresting seas 12-15′ high. This went on most of the afternoon. And then suddenly, nothing. The physicality of this boat is beyond description, and I am exhausted and, frankly, demoralized.”
25th Jan: “We just got clobbered through the night, with 30 knots of wind, upwind, into the big building seas, and crashing and crashing and crashing. The conditions are just chaotic. There is really nothing you can do on the boat, because you just have to be holding on at all times.”
29th Jan: “Latitude of Rio de Janeiro. Southwest winds, 2 – 3 knots, very bizarre. The boat went in circles for 3 hours, and it was very frustrating.”
5th Feb: back into the Northern Hemisphere
7th Feb: finally into the NE’ly trade winds
16th Feb: sailed close to Faial in the Azores.
21st Feb: finished
First words 
“It’s great to be back. To see France and all the French people here. It was great to see Eric (Bellion) and Alan (Roura) here. They were my brothers in the south. We talked almost every day by e-mail. In this race I think there was a lot more communication between the skippers than in 2008-2009 – Koji, Fabrice, Nandor, Stéphane and Didac who was chasing me. We talked about everything in the world. It was a little bit harder, because I’m older. The boat was easier because of the ballast tanks. You can use the ballast rather than put in a reef all the time, which is what I had to do on the other boat. What distinguished the race for me was that it was grey all the way. Across the south and then all the way up the Atlantic. Grey. Grey. It was so depressing. Four or five days ago, the sun came out for twenty minutes and I leapt out and stuck my face and hands under the sun. It was grey and just for so long. That was hard.”“I found all the calms that exist in the Atlantic. It was never-ending in the Atlantic. Eight years ago, I said never again. But now it’s too difficult. This is the perfect race course. The most stimulating event that exists. My goal was to finish this race and to work for SitesAlive, which has 700,000 young people following. What is fantastic about this race is the support of the public with all the people here. I remember the first time, someone said, if you finish the race, you’re a winner. I think that is correct. I could give you a quotation from Thomas Jefferson. When he was ambassador to France, he said everyone has two countries, their own and France and I think that is true.””The Vendée Globe is two Vendée Globes. It is very long. The oceans, the capes. It’s all very hard. But the other Vendée Globe is the one ashore. The welcome that our team and I have had here. It’s incredible. I felt older. I am 66! My thoughts go out to Nandor who finished two weeks ago at the age of 65. We sent back data each day concerning me and the boat. Each day, I did an average of 12,000 turns on the winch. But it was hard.””The worst thing was it was so grey. I had a map of the stars with me but I couldn’t use it. The best thing was communicating with the others. We’re a real community.”

 

Francois Gabart (Macif) vainqueur de la categorie Imoca sur la Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe 2014 en 12j 04h 38mn et 55 sec - Pointe a Pitre le 14/11/2014 (Photo © Alexis Courcoux)

Francois Gabart (Macif) vainqueur de la categorie Imoca sur la Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe 2014 en 12j 04h 38mn et 55 sec – Pointe a Pitre le 14/11/2014 (Photo © Alexis Courcoux)

When he crossed the finish line off Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe this Friday afternoon to win the IMOCA 60 Class in La Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe, François Gabart completed a vey rare back-to-back solo ocean double, adding the Route du Rhum solo Transatlantic to his 2012 victory in the Vendee Globe, the solo non stop around the world race.

Just as he won the legendary Vendee Globe at 29 at his first attempt, the youngest ever winning skipper, so today he also added the Route du Rhum title on his first time in the four- yearly solo race from Saint Malo to Guadeloupe.

Remarkably just four years ago he was in Guadeloupe to greet and help Michel Desjoyeaux. In the intervening period he launched his IMOCA 60 project, sailed only three solo races and won all three.

The only other solo sailor to have sailed to successive wins in the Vendee and the Rhum – the pinnacles of solo ocean racing – is Michel Desjoyeaux, who was Gabart’s original mentor and project manager.

Gabart’s twin peaks are distinct from his friend and teacher’s in that Desjoyeaux won the 2000 Vendee Globe in the IMOCA and then triumphed in the 2002 Route du Rhum outright sailing the ORMA trimaran Geant.

