British skipper Alex Thomson is pushing Vendee Globe leader Armel le Cléac’h hard in the closing stages of the non-stop solo round the world race. At 1400 today the French skipper was 480 miles from the finish line, sailing at 9.6 knots, while Thomson was just 69 miles behind and travelling at more than 17 knots in stronger winds. Ever since rounding Cape Horn Thompson has set a ferocious pace, breaking the race record from there to the Equator. Then on January 16 he broke the solo 24 hour record in a monohull, covering a phenomenal 536.8 miles at a average speed of 23.4 knots. It’s a stunning performance that has heaped psychological pressure on Le Cléac’h, who has led the race for the past 46 days and enjoyed an 800 mile lead when he passed Cape Horn just before Christmas.
Nevertheless Alex needs to sail more than 10 per cent faster to gain victory and that’s a huge differential for such elite sailors in new state of the art yachts. Le Cléac’h should therefore be comfortably assured of victory, barring accidents. However, both boats are expected to slow further in an area of lighter winds, which will give Alex a further advantage. Tomorrow (Wednesday January 17) will be a particularly tricky day for both skippers as they negotiate a complex ridge of high pressure off the Bay of Biscay.
A key strategic decision will be where to tack off the southern coast of Brittany, in preparation for the approach to the finish at Les Sables d’Lonne. Tacking too soon would put the skippers directly downwind of their destination, while tacking too late means sailing unnecessary extra distance. With different weather forecasts making different predictions, identifying exactly the right spot will be far from easy.
Current predictions are for the first boat to finish on Thursday afternoon. To date the race has only ever been won by French sailors, while the most successful Britons so far are Ellen MacArthur, who finished a close second to Michel Desjoyeux in 2001, Mike Golding, who took third in 2005, despite losing his keel on the final day, and Alex Thomson, who was third in the last edition of the 24,000 mile race. Read our report on the mid-point in the race and follow the fleet here.