At the start of the race, he suffered a failed J3 headsail lock and his sail fell to the deck with some damage. Armel changed course, planning to use the north coast of Spain for shelter to fix the problem. Once he had managed to make the repairs necessary, he was positioned in 31st place in the rankings, 1.471 miles from the leader. Now if we jump forward to now in week nine, we can see he has fought his way forward to be just 750 miles from the leader.
We have not had chance to really see the potential of his boat as he has been sailing in different weather systems from the boats we would like to compare him to, but his comeback has been impressive. He was fast in the Southern Ocean, making the passage between the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn in 30 days, 15 hours and 12 minutes, only 45 minutes slower than Jeremie Beyou in Charal. But like Jeremie, I am not sure there is enough runway remaining in this race for them to really come back and steal any of the top spots.
Downwind in trade winds
The South Atlantic has had complex weather, and they have had to transition across the cold front that sits off Cape Frio. This has been the biggest stalling feature allowing the fleet to compress. They will next enter the Southern Hemisphere trade winds. A north easterly flow allows the fleet to sail a freed-up course to the north, but it is by no means downwind sailing.
The fleet are currently looking at the risk versus reward stakes when looking at more pressure along the South American coastline against a better angle of wind further offshore. The Atlantic does offer a much flatter seas state and that arguably should allow the foilers to fulfil their potential a little more than we have seen to date.
Next up will be the challenge of the doldrums. Of which we have seen before how easily the door can open for some and then shut again in the face of the next competitor leaving them languishing there for some time. Looking ahead the doldrums are not very active but I would not bet money on that scenario remaining the same in a few days. The doldrums could bring about another reshuffle and possibly even another re-start where we can see any of these first 12 boats jockeying for a position on the podium. From the doldrums is just 3500 miles to the finish line.
Grit your teeth now
The North Atlantic, for now, looks quite organised, but we have seen how quickly the weather can change. It does not take much, and we have just witnessed a large snowfall of several inches in Madrid of all places, proving that the weather is less than traditional for this time of year. So, what the North Atlantic will deliver will really be the final test for these sailors.
We must not forget that these boats, these sailors, and the equipment are tired. They are exhausted, the equipment is worn, and frail and the boats are probably carrying more damage and issues than we are even aware of. There will be a fair number of concerns that each skipper has that are not discussed or revealed for fear that a competitor may learn of a weakness in their sail plan or on one tack or the other. The psychological battles continue now more than ever.
The sailors have been at sea for 65 plus days, and yet they still want to be pushing as hard as they can. It is becoming a figaro style match race all the way to the finish line in Les Sables D’Olonne. It is now about the least mistakes, who can push the hardest and who can get themselves and the boats to hang on to the finish line. First boats to finish are still being estimated to be around the 28th or 29th of January 2021.