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No springtime for Thomas Coville on Sodebo

by Kate Jennings 22 Mar 2011 17:22 GMT 22 March 2011

Having set off to tackle the solo round the world record some 52 days ago, the skipper of Sodebo is having to face another meteorological barrier on his journey back to Europe. Due to the “anticyclonic swamp" sprawling across the North Atlantic, Thomas Coville is being forced to make a massive detour via the West.

Since crossing the equator last Sunday, the sailor has been focusing on his speed rather than his heading, in a bid to snatch up an opportunity to hook onto a depression rolling in to the North. The trimaran has managed to retain a good average speed and was still making around 19 knots this morning, however the wind will gradually ease as it enters the ridge of high pressure associated with this immense Azores High, which is sprawling across an area from the Canaries to less than 1,000 miles to the East of the West Indies.

Thomas won’t hit the desired westerly wind under the depression until he’s out of this transition zone. As such, though he’s positioned just 2,800 miles from Brest, level with the Cape Verde archipelago, the solo skipper can see his chances of beating Francis Joyon’s record (57d 13h 34’) slipping from his grasp.

"When you look at the cartography you must be wondering where on earth I’m going!” he says to camera. "To the West Indies? To New York? No, I fully intend to return to Brest but the weather has decided not to let me take the most direct route."

Thomas knows that after the calms at the end of the South Atlantic, the current weather configuration cannot give him the optimum route for traversing the North Atlantic. “After Cape Cap Horn, when we thought that the hardest part was behind us, we traced a superb wake, but it was entirely upwind, going into heavy and very difficult seas. The boat and I were really put to the test but we got a sense of pride when we managed to get ahead of Francis Joyon’s trajectory again, after amassing such a deficit in the other three oceans. For a moment I believed that I’d have a classic weather scenario to ascend the Brazilian coast and enter the northern hemisphere, but it was nothing of the sort. After having endured a very difficult and stormy low to the North of Brazil, which killed the SE’ly tradewinds, we remained in light, unusual conditions off the horn of South America. Right now, it’s an enormous zone of high pressure which is preventing us from hooking onto the disturbed circuit of W and SW’ly wind, the same system that is supposed to carry us back towards Europe. That means that I’ll have to make a massive detour to the West so I can hunt down the appropriate breeze a long way ahead of this disturbance."

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