Image: Onboard Biotherm sailing on the Southern Ocean. Drone view © Ronan Gladu / Biotherm
Waking up Monday with a 470+ nautical mile lead, one week into leg 3, would appear to be an enviable position for Kevin Escoffier and his Team Holcim PRB.
But the challenge of a big lead is in how best to cover your opposition, who are sailing in an entirely different weather system and have the benefit of seeing where you are. Looking at the forecast, there is reason for optimism for the chasing trio of Biotherm, 11th Hour Racing Team and Team Malizia.
And Escoffier, for one, isn't too happy about it.
"If we don't manage to catch the system ahead we'll have to wait for the next one, which they will be coming with and we'll have a restart," he said in an interview in French. "In what other sport can you get such a big lead and lose everything in a few days and have to start all over again?!"
Biotherm has gained nearly 50 miles in the last 24 hours, which feels impressive. Still, Paul Meilhat and his team would need to do that for 9 more days just to draw level, so perhaps the situation isn't as bad as Escoffier makes out.
A ridge is following the fleet. If the chasing pack manage to stay in front of it, then they can likely close the gap considerably with Holcim PRB. But should they fall off the back, and into the light airs, the lead will open up again.
11th Hour Racing Team's Amory Ross writes about the conditions ahead: "...this low that’s just passed over us will eventually slide underneath another a big high in our path, and we’ll meet that high head on. It should bring another fleet compression..."
The American team is treading a careful path, exercising patience, with two headsails under repair and unavailable in the short term.
And as the teams skirt the ice exclusion zone, the weather of the southern latitudes is starting to bite.
"It's really cold," said Biotherm's Pau lMeilhat. "When you go outside to adjust lines, the water is now very cold. "It's quite windy and the sea state is big."
"It's uncomfortable, not very easy to sleep," said Will Harris on Team Malizia. "The wind goes from 15 to 25 in a few seconds so you have to be right there, ready to adjust sheets... We're trying not to break the boat. I thought it would be more stable down here, but this is probably what I should have expected - it's hard!"
As of 1500 UTC Monday, Team Malizia has essentially drawn level with 11th Hour Racing Team, both now 70 miles or so behind Biotherm, with Team Holcim PRB a further 400 miles away. There's plenty of racing left.