By choosing to get close to the Ice Exclusion Zone a couple days ago, the British sailor, Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) made his break and is now in the most favourable position to get away from the Azores low, which will be sweeping across the north of the islands tonight. Alex is expected to gybe this evening to head straight towards Les Sables d’Olonne.
Knowing that this low-pressure area coming down from Newfoundland was going to grow to take over more than half of the North Atlantic with a strengthening NW’ly air stream, they had to get the timing just right to remain ahead of this area, because behind the front, the wind is in excess of 40 knots with gusts of more than 55 knots, promising to offer quite a blow to the island of Florès tonight. Alex Thomson passed the halfway point last night after exactly four days of racing. Not only does he now have a lead of more than 80 miles over his nearest rivals, but more importantly, he is well positioned to remain ahead of this weather system and sail more or less along the Great Circle Route…
Lower down, 150 miles further south, the pair formed by Sébastien Josse (Edmond de Rothschild) and Jérémie Beyou (Maître CoQ) will feel the full force of these unstable and violent winds, as the front reaches them. The way the wind swings around this Azores low will whip up the seas with gale force westerlies and the risk of having to gybe in the worst of the storm. Meanwhile, the British competitor will be in a SSW’ly wind, which should be easier to handle (20-25 knots) on much friendlier seas. This should allow him to step up the pace without feeling too much stress… The other two solo sailors should expect a very rough evening, where looking after the gear will come ahead of speed.
The situation is already very different for the following group, which has to continue due east to sail close to the Azores in order to remain south of the worst of the storm: Paul Meilhat (SMA) and Tanguy de Lamotte (Initiatives Cœur) are already 250 miles behind, but may escape the worst weather and find lighter conditions on Saturday with the wind gradually turning to the SW. This wind will ease on Sunday, as the low-pressure area loses strength over the weekend. While the Japanese sailor, Kijiro Shiraishi (Spirit of Yukoh) should avoid the worst after turning towards the ESE last night, Vincent Riou (PRB), the furthest south, more than 500 miles from the leader from N to S., has decided to slide under the weather system and appears to be making for the island of Sao Miguel for his pit stop in the Azores.
The famous five behind all that
As for the ‘famous five,’ who had to carry out pit stops in Newport, or who left New York later (Conrad Colman-100% Natural Energy), they are still finding it tricky in a shallow low extending back from the Azores system. These light and variable winds should freshen over the weekend with a new low forming to the south of Nova Scotia on Saturday evening. This will be sweeping across the Atlantic pushing away the previous system, but much further down: the winds are likely to strengthen, while not posing too many problems, as expected to be around thirty knots, but those at the back will have to stay below 37°N. Passing the Azores is once again likely to be rough, as the new area of low pressure will replace the previous one and deepen.
On Tuesday, when the ‘famous five’ are going to have to reduce sail as they approach the islands, the leader should be in the Bay of Biscay within sight of the coast of Vendée, where it is likely to be extremely calm. The low pressure areas are sucking the wind out of Western Europe and by the end of the weekend, areas of calm will develop off the French coast… When he reaches the longitude of Cape Finisterre, the British sailor will discover a very different seascape from the lively conditions off the Azores this weekend.