For the leading group in the Vendée Globe 2000, it's been a good two days that the weather has not lived up to it's usual Southern character.
Instead of the habitual Westerly winds, with well structured low pressure systems following one after the other, between 40° & 70° East the system is completely disturbed. Little lows are forming rapidly, giving rise to zones of light airs in between these different 'bubbles'.
The skippers feel like they're playing a chess game at the chart table, having to spend a lot of time getting in their weather information from different sources, comparing and analysing them, before finally deciding upon a strategy. Once their option is taken, then it's up on deck to trim the sails and squeeze out the maximum speed and work on the most efficient route in order to make best speed towards the way point.
The skippers can receive their weather information from several sources. Now satellite photos have arrived, they give a really good quality image of the cloud base. Today, via the Standard C, skippers get EGC files, which are made up of weather bulletins written up in text and covering the area of navigation. The skippers can also log onto weather sites on the Internet. The final means is to receive the weather in a GRIB format. These are files, which show the bands of wind (like those under the Weather section on the official website). The skippers have navigation software on their computer, which shows these wind bands, but above all they need these GRIB files to make their MAXSEA routing software work.
What is interesting is that with all these varying and sophisticated sources of weather information, the skippers, who are in the same weather system, nevertheless show initiative and are heading off on completely different routes in order to get to the next way point. Only by one skipper getting to that point first will anyone know who was right.
On Wednesday morning, second placed Roland Jourdain (Sill Matines La Potagere) was despairing of his tactical errors of the last few hours. After much deliberation over strategy, he chose to pass the Crozet islands to the South. Not only did he nearly come to a grinding halt but also ended up sailing upwind. He's gone through the agony of watching race leader Michel Desjoyeaux (PRB) free himself from the system successfully on a Northerly route and extend his lead.
Yves Parlier (Aquitaine Innovations) and Thierry Dubois (Solidaires) both experienced hours of unpredictable calm weather between 48° & 50° degrees South, which they found bizarre and frustrating. Another surprise is that Catherine Chabaud (Whirlpool) is currently gaining the most from these conditions and making the best speed in a precious Westerly flux that has established itself on her route. She's back in the pack, but states that she "will need to wait for two or three more systems to really come back". As surprises always come in threes, the last one was for Thomas Coville, who found himself sailing side by side with Ellen MacArthur (Kingfisher). He commented "It was one of the best moments of the race, she is really such an amazing person, she can't be English!"
These skippers ahead are moving out of the influence the Weddell Sea and thus the iceberg range. Catching up on them, though is another threat, that along with the following winds comes a menacing Mike Golding (Team Group 4). He is pushing hard still on a more direct route, aiming to sail fast into the next good weather system without being caught too far South too early. He noted that he hit something with his rudder last night, but with no serious consequence.
Ranking polled at 0830UTC 12/12/00
Boat Skipper Speed DTF DTL
1 PRB Michel Desjoyeaux 14.6 15339 0
2 Sill Matines & La Potagere Roland Jourdain 11.6 15448 109
3 Aquitaine Innovations Yves Parlier 3.94 15497 158