But Gabart becomes the first to win the two big IMOCA prizes back-to-back in the same boat. And today after breaking the 2006 course record of Roland Jourdain – setting a new mark at 12d 4h 38m 55s – he also owns both the Transatlantic record for this 3542 miles course and he course record for the solo global circumnavigation (78d 2h 16m 40s)

Having conquered the round the world and Transatlantic courses at the first time of asking this was his last race on the IMOCA 60 which has carried him to victories. He will step up to a new 100 foot trimaran which will be launched next year in the colours of Macif, who he has been with since 2011, and pursue ocean records and races, likely to include this Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe.

Although he was pushed hard through most of the race by Jeremie Beyou (Maitre Coq) – his training and sparring partner from the elite Pole Finisterre racing group based from Port-La-Foret in Brittany, Gabart proved to have a consistent edge in speed in the fitful trade winds conditions, despite the fact the two boats are near idenitical twin sisters from the VPLP/Verdier partnership.

Indeed the Macif-Maitre Coq vanguard of the IMOCA fleet this Route du Rhum in many ways mirrored that of the Vendee Globe when Gabart and Armel Le Cleac’h raced around the world as if attached by bungee elastic. Beyou’s boat Maitre Coq was formerly Le Cleac’h’s Banque Populaire. Gabart was 90 miles ahead of Beyou before the final passage round most of the island, by the finish that had been compressed closer to 45 miles.

Gabart’s Route du Rhum was carefully modulated. He proved on the Vendee Globe that he is an innately fast, confident and hard driving skipper, belying his tender years in the class. This time he lead since Cape Frehel just after start line on Sunday November 2nd and was never passed.

Gabart’s Race
After less than 24 hours racing he was already 3 miles ahead and in control of a pack comprising Beyou and 2004-5 Vendee Globe winner Vincent Riou and Marc Guillemot. Riou was a closer contender before he had to retire with structural damage to his mainsheet track while a combination of small problems hobbled the challenge of Guillemot (Safran) who finished third in 2010. South of the Azores, Beyou cut the corner back to the north-west and closed the gap to less than 20 miles, but Gabart was able to extend on the SW side of the Azores high when he manouvred into bettter breeze and progressively opened out on each position report.

There is an element of catharsis too for Gabart, who one year ago lost the top of Macif’s mast when leading the two handed Transat Jacques Vabre with Michel Desjoyeaux.

Aside from being here in Guadeloupe in 2010 to meet Desjoyeaux, the last time Gabart was on the island was as a seven year old around the same time as Florence Arthaud became the first woman to win the race.

François Gabart originally studied and become an engineer at a top school in Lyon, but his heart was always in sailing. At the age of 7, he sailed away for a year with his family stopping in the Canaries, Cape Verdes, French West Indies, the States… a part of his childhood which clearly left its mark. From a racing background in small dinghies he moved to and Olympic campaign in the Tornado class.

In just two years in the Figaro circuit, he was top rookie in 2008, came third in the Cap Istanbul, and third in the BPE Transatlantic race 2009. In Oct 2009, he was chosen as Skipper Macif winning a national talent selection. Second behind Le Cléac’h in the 2010 Solitaire, he won the Cap Istanbul and became French offshore racing champion.

Gabart’s star remains very much on the ascendancy, a very rare talent in ocean racing.

First words:
“This is huge. It is the Route du Rhum, it is not just nothing. I pushed myself like never before to win this. Now I am happy with the result and how I got there. The project was launched just four years ago. I raced round the world and won and now this. I could not do better with this boat. We have done only three races together and won all of them (ed’s note: 2011 BtoB Brasil to Brittany, Vendee Globe, Route du Rhum). But this is the end of our life together, we have done some beautiful things. I wanted to live this Route du Rhum with the same emotions, the same feelings and the Vendee Globe.

I really enjoyed myself. It is a beautiful thing racing alone. I am still learning.

As for the record? Well times change and technology changes and I don’t think it is interesting to compare the times.

