A gripping Vendee Globe entered a new phase on Monday as the three leaders, separated by just 70 nautical miles, headed towards the Antarctic Exclusion Zone (AEZ) in search of the winds that will drive them up into the Pacific Ocean.
Charlie Dalin still leads in Apivia, as he has done for the last three weeks, but the gap has shrunk from 300nm last week to just 65nm at 1700GMT Monday.
Yannick Bestaven, who is second in Maitre Coq IV, and Thomas Ruyant, another 5nm back in LinkedOut, give chase.
The three frontrunners crossed the longitude of Cape Leeuwin, on the south-western tip of Australia, on Sunday within three hours and 20 minutes of each other, making this ninth edition of the solo non-stop round-the-world race the tightest yet.
On the back of a low pressure system, these three now have the chance to take advantage of fast sailing conditions to open up a big lead on the rest of the fleet that has been chasing them hard.
Fourth-placed Damien Seguin is 321nm behind Dalin.
The 33-strong fleet, now down to 27, left Les Sables d’Olonne on November 8 and the leaders, all with the new generation ‘foiler’ boats, are now approaching the halfway point in the race which takes them on a 24,296 nautical mile trip.
Sailing to the south of Australia, Dalin has chosen to move away from New Zealand to navigate along the AEZ, set in place by the race director to protect the skippers from ‘growlers’, small blocks that have detached from larger icebergs and are drifting across the sea.
“I passed Cape Leeuwin in the lead and now we can dive further south to get strong winds along the ice zone,” Dalin said Monday as he braced himself for more cold days and freezing nights.
“In the next few days, we will change the system, we will have a slightly different wind along the ice zone, we will continue to advance, but the wind will gradually turn.”
The leader is taking part in his first Vendee Globe as he discovers the joys of the South Seas.
Tucked in behind him is Ruyant, who gave up second place to Bestaven on Monday.
“At night, it is freezing! I put on several layers of fleeces and sweaters and I sleep with a duvet. My cockpit is closed so in the cockpit and in the boat, it’s nice.”
Ruyant has had to deal with a damaged foil but has not allowed that to disrupt his progress.
“I have found solutions to deal with the lack of my port foil,” he said.
“I play with the ballast a lot, I trim and push hard.”
Ruyant is about to head into fresh waters as his previous attempt at the race in 2016 ended before he reached the Pacific when he hit an unidentified floating object while sailing between Australia and New Zealand.
“Geographically, we’re still in the Indian Ocean and I can’t wait to cross the longitude of New Zealand, to be in the Pacific which I don’t know.
“I’ve had my share of struggles and now it’s all good.”
Further back in the fleet, Maxime Sorel (V and B Mayenne) was struggling over the weekend with two large tears on two of the sailboat’s headsails.
He spent nine hours trying to repair them, including climbing up the mast in rough sea conditions to fix the J3.
“My sewing needles were flying, the boat was still surfing but I got the job done on this sail,” said Sorrel who is 11th, some 697nm behind Dalin. “I’m totally burnt out. I don’t have a lot of repair material left.”
1. Charlie Dalin (FRA/Apivia) 12,840.8 nautical miles from finish, 2. Yannick Bestaven (FRA/Maitre Coq IV) at 65.0nm, 3. Thomas Ruyant (FRA/LinkedOut) 70.3nm, 4. Damien Seguin (FRA/Groupe Apicil) 320.9nm, 5. Jean Le Cam (FRA/Yes we Cam!) 324.7nm, 6. Benjamin Dutreux (FRA/OMIA-Water Family) 329.2nm, 7. Louis Burton (FRA/Bureau Vallee 2) 345.0nm, 8. Boris Herrmann (GER/Seaexplorer-Yacht Club de Monaco) 407.6nm, 9. Isabelle Joschke (GER/MACSF) 472.2nm, 10. Giancarlo Pedote (ITA/Prysmian Group) 498.7nm.