The weather scenario off the Crozet archipelago is as uncertain as that further to the right… And it is worse news still for those hoping to get back in contention when the battle is raging so intensely further up the track. Indeed, ‘the Jackal’ (Armel Le Cléac’h) never releases its prey and ‘the Boss’ (Alex Thomson) has no intention of letting go of the reins! On passing the longitude of the Cape of Good Hope, Hugo Boss had a hundred-mile lead on Banque Populaire VIII, but the light airs that have enveloped the entrance to the Indian Ocean have seen the two come right back together and there was even a brief spell where they traded positions.

Since that time, the two adversaries have been embroiled in a gybing battle in a bid to make the break again, but in the light airs reigning off the Prince Edward and Marion Islands, there are no big options on the cards. Instead, they will have to await the arrival of the lows rolling in from South America, a situation that should become clearer from Monday morning. As for the leader’s foil, in the absence of photos detailing the extent of the damage, we remain in a state of uncertainty. Indeed, either it is has broken off definitively level with the hull (which could result from a violent impact with a UFO), or it has broken off at the elbow of the curve where the tip joins the shaft (which could result in excessive stresses during the descent in the Roaring Forties…

A third of the way in

By around noon on Tuesday, the top two will have covered the first third of the course, which equates to 8,150 miles over the theoretical total of 24,450 miles in just 22 days. Four years earlier, Armel Le Cléac’h was positioned 2,000 miles further West! At that point in time, there were still five solo sailors within 130 miles of one another (Le Cléac’h, Gabart, Dick, Stamm, Thomson)… As play continued, it turned into a gradual process of elimination that culminated in a crazy duel at the end of the Indian Ocean.

The leading boats are capable of logging substantial days of over 480 miles (average speed of 20 knots) and from tomorrow we can expect the rest of the Indian Ocean to be especially quick for all the pacesetters. Indeed, from noon on Monday, the 25-30 knots NW’ly will catch up with the front of the fleet and carry them at speed towards Kerguelen.

At that point, the frontrunners will have to choose between a narrow corridor of around thirty miles between the south of the main island and the ice exclusion zone, where the seas will likely be very hard and chaotic, or a passage to the north of the continental shelf that stretches up to around fifty miles offshore. The decision is sure to be influenced by the arrival of a tropical low from Madagascar on Wednesday, to the NW of the archipelago. If the leaders manage to catch hold of its tail, they could be approaching Cape Leeuwin from next weekend…

Nocturnal rumblings

Though the night has shone no light of any sort on the third placed skipper, all alone some 320 miles astray of the frontrunners and with a lead of 450 miles over the chasing duo, Sébastien Josse (Edmond de Rothschild) will certainly have the advantage of reaching the new downwind conditions before the top pair, but in the meantime his two pursuers will also make up ground on him. They too have the massive psychological advantage of sailing in convoy, since Paul Meilhat (SMA) and Jérémie Beyou are just ten miles or so from each other. Naturally the skipper of Maître CoQ will soon have to carry out his two-hour penalty for accidentally breaking the seal on his propeller shaft however.

As for Yann Éliès (Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir) who is set to round the Cape of Good Hope early afternoon this Sunday, he will likely be just half a day behind the duo ahead. The same cannot be said of the trio behind: Jean-Pierre Dick (StMichel-Virbac), Thomas Ruyant (Le Souffle du Nord pour le projet Imagine) and Jean Le Cam (Finistère Mer Vent), who are about to let the Argentinean low continue its journey without them as it plummets into the forbidden territory of the ice exclusion zone to the south. They will probably have to wait around until the middle of the week to hail a ride on a new disturbance in the Indian…

As for the main chasing pack, they will likely continue to flounder in the Saint Helena High for several more days yet and could well be one whole ocean astern when they pass below South Africa!

Passage of the longitude of the Cape of Good Hope

1-Alex Thomson : 17d 22h 58’

2-Armel Le Cléac’h : 18d 03h 30’ at 4h 32’ behind the leader

3-Sébastien Josse : 18d 12h 42’ at 9h 12’ behind the leader

4-Paul Meilhat : 20d 11h 54’ at 1d 23h 12’ behind the leader

5-Jérémie Beyou : 20d 12h 41’ at 2d 13h 43’ behind the leader