The regular Westerlies, legendary in the Southern Ocean are coming back into play as the leading boats in the Vendée Globe 2000 approach the Kerguelen Islands.
After a perplexing couple of days in variable wind conditions, the fleet has at last found a more consistent boat speed and enjoyable surf under sunny skies. Michel Desjoyeaux (PRB) and Roland Jourdain (Sill Matines La Potagere), who have kept the pursuing pack at bay for another day, are now one weather system ahead. Yves Parlier (Aquitaine Innovations), however, is heading Northeast, leading up the chase, clocking the best speeds over the last day, and attacking the 200 mile gap behind Jourdain.
Last night the leaders were on the back of a depression, which had swept past just above them, and Jourdain commented on the difficulty of sailing through its trough, in confused seas and a weaker breeze. Now the new low pressure system, which the second flank of boats have already faced, is bearing down on the leaders. Jourdain was surprised still at the pace of this Vendée Globe on the radio this morning. "The rhythm is still like that of a transat! You hardly have time to breath, and it's tiring always having to stay wary of everyone else." As the fleet prepares for the next low pressure system, the two boats placed in the North now are Marc Thiercelin (Active Wear) and Ellen MacArthur (Kingfisher). Both are battling furiously in the white water surf to push their bows ahead of their closest rival, Thomas Coville (Sodebo), who is holding the middle ground 3 degrees to the South of them now.
Catherine Chabaud (Whirlpool), who had remained very North for a long while, rounding the Cape of Good Hope, is now with Thierry Dubois (Solidaires) the furthest South. She admitted that this route was unavoidable, with a much more complex weather system than she imagined. Now she has come back into contact with this second group, she intends to stay in the same weather system as them, working the boat through each surf in the big seas and 40 knot winds.
Josh Hall has been working EBP/Gartmore Northward over last night and at dawn was just half a mile south of most eastern of the Crozet Islands. He gybed close to the island and got into the Southwest wind almost instantly. "Its been an incredible sailing day - the strong wind and a huge westerly swell have seen us sailing at speeds up to 27 knots all morning."
Javier Sanso (Old Spice) has repaired his port diagonal 2 and is back on course. He faxed, "I'm going a little North now to rest a bit waiting for that NW to come on the next bus to the East. It was kind of an adrenalin rush to go up (the mast) in 30 knots and do all of this with a big swell!"
Mike Golding (Team Group 4) continues to eat up the miles, sailing in a steady 30 knot Westerly. He described the surfing conditions as if "you're on the brink of a disaster", the situation heightened for him by hard squalls popping up on the radar in the guise of icebergs, or the autopilot throwing the helm off course when the beat's going at speed near to a gybe.
Ranking polled 0930 UTC 15/12/00
Boat Skipper Speed DTF DTL
1 PRB Michel Desjoyeaux 13.7 14696 0
2 Sill Matines & La Potagere Roland Jourdain 13.2 14820 124
3 Aquitaine Innovations Yves Parlier 16.5 15006 310