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15 December 2004, 04:45 pm
At the Mercy of the Indian
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Vendée Globe

After 38 days at sea, the fleet of the Vendée Globe is strewn across the length of the Indian Ocean. Over 3 600 miles separate Vincent Riou (PRB), the firm leader off southern Australia, from the tenacious British sailor Conrad Humphreys (Hellomoto) who is bringing up the lead since starting out again from South Africa.

A whole transatlantic race apart, the racers are also stretched out in terms of latitude too, since Jean Le Cam (Bonduelle) is sailing at over 51 degrees south while American Bruce Schwab (Ocean Planet) is at 38 degrees south, the great north south divide between the fleet measuring over 800 miles. 17 sailors, one ocean… and three different depressions make up the various Antarctic destinies of the competitors. Up front Vincent Riou (PRB) is feeling the squeeze of his 4 pursuers, 5th placed Mike Golding (Ecover) coming right back to within 337.4 miles of the leader. In the chasing pack, Nick Moloney (Skandia) and Jean Pierre Dick (Virbac Paprec) have both made it through hell and back...

Still managing to hold onto a 59.8 mile lead today, Vincent Riou (PRB) seemed rather at ease with his current option, despite having lost around 40 miles advance since this morning. "We were supposed to sail fast over a ridge but it's moving slowly so we'll stay behind it waiting for the next system to kick in. In the meantime I have had a shower on deck as it is 10 to 12 degrees outside. It's been good to get a bit of a break. I'm sleeping well, eating well and the race is going well. There's a north-westerly wind on its way in a chasing depression but the situation looks more complicated after Australia as there will be a lot of lows and we'll have to decide whether to go to the north or south of them."

In second place, Jean Le Cam (Bonduelle) has the same doubts about the coming weather scenario so he's been concentrating instead on drying out his clothes and enjoying a bit of sun on deck. "I took off a layer of clothes this morning, I was a bit tired. I'm not surprised that Vincent has lost a bit of ground as he sailed straight into a calm zone. I don't think he's going to gain any miles on us now. He didn't gybe and I did. I'll be in the north in the next 4 days but it's too soon to go there now and there's some difficult weather ahead in around 6 days' time." As a result of this gybe, Riou seems to be leaving his pole position wide open, and is currently a massive 190 miles northeast of Le Cam as they sail towards the next Southern Ocean gateway to the south-west of Tasmania. Le Cam looks set to be the first of the duo to pick up winds filling in from a west bound depression, a fact that doesn't ruffle Riou in the slightest.

There are two depressions lying ahead of the two leading boats, the afore mentioned one due west of them and another south east, to the south of the Tasman Sea; a high pressure system centred over the south east of Australia influencing both lows.

This is all particularly good news for the chasing trio comprising Jourdain/Josse/Golding who are already making double the speed in northerly winds on the leading edge of the depression from the west, the three skippers hoping to make great gains.

As a result Mike Golding was feeling particularly optimistic about his position this morning. "It´s good because there´s more to come, I think. Maybe we can break 300 miles by tomorrow! PRB is certainly going to have a big slow down today and I´m just managing to stay with this weather system. Every time it gets too much and it´s near a reef I just manage to push forward and move out of it again and don´t need to reef. I´m just managing to stay ahead of the system which is great, because if I fall out of it PRB may pick it up eventually. It´s not so much a system really, as a band of pressure which is very wide now and keeps on hitting 30 knots. The longer I stay with it the better the chance of staying with this band until it´s gone. It´s dissipating, which means I could be in a position where it´s clean miles and there´s no payback for it."

Caught up in an earlier depression the chasing pack have really taken a beating over the past 48 hours but spirits are now on the up aboard Skandia for Australian skipper Nick Moloney after a trip to hell and back... "I actually made the phonecalls to say goodbye to my family. I was adamant I was going to pay the price. For a four hour period I wondered how it would end. I totally thought that my number was up completely. I didn't have anything else I could do. Situation was breaking waves everywhere, it was all pure luck [where the waves would break]. If a wave took you out, it took you out. I was down below, and then bang the boat got hit by a huge wave. We went over, it happened so quickly. I definitely saw the bottom of the pool. Equipment bouncing off the ceiling, keyboards, lids of the computers, the cooker, everything flying across, everything smashing around like in an Agitator. Boat came back up and everything else flung around the place and on top of me. I was so shell-shocked. I had my drysuit on but only around my legs, I ran out on deck, the boat was on the other gybe heeling over at 60 degrees. I was on deck and I said to myself I've got to get off the deck otherwise I'm going to drown. I just held myself down below. I really thought one of these waves had got my name on it and there was nothing I can do. Crazy."

Entering the same storm as Nick Moloney, albeit just a few hours later, Jean Pierre Dick (Virbac Paprec) has also been up against it, powerless in every sense of the term, in 8-9 metre waves and up to 70 knots of wind. "This morning I had a lot of trouble warming myself up again. I spent a lot of time on deck last night righting the boat or correcting automatic pilot errors. I'm soaked and with the cold it's very difficult. I've never seen anything like it. The seas were huge with breaking waves. When they hit the boat, I was under the impression that everything aboard was going to break. I spent the night with just my trinquette (25m2small foresail) as the wind was blowing between 60 and 70 knots. It was Dantesque. Despite the fatigue, I had to keep helming till daybreak as there was no more energy onboard and the anemometer was still stuck at 50 knots. At the moment I've attached the helm as I simply have to eat and rest and above all give the batteries some time to recharge so I can sail normally again."

Event Media (As Amended By ISAF News Editor)
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