In the Vendée Globe, each skipper has his own landmarks, but rather than birthdays, Christmas or New Year, they tend to be geographical, such as the Equator, the Roaring Forties and passing the longitude of Cape of Good Hope or Leeuwin.
Vendée Today, fleet leader Michel Desjoyeaux (PRB) will cross the International Date Line, in effect he will live through the 28th December twice.
Significant for the skippers is that their longitude will stop elongating to the East, and start diminishing from the West, a sign that that they are truly on their way home to Les Sables d'Olonne at 1°47 West. At this point, 5845 miles separate leader Desjoyeaux from the rear of the fleet, Fedor Konyoukhov (Modern University for the Humanities), which translates to one month of sailing for the Russian. When the first boat arrives mid-February, he may still be in mid-Pacific Ocean, two months away from the finish line. Thankfully for Roland Jourdain (Sill Matines La Potagere), the wind has filled in and he is back on the chase to catch Desjoyeaux. Behind Jourdain by just under 200 miles lies the young British skipper Ellen MacArthur (Kingfisher), still coming up with the goods. Ellen has got to the point where 'Kingfisher' was launched from New Zealand in February, and the two have sailed the rest of the Vendée Globe course from here. It is no doubt a psychologically reassuring factor for her to have got to this point in third place, from which she can now attack the leaders instead of defend her position from those behind.
Faced with a 200 mile gap behind Ellen to make up still, Marc Thiercelin (Active Wear) vented his frustration this morning. "I'd really come back, worked so hard and now I've lost it all! I was behind Ellen, when the wind eased off for us both. She managed to get away but I didn't. I climbed North to avoid the centre of the depression and there I lost out again. My Finot boat is a demon downwind but I don't know, I just can't seem to catch Ellen." Thiercelin is impatient to reach Cape Horn ahead of MacArthur.
Two other skippers also longing to get into the Atlantic leg to be able to push their boats more competitively again are Josh Hall (EBP-Gartmore) and Italian Simone Bianchetti (Aquarelle.com). Hall describes below how it is 10 times more difficult to achieve anything on board on this "Disney Land ride". He recalls in the 1990 BOC Challenge "the ecstasy of rounding The Horn and almost instantly losing this big swell and the fear dissipating hourly - it is that ecstasy I seek now." All that Bianchetti wants is for this same 3 - 4 metre swell to smooth out so that he can climb the mast in safety and check his rig, which will for him now be after passing below the longitude of New Zealand.
Now that the first ten boats have escaped the effects of the magnetic South Pole, the autopilots are working coherently again. Skippers, such as Thomas Coville (Sodebo), can now recuperate from hours at the helm and constant anxiety, sailing at no more than 10 knots for fear of repeated knockdowns. Thomas himself has slept for a good 4 - 5 hours "without putting the alarm on", which gives you an idea of how desperately short of rest he must have been in recent days.
The overall impression given by the Vendée skippers is that now is the time for all to start attacking again.
Ranking polled at 0900 UTC 28/12/00
Boat Skipper Speed DTF DTL
1 PRB Michel Desjoyeaux 11.8 10839 0
2 Sill Matines & La Potagere Roland Jourdain 14.2 10993 154
3 Kingfisher Ellen MacArthur 14.1 11180 341