But I have to say that if someone had told me when I was here four years ago that I would have done this, I would not have believed it. It is not because you think it is easy that it becomes so, but because it is not, on the contrary it is hard.

I set myself a very high level. And it is about the personal challenge of that. I set the bar high and so I was sad when Vincent dropped out. I should have been happy, but I was disappointed. We would have had a good fight and pushed each other. I did not think for ten seconds that Jeremie was just behind me. I just built the margin over three days. I have a great sensation, a great feel for the boat and spent a lot of time at the helm. I could feel when it is good, when the stack was right, when the sail combination was perfect, when there was weed on a rudder.

I lost my big spinnaker at the Azores just after the passage of the front. So I had not choice than to be faster that Jeremie. This last bit I did savour the feelings. And now it is sad to leave this boat. But in four years I will be back here in a Multi.”

ROUTE DU RHUM - DESTINATION GUADELOUPE 2014 Start photo © ALEXIS COURCOUX

ROUTE DU RHUM – DESTINATION GUADELOUPE 2014 Start photo © ALEXIS COURCOUX

ROUTE DU RHUM - DESTINATION GUADELOUPE 2014 Start      © ALEXIS COURCOUX

ROUTE DU RHUM – DESTINATION GUADELOUPE 2014 Start © ALEXIS COURCOUX

As the tenth edition of the legendary Route du Rhum solo Transatlantic race to Guadeloupe started off Saint Malo, France this Sunday afternoon under grey skies and a moderate SSW’ly breeze. The perennial question of just how hard to push through the first 24-36 hours at sea was foremost in the minds of most of the 91 skippers.

 

When the start gun sounded at 1400hrs local time (1300hrs CET) to mark a spectacular send off for a 3,524 miles contest, which engages and entrances the French public like no other ocean race, breezes were only 15-17kts. But a tough, complicated first night at sea is in prospect, a precursor to 36 hours of bruising, very changeable breezes and big unruly seas.

Such conditions, gusting to 40kts after midnight tonight, are widely acknowledged to be potentially boat or equipment breaking. But the big ticket reward for fighting successfully through the worst of the fronts and emerging in A1 racing shape, will be a fast passage south towards Guadeloupe. Such an early gain might be crucial to the final result.

ROUTE DU RHUM - DESTINATION GUADELOUPE 2014 Start      © ALEXIS COURCOUX

ROUTE DU RHUM – DESTINATION GUADELOUPE 2014 Start © ALEXIS COURCOUX

The converse is doubly true. Any trouble or undue conservatism might be terminal as far as hopes of a podium place in any of the three classes.

In short, the maxim of not being able to win the race on the first night, but being able to lose it over that keynote, initial period, has perhaps never been truer.

The routing south is relatively direct, fast down the Iberian peninsula with a fairly straightforward, quick section under the Azores high pressure which shapes the course. The Ultimes – the giant multis – are expected to be south of Madeira by Tuesday night when the IMOCA Open 60s will already be at the latitude of Lisbon and the Class 40 leaders passing Cape Finisterre.

Vincent Riou, Vendée Globe winner who triumphed in last year’s Transat Jacques Vabre two-handed race to Brasil, said of the forecast: “I carried out statistical studies, set up 140 different routings using ten years of files in my pre-race analysis and I can’t recall a single example of the weather being as favourable for the IMOCAs as what seems to lie ahead‏.”

The change in weather from the idyllic Indian summer conditions which have prevailed through the build up weeks to gusty winds, heavy rain showers and cooler temperatures could do nothing to dampen the extraordinary ardour displayed by the crowds which so openly embrace the Rhum legend. From all walks of life, from babes-in-arms to the elderly, they descend on Saint Malo and the nearby beaches and promontories to see the start and the opening miles.

Lemonchois Leads
It was fitting then that the tens of thousands who braved the deluges and the breeze were rewarded when it was the owner of the race record, Lionel Lemonchois, winner of the Multi 50 Class in the last edition and overall winner in 2006, who passed their Cap Fréhel vantage point, 18 miles after the start line leading the whole fleet on the Ultime Prince de Bretagne.

