The race to the finish for the leading pair in the Vendée Globe, has sprung no great surprises. The steadying 20 - 25 knot North Easterly breeze carries them right up to the Azores. Even if there is no major change staying on this one tack, a constant optimisation of the boat performance goes on day and night in reaction to the slightest variation in wind direction or sea state.
Michel Desjoyeaux (PRB) remains calm about his progress. "With the forward ballast and the fact that PRB is one of the narrowest hulls in the fleet, she moves better through the chop, which I know is not the case for some of my friends". His lead is stabilising at around 75 miles and he is surveying Ellen MacArthur (Kingfisher) quietly as she is still holding a strategic position. "It's logical for me to put myself between my adversary and the finish. I'm watching her and the weather developing for the anticyclone, but it's still too far in the future for the predictions to be reliable."
Ellen was able to reassure the Race HQ on the point of her sail inventory that she is "very happy with my sails. I've done necessary repairs and am back up to 100 percent." Their matching speeds go to prove this point now, and any difference merely indicates a slight variation in wind strength or, as Desjoyeaux thought, perhaps the force of a current. As much as Ellen is attacking ahead, she is also having to defend her back as Roland Jourdain (Sill Matines La Potagere) this morning moved in to third place ahead of rival Marc Thiercelin (Active Wear) and lies in a dangerous position over to the West.
Thiercelin isn't throwing the towel in by any means, despite knowing that his boat is not great upwind. "It requires a big amount of manoeuvres and a lot of steering to go straight, and I am not very keen on that. I am slower than Sill Matine-la Potagere, but in a better position." Thankfully Thiercelin's problem with his lack of water is solved. "With the big squalls I had last night I managed to fill my tanks, now I will have enough up to the finish line."
Thomas Coville (Sodebo), forever upset about his circumstances, has cheered himself up at last. "I have a little more wind than the forecast predicted so I've accelerated a bit more and to see the point of South America behind me is a big relief! I've stopped torturing myself and have snapped out of the mood I've been in recently. Sodebo is on her best point of sail now - upwind." In comparison, Dominique Wavre (UBP) may have put nearly 100 miles in between his boat and Coville's but is still in lighter airs and slower. With more traffic lights still to cross at the Doldrums their match could become closer again.
You couldn't get much closer than the negligible difference in mileage between Josh Hall (EBP-Gartmore) and Mike Golding (Team Group 4), who are regularly swapping between 8th and 9th place in the rankings. Hall, crippled by a disastrous run of light weather during the last month, displayed a certain amount of bravado concerning this English naval battle, and instead spoke of other goals in mind. "Boat speed has improved now and I'm going upwind at 10.5 knots. My target is to still catch Catherine and to finish before Christophe Auguin's record time."
Ranking polled at 0900UTC 1/02/01
Boat Skipper Speed DTF DTL
1 PRB Michel Desjoyeaux 10.7 2520 0
2 Kingfisher Ellen MacArthur 11.3 2596 76
3 Sill Matines & La Potagere Roland Jourdain 10.2 2912 392