Skippers across the fleet appear to want relief from the conditions they are encountering

It would seem that all Vendée skippers are looking for relief from the conditions they are encountering – from Norbert Sedlacek (Nauticsport-Kapsch) in light headwinds, to Dee Caffari (Aviva), Arnaud Boissieres (Akena Verandas) and Brian Thompson (Bahrain Team Pindar) fighting strong breeze towards Cape Horn and the Atlantic. Race leader Michel Desjoyeaux (Foncia) will also be looking to escape into the tradewinds first.

After the worst of a vicious storm to the north west of Cape Horn, British skipper Dee Caffari is walking something of a tightrope at the moment. She is trying to push Aviva as hard as possible to escape into the Atlantic before the worst of a second big depression arrives, whilst trying to do as little further damage to her mainsail as possible (see image).

With winds over 60 knots and mountainous seas, the trio who will be next to the Cape are being lead there by Brian Thompson. He admitted this morning that he had prepared for every eventuality he could consider, ensuring he even had knives and torches in his pockets in case he was rolled over.

Thompson gybed south at 20:30hrs GMT yesterday (13 January) to parallel the Chilean Coast and at 04:00hrs had 280 miles to Cape Horn. Hand steering through some of the biggest swells, he likened the ‘exhilarating’ experience to taking a 60-foot snowboard through deep powder snow. The Akena Verandas skipper Boissières reflected last night on being knocked down twice.

At the front of the fleet Michel Desjoyeaux has been doing his best to deal with the advances of Roland Jourdain (Veolia Environnement) who has now cut his lead by 100 miles since Monday night. Jourdain has remained consistently in better breeze, around two knots quicker remaining on the same course, while Desjoyeaux tacked again at around midnight last night.

Behind them Armel Le Cléac’h (Brit Air) has seen many of his hard won miles evaporating in light winds, while Sam Davies (Roxy) has been battling with massive fronds of kelp, which have regularly attacked her daggerboards. Despite this she continues to make steady progress, quickest of the top five boats this morning.

Marc Guillemot (Safran) was about 20 miles east of Port Stanley this morning. He must soon decide how, or perhaps if, he will stop or slow to carry out the repair to his mast track. He has lost fewer miles in the Pacific by being forced to sail with three reefs in, and the ascent of the South Atlantic would be painfully slow under that sailplan.

Steve White (Toe in the Water) is facing up to what could be his biggest test yet 1600 miles from Cape Horn. From this afternoon he will have at least 12 hours of winds gusting to 60-70 knots with seas to 8-10 metres, with squally showers of rain and thunderstorms. After relishing the long surfs and steady strong winds 48 hours, White will now see the dark side of the Pacific.

Rich Wilson (Great American III) has gybed back to the north, choosing to do so once he had reached about 100 miles of the track of a known set of icebergs. Norbert Sedlacek is perhaps showing signs of frustration with his slow progress in light headwinds, making a long northerly tack to try and escape over the top of the high-pressure system, which has been barring any eastwards course.