The fickle conditions reigning over the Bay of Biscay are not allowing the next two Vendée Globe skippers to give exact ETA's even with under 100 miles to go.
Neck and neck since rounding Cape Horn, Dominique Wavre (UBP) and Thomas Coville (Sodebo) have been playing cat and mouse, tacking back and forth across the Bay of Biscay in the light breeze.
This morning the Swiss skipper Wavre, just 63 miles from the line, could still not see the end in sight. He explained the simple reason: "Boat speed: 1.2 knots, speed to finish: 0.9 knots. A great mill pond. The NE wind should come back at the end of the morning." Just two hours later Wavre faxed the Race HQ to confirm: "I have reached the NW breeze. I should arrive this evening."
The tide times for Les Sables d'Olonne will only permit a boat to enter the channel until 1940hrs local time. Wavre is fighting hard to get in by then. If he doesn't arrive in time, the Swiss skipper wants to cross the line and then wait for his sparring partner Coville when the tide allows, for them both to enter the port together.
Coville, some 50 miles behind Wavre, thanks to a more Northerly position, reached the Northerly breeze slightly earlier and is sailing at 7 - 8 knots on a direct heading to the line. "For the moment I am close hauled, and I think that the wind will continue to build. I am getting my small gennaker ready. It will do me some good to rally in for the last few miles."
Mike Golding (Team Group 4), now the next skipper racing in the Vendée Globe due in after the tragic dismasting of Catherine Chabaud (Whirlpool), is fighting against opposing winds as well, back down near the Azores. He is also one skipper impatient to get this Vendée over with, not just due to the difficult North Atlantic weather systems and his lack of fuel, plus yet again a broken genoa furler fitting to boot, but also because he has finally run out of cigarettes..."I'm smoking the cushions!" he joked this morning.
Golding is looking at the depression roaming in his area to ascertain how many more days his race will last: "I imagined I'd be able to tack into the Northerlies. I'm worried that the ridge behind me is chasing me in to the corner and I'll never get out of it. That's bad news and I've clearly lost a load of miles over night. Looking at the weather ahead I hope I'll make it in Sunday or Monday or the delay would be significant."
Josh Hall (EBP/Gartmore) should be motivated by Golding's lost miles over night, and still hopes he is in with a chance against his British rival. "A mid-Atlantic depression has formed just to our west - it should head towards the Biscay and it could give us the 6 day ride we need to get in from here and provide some fast sailing. We will have to see how it develops in the next 48hrs."
Thankfully for Hall, after suffering a setback from the main halyard jamming the other day, Bernard Gallay (Voila.fr) has not been able to catch him up, due to similar problems with his own rig. "I was stuck in big calms the day before yesterday. I also broke a main halyard and I had to climb the mast to replace it." Clearly, after Chabaud's dismasting all the skippers are now nervously looking at their rigs.
Let's hope that the Westerly flowing low pressure systems get back to their normal pattern, sweeping across the North Atlantic, so that the following arrivals are not torturously delayed.
Ranking polled at 1500UTC 22/2/01
Boat Skipper Speed DTF
1 PRB Desjoyeaux Arrive - 93d 3h 57m 32s
2 Kingfisher MacArthur Arrive - 94d 4h 25m 40s (+ 1d 0h 28m 8s)
3 SILL Matines La Potagere Jourdain Arrive - 96d 1h 2m 33s (+ 2d 22h 5m)
4 Active Wear Marc Thiercelin Arrive - 102d 20h 37m 49s (+9d 16h 40m 17s)
5 Union Bancaire Privee Dominique Wavre 4.9 33
6 Sodebo Savourons la Vie Thomas Coville 8.93 54