The video footage from the French Navy Helicopter was exceptional. As a sailing fan we have never really seen this sort of deep Southern ocean footage. And more interestingly it told a story of this race. Le Cleac’h video appeared first in it we see the boat powering along at a steady and good pace on port tack. At this point Le Cleac’h was ahead of Thomson. The boat is generally flat and the skipper took no risks of getting wet and barely came out from under the extended cuddy these boats now sport to keep the excessive water off. He has a fractional reacher and 2 reefs in the main. The boat looked stable as it used the full possibilities of its undamaged foils.
Cut to Hugo Boss. Alex tells the helicopter his sail plan but you can see it as well. Two reefs, fractional code zero AND a stay-sail. Alex comes bouncing out of the boat like an excited puppy, using the opportunity of going outside to tidy up and check a few things, iterally running all over the boat. He finishes off by standing on the weather rail proudly holding a Union Jack. The boat, without its starboard foil is bucking and literally ploughing its way through the waves (you can see why autopilot failure at these extremes are so catastrophic).
Since then the lead has swapped several times. On port tack, if the wind is up, say 30kts, then advantage Thomson as he fearlessly loads up the sails and ploughs on. It is becoming apparent at this wind speed and sea state that the foils add less help. Don’t forget, this is the first time foils have been used in the southern ocean and certainly the first time they have raced with them. If the wind moderates to below 25 or even 20kts, advantage Le Cleac’h as the foils begin to lift the boat out of the water and the stump Thomson is left with just holds him back.
That is the case untill they to gybe Starboard. At this point Thomson appears to be faster in al point of sail off the wind and closes any lead that has opened and then opens up a lead of his own.
So after tacking downwind, bouncing off the ice gate for the last few days, I believe according to Thomson’s latest update they are now on port and will stay there for some time.
Lets hope he can start to really build a lead.
That statement might appear a bit jingoistic, but hey this is my blog and I am a Brit, but there are many others in the sailing world who would like an English speaking win of this famously French race. If Thomson wins then it is almost certain that a Short Handed Offshore Keelboat race would enter the olympics within the next few cycles. This at the recent Yacht Racing Forum was proposed by many as the saviour of olympic sailing.
I don’t know if it is but it would be a hell of a lot of fun. And perhaps my Olympic dream might not be over yet!?
In other news in the race Jean-Pierre Dick on St Michael Virbac has had to do an interesting about turn to avoid a penalty being imposed after he strayed over the virtual ice wall (see below video). He did not download the most recent update (it moves depending on Ice reports) and was force to retrace his steps.
This race continues to deliver vast quantities of excitement. Imagine it all on TV with an Olympic Gold at the end.