Great Britain’s Alex Thomson held the early advantage in the Vendee Globe on Friday as he opened up a 40 nautical mile lead in his boat Hugo Boss over veteran Frenchman Jean Le Cam.
The 46-year-old Welshman, who is angling to become the first non-Frenchman ever to win the solo non-stop round-the-world race, and Le Cam (Yes we Cam!), 61, lead the fleet as they head for tropical storm Theta after passing the Azores.
Storm Theta, a subtropical depression with winds of up to 60 knots and waves of six metres, will be the first real test for sailors since leaving Les Sables d’Olonne on Sunday.
The 33 boats will complete approximately 24,296 nautical miles around the globe before they finish back in France at some point in January.
Thomson’s aggressive course leaves him opting for what Vendee Globe’s official media anchor Andi Robertson labelled the "most pain for the shortest period of time", through the centre of Theta.
If Thomson takes the risk of powering on through the storm, he could, if it goes to plan, open up a lead of a couple of hundred miles.
Experienced Le Cam, known fondly as King Jean for his prolific career which includes a second place in this race in 2004-05, is racing in a 13-year-old boat whilst Thomson’s Hugo Boss is part of the latest generation of 'foilers' launched in 2019.
The foils, which help lift the boat so that it is virtually flying across the top of the waves, can add 10 to 20 percent on speed when the wind is on the beam.
- 'Grandpa resisting' -
"It hasn't been easy that’s for sure," Le Cam admitted. "It was a pretty tough situation, but you just have to get on with it. The foilers are going much faster than me but four days in and I'm still in a group with them - it's not what I expected.
"The other day someone said to me, 'speaking well doesn’t do anything, but doing well makes people shut up'. I wanted to write it in huge letters on my boat.
"The foilers will run away from me but while I'm capable, the old grandpa is resisting."
Both Le Cam and Thomson are taking on their fifth Vendée Globe as the Brit targets a record 67-day win in his cutting-edge boat. The Bangor-born sailor finished third in 2012/13 and second in 2016/17.
Le Cam famously capsized 200 miles from Cape Horn in the 2008/09 edition, being being found alive in his overturned boat.
Thomas Ruyant (LinkedOut), Nicolas Troussel (CORUM L’Épargne) and Kevin Escoffier (PRB) make up the rest of the top five after French favourite Jeremie Beyou was forced to U-turn back to Les Sables on Thursday.
Beyou sustained rig and rudder damager in tricky conditions. Race rules allow competitors to return to the port of origin during the first 10 days of the event for any repairs.
Leader Thomson sent a heartfelt message to Beyou saying, "he was the first one flying in the sky, so I am devastated for him."
"It is terrible news and nobody would wish that on anybody. Jeremie has a great team and I am sure he will make the right decision [about returning to the race]."