Reassuring news today from the 20 skippers in the fifth edition of the Vendée Globe who are currently filtering their way across the Bay of Biscay at between 8.5 and 13.6 knots with 15/20 knots of wind.
No major problems have been reported after the first night at sea. After yesterday's start the fleet sailed an inshore course of approx 7 miles that took nearly two hours in the light conditions.
There was just 4.8 miles between the top three PRB, Virbac-Paprec and Sill et Véolia at 1000 GMT though backrunner Norbert Sedlacek (Brother) from Austria is 93.3 miles off the pace, "taking his time so as to get a good feeling for the race".
The British boats Ecover, Hugo Boss and Hellomoto are fifth, 7th and 9th respectively, while American skipper Bruce SCHWAB and Australian skipper Nick MOLONEY are back down in 14th and 15th around 33 miles from the leader.
The frontrunners are set to round the tip of Spain at the start of the night and then they will glide along the coast of Portugal, with an important strategic choice to be made. A small low pressure system, is stationed over the Canaries which is developing fairly well, even though it is set to shift to the north-west. Two options will then open up engendering a different choice of course with a possible difference in heading of 30 to 35 degrees. Either the skippers will take the shortest course, or they will try to round to the west of the depression offshore to benefit from more favourable winds. A lot of work then at the chart tables throughout the fleet.
Under the cover of darkness the first of the day's rankings at 0400 GMT revealed that a relieved Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac-Paprec), really feeling the pressure before the start yesterday, was then leading and has been amongst the top three from the outset along with current leader Vincent Riou (PRB).
"There were good conditions for the start, said the former. I was the first downwind but made a late manoeuvre which knocked me back into second at Les Sables mark. What a relief after all that effort. I'm now hoping to have a quiet night, though I will be keeping an eye on the wind which is likely to increase."
Indeed it did, and though PRB had snatched back the lead once again by the 1000 GMT ranking, Virbac-Paprec in second was making around a knot more boat speed over half an hour and had a better VMG (speed towards the goal). At this time the four newest boats in the fleet are within a 9.2 miles of the frontrunner and winner of the last edition, PRB, a Finot Conq design launched in May 2000.
Top-positioned non-French sailor was Mike GOLDING(Ecover), using his experience to keep with the leading pack but not push too hard. "In fact it was a fairly straightforward night. I was pretty nervous about the start and checking any little noises that I heard. I decided not to go to too high too early and was prudent, even if it lost me a few places. It is very important for me to get sleep fairly early on so I was dozing and taking short naps because there was quite a bit of shipping. I'm currently sailing under a code five and full mainsail. I'm making a good speed with 18 knots, 20 at times."
In eighth position Dominique Wavre (Temenos), second in The Transat just behind Golding, explained the general picture throughout the fleet. "We've got regular conditions, reaching with a wind now blowing at 20 and 25 knots. Everyone knows we're going to have easterly winds as far as the Canaries ".
Like all his adversaries Wavre was enchanted by the conditions. "Knowing that the whole fleet is ok is really satisfying. Nobody wants to see their friends suffering any worries when we've only just begun".
Squeezed between two of the British boats, Hugo Boss (Alex THOMSON and Hellomoto (Conrad HUMPHREYS), were unable to be contacted at this morning's radio chat session, but it's interesting to see that Thomson hasn't bolted out of the stable as was expected but seems wisely to be making the best VMG by far... Making less headway back in 15th place behind American "Ocean Planet", Australian Nick Moloney (Skandia) was concerned for this morning's ranking, and rightfully so, down in 15th position at 0300 GMT. At that time he was pinpointed making a knot and a half less boat speed than the leader Jean Pierre Dick (Virbac-Paprec) who was 28.5 miles ahead.
"I have been getting calms under rain clouds. I am furthest north and feel like I am in big trouble. Eagerly awaiting new poll but don´t think I am going to want to see it."
Interestingly, at the request of the skippers, solely four rankings will be published each day. One at 0400 GMT, another at 1000 GMT, 1500 GMT and 1900 GMT. Ahead of the fleet today the isobars are very spaced out across the Bay of Biscay, the north north-easterly wind should not exceed 15 knots during the day.
The fleet will continue its progress in ideal conditions for an introduction. It isn´t until the approach of the Spanish coast and Cape Finisterre that the isobars will close back together. The wind may blow up to 25 knots or more with the effects of land. The frontrunners should round the tip of Spain at the start of the night and then they will glide along the coast of Portugal, with an important strategic choice to be made.
A small depression (low pressure system), is stationed over the Canaries. It is developing fairly well, even though it is set to shift to the north-west. Two options will them take shape, engendering a different choice of course with a possible difference in heading of 30 to 35 degrees. Either the skippers will take the shortest course, or they will try to round to the west of the depression offshore to benefit from more favourable winds. A lot of work ahead at the chart tables for the 20 skippers but for now racing has taken the place of adventure in this edition of the Vendée Globe.