Armel LE CLÉAC'H enjoyed blue skies and sunshine to welcome him back to Les Sables d'Olonne this Saturday morning as he crossed the finish line at 08:41 UTC to take second in his first Vendée Globe, outlasting many of the favourites to receive a warm welcome when thousands lined the famous canal.
After the cool, calm delivery of Michel DESJOYEAUX (FRA) just over five and a half days ago to win his second Vendée Globe, Les Sables d'Olonne welcomed the rookie with a bite, Armel LE CLÉAC'H (FRA), who brought Brit Air across the finish line at 08:41 UTC on Saturday morning under perfect blue winter skies and a watery sunshine, to finish in a well deserved and highly creditable second place.
LE CLÉAC'H reflected, "The goal when I set out from Les Sables d'Olonne was to complete the round the world race. Secondly, I wanted to sail to the best of my ability with good routing decisions, making as few mistakes as I could with the weather. And then I had to deal with the southern ocean as best I could, as I didn't have the experience of some. So that's the philosophy I applied to the whole race and in the end that paid off."
On his second place finish, the French skipper joked, "I am becoming a specialist at finishing second in my first races. I did my first Figaro and finished second. Then, I did my first Transat and finished second. And now my first Vendee Globe and I'm second again. So it's business as usual for me!"
They may call him the Jackal, a skipper just 31 years old, whose patience and prudence masks an innate predatory instinct and timing, which has seen him regularly succeed as runner up after other favourites have fallen, but he still admitted today that his mother worried if he had been eating enough.
LE CLÉAC'H feasted on the warmth of the welcome, drank deeply of the memorable hours from the minutes he spotted the first media boat an hour after a chilly dawn this morning, pacing every metre of the deck of his Finot Conq design Brit Air to acknowledge the cheers from his family, friends and sponsors as he approached the finish line.
A two hour wait until the tide rose enough to allow him to pass down the canal was just an opportunity to draw breath after a long, stressful final week, winds gusting to 50 knots and big seas, which ripped away his protective canopy and pulled his mainsheet track car off two nights ago.
He paid tribute to winning skipper DESJOYEAUX, and to the unfortunate Roland JOURDAIN (FRA), who held second place for more than half of the duration of his race, from whom LE CLÉAC'H inherited second place. He recalled the emotional, stressful times at Cape Horn when he took turns to pass the upturned hull of VM Matériaux, knowing skipper Jean LE CAM (FRA) was inside, and explained the stress of these final days. He was a novice in the Southern Oceans where he found his rhythm much of the time alongside Vincent RIOU (FRA), the 2004 Vendée Globe champion, before sailing an assured leg up the Atlantic, simply consistent and regular to the end: the watchwords to his success. His abiding philosophy has been to 'hold on and hang in there til the end' and that is what he did.
Meanwhile, some 1,500 or 1,600 miles back down the Vendée Globe track, out in the Atlantic west of the Azores, Marc GUILLEMOT (FRA) has swiftly taken the upper hand in the duel for third with Sam DAVIES (GBR) onboard Roxy. DAVIES had a long, very slow night in the clutches of the Azores High pressure, which effectively took a second bite at her. The stark tale is told by the 24 hour stats, GUILLEMOT made 365 miles in 24 hours, DAVIES just 69.7, a punishment scarcely deserved by DAVIES, but one which she has acknowledged she will put down as a Vendée Globe lesson, and which in effect should have little bearing on her finishing place. The Roxy skipper had picked up speed this afternoon again and was making 10.8 knots, calculated to be 98 miles behind GUILLEMOT on Safran.
Brian THOMPSON (GBR) onboard Bahrain Team Pindar had suffered this morning and overnight with the slow, sticky going as he seeks to cross the west side of the Azores high but he has picked up speed again this afternoon, making around 10 knots again but with some 250 miles, or at least a day's sailing before he reaches the track of the Atlantic low pressure systems and the brisker SW'lies. He knows he has a race on his hands with Dee CAFFARI (GBR) on Aviva who is now less than 50 miles behind in terms of DTF but she too will have to route west around the high, so her margin to Thompson is slightly enhanced by the fact she is closer to the theoretical direct course to Cape Finisterre. In straight line terms the direct distance between the two is closer to 220 miles. CAFFARI is slowing slightly but still two knots quicker than Thompson.
Steve WHITE (GBR) will cross back into the Northern Hemisphere later this evening, with 70 miles to go to the Equator and 16:30 UTC, making a very respectable 10 knots given that he is supposedly traversing the ICTZ or Doldrums.
Vendee Globe Leaderboard - 15:00 UTC 7 February 2009
1. Michel DESJOYEAUX (FRA), Foncia finished after 84 days 3 hours, 9 minutes
2. Armel LE CLÉAC'H (FRA), Brit Air finished after 89 days 9 hours 39 minutes
3. Marc GUILLEMOT (FRA), Safran at 1532
4. Sam DAVIES (GBR), Roxy at 1629 miles to finish
5. Brian THOMPSON (GBR), Bahrain Team Pindar 2000 miles to finish
6. Dee CAFFARI (GBR), Aviva at 2042 miles to finish
7. Arnaud BOISSIÈRES (FRA), Akena Vérandas at 2591 miles to finish
8. Steve WHITE (GBR), Toe in the Water 3315 miles to finish
9. Rich WILSON (USA), Great American III at 4834 miles to finish
10. Raphaël DINELLI (FRA), Fondation Océan Vital at 6126 miles to finish
11. Norbert SEDLACEK (AUT), Nauticsport - Kapsch at 6526 miles to finish
30 boats started
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