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29 December 2004, 10:28 am
Less than 9000 Miles to the Finish...
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Vendée Globe

The leader of the Vendée Globe has today passed the second Pacific gateway and has less than 9000 miles to the race finish. The leaders have an ETA at Cape Horn in record time, next Sunday, after around 57 days of racing.

The distance between the most easterly iceberg sighting this morning (by Mike GOLDING) and the most northerly (by Jean Pierre DICK) measures a staggering 1600 miles, which is clearly a concern for the chasing pack as they anticipate this Mediterranean sized ice field.

While the rich get richer averaging 15/16 knots in the forecast favourable winds all the way to the cape, the trio Josse/Wavre/Dick are set to face strong winds in around 48 hours time, accompanied by big, messy seas. Behind them, Marc THIERCELIN's sponsor Proform has asked the skipper to head for the south of New Zealand for his own safety, so that he can try to make the numerous repairs to his mast in particular. Patrice CARPENTIER moored off the calms of Research Bay in Tasmania at around 07h00 GMT this morning. He believes his repairs to his boom among other things will take at least 48 hours, and American Bruce SCHWAB had already snatched tenth place from him by today's 10h00 GMT ranking, some 400 miles now behind Joé SEETEN. The rear of the fleet now stretches out to 4711.6 miles, with Karen LEIBOVICI struggling in a light wind zone with a very painful back and ribs, with big seas in view with the approaching depression...

Leader Jean Le CAM (Bonduelle) has a 175 mile lead over the Vendée Globe fleet as well as the highest average. He has covered 391.2 miles in the past 24 hours at an average of 16.3 knots. 'After the big seas of yesterday, today's conditions are more manageable. As a result I've been able to add the sauce. It's a good day for going quickly. I don't think there is much standing in our way till we get to Cape Horn with this current system. I remain with an ETA of 2 January.'

Vincent RIOU (PRB) has been virtually as quick, with Mike GOLDING (Ecover) also right on the pace. 'The wind is difficult on the back edge of a low pressure system' said Golding earlier today. 'I'm being affected by the high pressure a little and the wind has headed a bit making it a little unstable, with shifty, varied winds. It's comfortable to be in the same system. I may lose some ground on the frontrunners as my angle isn't so good but not much. I've been pushing hard for the past 2 days, hoping to delay falling out of the system but now that's not so important as the system is breaking up. This trio stand a good chance of ranking well now but Bonduelle is not so easy to catch up. I may be able to close down on him in the Atlantic, for now we're pretty near our game plan. The most important thing is to get out of the Southern Ocean free of damage. It's difficult as all you want to do is to push but you need to take care. It's nerve-racking as there's still ice around. I thought we'd got away from it. I had just awoken so I turned off the radar and suddenly spotted an iceberg 6 miles away. It was a fairly big iceberg so there could easily have been others around (Mike spotted it at 5.45 GMT this morning). You can see it on the radar but you have to tune it, worrying when you think that I was power reaching at 20 knots yesterday. You can rely on a radar to see something that you can see!'

Clearly still disappointed to be 637.3 miles behind Golding having been neck and neck in the latter part of last week Sébastien JOSSE (VMI) is nonetheless happy to have made what he hopes will be a permanent repair to his steering system. 'I have lined up my rudders and am happy with the result. It works well but it's true that I've only got 10 knots of wind. We'll have to see what happens in the breeze. I have also managed to hoist a 300 m2 spinnaker (despite breaking his bow sprit in last week's collision with an iceberg). The winds are fairly unstable but it's enough for me to escape the calm while I await the strong wind. In any case, I will only attempt to repair my bow sprit after the Cape Horn. It's too cold here to make resin. For the moment it's a bit like the calm before the storm. The files show 35 knots. I hope I don't have more than that. The advantage is that this depression will push us quickly towards the Horn. With the icebergs, the playing field is not so wide. It's a little like Russian roulette, it distorts the race.'

With further iceberg sightings today from Jean Pierre DICK and Mike GOLDING, it would seem that this danger remains a major concern throughout this Vendée Globe fleet today as much for the frontrunners as those approaching the zone. Patrice CARPENTIER (VM Matériaux) and Marc THIERCELIN (Proform) have other more pressing matters to deal with however. Patrice has found a calm zone off Research Bay in southern Tasmania to make repairs, starting with his boom, while Marc is soon to make the big decision as to whether or not he can continue. Today, there are 16 skippers still racing.

Quotes from the Boats:
Marc Thiercelin (ProForm):
'I can't work on my boat in the open sea. I am really worried before taking on the Pacific, especially as I have dismasted before (Around Alone 6 years ago). It still haunts me and I don't want to relive such misfortune. The decision is really playing on my mind. When I start a job I always finish it. It's the most difficult decision I will have to take. I have never retired from a race in my entire career. This time I'm afraid that the material problems will be more serious than I can deal with.'

Mike Golding (Ecover): 'It's a few days to the Horn so I need to get south like everyone. It looks like we've got breeze to get there with a new system bring north-westerlies to westerlies. It's desperately cold and uncomfortable with a southerly swell. It's very stop and go and it slams at times. I have a header wind so it's not fabulously effective. The heater takes the edge off the cold and above all keeps the electronics dry. The temperature inside is 0 degrees. When it's cold you have to eat more than normal to keep warm. Rather than the usual 3000 calories I'm on about 5 to 6000 now in the 3 meals (including cereal). You need a high fat content to have energy to beat the cold. I've still got some sliced bread aboard so I can have toast and marmite! I've been well rested for the past couple of days though last night was pretty busy with some big wind shifts.'

Conrad Humphreys (Hellomoto): 'If the weather holds till after Tasmania I may well be able to pass the next boat before then, after that things look very complicated weather wise. To stay with the wind I need to make southerly. I'm still very much sailing my own race and have 25 knots of north-easterly on a good wind angle of 120 degrees. I'm under full main, gennaker and genoa going very fast without pushing the boat. It's been good for the morale to pass the others though the most rewarding thing is that I haven't lost any ground on the leaders. The transition from Tasmania to the Pacific is going to be very difficult and we may be held up for a day or so. By 31st December I think I'll be the furthest south of the fleet and then I'll have to tackle the line of icebergs ahead. I intend to pick a line and hope nothing is in the way.'

Nick Moloney (Skandia): 'Looks like I'll be on the wind for a bit longer, I should start reaching for a bit soon though. I've got a pretty stringent deadline to get to 170 degrees east in the next day and a bit, although the models show I might run out of wind and miss a good section of flow. Just going as fast as I can now to get there in time, but I could be spending New Year's Eve becalmed. I'm quite apprehensive about the stretch to Cape Horn. Bit of a mental crossroads. I'm now breaking away from NZ. I've got a mental waypoint of 10,000 miles to the finish, which will be 3,000 miles to the Horn.'

Anne Liardet (Roxy): 'It wasn't very gallant of Conrad Humphreys to have passed me (Laughs). He is going really quickly. I'm not complaining though, I feel in harmony with my boat. I have a good trajectory, wind and sea on the beam and Roxy is gliding along nicely. I'm not getting bored but I admit that I hadn't prepared myself for the lack of fresh food. I still have some oranges left as well as a few yogurt, which I keep for special occasions. I also celebrated Christmas as our forefathers did, giving myself an orange. I spend a lot of time on the weather so as to position myself well and feel like I've been on the right latitude for a couple of days. I've been concentrating solely on this project for the past 2 ½ years, and it's hard to image what I am going to do after the Vendée Globe.'

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