The top ten have passed the first security ice gate of the Vendée Globe race, with Seb JOSSE and BT at the front of the fleet although the French skipper saw his lead cut to less than two miles.
With the top ten either through or very close to the virtual gate Seb JOSSE (BT), has seen his lead shrunk to just 1.7 miles from Jean-Pierre DICK (Paprec-Virbac 2) who has been consistently quick, fastest overnight and fastest this morning.
JOSSE and his most regular shadow, Yann ELIÈS (Generali) made their approach though the gate from the north and are now well placed 75-80 miles to the south of DICK. Generali has conceded second to DICK meantime.
Relative speeds among the front runners are shaken up by the variable breeze - skippers still report sharp rises and falls in wind speed and direction - between 15 and 30 knots at times - making for a tough life in terms of choosing and changing sail combinations, and also positions shuffled by the options taken to pass the ice-gate. The permutations are many, but deviations from the optimal route in order to pass the gate, have temporarily shuffled the order among the top ten.
While DICK rises to second place, Vincent RIOU (PRB) has slid to eighth, just 10 miles ahead of British skipper Mike GOLDING (Ecover 3) who passed through the gate northwest to southeast last night and has gained some 10 miles on JOSSE overnight.
Michel DESJOYEAUX (Foncia), now 10th, 154 miles off the lead captured the frustration of his night, reporting when he was about 20 miles from the ice gate early this morning:
"Yesterday was a nice day with sunshine, calm seas, the waves from behind, but not too much wind, 15-20 knots. The forecast said the wind would gradually strengthen, as the low moved in. So when the wind arrived, we'd deal with it by lowering some sail. Yesterday evening under spinnaker, the wind strengthened to above 20 knots. I'm watching. Above 24 knots. I get ready to take down some sail. A first gust at 27 knots. It's already dark. The boat is surfing at 23-24 knots. That's done. With a third of the moon, we can see what's going on. Clouds scudding along. Another gust at 29 knots. Get ready for a blow. Final manoeuvres. A 31-knot gust. Usually I take down the spinnaker to be on the safe side at 25 knots at night. So it's time to do something. I drop the spinnaker sock. 28 metres of rope to deal with. In 30 knots. Spinnaker down. Stowed. Up with the solent. Wind 30 knots. I tell myself I've done the right thing. I'm going back to bed. A bowl of Chinese noodles. Wake up an hour or so later. Look at the dials. Only 20 knots. We're pitifully slow. Up with the gennaker. More quickly than I remember doing before. The sun comes up. In an hour it will be above thirty again. A damned awful night. Too much caution and you lose confidence."
Meantime the chasing pack are getting the stronger, more settled breeze and making their direct approach to the gate. Gains for the likes of Dominique WAVRE (SUI) on Temenos II, Brian THOMPSON (GBR) on Bahrain Team Pindar, Sam DAVIES (GBR) on Roxy, have been of the order of 15-30 miles since yesterday afternoon's ranking, while Bernard STAMM (SUI) onboard Cheminées Poujoulat has made closer to 55 miles, and is in 16th place after passing Arnaud BOISSIERES (Akena Verandas) yesterday.
Vendee Globe Leadeboard - 05:00 UTC 4 December 2008
1. Seb Josse (FRA), BT at 18090.8nm to finish
2. Jean-Pierre Dick (FRA), Paprec-Virbac 2 +1.7nm
3. Yann Elies (FRA), Generali + 3.1nm
4. Loïck Peyron (FRA), Gitana Eighty + 21.9nm
5. Jean Le Cam (FRA), VM Matériaux +46.5nm
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