Vincent RIOU's lead has grown progressively over the last 24 hours, from 75.6 miles to 158.0 miles ahead of Bonduelle (Jean LE CAM) and now also has 233.8 miles on hand over Ecover (Mike GOLDING). He may have smelt the scent of a win, which remarkably could mean PRB beating her own record, but today Riou would only say that he is trying to keep his head and think only of the finish.With just one, major, but reasonably settled weather system ahead to deal with, the odds, at the moment, are stacked against the pursuers.
Golding and Le Cam are only looking forwards too. Outwardly their contrasting ways of dealing with what faces them over the next five or six days is revealing. Le Cam makes light of the situation, admitting that the routing software has PRB arriving around 12 hours before the second placed boat, but, he volunteers:
'That's what the routing says but it is not a question of giving up. You have to be optimistic in the final month. He could lose a runner, hit a container, damage a keel….anything. If he goes just a little slower it will not be enough.'
Golding thinks there are still some options left before the finish, but has been keeping a close eye on Bonduelle up ahead as well, last night waiting for Bonduelle to gybe away from the lighter winds of the high pressure before making his move.
Golding said today 'My tactics at this stage are really just looking at the bigger picture. There's still 1500 miles to go and things could change. I want to close on Bonduelle. The main thing I'm concentrating on is making the correct choices to get to Les Sables d'Olonne. I'd be prepared to lose some miles to Bonduelle if I thought I'd be able to make some gains on PRB. I'm physically ready for the final slog home. It's a great race and I feel pretty happy.'
Vincent RIOU'S lead may look established now but the leader is trying not to let his thoughts stray to the possibility of victory, rather to remain quietly satisfied with how he has dealt with the last few days.
'I don't really know what will happen ahead but I saw this coming a few days ago and I am happy with where I am. The pressure is always up when you see the pursuers attacking. This game is always the same, about pressure.' He reported today, believing that they have now escaped the lighter winds of the anticyclone. 'I will wait for the last few metres before saying if I can win or not as I don't know the conditions ahead and there is still a way to go and it is always a minefield with anti-cyclonic weather.'
At 22h30 local time in the safety of Rio Janeiro the Brazilian patrol vessel, which towed Skandia finally dropped the tow-lines allowing Nick MOLONEY, who lost his keel on Wednesday and has now officially retired from the race, to motor the final stretch to Marina da Gloria. Moloney was the seventh skipper to retire from this Vendée Globe, which had 20 starters back on 7 November 2004.
Leader Riou is trying as hard as possible to preserve his energy and his boat and not push too hard: 'I was two or three knots slower last night at times because it just didn't seem sensible to push it when the seas were quite messy.' He likens the finish and the dominant anticyclone to a giant chessboard, concluding: '...but it is better here for me than for the others.'
He has been sailing in SE'ly winds for a while now after a little depression, with the wind almost on the beam. Riou reported that he is directly on course now for Finisterre but it will be crucial how they line up around the high pressure, which will be blocking the finish. 'The systems are looking a little clearer. If I can go easily at the moment then I will, I don't want to push the boat.'
Vincent still believes the ETA of the winning boat will be some time from early on Feb 2nd or the 3rd if the seas are difficult, but it certainly looks possible from the 2nd. He is fairly confident as the layout for the systems ahead, to the finish is fairly stable and there is really only one weather system to cross with no more tricky transition zones…. '…nothing particularly hazardous now.'
By reputation slightly reserved and fastidious Riou, when questioned if he is looking forward to the excitement of the finish in Les Sables d'Olonne, quipped that he is most of all looking forward to some good sleep. His only recent damage is a batten car, which he has replaced, but meantime it is a case of recharging the mental and physical batteries for the final stretch to the finish.
'There is still the worry of the course to the finish and I have to just keep my head on my shoulders, to eat, drink and sleep well. The finish is still quite far away. It is fatiguing though and I could not go around twice! Psychologically it is hard, you mustn't let yourself dream, but to keep questioning everything you do, which is tiring.'
Leading the chasing pack Dominique WAVRE (Temenos) and Sébastien JOSSE (VMI) are still duelling their way up the Northern Atlantic in Trade Winds, 26.4 miles apart. Around 1500 miles behind this duo, Jean Pierre DICK was in typically positive mood today, boosted by the fact that he is less than 500 miles East of Salvador de Bahia in Brazil, where he took victory in the Transat Jacques Vabre in 2003 with Nicolas ABIVEN aboard the very same Farr design boat.
About 800 and 1000 miles behind him respectively, Joé SEETEN and Conrad HUMPHREYS have today switched sides, the British skipper lining up to the right to try and get a better angle in the Trade Winds. Fortunately, after reporting starboard ram problems yesterday, it would seem today that his keel is ok other than losing a bit of pressure, and that with their respective handicaps the two boats are likely to be fairly evenly matched.