While the rest of the world prepares to celebrate the 3rd Millenium in a couple of days, the Vendée Globe skippers are getting ready for harder times.
South of New Zealand, there is a windless barrier heading South East, which is blocking their route. Michel Desjoyeaux (PRB) has been the first skipper to hit this 'brick wall' as the leader, and this morning slowed down to a mere 2.5 knots. Roland Jourdain (Sill Matines - La Potagere) is now only 53 miles behind Desjoyeaux, just 2 degrees further South now and joked nervously, "I will celebrate the New Year a day early as by then things will be much worse."
Desjoyeaux seemed unruffled by the positions and perhaps more as a psychological rebuff he replied, "I'm happy to be here rather than further South like 'Bilou', and if my calculations are right in three days I'll be 200 miles ahead again. I'm not wasting energy to gain peanuts so I'm just going to go back to sleep." Normally in such airs a skipper is studying the weather or on deck trying to squeeze out those precious knots. Certainly there is an amount of psychological warfare being waged, as the tension rises and each skipper knows that what they say on the radio will be resounded throughout the fleet.
Meanwhile just behind, Ellen MacArthur (Kingfisher) and Marc Thiercelin (Active Wear) have kept their average speeds up in a good breeze and reduced their distance to the leader. Ellen reported to be "sailing on a great wind angle" and has taken back 140 miles on PRB in the last 24 hours. On the other hand, Marc, who had just emerged from a "complex cloud front" and was predicting tricky conditions still ahead, has clawed back only 94 miles on PRB in the same time. He had a small fright himself, when waking from a nap to get on deck and see Campbell Islands dead on his nose just an hour's sailing away.
However, all these three skippers behind Michel have admitted today that in the next few days a new low pressure system will come and blow the cobwebs away, and more: "the mother of all depressions" as Ellen coined it, and in her opinion the worst yet. Their task now is to work out where to position themselves for the onslaught, not an easy task as they have all remarked on how difficult it is proving to analyse the forecasts with less than wholly accurate weather information for the area. Not such a Happy New Year it seems for them then.
For the group behind, the wind has eased off as well for Catherine Chabaud (Whirlpool) and Thomas Coville (Sodebo).. Coville is evidently the most stressed in these light conditions, and is "fighting like a demon" to recoup the 400 miles he has lost out from his autopilot and gyrocompass problems of the last few days. Jourdain noted that in these airs, fatigue and thus the probability of error increases more because of stress rather than physical exhaustion. Keeping the manoeuvres to a minimum is the key, Chabaud herself added, if one is to be fully rested for an incoming hard blow.
Thierry Dubois (Solidaires) is 420 miles from the port of Bluff, New Zealand, and remarked: "I live with the engine running for 20 out of every 24 hours now as the batteries don't charge properly. With no problems, I'll reach New Zealand in two days and probably celebrate New Year on land!" His shore team has pulled the local people and suppliers in Auckland together in double-quick time to ship the necessary alternator, autopilot and battery parts for the intended 48 hour pit-stop. A real example of 'solidarity'.
For Yves Parlier (Aquitaine Innovations), a slight change in plans, as he heads now to Stewart instead of Auckland Island. This change is mostly because he needs to have the best temperature for his resin to set. His predicted ETA: "I still have another 1370 miles to do before I get there, about a week in sailing I think." Without assistance, Parlier should be able to set off after his operation to extend the mast height within the race rules.
Latest Ranking polled at 0900 UTC 29/12/00
Boat Skipper Speed DTF DTL
1 PRB Michel Desjoyeaux 2.55 10630 0
2 Sill Matines & La Potagere Roland Jourdain 11 10683 53
3 Kingfisher Ellen MacArthur 14 10847 217