There’s no denying that the Vendée Globe is a race of attrition. Twenty skippers started from Les Sables d’Olonne on November 10, and before the fleet was even 25% of the way around the course, 35% had retired from damage to their fragile boats, the latest being Vincent Riou on PRB.
This weekend Riou, the winner of the ’04-05 edition of the race, reported he’d hit a wayward navigation buoy in the middle of the Atlantic. "It was a huge metal buoy, something you find in a commercial port," he reported. "Because it was almost submerged it must have been at sea a long time. I think the buoy was half air and half water. The Vendée Globe turns on very small details like rubbish you can find on the water.”
Initially, he thought he’d be able to continue the race after he repaired the hull, but closer inspection of the carbon-fiber outrigger shroud revealed the damage was too great. He announced his retirement yesterday. "I thought really hard before making the decision, I wanted to make sure there was no other possibility for me to be able to continue in the race," he said. "But at one point you have to be resigned, I just couldn’t continue with a boat in that state."
That leaves 13 boats on the course in three packs and one straggler. The lead pack — Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire), Fraçois Gabart (MACIF), Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac Paprec), Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) and Bernard Stamm (Cheminées Poujoulat) — have passed Rio and are on their way to the Cape of Good Hope, while the straggler — Alessandro Di Benedetto (Team Plastique) — just crossed the equator this morning.
Though it will be a few days before they reach it, the first ice gate at the Cape of Good Hope was moved one degree north and seven degrees east to keep the racers safe from growlers and icebergs. Race organizers are carefully tracking the movement of ice and will adjust the ice gates’ locations accordingly.