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31 January 2005, 10:44 am
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Vendée Globe

All should become a little clearer today as the three leading boats are expected to tack to make what should be their final approach to Les Sables d'Olonne, and the finish line. And it is still all in the balance. Bonduelle has just taken the tiniest of leads, just 0.7 of a mile with only 615 miles to sail to the finish, finally breaking the lead that PRB has held since the 13 January.
Mike GOLDING is still recovering miles on the leaders and is now only 59.2 miles behind and is theoretically making the best VMG towards the finish. Mike has pulled back nearly 17 miles on the last four hour schedule, and, with light and shifty winds predicted for the finish, as well as a transition zone to be negotiated out of the grip of the centre of this high pressure system, the game is not over for Ecover.

The reckoning is that PRB who has been sailing in about 15-16 knots has consistently been sailing in 2-3 knots less breeze, but now has a slightly more favourable wind angle at the moment. Other than whether Bonduelle can simply extend her lead, the question for today, is how Le Cam will react when PRB tacks. The axis of the high pressure system is changing, squashing into a more NE-SW direction and, in time, that may even out the gains and losses even more!. Progressively it will lift those behind more, but later, while the leader will still get the changes first and the better pressure first.

This weather system, which has protected the NW of Europe for the last ten days, fending off any incoming low pressure systems, has clearly got a wicked sense of humour, and like the armchair navigators and routers, wants to play in the Vendee Globe as well. In terms of instantaneous speed, the two newer generation boats - Bonduelle and PRB - have been consistently quicker over last days, but this may be because they are reckoned to have had better breeze, but it is still all to play for.

Dominique WAVRE and Sébastien JOSSE are in more comfortable conditions than of late with a good 17/23 knots of SE along the course. They're in downwind conditions ahead of a cold front. In the future the problem is going to be how to deal with the movement of the anticyclone, and when to cross it. Fortunately for them, the anticyclone is very stable, with some good 24 hour distances in view. Temenos is likely to have a slight advantage as he will be the first to hit new wind. Jean Pierre DICK is in for some fairly light 15/20 trade winds which will lift slightly, stabilising both in strength and direction the further north he gets. He will be on a close reach, loosening the sheets the closer he gets to the Cape Verde islands. Joé SEETEN and Conrad HUMPHREYS will be able to make a good course towards the Doldrums today in the trade winds.

The phenomenon is likely to be more active in the coming days with a fairly stormy passage of the zone on the cards. By the time Bruce Schwab gets to the zone of convergence he looks to be set for some isolated squalls, while Benoît PARNAUDEAU will have better conditions as the stormy front quickly deactivates. Anne LIARDET on Roxy is well placed to negotiate a depression system moving away from the coast of Uruguay, the system passing in front of her according to present forecasts. Raphael DINELLI will be focussing on what is likely to be an eastern rounding of a NW/SE ridge of high pressure. For now the downwind passage looks fairly easy. At the tail of the fleet, Karen Leibovici is in good, fairly sustained westerlies, a depression forming tomorrow night and becoming very active. For the retired skippers, Marc THIERCELIN and Patrice CARPENTIER, this same system may well spell a bit of trouble as it threatens to kick in 80 knots of wind around the Horn area. Marc passed the Horn at 0705 GMT this morning. He reported icy squalls and grey/black fog. He was sailing under three reefs and staysail making 19 knots of boat speed, unfortunately suffering electronic worries and a leak at the back of the boat, but his bow sprit is holding up just fine. Patrice is around 100 miles behind him.

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