The 40-year old sailor who was forced out of the 2008-9 race and the 2012-13 race during the first weeks of both with different technical problems, completed the non-stop solo round the world race for the first time today after 78 days 6 hrs 38 mins and 40 seconds. Up with the leaders from the start on Sunday 6thNovember, Jérémie Beyou, who struggled with numerous technical difficulties this time, has shown his considerable skill, determination and stamina. Indeed British skipper Alex Thomson, who finished second, earlier today confirmed he often felt threatened by the talented French sailor who is one of the few skippers to have won La Solitaire du Figaro, the French annual summer solo offshore stage series. Beyou was always there ready to pounce behind the two frontrunners. He showed good all-round speed with his older, 2010 boat which was retro-fitted with foils. The Breton skipper achieved his goal by making it to third place and so all three top places in this race are taken by foil assisted VPLP-Verdier designs.
Thomson revealed that for several days now he has been battling problems with the wind instruments on his cutting-edge 60ft race boat Hugo Boss, which in turn have prevented the yacht's autopilot from working properly. In spite of knocking miles off Le Cléac'h's lead overnight he said he had not slept for two days and was now dangerously tired. Speaking to the Vendée Live show today Thomson said his thoughts were on getting Hugo Boss' anemometers working again rather than the impending finish in Les Sables d'Olonne, France. "I don't think I can catch Armel," he said. "The routing is very clear – we will go nearly to the Scilly Isles, wait for a left shift and when it comes we tack. There are no real options for me any more, I think my options have run out. It might be possible to catch a few miles but it's difficult for me at the moment. Until I can get my autopilot driving on a wind angle it'll be very tricky in the conditions I have. I can't imagine another few days like the last couple of days. I don't have any tension about the finish. I have tension about trying to make the autopilots work. I've got an anemometer in my hand and I'm trying to splice wires. I don't care about the finish right now, I just want to sleep.”
Frustratingly for the battling duo, despite already reaching the latitude of the finish line in Les Sables d'Olonne, France, they are being forced to sail much further north due to an anticyclone currently blocking their path home. The routing the pair must follow could take them as far north as the Scilly Isles, an archipelago off the coast of Cornwall in the south-west of Britain, before they can tack and finally point their bows towards the finish.
In the last 24 hours, Hugo Boss skipper Thomson has scythed another 10 miles off Le Cléac'h's advantage, and at the 1400 UTC position update was doing 20.4 knots compared to his French rival's 19.7. But even at that rate he will not be able to reduce the deficit enough to overhaul Le Cléac'h before the finish line. Thomson's hopes of becoming the first Brit to win the Vendée Globe in its 27-year history lie in tactics, namely the precise moment to tack and head for Les Sables. Although the advantage is now firmly with Banque Populaire VIII skipper Le Cléac'h the race will not be over until the finish line is crossed. Indeed, in the 2004-05 Vendée Globe fellow Brit Mike Golding lost his keel 50nm from the finish line and had to limp home in third place at two knots. The current ETA for the leaders is Thursday, with the routing suggesting Le Cléac'h will cross the line between 1200 and 1400 local time followed closely by Thomson.
During the 24-hour period between 0700hrs yesterday and 0700hrs today, he sailed Hugo Boss at an average speed of 22.36 knots. His 24-hour distance beats the record of 534.48 miles set by French sailor François Gabart in the 2012-13 edition of the Vendée Globe. He actually bettered Gabart's record two weeks into the race, sailing 535.34 miles in 24 hours, but the rules of the record state it must be superseded by one whole mile.
A costly passage through the Doldrums for Le Cléac’h has now been compounded by complex weather uncharacteristic of this part of the ocean. By rights Le Cléac’h should be enjoying fast sailing on Banque Populaire VIII in steady north-easterly trade winds, conditions that could have allowed him to consolidate his lead over Thomson's Hugo Boss. Instead a large depression 1,500 nautical miles to the north is disrupting the trades and playing havoc with Le Cléac’h's bid for a first Vendée Globe title. “The situation isn’t very clear in comparison to the forecasts,” the exasperated Breton skipper said. “For two or three days it’s been hard getting north. It’s been thundery weather since the Equator. The Doldrums travelled up with us with big clouds and heavy squalls. It hasn’t been as thundery since yesterday, but is very cloudy, and we’ve got some more complicated patches ahead. It’s different from the usual scenario and I’m at the limit of my understanding of the weather.”