Alex Thomson was leading the Vendee Globe on Friday, 16 nautical miles ahead of Thomas Ruyant

At sea (AFP) - Welshman Alex Thomson was still leading the Vendee Globe on Friday but faces increasing competition from two French skippers as the solo round-the-world yacht race heads into its third week.

The ninth edition of the race, which began at Les Sables d’Olonne in France on November 8, is into its 12th day and the 32 remaining boats are battling the Saint Helena High anticyclone before reaching the Cape of Good Hope.

Thomson and his radically designed multi-million pound Hugo Boss vessel was leading by 90 nautical miles earlier in the week before hitting the doldrums but remained 16nm ahead of Thomas Ruyant (LinkedOut) and 54nm in front of Charlie Dalin (Apivia) on Friday.

Former leader, the experienced Jean Le Cam, has slipped back to fourth, 206nm behind Thomson.

Thomson said Friday that he was unconcerned by the approaching threat of Ruyant and Dalin.

“I am trying to find my way to the Southern Ocean, I am not really being affected by what they are doing,” said Thomson who is trying to finish off the sequence of third in 2012 and second in 2016, by becoming the first non-French skipper to win the race.

“I am clear what we have to do over the next couple of days, I am positioned well so I don’t feel too much pressure. I don’t feel under pressure.”

The leading trio are currently off the coast of Brazil, heading south to the Cape of Good Hope.

“In the next 24 hours we need to make choices and pick a route towards the east for the week, and it’s not obvious,” Dalin warned.

- Tackling the cyclone –

It remains to be seen which of the three skippers will emerge best from the Saint Helena anticyclone.

Thomson is taking a more westerly direction while Ruyant is staying to the east. Dalin finds himself in between the two leaders.

The leaders of the Vendee Globe (left to right): Charlie Dalin, Thomas Ruyant, Alex Thomson

“Alex is approaching that cold front and there’s that low-pressure forming which, if you manage to hook into, you can effectively ‘train’ down to the Cape of Good Hope,” Will Harris, working with seventh-placed Boris Herrmann as part of Team Malizia, said.

“If the leaders do that and the door shuts for the boats behind they could make hundreds of miles in a matter of day.”

The three leaders are all skippering ‘foilers’ – boats equipped with foils which help lift the boat so that it is virtually flying across the top of the waves, making them considerably quicker when the wind is on the beam.

Since the fleet left Les Sables, Ruyant holds the record for distance covered in 24 hours with 508.2 miles on November 16.

Sebastien Simon almost bettered that at the end of the week, covering 507.3 miles.

- Flying fish –

The ‘foiler’ boats will be tested as the anticyclone gives way to an area of ice and the Southern Ocean, a notoriously tricky stretch of the race.

Further back in the field, Didac Costa in 20th was making new friends.

“There’s a lot of flying fish jumping on the deck,” said the Spanish firefighter. “Some have even passed right next to my face!

“When I can, I try to save them and put them back in the sea.”

Route of the Vendee Globe 2020/2021

Competitors have to contend with sea life and obstacles throughout the race, some boats are fitted with ‘whale pingers’ to warn the mammals away from their path.

So far in the competition, there has only been one abandonment, that of Nicolas Troussel after a dismasting on Monday off Cape Verde.

The finishers will complete approximately 24,296 nautical miles around the globe before they finish back in France at some point in January.