The Vendee Globe racers are rapidly approaching the French port of Les Sables d’Olonne, the finish line of the toughest, solo, round the world sailing race. It’s approaching 76 days since the race started at Les Sables d’Olonne and the first finishers should be arriving in the next 24 hours.
The Vendee Globe Race Village reopened today, and the town is abuzz with anticipation of the first to cross line. Currently, the lead boat is Macif, skippered by Francois Gabart. As of writing, Gabart is approximately 1200 nautical miles from the line, with a boat speed of approximately 18 knots. The wind is helping, with a steady wind speed of about 22 knots and gusts to 35.
Behind Gabart, in second place, is Armel L Cleac ‘h, on Banque Populaire. L Cleac ‘h is about 100 miles behind Gabart, but is with less favorable winds and a boat speed down to a 14 knot average. John-Pierre Dick (Virbac Paprec) rounds out the top three, but Dick is almost 700 miles behind Gabart.
While the distances between the top three boats appear to be significant, it’s important to keep in mind this race is a non-stop race, started 76 days ago. To put this into perspective, from the leader to the last boat is approximately 4700 miles. In 76 days, this is a sailing differential of about 61 miles per day between the fastest and the slowest boat. This works out to a speed differential of less than 3 knots per hour over the total race,
The Vendee Globe course passes the “Three Capes” before the ultimate finish in France. Each Cape is known for its challenges to mariners. The Cape of Good Hope, the first turn on the course, takes the fleet into the Southern Oceans. This area is renowned for everything from seas which are consistently 25 – 40 feet, to gale force winds and often icebergs.
The second Cape, Australia’s Cape Leeuwin, marks the turn around Australia and the boats now head for the Granddaddy of Capes, Cape Horn. Once past Cape Horn, the sailors are on a homeward leg back to the starting place in France.
With boats built for speed, and creature comfort a last in design criteria, for all skippers the race is a race of determination and perseverance. The Vendee started with 20 vessels, only 12 are left in competition. Boat failure has been the biggest cause for the eight boats which are no longer in the race.
With the race village reopening, the crowds which come to watch the finishers will be treated to a barrage of official and unofficial ceremonies. Current plans are to keep the village open until at least February 9, unless there ase still boats en route to the finish line. At that point it will be determined whether to extend the village availability or to close it until the 2015 edition of the race.
More information on the Vendee Globe is available at http://www.vendeeglobe.org/en/