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11 November 2001, 01:47 pm
Approaching The Doldrums
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Transat Jacques Vabre

The Transat Jacques Vabre 12 strong multihull fleet is at a nail-biting stage of their drag race to Bahia, Brazil. The leaders have reached 8 degrees North - and the door to the Doldrums is wide open.
If yesterday the skippers were unwilling to give away any secrets, today they are telling all. In the monohull fleet, happy and sad faces, as Bernard Stamm says "Groumph!" and 'Bilou' (Jourdain) smiles like a cheshire cat 195 miles ahead. Will he be laughing on the other side of his face soon? Fila & SME Négocéane move up faster and nearer. Frustration and light winds set in for Open 50 fleet, and flummox leaders One Dream One Mission.

Leading the multihull fleet by just 40 miles into this meteorological phenomenon is Kingfisher-Foncia (Gautier/MacArthur), and co-skipper Ellen MacArthur laid all bare: "We tried to go for the safe option by going 23 30 West, to be outside the windless zone. Then new information unfolded, which said that there was a windless zone right ahead of us this morning. So we decided to just sail as fast as we could through to the other side, but it's a gamble. With Groupama to the East and Belgacom to the West it's really not over yet."

Their inside rival is in fact Groupama, and skipper Franck Cammas was equally on edge: "We wanted to pass the Doldrums between 20 - 23 W. Now we're here I feel that Kingfisher-Foncia is better placed than us. Everyone knows there is supposed to be more wind to the West but it lengthens the mileage enormously. So whatever Belgacom is up to, no one knows if it will pay!"

In defence, all co-skipper Michel Desjoyeaux (Belgacom) chose to say was this: "We headed West to curve round the Doldrums. Were we right? Who knows right now!" The 'Professor' may well be bluffing, but one thing is clear and in the minds of all the multihull skippers: the first to leave this zone and round the Ascension Islands will be the most likely to win this passionately close transatlantic race.

Right on the inside lane is 4th placed Fujifilm (L. Peyron/Le Mignon), notably still going at 20 knots compared to the 12 - 15 knot pace of the leaders, and nearer to the rum line than Groupama.

After just over 3 days since officially abandoning the race, Sergio Tacchini (Fauconnier/Proffit) reached Port La Foret on Saturday evening.


All Swiss skipper Bernard Stamm (Bobst Group - Armor Lux) could say was "Groumph!" as he looked at the 195 mile gap between his boat and the leader Sill Plein Fruit (Jourdain/Le Cleac'h). The red boat is in a formidable position 80m ahead of (Gallay/De Pavant) and 116m ahead of Casto-Darty-But (Moloney/Turner) coming up to Cape Verde. 'Bilou' smiles: "This breeze is not out of the mail order catalogue, still not really established. But we chose the right option that's for sure, thanks to Pierre Lasnier our router so we pretty happy!"

But will he be laughing on the other side of his face soon? Just off the Mauritanian coastline to the East, SME Négocéane (Sanso/Dumont) and Fila (Laurent/Rufini) have been averaging 1 knot higher in boat speed than the top three in the last 24 hrs, and have moved up to 4th & 5th place respectively, leaving last week's dominant leader Ecover (Golding/Hutchinson) in 6th place.

The first signs of frustration are now showing on the faces of leading Open 50 team Alex Bennett & Paul Larsen on One Dream One Mission. An unexpectedly wide high pressure ridge has 'flummoxed' them, as they try to battle themselves out of its grip without losing their slimmer 15 mile lead over Saving (Le Youdec/Bacave) still South of the Canaries.

Bringing up the rear, Olympian Challenger (Taylor/Pajkowska) are finally making better speeds than the leaders 500 miles ahead of them, gybing between Madeira & Tenerife, but are hampered by a new rip in their main sail, which is testing their needlework.

Adecco-Etoile Horizon reported that skipper Bob Escoffier fell on his back in the cockpit whilst putting a 3rd reef in the main in 45 knot winds. They have put into port at Arrecife, Lanzarote and are being awaited there by an ambulance and a doctor.

Mary Ambler/News Editor
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