 

Thomas Coville on Sodebo lead the Caribbean-bound armada off the start line dicing with the more nimble, smaller Multi70 of Sidney Gavignet Musandam-Oman Air which also lead for a short time. The fleet’s ultimate Ultime, the 40m long Spindrift (Yann Guichard) was seventh to Fréhel, clearly needing time and opportunity to wind up to her high average top speeds. Coville has the potent mix of tens of thousands of solo miles under his belt as well as an Ultime (the 31m long ex Geronimo of Olivier de Kersauson with new main hull and mostly new floats and a new rig) which is optimised for solo racing.

The favourites to win each of the different classes seemed to make their way quickly to the front of their respective packs. Vendée Globe victor François Gabart established a very early lead in the IMOCA Open 60s on MACIF, ahead of PRB (Vincent Riou) and Jérémie Beyou (Maitre-CoQ). In the 43 strong Class 40 fleet Sébastien Rogue quickly worked GDF SUEZ in to the lead. He remains unbeaten and won last year’s TJV. Defending class champion Italy’s Andrea Mura was at the front of the Rhum class with his highly updated Open 50 Vento di Sardegna.

Spain’s highly rated Alex Pella was second in Class 40 on Tales 2, Britain’s Conrad Humphreys 20th on Cat Phones Built For It and Miranda Merron sailing Campagne de France in 22nd.

The key international, non-French skippers made solid starts to their races. Self-preservation was key priority for 75 year old Sir Robin Knox-Johnston on Grey Power, who said pre-start that his main goal was to get safely clear of Cape Finisterre, before pressing the accelerator.

He is in good company not least with ‘junior’ rivals Patrick Morvan, 70 and Bob Escoffier, 65 all racing in this Rhum class which features race legend craft as well as sailors. Two of the original sisterships to Mike Birch’s 11.22m Olympus – which stole victory by 98 seconds in the inaugural race in 1978 – are racing in this fleet replaying the fight against the monohull Kriter V which finished second.

First to return to Saint-Malo with a technical problem- needing to repair his rigging – was the Class40 of Jean Edouard Criquioche, Région haute Normandie, who had to turn round after just 45 minutes on course. And the Portuguese skipper in the Rhum class Ricardo Diniz was also reported to be heading back with trouble with his diesel.

Order at Cap Fréhel

1 – Lionel Lemonchois (Prince de Bretagne) / 1st Ultime
2 – Sidney Gavignet (Musandam – Oman Sail)
3 – Thomas Coville (Sodebo Ultim’)
4 – Loïck Peyron (Maxi Solo Banque Populaire VII)
5 – Sébastien Josse (Edmond De Rothschild)
6 – Yann Eliès (Paprec Recyclage)
7 – Yann Guichard (Spindrift 2)
8 – Yves Le Blévec (Actual) / 1st Multi50
9 – Francis Joyon (Idec Sport)
10 – Erwan Leroux (FenêtréA – Cardinal)
11 – Lalou Roucayrol (Arkema Région Aquitaine)
12 – François Gabart (MACIF) / 1st IMOCA
13 – Vincent Riou (PRB) 14 – Loïc Fequet (Maître Jacques)
15 – Jérémie Beyou (Maître Coq)
16 – Marc Guillemot (Safran)
17 – Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée)
18 – Bertrand De Broc (Votre Nom Autour du Monde)
19 – Tanguy De Lamotte (Initiatives-Coeur)
20 – Armel Tripon (Humble for Heroes)
21 – Erik Nigon (Vers un monde sans sida)
22 – Pierre Antoine (Olmix)
23 – Andrea Mura (Vento Di Sardegna) / 1st Rhum
24 – Sébastien Rogues (GDF SUEZ) / 1st Class40‏

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Francois Gabart , MACIF, Winner Vendée Globe. (Photo by Vincent Curutchet / DPPI / Vendée Globe)

