Friday the 13th might be unlucky for some, but not for British skipper Alex Thomson who has pulled back 85 crucial miles on Vendée Globe leader Armel Le Cléac'h in the last 24 hours.

Thomson has revealed that in order to stand a chance of overhauling French skipper Le Cléac’h before the finish of the solo round the world race he must get to within 50 miles of him in the next few days.

At the 1400 UTC position report yesterday Thomson’s IMOCA 60 yacht Hugo Boss was 216 miles adrift of Le Cléac’h’s Banque Populaire VIII as the pair passed to the west of the Cape Verde Islands. At the same time today that deficit was down to 131 miles as light winds forced Le Cléac’h to slow to just one knot compared to Thomson’s eight knots.

Thomson too will see speeds drop as he hits the dead spot but with several days of light-wind sailing ahead before stronger south-easterlies fill in near the Azores even the smallest of gains were welcome.

Although the pair still have around more than 1,788 and 1,919 miles respectively to go before they reach Les Sables, Thomson admitted Le Cléac’h is now odds-on favourite to win. But he vowed to push his arch rival right the way to the end of the solo non-stop round the world race in his pursuit of the title.

‘There’s a ridge and I could catch up with Armel – it depends who gets across the ridge first,’ Thomson said. ‘If there are no dramas, he should cross the ridge before me and then he’ll win the race. It’s getting more and more difficult to make a move, but I remain pragmatic and optimistic. Maybe something’s going to happen. I certainly see us closing up. According to the computer I’ll finish five hours behind him but we’ll have to wait and see – you never know.’

Alex Thomson. Credit Jean-Marie Liot/DPPI/Vendee Globe

Alex Thomson. Credit Jean-Marie Liot/DPPI/Vendée Globe

Thomson said yesterday he expected two days of fairly light winds, then two days of fast sailing before hitting the ridge. ‘After this light patch I need to be within 50 miles of him,’ he said. ‘In a few days I could make up the 50 miles. If I don’t get within fifty miles by the end of this light stuff, my chances of beating him are quite slim.’

Thomson was not the only one with reason to celebrate today. Crossing the Equator yesterday 13 days, three hours and 59 minutes after rounding Cape Horn, Jean-Pierre Dick set a new race record for the passage. Incredibly he shaved almost 16 hours off the reference time of Vendée 2012-13 winner François Gabart of 13 days, 19 hours and 29 minutes. In fact, Dick was just the first of four skippers to beat Gabart’s time. Thomson posted a time of 13 days, five hours and 30 minutes, Yann Eliès took 13 days, seven hours and 20 minutes while Jean Le Cam was just 37 minutes behind.

In stark comparison, race leader le Cléac’h was almost 32 hours slower than Dick over the same distance, but his woes did not stop there. His losses caused by a painful crossing of the Doldrums were today laid bare.

Fifteen of the race’s remaining 18 skippers made gains on Banque Populaire over the past seven days. Frenchman Eric Bellion has been by far the biggest winner in the last week, pulling back 641nm on Le Cléac’h, with Jean-Pierre Dick was next in line making back 388nm. Only Thomson and 17th-placed Pieter Heerema lost ground on Le Cléac’h, Thomson dropping 26nm to the leader and Heerema losing 10nm.

There are several weather hurdles before the finish for Hugo Boss and Banque Populaire VIII. Credit: Great Circle

There are several weather hurdles before the finish for Hugo Boss and Banque Populaire VIII. Credit: Great Circle

The Vendée Globe finishing line is now within 1,800 miles of Le Cléac’h, and his ETA in Les Sables remains Thursday January 19th. Race HQ has now moved from Paris and is set up in Les Sables ready for the opening of the race village tomorrow.

Doors to the village, at Port Olona, open to the public at 10am local time and visitors can enjoy an exhibition on the race, shop for official Vendée Globe merchandise or relax in the race’s legendary bar and restaurant, the VOG. A huge screen will show the arrivals live from the finishing line to the pontoon, and skippers will then be interviewed on the main stage.

Eleven of the 29 IMOCA 60s that set sail on the 2016/17 Vendée Globe on 6 November, have so far been forced to abandon the gruelling challenge, due to dismasting, breakages and damage caused from hitting unidentified floating objects.

The four frontrunners all have hydrofoils fitted on their cutting edge racing boats, as does No Way Back skipper Pieter Heerema in 17th place. However since 19 November, Thomson has been racing Hugo Boss with a broken starboard foil, following a collision with an unidentified object floating in the South Atlantic. The damaged foil creates extra drag instead of lift on port tack.

Tune in to the Vendée Live show tomorrow on the race website at 1200 UTC for the latest news from the Vendée Globe.