An amazing act has started in the final stage of the Vendée Globe. The 24yr old British skipper, Ellen MacArthur (Kingfisher), the youngest competitor in the race, has slipped into first place by a margin of 5 miles according to distance to finish, wh...
The skipper of PRB, a race favourite since the start, took the lead from Yves Parlier (Aquitaine Innovations) in the Indian Ocean. He only momentarily conceded this position for two days over Christmas to Roland Jourdain (Sill Matines La Potagere). Then on the back of a depression, which he alone caught, Michel Desjoyeaux was surfing the Southern ocean on a winning wave, and rounded Cape Horn with 600 miles advance over Ellen MacArthur, herself mounting to second place by then. At that moment, Michel Desjoyeaux, although a moderate man in his judgements, couldn't even imagine that in the remaining 7000 miles, anyone else could take back 640 miles.. The red carpet was rolled out for him all the way to Les Sables d'Olonne in his mind, without any further technical incidents. However the best efforts of the Saint Helen anticyclone to slow his progress over the course of a week allowed his main rivals to come back on him considerably close, Ellen closing the gap to under 100 miles.
Logic dictated that Ellen also should have slowed down at the point where Desjoyeaux did. Again, the wind defied conforming to rule, and despite controlling Ellen at a distance of 100 or so miles to the Equator, Michel then fell foul of the Doldrum calms, which were non-existent on the weather files, but in reality ready and waiting even South of the Equator. All the while Ellen carried on climbing at good speed. Once in the calm airs it's no longer a question of marking. The golden rule is 'each for himself' and just get out of there as quickly as possible.
Michel Desjoyeaux has been heading to the North West, searching for the exit, while Ellen has been pointing up to the North and placed slightly further East. Over yesterday she crept up on PRB and overnight succeeded in passing him to hold a tenuous 3 mile lead in the morning's rankings. In a place where the skippers are sailing from cloud to cloud searching for the next breath of wind it seems hardly significant. The meteorological crystal ball isn't letting anyone get an advantage as in reality the conditions on the water are nothing like the forecasts. Instead the skippers are constantly in manoeuvres, helming as much as possible, changing sail configurations, all these hugely physical and exhausting efforts to keep the boat going in the capricious wind and scorching heat, with no foreseeable end in sight for the next 48 hours. The first one to break in these conditions has lost the game.
Ellen admitted herself. "I'm happy but I can't show my happiness when I'm totally exhausted. I think Michel is better positioned to escape this in the North West. I'm watching out for the others behind as Bilou is really over to the West and going fast." Despite her new status as race leader remains clear-headed and realistic. "I'm just doing the best I can, fighting to get out of this zone as quickly as possible."
Behind, Marc Thiercelin (Active Wear), on the same longitude, and Roland Jourdain, further to the West, are both charging ahead at 11 Ð 12 knots and the miles ahead are melting. Thiercelin has opted for the Easterly route, "drawing on my past circumnavigations. In the last Vendée, I saw Herve Laurent pass in the East. I prefer to be to windward of the fleet." Indeed, after the Doldrums are behind them, it is more favourable to pick up the North Easterly winds on the right hand side of the course. "Even if the others ahead are stuck, the weather changes so rapidly there that when I arrive everything could have cleared up."
On the other hand, Jourdain has chosen another logic, to go for speed and not so much heading in order to get past the tricky areas of little or no wind. "My objective is to pass to the West so I slow down the least in the Doldrums. The others are all in the East so I must try something different. At the exit it may look bad to be to the lee of the fleet but I'll find a way to get back over to the East. The depressions rolling in from the West could give me an advantage."
The followng pair of boats, Dominique Wavre (Union Bancaire Privïe) & Thomas Coville (Sodebo) are finding their situation improving gradually as well, and both are hoping that the pit stop in the Doldrums will help them come and join in the fight up front again.
Josh Hall (EBPP/Gartmore) has claimed back his 8th place, making better gains to the North than Mike Golding (Team Group 4) with his speed not dropping below 20 knots on the back of a depression. Golding however, endured 40 knot winds and a nasty sea running head on all night, with main sail fully reefed and storm jib up. "I'm moving well now and hope that the massive gain Josh has made was only temporary." He was unable to collect a drop of rain from the torrential downpours that came with the storm as "the conditions were outrageous to think of getting out the jerry cans and funnels on deck."
Ranking polled at 0700hrs UTC 29/01/01
Boat Skipper Speed DTF DTL
1 Kingfisher Ellen MacArthur 4.39 3097 0
2 PRB Michel Desjoyeaux 5.16 3102 5
3 Active Wear Marc Thiercelin 11 3388 286