Monday is going to be decisive to determine who is going to be the winner of the race. Between 29° and 31° North, the two leaders have a ridge across their course, which they will not be able to avoid.
There is no alternative solution than going through it. This mean that the 120 miles they have to sail in the ridge are going to be nerve breaking for the skippers. Indeed the weather files are showing light winds, no more than 5 knots on the whole area.
Michel Desjoyeaux (PRB), is 1°30 further North than Ellen MacArthur (Kingfisher) and is the first one to suffer from the progressive slow down of the trade winds, whose first consequence is the reduction of his boat's speed. Ellen 90' further South is benefiting from stronger winds and thus managed to keep her initial speed. This explains why looking at the distance to the finish (DTF) she is now only 36 miles behind the French skipper. This was easy to predict and Ellen looks set to move up more in the next hours.
PRB still has a big advantage in latitude and should be the first one to restart. It all depends on how each of them is going to negotiate this complicated calm zone. We know that when there is no wind somewhere the conditions can be very different just a few miles away. One can find the exit door and not the other. It's a bit of a gamble, and there is not much the skipper can do apart from looking for every little sign of breeze to progress to the North, the way out. Once they have passed the ridge, the two sailors will catch the South Westerly winds from the low pressures systems of the Northern Atlantic. Then with following winds often up to 45 knots, the competitors will start the final sprint to Les Sables d'Olonne. Neck to neck it will not be possible to play wisely, but they will have to press the accelerator as they have very similar speeds. The advantage should go to the one with the most sails up. Michel Desjoyeaux admitted, "In this game I have more to lose than to win when Ellen has more to win than to lose".
His breton friend, Roland Jourdain (Sill Matines La Potagere), further in the West has less risks of slowing down when he goes through the ridge. "I can hope that they will stay longer than me in the ridge, but I'm not waiting for a miracle. The boat is suffering a lot, and I'll have to stay careful in the strong South Westerly winds".
The Swiss skipper Dominique Wavre (Union Bancaire Privee) and Thomas Coville (Sodebo) seems to have found their way out of the high pressure bubble they were stuck in for the last three days. Dominique was telling us this morning: "I have caught a light Nor'easterly breeze, I hope it is the beginning of the trade winds, and this would mean we've passed the Doldrums in less time than the Equator. I was on the line this morning at 5 o'clock."
The other woman in the race, Catherine Chabaud (Whirlpool) is doing a nice come back as she is now just 400 miles from Wavre. " I hope to keep sailing like that. I have a better upwind boat than they have. I hope the trade winds will be well established. I am looking at Jourdain's course as we have the same boat. I feel that I am very tired, Whirlpool is a very physical boat, a lot harder than the one I had four years ago. Also because of my water maker problem I have to reduce my water consumption. I will be happy to finish".
Patrice Carpentier (VM Materiaux) is part of a group of three boats led by Bernard Gallay (Voila.fr). Joe Seeten (Nord pas de Calais Ð Chocolats du monde), has also done a good come back, and he is a threat to the skipper of the open 50' yellow boat. Patrice was helpless. " Unfortunately there is nothing I can do to avoid that, his boat is faster than mine in light winds".
Michel Desjoyeaux and Ellen MacArthur now have less than 2000 miles to go to the finish. Estimate finish time is from Saturday afternoon onwards. The weather forecast is bad in the bay of Les Sables d'Olonne, with more than 40 knots of wind forecast.
Ranking polled at 0855 UTC 4/02/01
Boat Skipper Speed DTF DTL
1 PRB Michel Desjoyeaux 9.81 1935 0
2 Kingfisher Ellen MacArthur 11 1971 36
3 Sill Matines & La Potagere Roland Jourdain 11.3 2276 341
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