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21 November 2012, 08:08 am
Cléac'h Crosses The Equator While Gutek Retires From Vendee Globe
Armel Le Cléac'h on Banque Populaire
Armel Le Cléac'h on Banque Populaire

Vendee Globe
Les Sables, France

At 07:20 (UTC) on 21 November, the Vendée Globe leader, Armel Le Cléac'h, (Banque Populaire), crossed the Equator in 10 days 19 hours and 18min.
The effect of one of the toughest passages through the Doldrums that even the most experienced skippers in the top six can remember is clear. As even in a new lightning fast boat, Le Cléac'h was almost eight hours outside the record of 10 days 11 hours and 28 minutes Jean Le Cam set in 2004.

Le Cléac'h's time is the second fastest in the history of the race, easily beating the 12 days 08 hours and 58 minutes that Loïck Peyron took in 2008-09.

At 12:34 Zbigniew "Gutek" Gutkowski, Energa Sailing Team confirmed that he is retiring from the failing to fix issues with his electronic equipment, saying "Today I need to officially announce what I've been thinking about for days. Being brave is not only about fighting, it is also about knowing where to stop. I know my team and friends did their best as well. And I am extremely grateful for the huge support I got. But I can't carry on like that. Having no autopilot means I can't race, and if I can't race, I have to retire. That's a tough decision, one of toughest in my life. But that's Vendee Globe, that's the power of the ocean and you can't fight it."

Fleet news
Francois Gabart (Macif) moved back into second as the pack of five chasing Le Cléac'h began to divide after an intense 36 hours of hand-to-hand fighting. Gabart is 39 miles behind the leader but there were still only eight miles between the four chasing him on Wednesday morning. Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) has lost touch, relative to what has gone before, 13 miles behind Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac-Paprec 3), in sixth. Dick slipped back from second to fifth.

In his overnight message Gabart, the 29-year-old skipper and youngest in ther fleet revelled in the close fought battle in the Doldrums. "It was predicted ... But at this point!?" he wrote. "Yesterday morning (Tuesday), leaving the Doldrums, we were five boats in visual contact!

From the beginning, the times when I did not at least one teammate on the AIS (Automatic Identification System) are rare! This race is beautiful. It's too bad Armel was not part of the fight. He usually likes this kind of battle. OK, he's thinking it was better to pave the way! Congratulations to him. He sails impeccably."

The forecast is for 12 knots south easterly trade winds that will become easterly the further south the boats go. And they will have to go south, there is no choice because the St Helena high, in the South Atlantic, is active and large at the moment. Thus, although Le Cléac'h is 3350 miles to the Equator as the swallow flies, they sail more than 4000 miles as they pass it.

The question is whether the British, French and Swiss triumvirate, behind the leading pack; Mike Golding (Gamesa), Jean Le Cam (SynerCiel) and, Dominique Wavre (Mirabaud) can make up enough ground to catch the same low pressure system south. They have not been nearly as badly affected by the Doldrums but Golding, who has banked over 100 miles, was 169 miles behind the leader.

Seven Boats Given Penalty
Following a protest from both HUGO BOSS and the Race Committee, several skippers were expecting the international Race Jury's decision regading the way they sailed in or trough the Finisterre Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS). The jury's decision is as follows:
Synerciel, Mirabaud, Acciona, Initiatives Coeur and Energa are given a 2-hour penalty.
Gamesa is given a 30-minute penalty.
Virbac Paprec 3 is given a 20-minute penalty.

Details regarding the penalty implementation will be determined by the Race Management in consultation with the skippers. Grounds for the decision can be found in the race's official notice board.

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