Covering nearly 300 miles per day, the two boats leading the Vendée Globe are gaining 5 degrees in latitude every 24 hours and are approaching the Equator fast.
Michel Desjoyeaux (PRB) should cross the invisible line over Saturday night. As forecast, the trade winds are getting stronger while they are lifting, hence the regular acceleration of the two leading boats, who, little by little, are increasing the gap behind to their pursuers.
Conditions seemed good to Desjoyeaux, who has kept Ellen MacArthur (Kingfisher) 103 miles behind. At midday today, PRB's average speed was 1.5 knots faster than Kingfisher. When the race office tried to call Ellen on Saturday morning she wasn't able to stay on line for long. "Could you call me later on?" she said, "I am just back for the second time from climbing to the top of the mast and I am really tired." It was then impossible to reach her as she surely needed a rest. It's really impressive to see how many times since the start Ellen has been up the mast. This operation, often essential to make vital repairs, is rarely appreciated by single-handed sailors. They need to prepare carefully the manoeuvre, to ensure that the conditions are stable and that the boat does not risk gybing or tacking at some point while the skipper is at the top of his mast, as it is impossible to get down quickly.
It is already difficult to move on a deck but when climbing up the mast the bad conditions are multiplied by ten. At 26 meters above the deck, the movements at the mast head are extremely violent. You need two hands and two feet to hold on, and when you need to start working it can be acrobatic and dangerous. Back on the deck the skippers find they are heavily bruised. One can see why Roland Jourdain decided to stop in Cape Horn in a calm shelter to climb up the mast and do his long and complicated repairs. The speed difference between the two leaders this morning was may be due to the fact that Ellen was up the mast and had to adapt a steadier tack to do her repairs.
The anticyclone has moved a bit, giving different and not so good conditions to the four boats behind. Marc Thiercelin (Active Wear), who is concentrating on his boat speed, is spending a lot of time moving weights on board to get the best plate of the boat. Sailing along the Brazilian coast, he was feeling nostalgic as he lived in this country for several years.
Like Thomas Coville (Sodebo) and Dominique Wavre (UBP), Jourdain has tried to go west. They were forced to follow that course at the beginning because of the wind direction, so they had to go upwind in a North North East breeze. This wind was pushing them progressively towards the Brazilian coast, without however worrying them too much as the lift (wind turning to the East) was meant to reach them at some point but the expected rotation hasn't come yet and the skippers are finding the time long. Coville has done a counter tack in the East for a few hours. It looks like this veering is arriving soon and should allow them to do a better heading and, above all, to open the sail plan. They will finally accelerate and stop losing miles from the leaders, who themselves should be slowed down while they cross the Doldrums area. It will then stretch out again.
Seventeen days after rounding Cape Horn, Michel Desjoyeaux is 3361 miles from the finish line, and could, with a 10 knot average speed, cross the finish line in Les Sables d'Olonne on the 10th of February.
Ranking polled at 0955 UTC 28/01/01
Boat Skipper Speed DTF DTL
1 PRB Michel Desjoyeaux 12.9 3361 0
2 Kingfisher Ellen MacArthur 11.4 3464 103
3 Active Wear Marc Thiercelin 10.7 3979 618
Information on the current standings, updated four times daily, can be be found on the official website. Virtual Spectator is providing a highly informative graphical service via: www.virtualspectator.com