The leading boats in the Vendee Globe are now diving south at high speed riding a low pressure system off the Brazilian coast. The sailors that are in the front pack will be routing themselves to stay on the front/northside of this low pressure and ride across the South Atlantic above the Ice Wall.
The sailors cannot sail into as higher latitude as they feel like. The constant threat of drifting ice from Antarctica means that the Vendee Globe organizers position a virtual ice wall that starts at Gough Island (10° West, 40° North) which the sailors leave that to starboard and continues on around the world to prevent them from getting to near the Antarctic ice. The sailors will then slip away south toward the Kerguelen Islands before staying within 1500 miles of the south coast of Australia, so 1500 miles from a rescue center before the wall bends away again down to 60° for the passing of Cape Horn.
During the 1996 race there was no course limits other than leaving 3 capes to port, Good Hope, Leeuwin and Horn. 3 boats capsized deep in the Indian Ocean (Bullimore, Dubios, Dinelli) and one, Gerry Roufs, disappeared. After this race although many competitors disagreed ice gates were introduced for the first time.
My view (and I am allowed one as it is my blog) is that the ice wall is a necessary course container to prevent the unthinkable happening. In 1996 when Roufs was lost at sea the Vendee was still cutting edge and quite niche with only 16 entries. This race has 29 competitors in far more advanced expensive boats they are almost certain to better the race record of last event and keeping them a little north of the ice zone and the biggest storms of the southern ocean is a small price to pay.
In this version of the race Alex Thomson is still extending his lead as they dive toward Gough Island and start to bring the bows round onto an easterly course. At this mornings 0800UTC report he was 130nm ahead of the second place boat. This is starting to again put him into the next weather system which could be more favourable. He is also likely to keep the current strong winds for longer pushing him even further ahead.