François Gabart crossed the Vendée Globe finish line at 15 hours 18 minutes 40 seconds, French time, setting a new solo round-the-world record of 78 day, 2 hours, 16 minutes and 40 seconds. Beating Michel Desjoyeaux’s record by 6 day 00 hours 53 minutes
His final race time is 78 days 2 hours 16 minutes 40 seconds. His average speed was 15.3 knots and covering 28,646.55 miles.
Note: the race’s theoretical distance is 24,393.41 miles.
Gold for ‘Goldenboy’ Gabart
François Gabart’s Vendée Globe is a story of transformation. In a little less than 80 days, the young skipper, viewed as a talented outsider, he evolved turned into a race leader, successfully keeping the other competitors at bay.
A spectacular start
From the outset of the race, François Gabart set about upsetting the order. He took the lead in the Bay of Biscay, imposing his fast pace and sailing in a style akin to the French short course solo racing circuit, the Solitaire du Figaro skipper than a long-distance sailor. The weather conditions favoured the front runners, who soon extended their lead. It took them three days to reach the Madeira latitude, where the first strategic choices were made, followed by Armel Le Cléac’h storming into the front.
4-way match
Sailing down the South Atlantic after a complicated the doldrums confirmed the situation, that the race was dominated by a leading quartet featuring  Armel Le Cléac’h, Vincent Riou, Jean-Pierre Dick and François Gabart leaving Bernard Stamm and Alex Thomson in their wake. As they reached the Roaring Forties, the skippers ahead picked up the pace, resulting in a series of amazing performances. On November 30, François Gabart broke the first 24-hour distance record (482.91 miles). Shortly, after Vincent Riou was forced to abandon and three skippers – Jean-Pierre Dick, Armel le Cléac’h and François Gabart – entered the Indian Ocean together as a tight pack while Bernard Stamm, ranked fourth, lurked behind.
The great escape
On December 10, the MACIF skipper drove the point home by setting the ultimate solo distance record on a monuhull, covering 545 miles in twenty-four hours. Armel Le Cléac’h was the only one able to hold on and the two Frenchmen, positioned at the front of the fleet, built up an impressive gap in only a few days. On December 13, Jean-Pierre Dick was 155 miles behind. 24 hours later, the gap had increased to 300 miles and eventually 500 miles on December 15. The Southern Ocean adventure then turned into a spectacular duel in which the two solo sailors were rarely more than twenty miles apart. At one point within visual contact on several occasions. François Gabart returned to the Atlantic on January 1, securing the 2012-2013 Vendée Globe edition a place in the history book as the first race in which a rookie rounded Cape Horn as the race leader.
François’ trick
Leaving the Le Maire Straights behind them, the two frontrunners laboured through a windless hole and Gabart managed to slightly widen the gap, sailing forty miles ahead. On January 5, Le Cléac’h broke the union for the first time since the Amsterdam gate and tacked west his sights set on a ridge of weather. François Gabart kept sailing along his eastern route, taking him to the edge of the Saint Helena high. Demonstrating his strategic acumen, Gabart extended his lead and positioned himself back in front of the Banque Populaire bow. He crossed the Equator five days ahead of Michel Desjoyeaux’s record. Despite a tricky Doldrums crossing, Gabart kept warding off Le Cléac’h’s attacks throughout his climb back up the North Atlantic. At 29, as he crossed the finish line, he became the youngest Vendée Globe winner ever. Alain Gautier was 30 years old when he won the 1992-1993 edition in 110 days and 2 hours. What a difference a decade makes.

Francois Gabart MACIF Winner Vendée Globe (Photo MACIF WINNER / © OLIVIER BLANCHET / DPPI /

Key figures

Longest distance covered in 24 hours: December 10, 545 miles at an average speed of 22.7 knots.
Number of rankings with Gabart leading: (5 rankings a day): 234
Days spent leading the race: 44 days 20 hours
Les Sables to Equator: 11 days 00 hours 20 min (Jean Le Cam’s 2004-2005 record: 10 days 11 hours 28 min)
Equator to Good Hope: 12 days 03 hours 25 min (JP Dick’s record: 12 day 02 hour 40min)
Good Hope to Cape Leeuwin: 11 days 06 hours 40 min (new record)
Cape Leeuwin to Cape Horn: 17 days 18 h 35mn (new record)
Cape Horn to Equator: 13 days 19 hours
Equator to Les Sables: 12 days 01 hour 37 minutes
Maximum gap between MACIF and Banque Populaire:
Banque Populaire to MACIF: 263.14 miles on November 28
MACIF to Banque Populaire: 273.99 miles on January 14

