With the Vendee Globe solo ocean racers closing in on day 70, both the predictable and the unpredictable has happened. Quite predictably, 11 skippers and yachts have retired from racing with only 18 left to race to the finish line off Les Sables D’Olonne, France. And quite unpredictably, Alex Thomson, who is not far off the pace, pushing hard behind the leader, Armel Le Cleac’h on “Banque Populaire VII,” has set a new 24-hour for distance and speed covered in 24 hours on a monohull with a blistering average speed of 22 knots!
These frontrunners are closing in fast on the finish line, having just taken the last “turn” towards the West Coast of France where shore teams and the French public anxiously await the first boats. A weather system is pushing these 2 farther north than they would like, but with the finish line in sight, every ounce of speed will be sought by both Le Cleac’h and Alex Thomson.
Thomson aboard Hugo Boss has pushed hard for most of the race, trying to reel in the leader, Le Cleac’h on “Banque Populaire VII” and has closed the gap from over 400 miles to under 70 miles. Thomson held the lead early in the race until one of his foils sustained damage off of Africa, slowing him considerably on one tack. It’s quite an achievement to still be fighting for second place, now with additional damage to his steering that he doesn’t want to slow down to fix unless he deems it possible in the last high pressure system which might calm the seas enough for him to attempt a repair. He’ll suffer through his final days and hours – pushing as hard as he can without breaking: which is always the mantra of these solo skippers.
Meanwhile, the oldest skipper (66 years old) and our favorite, Rich Wilson, has just rounded Cape Horn for his THIRD time and has a good distance of nearly 7000 miles to the finish. Rich never entered this race to win, but rather to compete, to better his effort and to simply complete the race for his third attempt. His updates from onboard continue to be worth watching as he sails north. He is a brilliant sailor and mathematician and is a perfect ambassador for the Vendee Globe Race on this, his third effort. (check out his Cape Horn rounding brief here)
There is plenty of the race left – with arguably the most exciting part to come first as Le Cleac’h and Thomson duke it out for the finish. If it isn’t a photo finish, it sure will be very close! Stay tuned on the Vendee Globe webpage. The best is yet to come!