The Vendee Globe fleet should pass Madeira tonight if the current conditions hold

The Vendee Globe fleet should pass Madeira tonight if the current conditions hold. The interesting low pressure system that the fleet has been heading for the past 36 hours to the west of the Canaries – the ‘usual’ place for the beginning of the Trade Winds – has switched direction and is now heading for the west which means the fleet will now pass between the front and the African coast. The next tactical decision over the coming 48 hours will be how far in to the African coast to go and when to gybe.

Vincent Riou on PRB is still heading the fleet just 16 miles ahead of Roland Jourdain on Sill, while British sailor Alex Thomson aboard Hugo Boss is really starting to show some pace and is now just eight miles behind Jourdain. In a radio chat earlier today Riou sounded very relaxed about life on the ocean waves commenting: “All’s well, gliding along. I haven’t been helming much, it’s wet outside and I don’t like the water! I almost have to force myself to go on deck and helm just to check that everything’s balanced as the boat really just sails itself in these conditions. Managing sleep is easy right now and I’m getting 5/6 hours a day in 30 minute chunks and I’ve still got fresh food for a few days.”

Less relaxed at the time was Jean Le Camm in fourth place on Bonduelle who last night encountered a UFO. Chatting from the boat this morning while notching up 24kts of boatspeed he told the story: “I lost time last night. One of my rudders kicked up after hitting something. Proof that the system works! To carry out repairs I had to turn the boat so that the wind was fully behind me and so I was able to test out the mainsail battens as well. The mainsail swung from one side to the other and nothing broke! The boat is impeccable. I will make a complete check-up in two days time (when conditions enable a visit).”

Mike Golding on Ecover is showing real consistency in sixth place but like all the competitors is suffering with difficult conditions. Commenting from Ecover this morning Golding said: “We’re making 24 knots at times but there are some big loads in that too. The problem is that the swell is relatively long. There are long surfs where you have too much sail up one minute and the next you haven’t got enough. You have to try and find a compromise so as to be comfortable.”

Hellomoto skipper, Conrad Humphreys in eighth place also sends reports of difficult conditions adding: “It’s difficult to find right sail combination…the waves are 15-18ft high, very demanding. Sailing with a code sail, you can end up backing the sail going down the surfs and end up wallowing around 14 knots between surfs, so difficult at times…” Nick Moloney on Skandia who’s been steadily making up ground throughout the day added: “No wipeouts yet, but had some big nosedives. We’re doing 27 knots right now. We’re stuffing the bow in every five minutes or so….you’re doing 14 knots, then you are accelerating down the wave…ploughing in to it square on. Big chop rather than swell causing it.”

More concerning however, is Marc Thiercelin currently lying 12th who has expressed his concern about Pro-Form’s nose-diving behaviour. Grabbing a few moments while he was speeding downwind he said: “The boat is dangerous, the nose digs in violently and I don’t know which way it will come out. In addition, I have some major worries with my mainsail and I don’t want to talk any more about it. When I get excessive speed, each time it always ends up getting planted in a wave? As regards stress, it’s not great. I don’t really know how it’s going to go in the south. In addition, I’ve got all the manoeuvres up at the front of the boat, it’s not easy? In fact, I’ve had too many things to do and to be blunt I’m knackered. It’s ok physically but my head is knackered. There are times when I don’t feel lucid…I’ll see what I can do with this engine. I slept for the first time last night since the start. I have given a lot since the start for a result which isn’t that brilliant. At the moment I’m under one-reefed main, solent. I’m trying to be at one with my boat and understand it a little better.”

For now the wind is continuing to push the fleet towards the Canaries but in the next few hours they should hit a transition zone between the edge of a high pressure system on which the fleet are currently surfing and the low pressure system which is shifting slowly towards the west.

Rankings (07:00 PM GMT (08:00 PM FR)

1 PRB Vincent Riou 33 54.00′ N 17 45.88′ W

2 Sill Véolia Roland Jourdain 34 06.40′ N 17 42.16′ W 12.8 miles to the leader

3 Hugo Boss Alex Thomson 34 06.04′ N 16 38.96′ W

24.9 miles to the leader

4 VMI Sébastien Josse 34 17.32′ N 16 17.28′ W 40.4 miles to the leader

5 Ecover Mike Golding 34 32.68′ N 17 30.16′ W 40.6 miles to the leader

6 Bonduelle Jean Le Cam 34 28.40′ N 16 19.88′ W 43.6 miles to the leader

7 Temenos Dominique Wavre 34 27.24′ N 15 46.24′ W

56.8 miles to the leader

8 Hellomoto Conrad Humphreys 34 55.04′ N 14 43.88′ W

98.3 miles to the leader

9 VM Matériaux Patrice Carpentier 35 33.88′ N 15 43.52′ W 107.5 miles to the leader

10 Virbac-Paprec Jean-Pierre Dick 35 29.80′ N 16 09.16′ W 112.1 miles to the leader

11 Skandia Nick Moloney 35 37.32′ N 15 57.44′ W 22763.9 114.2 15.4 200 06:00 PM

12 Pro-Form Marc Thiercelin 35 28.48′ N 14 49.36′ W 22778.6 128.9 14.7 186 06:30 PM

13 Arcelor Dunkerque Joé Seeten 35 53.28′ N 15 42.80′ W 22790.1 140.4 14.8 196 06:30 PM

14 Ocean Planet Bruce Schwab 36 01.68′ N 15 17.80′ W 22803.8 154.0 11.7 197 06:30 PM

15 UUDS Hervé Laurent 36 36.32′ N 15 34.08′ W 22833.5 183.8 12.7 190 06:30 PM

16 ROXY Anne Liardet 38 10.80′ N 14 13.84′ W 292.3 miles to the leader

17 Max Havelaar / Best Western Benoît Parnaudeau 38 17.32′ N 14 22.72′ W 296.5 miles to the leader

18 AKENA Vérandas Raphaël Dinelli 38 06.72′ N 13 36.36′ W 297.4 19 Benefic Karen Leibovici 38 50.68′ N 14 01.84′ W 333.2 miles to the leader

20 Brother Norbert Sedlacek 39 45.92′ N 14 32.80′ W 379.3 miles to the leader