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Leader Dalin goes direct on an uncertain ocean

With under 900 miles to the finish line of the New York Vendée Charlie Dalin’s lead on MACIF Santé Prévoyance is now steady at around 360 miles and the sailor who grew up in Le Havre inspired by the racing boats and skippers that mustered every second year for the Transat Jacques Vabre, must be thinking he has a good chance of adding the New York Vendée Les Sables d’Olonne title to that of the Vendée Arctic, the 2020 race which opened this Vendée Globe quadrennial.

Thomas Ruyant reaching on VULNERABLE
Inside with second placed Thomas Ruyant as he makes good progress south of the Azores
© Thomas Ruyant/TR Racing

Now into good breeze and making more than 20kts Boris Herrmann (Malizia Seaexplorer), way up in the north, should gybe towards the Vendée during today but the German skipper is 12th this morning whilst the main peloton, now south of the Azores and reaching at just under 20kts seem strong. He started lifting on to the foils last night, moving better after three days in complete calm. 

TR Racing team mates Thomas Ruyant (VULNERABLE) and Sam Goodchild (VULNERABLE) are racing side by side one mile apart in second and third, as if on a daily speed test. For sure nothing is set for the podium as there is just five miles between second placed Ruyant and fifth placed Seb Simon (Groupe Dubreuil). Pip Hare (Medallia) is holding sixth. 

Goodchild reported in this morning, “ Now we are heading upwind into this little low. I am looking at the weather now as to how we get through that. The weather forecasts are not all in agreement, but there you go. There is not too much sea state right now it is not slamming too much. But it is good, we had a blast reach into the bottom corner so I did not get a lot of sleep and I am going to grab some now. ”

And Hare explains,  “The night was frustrating for me, there were big holes in the wind, I don’t really understand why. I guess it could have been could have been the windshadow of the Azores stretching down to where we are but I have got a small J2 which I am hoping to grow before the Vendée Globe so as soon as we are into light to moderate conditions I do struggle for boatspeed. There were lots of mode changes and I did not get much sleep. Sixth might just be one of these tracker illusions because I am to the north of Justine, Yoann and Sam and so I am technically closer to the finish line, but they have all pulled forwards on the track and so I am trying to pull something back or at least hang on at the moment. The breeze is building with a really messy sea state. Today should be fairly consistent breeze as we sail out towards the low pressure and then it is building and then hopefully I will go through the centre of the low pressure tonight some time.” 

Dalin continues his fantastic route with “the straightest course in the fleet towards the Vendée”, says Pierre Hays of the race director. His finish is forecast to be between “Saturday evening and Sunday”. Of Herrmann the assistant race director says: “He has a gybe to do to head towards the Vendée then will be downwind towards the finish.” He remains in the match for the places of honor, even if the “Southerners” are virtually ahead. 

This nine boat group continue to circle the biodiversity protection zone defined around the Azores from the south. The first to believe in this route was Louis Burton who is at the  back of the group. “Following the collision and the repairs I had to make, it quickly became the best option,” says the  skipper of Bureau Vallée who finished third on the last Vendée Globe. “The North was too complicated being behind and the intermediate route seemed closed and so there was still the South.” 

Boat breaking conditions still in wait 

“Within the group it is all quite tight,” notes Hays. Now there are several small depressions including one small active one "which will have to be left on starboard when going upwind in the breeze", says Burton. This phase that promises to be tough with 35 to 40 knots of wind and “boat-breaking” conditions. Burton concludes, “We will have to be careful to hold on and take as little risk as possible until the finish.” 

“It will be upwind with short seas, which will be uncomfortable,” Hays concurs. 

Behind, there are the five foilers who have headed north. After Benjamin Dutreux (Guyot Environnement) and Clarisse Crémer (L'Occitane en Provence) are Maxime Sorel (V and B – Monbana – Mayenne), Romain Attanasio (Fortinet) and Yannick Bestaven (Maitre Coq V) now pressing north. The Dutreux-Crémer duo is 70 miles behind the third group. “They will meet up during the day,” analyzes Pierre Hays.

However, what happens next is still uncertain: “they are progressing along the edge of the anticyclone with light upwind conditions and must make maneuvers to continue to gain ground.” In short, you will have to work with this rather weak wind. Some, like Nicolas Lunven (Holcim-PRB), Éric Bellion (Stand as One), Conrad Colman (Imagine MS Amlin), Violette Dorange (Devenir) and James Harayda (Gentoo Sailing Racing) turned south on port tack to find the best trajectory.

Within this intermediate group, others continue to progress on a northern route such as Denis Van Weynbergh (D’Ieteren Group). He has an intermittent autopilot problem but he says this option is obvious. “I think it has been the smartest choice to stay close to the direct route.” It’s all to the good for the daggerboard boats says the amateur skipper. “We have not said our last word! In these kinds of conditions, when there are choices to be made, these are boats that have great stories to write... This bodes well before the Vendée Globe! "

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