Jean Le Cam (Bonduelle) has snatched back the lead from Vincent Riou on PRB, for the 5th time since the start of the Vendee Globe

Jean Le Cam (Bonduelle) has snatched back the lead from Vincent Riou on PRB, for the 5th time since the start of the Vendee Globe.

Apart from one position ranking on the first day of the race, when Jean Pierre Dick (Virbac Paprec) pipped them to the post, the Riou/Le Cam duo have continuously headed the fleet, with a maximum distance of 103 miles between them, on 15h00 GMT on 15 December. Bonduelle has led for 18 days and PRB for 25.

A very northerly sighting of 15 large icebergs south of New Zealand has been the main cause for concern amongst the leaders today. Sailing in 25-30 knots, Jean is sailing a more direct course under the Campbell Islands to pass south of the ice zone, reported to be east of the archipelago.

Behind them Sébastien Josse (VMI) and Mike Golding (Ecover) have reduced their deficit on the two leaders, the latter having closed in to 320.1 miles. The frontrunners are in prevailing easterlies with no change in the upwind conditions forecast for the next 48 hours.

For the second group, in the Indian Ocean, conditions have relaxed considerably over the past few days. It is grey, rainy and generally fresh, but the swell has eased and, bar the odd rare shift, the wind is an established westerly.

At the back of the fleet there must be a certain relief as there are no big wind shifts in view and nothing nasty on the horizon. Joé Seeten (Arcelor Dunkerque) and Conrad Humphreys on Hellomoto are firing on all cylinders in the clement conditions. The British sailor is the fastest of the fleet over the past 24 hours having covered 321.9 miles.

Today’s new leader, Jean Le Cam (Bonduelle) sounded rather apprehensive about the coming days, with the sighting of ice reported by the Rescue Coordination Centre in New Zealand advises that 15 large icebergs have been sighted in position 52 36 S, 177 17 E at 1830 GMT. This is approximately 300 nautical miles east of Campbell Island to the south of New Zealand. Le Cam commented: “It’s not very nice to get news of icebergs. It’s surprising as it’s not cold and the water is currently 6 degrees, and as much as 8 degrees just three hours ago. It’s odd that they’re there. I think they must be old icebergs that have drifted there, and there presence in such temperatures must mean that they are sizeable. At 52 degrees south we can’t go north of it. We’ll have to go onto starboard and head right. It looks like we’ve got upwind conditions for a while but for now we’ve got good visibility and we’ve had sun which makes a pleasant change; I’d almost forgotten that it existed.”

The sun was also a welcome sight for Vincent Riou (PRB) behind. “It’s the first time we’ve seen it in five days. Knowing that there are icebergs on zone makes it all the more surprising. I can’t say that I’ve changed course to avoid the zone but I probably tacked a bit sooner than I would otherwise have done. I’ve chosen to change to round it on starboard tack with the warmer water. You have to concentrate on such situation first, and your race takes second place. I won’t lose much anyway. The weather forecast is very complicated as not all the forecasts say the same thing and it changes on a daily basis. It’s going to take some major brainstorming and it will be difficult to sleep. Physically I’m in good shape but mentally I wish we were further down the track as it doesn’t look like we’ll be in the Atlantic for New Year.”

In fourth place, 320.1 miles from the head of the fleet, a very tired Mike Golding (Ecover) is feeling rather daunted by this new threat of icebergs but has no desire to change course. In contrast to Jean, Mike admitted to having his radar on at all times. “I’m not terribly happy about the prospect of seeing ice, particularly as I don’t have a gauge to find out the water temperature. I’ve got my radar on all the time and I’m on the look-out as much as possible. At the moment the visibility is pretty good, 5-6 miles, though it’s night right now so you can’t see over the bow. It’s been a tough 24 hours, especially the last 12 as I’ve been working through a trough of low pressure. I’ve done a lot of races but just now I’ve never felt so physically tired, though the mileage is good. Conditions are fairly stable now in terms of wind though the seas are fairly rough. I’ve been through 2 sets of foulies, boots and mid-layer. I’m sailing upwind hoping for an opportunity to sleep as it hasn’t been possible really for the past 36 hours. In the coming week we’re not going to make an awful lot of progress towards the mark. I’m going to keep on my northerly course as it’s a big ocean and I think there’s plenty of room for all of us…”

Heading the second pack, Dominic Wavre continues to plug away in fifth, racking up 11.7 knot averages in 24 hours. Jean Pierre Dick (Virbac Paprec) is over 600 miles behind him, easing along his wounded boat despite the intense pain in his frostbitten fingers. “I’ve been lashing around the boom and the mast to prevent the gooseneck from breaking and I’ve been working on a piece which links the rudder with the automatic pilot. Hands are so important for fixing, for supporting yourself, for everything, but they are giving me an awful lot of pain. It takes a lot of energy to take every problem as it arises and try and fix it. I think the engine and the generator problems were just bad luck but the rest was probably my responsibility. I hope the other half of the race will be luckier, my main focus is going to be safety.”

A partner in the ‘battle of the wounded’, 7th placed Nick Moloney spent a busy day cleaning up Skandia yesterday and feels like he is mentally back in the race today, inspired by being in home territory. “As soon as I passed Cape Leeuwin the sun came out and it was fantastic. I’m almost in shape downstairs now and have been working on deck a bit. I’ve still got problems with my wind instruments so it’s difficult to keep on the same course and I’ve been crash gybing quite often. I’ve also got a leak through a winch and I’m having to bail five buckets of water a day. In the storm I lost all my video equipment and some food was lost as well. I may arrive in Les Sables looking like a matchstick! As regards the iceberg sighting, I would be very happy not to see any. I’ve seen some every time I’ve been in the southern ocean but this is the first time I’ve been alone and I think it would be very stressful to sleep. My objective is to be south of Tasmania on Christmas Day, just south of my family mid-course. We’re going to have to watch out for those behind though.”

For those in Moloney’s wake, the atmosphere is very favourable for comeback with Joé Seeten (Arcelor Dunkerque) and Conrad Humphreys (Hellomoto) really piling on the pressure in established westerlies with a gentle swell.