The Vendée Globe fleet are approximately one-third of their way through the 24,275nm round the world course but still less than 10nm separates race leader Jean-Pierre DICK from his closet rival.
Although just 50nm cover first to fifth place in the race, the separation across the remainder of the fleet is much greater, with front to back now more than 2,200 miles apart in terms of their distance to the finish. Currently however the leaders are going through a transition period, making it catch up time for the middle of the fleet who are now making the best speeds.
With the stronger winds coming from behind the fleet, the gaps between the leaders have continued to diminish. Jean-Pierre DICK (FRA) leads for his fourth successive day on Paprec-Virbac 2. Yesterday Roland JOURDAIN (FRA) onboard Veolia Environnement in the south and Seb JOSSE (FRA) on BT to his north, traded second and third places. However by this morning, JOSSE had gained the upper hand, being slightly quicker in his position, furthest east and about 70 miles further north than race leader and is now just 8.8 miles behind DICK.
Reflecting on his position yesterday, JOSSE said it was all about finding the right balance, "Conditions are quite calm as we are between two low pressure systems. There is about 15 knots of wind and the waves are about 2m high, it's grey, no colour outside at all and it's cold with a lot of humidity inside the boat so it is really hard to dry anything. I'm happy with my position - the boats in the south are on the shorter course but it is more dangerous because of the ice. It's not easy to manage the strategy between the north and south but I try to manage the best I can, to make a nice course and not go 200% or even 100% all the time, just to make a nice curve on the map!"
Mike GOLDING (GBR) onboard Ecover 3 moving for a more southerly position, has been quick through the early part of the night. GOLDING leads the international charge in fifth place overall, 50nm off the lead and 22nm behind fourth-placed Loïck PEYRON (FRA) on Gitana Eighty.
The top ten remain very much in formation as JOSSE's position in the north of the leading pack has given him an advance of about 8.8 miles overnight to present a serious challenge to DICK's lead. JOSSE is the furthest east and was about 47 miles to the north of DICK's position in the small hours of the morning. JOSSE - along with Michel DESJOYEAUX (FRA) on Foncia, PEYRON and Jean LE CAM (FRA) on VM Matériaux - have all been quick at different points through the night.
In general now the chasing group - LE CAM, Vincent RIOU (FRA) on PRB - who are some 90-100 miles behind the leaders, are seeing another five knots of breeze than the leaders.
The choice facing the leaders is whether to op for better breeze now in the north, as opposed to a better angle in the south later. JOSSE has taken up the former option has been racing along more than three knots faster than DICK.
GOLDING is heading south again, looking set to cross the trail of third placed JOURDAIN, who is 21.9 miles behind the fleet leader Paprec-Virbac. GOLDING remains in fifth, but has drawn up to 50.1 miles off the lead, while the ever present threat of DESJOYEAUX in seventh sees the 2001 winner just seven miles behind, still with time enough to wax lyrical in his nocturnal reports.
Tenth placed Yann ELIÈS' (FRA) special sanglier (wild boar stew with corn and red wine) may have been the perfect mental pick-me-up yesterday, but more likely he is placed in the north and west he is finally reaping the reward again for his position, as the new system moves with him. ELIÈS was quickest this morning making 18.4 knots.
Arnaud BOISSIÈRES quipped overnight about having two British girls on his hands as they are the next challenges on the leaderboard, but Dee CAFFARI (GBR) on AVIVA has been resolutely repelling the French skipper's advances and holds an 18.7 miles advantage while Sam DAVIES (GBR) on Roxy is more than 185 miles ahead.
Time To Recuperate, Regroup And Recover
For the leaders, as they negotiate a high pressure ridge and await their own ride on the next weather system, the lighter winds for now mean there is a chance to recuperate, regroup and recover from their own travails and troubles over their first few days in the Indian Ocean.
With one third of the race course now already completed, theoretically, by the leaders, there is the knowledge that there is about three weeks of Southern Ocean conditions still to be dealt with. Tactically these times of transitions are stressful in terms of predicting the optimum times and angles to gybe, but essentially this is time in the waiting room waiting the next express ride east.
Each of the skippers has paid the price to some extent in crossing the Indian Ocean: even the leader DICK recorded that he had let his gennaker go into the water and had had a crash gybe. Most have broached at some point or another, which costs them in time but perhaps more significantly in physical and mental effort. Some like CAFFARI and RIOU have received slight injuries. CAFFARI was hampered by a knee problem which is under control for the moment, while RIOU has an ongoing injury to his Achilles and the sole of his foot.
In this first third of the race, this phenomenon has been seen on several occasions, where many have physically worn themselves out.
Mental sharpness and moods are affected by physical tiredness, exacerbated by the interminable cold, the grey skies, the constant damp, confinement to the cockpit and the difficulties of moving around the boat, particularly when the overall pace has not really changed. Today, they do not feel like taking any risks or want to get away. Priority instead to getting some rest, while maintaining speeds that are high enough to stop them falling behind.
Vendee Globe Leadeboard - 05:00 UTC 4 December 2008
1. Jean-Pierre DICK (FRA), Paprec-Virbac 2 at 16300.9nm to finish
2. Seb JOSSE (FRA), BT + 8.8nm
3. Roland JOURDAIN (FRA), Veolia Environnement, + 21.9nm
4. Loïck PEYRON (FRA), Gitana Eighty + 28.1nm
5. Mike GOLDING (GBR), Ecover 3 + 50.1nm
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