French race leader Jean-Luc Van Den Heede served out his 18 hour penalty (for improper use of his satellite phone) on Saturday and is now clear to race the remaining 2,150 miles to the finish at Les Sables d’Olonne. He expects to arrive there on 26 January.
While Jean-Luc was serving his ‘time-out’ in the penalty box south of the 20°N parallel, 2nd placed Dutchman Mark Slats was powering northwards through the SE Trades at more than 5 knots and by 08:00 UTC today, had closed the difference in ‘distance to finish’ to within 417 miles. Worse for Jean-Luc, the NE Trade winds have disappeared and he is likely to be facing the frustration of calms until Wednesday at least, while Slats continues to make strong gains.
The weather map below shows the blue area of calms blocking the path of Van Den Heede and his yacht Matmut and the narrow band of north-easterly winds coming off the African coast, which Slats and his rival Rustler 36 Ophen Maverick are striving to reach.
This creates a big opportunity and sets the scene for a tactical battle with the wind gods playing their part during the week ahead. Slats is currently making 5.0 knots and this is likely to continue until he reaches the same 20°N latitude where Jean-Luc is sitting. From then on it will simply be a case of powering into the NE Trades up to the Bay of Biscay, which could also spring more surprises before the finish.
Third placed Estonian skipper Uku Randmaa and his Rustler 36 One and All, survived last week’s South Atlantic storm unscathed, and now finds himself drifting in a hole, making only 1 knot on Sunday, so has used the time to dive overboard and give the hull another clean. The forecast suggests that the winds will not return until later today – and then from the north. His climb up towards the Equator will not any easier than it was for the two leaders but at least temperatures are warming by the day.
Surprisingly, Istvan Kopar, who rounded Cape Horn on December 1, has made most progress of all during the past 5 days, but now head winds have become his new reality and Puffin’s VMG has dropped to 2.8 knots today.
Also surprising is the 5.1 knots recorded by Tapio Lehtinen’s Finnish entry Asteria. She is covered in barnacle growth, which is sapping her speed at an ever-increasing rate. Last week, GGR HQ lifted the restriction of the NO-GO ZONE south of the 42°S Parallel in the South Pacific as a safety measure for Lehtinen to escape the worst of a Southern Ocean storm running up behind, and Tapio has been running before strong NE wind towards Cape Horn ever since.