Just 20 miles separate the first eight skippers

Loick Peyron (Gitana Eighty) reclaimed the Vendee lead overnight, but there is nothing to split the leading three – all within two miles of each other. In fact, just 20 miles divide the first eight skippers after 18 days of racing.

Last night the leaders entered a zone of virtually random conditions with squalls, calms, grey skies, lower temperatures and variable south-easterly winds averaging just 10 knots. The high pressure area is now being felt, with sudden wind shifts of more than 40 degrees in the small hours of this morning.

Loick Peyron and Armel l’Cleac’h (Brit Air) were able to carry on a straight course for the south-south-east, moving Peyron back up to the lead in this morning’s rankings. These two can no doubt see each other, as they are just seven miles apart. Like wise, Vincent Riou (PRB), Roland Jourdain (Veolia Environnement) and Yann Eliès (Generali), are practically next to each other.

Yesterday evening Sebastien Josse (BT) had wrestled the lead from Peyron. He is now showing in second place, just 1.2 miles behind Peyron, but by being on the east of the front runners Josse has managed to stay on port tack as the wind shifted more southerly. He is currently heading south-south-west with relative speed in these light conditions ? a radical move which may yet pay off as BT is also the most southernmost boat.

The biggest effects of the southerly shift were felt to the west of the course, where Jean-Pierre Dick (Paprec-Virbac 2) and Mike Golding (Ecover) were forced to tack during the night, losing ground as they headed on an easterly course on starboard. They will now be experiencing similar conditions to the leading bunch, as the fleet converges yet further.

Jean le Cam (VM Matériaux), out on the east of this group, has moved up to fourth place this morning as the leading pack sail towards his line. As the leaders slow, the chasing bunch of Marc Guillemot (Safran), Brian Thompson (Bahrain Team Pindar, GBR) and Dominque Wavre (Temenos, SUI) have kept the pace on, with Temenos currently the fastest boat on the course.

Briton Thompson for instance is 55 miles closer to the leader than he was yesterday morning. Meanwhile in 22nd place Bernard Stamm (Cheminées-Poujoulat) is doing his best to eat up the miles, covering the greatest distance in the past 24 hours.

Last night Derek Hatfield (Algimouss Spirit of Canada) became the 24th skipper to cross the Equator, with just Jean-Baptiste Dejeanty remaining in the northern hemisphere.