The seemingly relentless pace of Yoann Richomme (Paprec Arkéa) is ensuring the French leader of the Retour à La Base continues to add miles to his margin, extending all the time on the duo chasing him Jéremie Beyou (Charal) and Briton Sam Goodchild (FOR THE PLANET). 

As they approach the Azores, just over 150 miles ahead of Richomme (Paprec Arkéa) this evening, at 77 miles ahead Richomme has added a further 25 miles to his cushion since yesterday. And as they ride a new low pressure system there seems every chance that his margin will grow substantially.

Goodchild (For The Planet) is locked in a close battle with Beyou (Charal) who seems to have recovered from his technical issues which hampered him three days ago. The British skipper was pleased today to be heading towards the finish port of Lorient where the winner should arrive Saturday afternoon or evening. 

He reported this afternoon, “We have just gone through the cold front and out the other side and so now heading northeast, for the finish, which is good. I should do this for another six or seven hundred miles or so. So I am happy with this, trying to get some good miles done and with some light winds chasing us, if we get what we wish for then the boats out the back may lose and we will get some more breathing space. There is quite a big depression coming through between the Azores and the finish with quite big winds and seas so we are keeping a close eye on it, hopefully it does not get too messy, it is not as straightforward as I would like it to be. It is December in the Bay of Biscay and we need to keep an eye on it.


Indeed gaps between skippers in the top ten are starting to open more, some of them due to the technical failures which are affecting more and more boats. Germany’s Boris Herrmann (Malizia-Seaexplorer) was suffering from being unable to start his engine to generate power last night – it being not bright enough for solar generation and too fast for hydro-generators - and also blew off the cover of one of his cockpit drains which has meant he has had to spend many hours baling water from the cockpit of his IMOCA.
While Herrmann has held on to fifth he is now 70 miles behind fourth Sébastien Simon (Groupe Dubreuil). Simon is finally having a good race, sailing the The Ocean Race winning former 11th Hour Racing but he, too, lost time last night after suffering a head injury which he had to manage in close consultation with the race doctor. 

Sam Davies (Initiatives Coeur) lies seventh and her resolve has been put to the test over the last 24 hours also.
She wrote today, “First of all I had a water alarm from the bow. Obviously I had to slow down to check and the alarm was right - loads of water. So pump out and see where it’s coming from. Luckily it was from a blown seal around my J3 ram. Easy ish fix: unscrew, replace seal, add Sika for good measure, re-close and seal tight. Job done, time to accelerate again !

On my way back from the bow I took’ the time to check the foil ram, as I had been losing pressure and unable to keep the rake on. Disappointing to find oil dripping from a busted hose. So next mission - make a wedge to mechanically fix at an ‘average’ rake. The making bit I could do more or less at full speed (being very careful with the power tools!) but I had to slow down again to install the wedge and sika it in place. Job done!!

Unfortunately (or maybe it should be fortunately!) whilst in the foil case working on the starboard foil, I gave a quick check on the port side and disappointed to see a turning block on the foil down system had been ripped off the bulkhead (damaging the foil down line in the process.)  So, another job to do… My super team got thinking on how to sort something out for this one and so I decided it was time to eat something and get some energy ready for the foil down repair.

(Obviously, all this is being done whilst trying to maintain the boat at 100% speed with the right sails and trim!).
As I sat down, sandwich in one hand, electrolytes drink in the other…. BANG!! A huge explosion and the sound of ripping ropes and the boat slows down… I drop the sandwich and drink to run to deal with the problem…

The attachment for the tack of my gennaker had blown up, the tack then ripped off, ripping everything along its way, and the sail then was left flailing out to leeward! I quickly bore away, harness on, grabbed some rope, clips and bits and ran forward and managed to get a « leash » on the base of the sail that I could use to winch it back forward… success! I got the sail under control and managed to switch furlers and winch the tack back on my second tack line.

Then, I had to clear up the mess. The pulpit had been ripped clean off, the KJ jammer ripped off the deck, broken lines to untangle. I cleaned up and fixed my lifelines to the stem fitting on the bow, and now I will have to be extremely careful manoeuvring on the bow.

This was a long « down time » going slow again… and I still hadn’t done the foil fix.. finally it was night before I managed to fix a « B system » for the foil down. But all good now.” 

More and more boats are encountering similar problems, a reflection of how hard the boats are being pushed.

It is certainly food for thought when we look ahead to next year’s Vendée Globe. Some of these problems you might ‘normally’ start to see in the Pacific on the Vendée and we are just over half way across the Atlantic on a ten or 11 day race. So we are all, I guess, going to be thinking about spares and tools, how we sort systems so they are easily and swiftly swapped in and out.” Suggests Joff Brown, Medallia’s highly experienced Technical Director who has five Vendée Globe programmes under his belt, all finishers.

Medallia skipper Pip Hare has not been short of small problems either, also losing her foil downline, which took her the best part of six hours to sort out. That said Hare had set a new speed record for her boat yesterday at 37.2kts but tonight is ruing her lost time and ending up out of position.

She reported this evening “I did not cross the front, the front has just crossed me, I have a reasonably big sea state out here, maybe 3m, and it has been a quite eventful 18 hours for me. I was loving life in the fast lane pre-front and last night about 21hrs my foil down line broke so I had to replace that which was quite a big job. That took three hours. I had to climb inside the foil case and take all the inspection hatches off, it was quite an involved job. And when I went to cant the keel the keel ram was making a terrible noise, which was an indicator that it was leaking oil again. There was about a litre and a half of oil underneath the reservoir. After doing the downline I had to then take a couple of hoses of the rams and replace the knackered O rings and I just did not want to do that with the boat going fast, and I wanted to keep on the port gybe. I lost five hours sailing dead downwind fixing things but the good news is I am all back up and going and so far I have not lost any more oil out of the keel ram. The bad news is I am not far enough north to avoid this area of no wind which is coming our way rapidly. There is hope and I am pressing on as best I can but I fear I am going to be becalmed in about four hours with three metre seas running. That will be delightful! I am a bit gutted because I was having a good race until then.”