 

Francois Gabard relentlessly pushing (Photo by FRANCOIS GABARD / MACIF / DPPI / Vendee Globe)

 

Fleet News:

– Sansó on the charge again
– The Last day in the Pacific

Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) may not have made any impression on the 263-mile lead of Francois Gabart (Macif) overnight, but he staunched the losses and south of them the other duels ebbed and flowed. Dick-Thomson, Le Cam-Golding and the trio Wavre-Boissières-Sansó are all locked in battle. In the Pacific, De Broc-De Lamotte are living their last day on the largest ocean in the world and gap between the two continues to decrease. They look like forming a new duet as the begin the long climb up the Atlantic, adding a little suspense for the final weeks of the race.

Approaching the latitude of Buenos Aires, Mike Golding (Gamesa) in sixth place, had one of the best nights even though he was only making 12 knots. Ahead of him to the northwest, his arch-rival, Jean Le Cam (SynerCiel), could only average 8.4. Golding, covering 33 more miles overnight, has now whittled Le Cam’s lead to just over 41 miles. Six days ago Golding was 247 miles behind. Both men are now on the edge of an anticyclone, but Golding has benefitted from staying east.

As the road to the finish shortens, the opportunities to strike back at the leader Francois Gabart (Macif) decline. He continues to set the rhythm and though Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) kept pace overnight as they pass the north of Brazil in temperatures approaching 30 degrees in the shade, he could make no impression on the deficit. Although he only lost 0.1 mile overnight this time.

Le Cléac’h has been the slightly faster in the last hour, but considering that this time yesterday it was thought that Gabart might slow a little, the ranking may be more depressing. In the last 24 hours the advantage is still to Macif 429 miles against 420 for Banque Populaire. It is a situation that is likely to continue at least until the Doldrums.

Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac-Paprec 3) and Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) have been dropped by Gabart with even more ruthless speed. Dick has lost 300 miles in three days and is 708 miles from the leader, but he managed to dig a little deeper away with Thomson. Hugo Boss is now 132 miles behind – compared to the distance to the finish, but they are at about the same latitude, just north of Rio. Thomson’s easterly route, hugging the coast of Brazil, has won him miles on Dick overall and was tactically the best decision for him, the figures are still brutal; three days he was in third place, just 295 miles behind Gabart, now he is 835 miles behind – 540 miles lost in three days.

Dominique Wavre as the sun sets behind Mirabaud (Photo by Dominique Wavre / Mirabaud / DPPI / Vendee Globe)

The international trio are stuck in a permanent fight on their on their own postage stamp in the South Atlantic. Less than 30 miles separates the Swiss Dominique Wavre, the French Arnaud Boissières and the Spanish Javier Sansó after Sansó, the furthest east, won back 50 miles on Wavre overnight.

The Last Days In the Pacific

With 184 and 335 miles to go to Cape Horn, Bertrand de Broc and Tanguy de Lamotte will have a high voltage day monitoring icebergs and deciding on the best time for last jibe before the rock of Cape Horn. De Broc will also be conscious that he is being hunted. In the last four days De Lamotte has won back 130 miles.

Pending his first Horn, De Lamotte sent an email overnight. “Last day in the Pacific before passing Cape Horn … I passed the longitude of Progresso (Mexico, the finish of the Solidaire du Chocolat that I won in 2009 in Class 40 (Incidentally, the boat is for sale …) and also the longitude of Miami (hello to my cousins ​​…)” The two sailors are in a northwest wind of twenty knots.
Behind them, Alessandro di Benedetto is in a north-northwest wind of 25 knots, 1113 miles from Cape Horn.

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ARMEL LE CLEACH' BANQUE POPULAIRE

Banque Populaire (Photo by ARMEL LE CLEACH' / BANQUE POPULAIRE / DPPI / Vendee Globe)