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20 November 2004, 09:02 am
The Race to the Bolt Hole for the Southern Ocean Express
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The long awaited header has kicked in and Bonduelle, PRB, VMI and Sill et Véolia, Ecover and Hugo Boss are now feeling the effects on their sails as the sheets are increasingly eased for reaching.
The wind has been progressively turning to the east then the north-east. Jean Le Cam has clearly rounded up and is now dropping south at a rate of knots down a wind tunnel created by a depression centred off Argentina and the expansion of the Saint Helena high. At the end of this lies a bolt hole to a direct express ride down to the southern ocean, but the leaders have gone into turbo drive to get there before it heads across to the south-east. Bonduelle has been making 15 knots in the past 4 hours and the race is on behind him to "cut the corner" so as to gain on the leader. The second group of nine has been thrown apart after a dog of a 24 hours in horrendous doldrums' squalls, those in the east including Conrad Humphreys and Nick Moloney seemingly taking the brunt with a massive deficit in real terms. Jean Pierre Dick and Dominic Wavre seem to be the only survivors with Joé Seeten and Hervé Laurent managing to limit the damage, Seeten having just crossed the equator. The backrunners meantime are now taking their turn at the doldrums. The temperatures onboard are beginning to cool off pleasantly for the leaders, and getting out of the heat cannot come soon enough.

With a 24.8 mile lead at 1500 GMT Jean Le Cam (Bonduelle) is clearly on a roll, and though his words smart of propaganda, both his performance and his video footage would beg to differ. 'I had a marvellous sleep: 8 hours! But I needed to a bit as the ranking didn't come up to my expectations. We have the perfect conditions to go rapidly south. It really is a pleasant part of the race. The weather is good, we've opened our sails and above all else we've got pace. What joy it is to be on the water. I think I like my boat a lot.'

A similar picture for second placed Vincent Riou (PRB): <I>' We've opened our sails and the boat is accelerating. The wind is continuing to head and the pleasure in sailing is back after 36 hours of upwind. I'm beginning to prepare myself for the big south. I'm going into the unknown, unstressed.'</I>

Sébastien JOSSE (VMI) in third also admits that his position upwind of the fleet doesn't displease. You have to hang a left one of these days and knowing that my boat is less at ease upwind than boats from the latest generation, I opted to stay inside. We've all got our eye on a little bolt hole between a depression in the south and the western edge of the Saint Helena high. It's very risky and if we miss it, I wouldn't be too badly placed in the east. In the meantime I'm hanging on in there. »

Roland JOURDAIN (Sill et Véolia) has dropped to 67.9 miles from the top trio after having a fishing net caught under his keel for a couple of days. Mike GOLDING on Ecover is right back with the leaders now in 5th on a cracking pace 22.5 miles in his wake, despite not having access to large grib files for the weather for a couple of days. Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) is just about hanging onto this escape posse after suffering numerous trying technical problems, and has finally given up his "interesting" westing to head dead south...at last.

The doldrums have thrown apart our second group overnight with Dominic WAVRE (Temenos) and Jean Pierre DICK(Virbac Paprec) seemingly the only « survivors » even though both have suffered their share of problems since the start. This morning Dick had to perform one of the most stressful exercises of sailing single-handed when he had to dive underneath the boat. In the middle of the night he spotted a worrying drop in speed and quickly established that he would have to examine the keel. At dawn he noticed a blue line enveloping his keel. He then made various vain attempts to free the net by means of contradictory movements of the boat. Unsuccessful he tied himself to a spinnaker sheet, donned his flippers and snorkel and threw himself into the water. « Going a few metres from your boat is rather stressful. Fortunately the ten metre nylon line came free fairly quickly and I managed to climb back aboard the boat quite easily. » He estimates that the mission cost him around 30 miles overall along with a big dose of stress, but he is now making up for lost time with 15.4 knots of boat speed in the past 30 minutes.

To the east of these survivors the Anglo-Saxon contingent of Nick Moloney (Skandia) and Conrad Humphreys (Hellomoto) have really been in the wars in violent overnight squalls. 'My arms, upper back, shoulders are in absolute tatters, says Humphreys. I couldn´t grind another winch! I couldn´t go through another night of it again, which is why I feel for Nick as he has really had it worse..time to eat the last slice of fruit cake!' With a massive deficit on the leaders in real time, they are certainly going to have their work cut out. They are set to cross the equator over 48 hours after the leaders...but the course is still a long one.

Event Media (As Amended By ISAF News Editor)
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