Armel Le Cleac’h leads to second ice security gate

A shake-up in the Vendee Globe leader board positions early this morning. Race leader Armel Le Cléac’h has been able to hold his most direct, optimum course towards the second ice security gate, Crozet, and should be able to pass its west mark before diving south early this morning. At 04:00hrs UTC he had about 30 miles to make before he can swing the bow of Banque Populaire south and then hopefully accelerate progressively to match the speeds of his pursuers.Vendee Globe - Top Ten Rankings Thursday 6 December 2012, 08:00 hrs (UK)1. Banque Populaire, Armel Le Clac'h 2. Macif, François Gabart, 20 nm to the leader3. Cheminées Poujoulat, Bernard Stamm 65 nm 4. Virbac Paprec 3, Jean-Pierre Dick 67 nm 5. HUGO BOSS, Alex Thomson, 211 nm6. Gamesa, Mike Golding, 734 nm7. Mirabaud, Dominique Wavre, 769 nm8. SynerCiel, Jean Le Cam, 775 nm9. Acciona 100% EcoPowered, Javier Sansó, 1354 nm10. AKENA Vérandas, Arnaud Boissières, 1614 nm

Le Cléac’h’s ‘touch and go’ strategy should have saved him some initial miles on François Gabart, Bernard Stamm and Jean-Pierre Dick who have chosen to stay further south.

But this small gain may multiply as the leader now has free reign to work much futher south in stronger breezes, as he has passed the gate, and needs only target the third gate, Amsterdam – 1500 miles east – as his next mark. But his concern will be how far he feels safe straying into the territory of reported ice, north of the Kerguelen islands.

This morning it looks like the Swiss skipper, Bernard Stamm on Cheminées Poujoulat, has been rewarded, taking third from Dick who has lost some 30 miles on both the leader and on Stamm since yesterday. The skipper from Nice is now 65 nm behind Banque Populaire, whilst Stamm on the powerful Juan Kouyoumdjian design has sailed the best 24hrs of the top group at 434 miles.

Alex Thomson’s plunge south on Hugo Boss sees him now at close to 44 S and should see his breeze progressively increase today but it will only be on the ascent back towards the easternmost end of the gate that any real dividend for his route will be revealed.

Meantime the high pressure zone has been cruel to the trio comprising Mike Golding, Jean Le Cam and Dominique Wavre. Golding on Gamesa seems to be paying a heavy tax for staying a little further to the north than his two rivals and is slowed to between six and nine knots. Wavre has managed to skirt furthest to the south and has passed Le Cam, though the pair are racing only five or six miles apart. But this experienced pack’s losses to the leaders now amount to 190 miles over the last 48 hours, now at between 734 and 775 miles behind the leader.