As the Southern Ocean string of low pressure systems roll in one after the other, albeit with varying intensity, the Vendée Globe fleet is pressing through each system with only a short respite in between.
Michel Desjoyeaux (PRB) in leading position, was just on the brink of the depression ahead of him early this morning and thus uniquely able to benefit from the winds generated by this system to maintain normal boat speeds for a longer period of time. His closest rival, Roland Jourdain (Sill Matines La Potagere), on the other hand, had been held up in the following anticyclone. The most recent positions, however, confirm Desjoyeaux's prediction, "I'll get held up in it this afternoon or tonight", as he is now clocking under 10 knots of boat speed.
It's clear that the chasing boats, lead by Thomas Coville (Sodebo), are benefiting from the effects of the next depression already. Ellen Mac Arthur (Kingfisher) and Marc Thiercelin (Active Wear) are outperforming Coville by 4 - 5 knots, which should again reduce the gaps between each boat.
By tomorrow, the top five boats are expected to have passed the longitude of the legendary Cap Leeuwin, in the South West of Australia. As they near the half way mark (another 1000 miles to go), the average pace in this Vendée Globe seems to be on a par with the 1996 edition. Michel Desjoyeaux currently holds a 40 miles advantage on the mileage of Christophe Auguin at the same point in time. Despite witnessing certain unbelievable averages, the overall pace this year remains the same. As the new generation boats are now capable of higher average speeds, the reason can be put down to the weather conditions.
A few days before Christmas the skippers do not have their minds much on festivities, Chabaud (Whirlpool) instead declared "I am bracing myself for the full-on Pacific Ocean swells". Most skippers agreed that passing these celebrations alone is not what Christmas is about, but the occasion has not been totally forgotten, as Josh Hall (EBP-Gartmore) has put up some Christmas decorations and Thiercelin can't wait to open up his surprise meal, cooked by a famous French chef.
For the Spaniard Javier Sanso (Old Spice), however, the thought of celebration is far from his mind. A collision with an unidentified object broke one of his rudders. He temporarily thought of continuing on one rudder, but the possibility that he might lose the second one, which would force him to have to abandon the boat, steered him away from this option. He has now decided to head North to the nearest port in Australia 3300 miles away.
Sanso was greatly demoralised by this incident, after investing so much of his life and several years into participating in the Vendée Globe. He will not give up on this circumnavigation : "I will try to finish outside the race but around the world alone Ð and there's nothing stopping me from winning the next one!" Out of the 6 abandons in this race, half have been due to collisions to date.
Mike Golding (Team Group 4) was barely audible on the Mini M this morning, and yet the tone of his voice was distinctly dejected. He had recently come through what was the most terrifying experience, he admitted, even for this hardened, experienced skipper. In a futile attempt to effect repairs to the top genoa furler, he had to prematurely cut himself free to descend from the mast as the boat had drifted out of the lee of Possession Island and was pushed over several times. Frustrated to have lost miles without making real progress with his situation, he is going to make a last attempt to stop and repair in the shelter of the Kerguelen Islands.
And finally, Yves Parlier (Aquitaine Innovations) has increased the sail area on his jury rig. He reached 8,57 knots early this morning.
Ranking polled at 0930UTC 21/12/12
Boat Skipper Speed DTF DTL
1 PRB Michel Desjoyeaux 9.9 12983 0
2 Sill Matines & La Potagere Roland Jourdain 12.3 13066 83
3 Sodebo Savourons la Vie Thomas Coville 11.5 13269 286