From the comfort of our armchairs it’s easy to lose sight of just how challenging this 23,000 mile solo non-stop dash around the planet is in sporting terms. The boats are hugely physical to sail, with the skippers burning some 6,000 calories per day, representing more effort than that required to run a marathon on a daily basis.
The sole British entry, Alex Thomson’s Hugo Boss, led the fleet across the equator and was hardly slowed by the doldrums. He went on to maintain that lead for 10 days, though always pressed hard by French competitors. Meanwhile, many boats were caught in extended calms in the dodrums, taking several days to reach consistent winds in the south-easterly trade winds in the South Atlantic, while the front-runners continued to put in regular 400 to 500 mile days.
A number of boats have struck unidentified objects, with the seven foiling designs suffering more than the older boats. Kito de Pavant suffered a partial failure of the keel attachment, while deep in the Southern Ocean. With the keel dangling from the hydraulic ram alone, and sawing a hole into the hull, he endured an agonising wait for rescue from the Marion Dufresne II, a supply vessel for the French territories in the Southern Ocean and Antarctic that was a few hundred miles away at the time of the incident.
A number of competitors have been forced to change course or significantly slow down to avoid to windiest part of storm systems, some of which have produced gusts of more than 60 knots. With Enda O'Coineen's Kilcullen Voyager-Team Ireland lost its rig on New Year's Day there were only 18 of the 29 boats boats still racing. These are stretched out over some 8,000 miles of the Southern and Atlantic Oceans, between the south of New Zealand and the coast of Brazil.
Earlier in the race Thomson hit an object that broke his starboard foil, a serious hindrance to his hopes. However, he has continued to stay in second place and briefly regained the lead from Armel le Le Cléac’h on the 23rd day. He subsequently caught to within 70 miles to the south of New Zealand, before ironically falling into a calm patch that saw him lose a significant distance on the leader. On January 2 (day 57), as the leading pair approached the favourable south-east trade winds in the South Atlantic, Thompson was only 130 miles behind Le Cléac'h and sailing three knots faster. It's sure to be a tight battle for the remaining 4,500 miles.
Twenty years ago the race record stood at 105 days, which reduced to 78 days in the last edition four years ago. So far this time the leaders have been consistently almost 10 per cent faster, which could see them finishing in a time that not so long ago could only have been achieved with a fully crewed 100ft multihull.
To follow the race visit the Vendee Globe website.
To see some of the best images from other events from 2016, see xxx.