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17 January 2005, 05:29 pm
Still Tight at the Front
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Vendée Globe

After 72 days of racing the leaders are in fairly beefy trade winds 300 miles East of Recife, on route to the equator. The Riou/Le Cam/Golding trio are currently making incredibly similar progress, trying to hold onto both their heading and their speed in capricious winds.
They should have slightly more pressure and stability as the day goes on, with the squalls gradually becoming less frequent. Le Cam is continuing to place his hopes in his position 200 miles to the East of the leader, Mike GOLDING just a 100 miles behind him, following in the Riou's wake closer to the Brazilian shores. The meteorological enigma of the Doldrums is set to spice up the action for the front of the Vendée Globe fleet in 2 to 3 days' time. In 6th place Jean Pierre DICK has high hopes of hoisting his mainsail before nightfall (since repairing his boom) while Australian Nick MOLONEY is focusing on hoisting his energy levels, North East of the Falklands, exhausted from the adrenalin rush that was the Southern Ocean. Conrad HUMPHREYS is set to be the 9th competitor to be delivered into the Atlantic tomorrow lunch time and clearly it cannot come too soon after a frightening hatch implosion flooding part of Hellomoto. He is currently 235 miles from Cape Horn, while American Bruce SCHWAB is 400 miles away. Virtually mid Pacific the backrunner of the fleet Karen LEIBOVICI has a deficit of 6132.7 miles on the leaders.

The familiar clear, matter-of-fact voice of Vincent RIOU (PRB) today is synonymous with his 126.1 mile lead of the Vendée Globe fleet. 'Everything is going fine under the sun and squalls. The wind is more established today. The choice of passage for the Doldrums has not yet been decided but I think I'm ideally placed whether it be 28 degrees West or 30. We'll see what happens when I get there but I'm not worried about it. I'm going as quickly as Jean, to the rhythm of the squalls. He'll gain a few miles on me when I begin to stall in the Doldrums but I'm not looking at what he's doing. I am confident in my course. To mark him would be a serious mistake. In such weak trade winds, Jean is having difficulty making headway on me. As for Mike GOLDING, there is no way you can rule him out of the equation. You still have to keep your eye out for the English skipper.'

Jean LE CAM (Bonduelle) also echoed these sentiments about the English threat, and clearly for him Mike is still very much a pretender to victory. 'I don't know what will happen, but there will clearly be a winner, and someone in second and third and that could be any one of the top three. I would have preferred better established trade winds. It wasn't forecast to be like that. That's the unknown quantity in the weather. You have to constantly reanalyse the weather situations. The Doldrums are a real shambles and the situation in the North Atlantic is also very unusual. The more unstable the situation, the more opportunities I'll have to come back on Vincent the Terrible. There aren't many flying fish and I'll soon be putting the radar back on for the shipping. It's funny, the last boat I saw was PRB during the descent of the Atlantic.'

Just over a 100 miles behind Le Cam, Mike GOLDING is experienced enough to know that the race isn't over until it's over and is giving it everything he can to get back on the duo. 'I feel ok. I'm back on it, trying not to lose more ground' said Mike GOLDING this morning. 'I'm looking for any opportunities that come my way. I still have squalls and there's one in front right now. The situation is more stable though with the squalls less and less frequent, at around 3 hourly intervals. I'm as confident as I can be and driving as best I can. The boat is at 100% though I'm a little nervous of 1 or 2 things. I'm hoping the time will come when I can get back into the race properly. Anything's possible. All the boats are tired and we're all looking forward to the finish. The North Atlantic looks quite quiet which means we won't have a very fast passage. That may be in my favour. Jean is in a good position for the next 24 hours at least. In around 2 hours' time I'll have lighter winds while he will be more lifted. I think Jean is as well lined up for the Doldrums as we are and it looks like we're all aiming for the same gap. He'll be on the other side from Vincent and it's not clear which is better. My motivation is that I have no other alternative! There is no time to reflect, you must look forward. I'm counting my blessings as a lot of very good things have happened (excluding my halyard breakages). The general condition of the boat is very good and a nice cup of tea serves well in every disaster!'

Dominique WAVRE on Temenos continues to lead the attack in the chasing pack, Sébastien JOSSE (VMI) just 3.3 miles behind him, understandably tetchy about their duel believing himself to be considerably less equipped for the battle. The focus on Virbac Paprec for Jean Pierre DICK is on getting the fixed boom back into position and finally hoisting the mainsail, while recharging the batteries is a must for Nick MOLONEY, in every sense of the term.

After Joé SEETEN'S passage of the Horn yesterday evening it is Conrad Humphreys who is less than 24 hours from deliverance into the Atlantic and clearly it cannot come too soon. 'At 1945 GMT, I opened the internal hatch to the aft rudder compartment and suddenly became engulfed in icy southern ocean. The water level inside the compartment was at least half a metre and I could see exactly where it was coming from. A small plastic hatch that gives access to the life raft box had imploded from the force of the waves hitting the stern of Hellomoto and the water level was I had no time to think, I had only a few minutes at best before the auto-pilots electronics, gyro compasses and communications aerials where all under water. I ran back through the hull, visualising what I would need...Bilge pump hose extension, bucket, something to block the hole up with, survival suit.... I ran the hose and grabbed some batten lengths. There was no time to put the survival suit on, so I plunged back into the icy water and searched for the hatch that had been blown off the life raft box, finding it right in the aft section by the port rudder quadrant. The water level now was above the doorway and water was running into the next compartment. The auto-pilot electronics where being splashed by the surge of water inside and much of the wiring was already underwater. The bilge pump was running, but not sucking and I could hear the motor running dry. I had to reduce the level of the water and the only way left was to open the hatch onto the deck and start bailing as fast as I could...'

Kate Jennings (As Amended by ISAF)
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