Still leading the quest for seventh on the 103rd day of racing in this Vendée Globe, Conrad HUMPHREYS had virtually lost all power aboard Hellomoto and was being forced to sail with the keel on the centreline after losing all pressure last night.
With just 650 miles to the finish at 1500 GMT today (17 February) the British skipper is having to helm for up to 16 hours a day on what he hopes will be a direct course to the finish in Les Sables d´Olonne. His direct rival Joé SEETEN (Arcelor Dunkerque) is within 33 miles of the leader, a touch to the NW of Conrad with slightly less air pressure closer to the centre of the anticyclone. Though both exhausted, the two skippers are all too aware that now is not the moment to ease off the pace as they trace down the elusive NE'ly wind shift on the same tack. Towards the tail of the fleet Anne Liardet (Roxy) broke her port daggerboard this morning. In an unsuccessful attempt to prise it out of its casing for repairs, a fairly small amount of water has infiltrated the boat but Anne is determined to complete her Vendee Globe.
An exhausted but all the more determined Conrad Humphreys (Hellomoto) kindly used up some of his last power resources to speak to us at today's radio session. "I wasn't able to start my engine to charge the batteries two days ago. As a result the energy onboard is so low that I couldn't even light a candle. I know that I'm just going to have to try and survive over the next few days with the tiny amount of the power in the batteries. The solar panels aren't very effective though and right now the helm is lashed with bits of elastic bungy cord which is ok when there's wind. Otherwise without wind it's impossible to hold course. Last night I wasn't able to make any mileage towards Les Sables d'Olonne as the wind wasn't stable. Some NE'ly winds will enable me to make good speed and the elastic will give me a nice course if they are stable in direction. I've got about 10 V left in my batteries. I'm out of the clouds and rain now but I haven't been able to look at the weather for the past two days and I've not been able to receive the positions either. I'm sailing like a blind mole as I simply have no power to start up the computer. I'm just hoping that the wind will be such that I can stay on a single tack to Les Sables d'Olonne without having to make any other decisions. For now the clouds in the sky are my only clue as to the future."
Having to helm for up to 16 hours a day the British skipper was so tired yesterday that he took his sleeping bag outside and slept at the helm for a few hours and, like his rival Joé SEETEN, ended up going the wrong way for part of that period. "Unfortunately I also completely lost the pressure in the keel yesterday which means that it is in the centreline now. It's stable though and I have lashed it in position. If the wind gets up I won't have the stability that Joé has but it seems ok."
Besides travelling 3.5 miles in the wrong direction, Joé SEETEN (Arcelor Dunkerque) is suffering from his lack of foresails and amidst his good humoured chuckling he did admit that "Things aren't great aboard. In the past 38 hours I've covered 130 miles. It's not very cheery news. I hope I can escape this system soon as I've been stuck in it for some time now. It does look like conditions may improve this afternoon. Right now I have 2.3 knots of wind and Conrad isn't far away. It looks like he's made a bad move. Had I been in his position I wouldn't have come into the anticyclone. It's a little mistake. He should have tried to have gone East but he tried to control me instead. 2.2 knots is not great controlling though. I took this option because I simply had no choice. He still has the slight advantage though as I don't have my foresails. In the coming hours I see myself having around 12/15 knots though Conrad is likely to have a couple of knots more. Once the wind kicks back in I will try to sleep but by then traffic will become another issue. Just now I'm spending all my time correcting the boat to the right wind angle and I've got just 709 miles to the finish."
Ninth placed American skipper, Bruce SCHWAB (Ocean Planet) is continuing to make good headway North on a rather unusual E'ly course. Just a few miles off Madeira, the wind is filling in and the downwind conditions are gradually giving way to upwind. Bruce has scraped back 135 miles on the leader in the past 24 hours and now has a deficit of just 438 miles.
About 1400 miles behind him, the trade winds are gradually slowing the advances of Benoit PARNAUDEAU (Max Havelaar-Best Western) and Anne LIARDET (Roxy), though the latter has other more pressing concerns today after breaking her port daggerboard earlier this morning.
"I don't know if I hit something or whether the rope simply gave way but the daggerboard has split. While trying to pull it out I exploded the daggerboard casing causing a leak. I hove to straightaway and went to starboard so as the water wouldn't infiltrate the boat. The daggerboard seems to be stuck firm in the casing. I can't lift it or push it. The rope to drop it down is caught between the daggerboard and the bulkhead. I still have 20 to 25 knots of wind and the seas are stirred up. I'm going to have to get this daggerboard out so as I can plug the casing with resin. After that I should be able to get back on course again with the one daggerboard, even if the remaining one is not interchangeable. There's no question about me not finishing and I will simply be forced to tack more squarely. I am in contact with my shore crew but it looks unlikely that I'll be able to repair my daggerboard. In the meantime there isn't a huge amount of leakage, around a bucket's worth a minute I reckon, though it's hard to say. My first clue to the damage was when I heard a crack and what sounded like something running down the side of the hull. I really don't know for sure if I hit anything though. There don't seem to be any problems with the keel or the rudder however and I remain in good spirits even if I'm a bit annoyed."
At the tail of the fleet Raphaël DINELLI (Akena Verandas) is approaching the Doldrums, a crossing which looks fairly tame prior to his passage of a windless zone tomorrow. 500 miles South of him, Karen LEIBOVICI (Benefic) has regained a favourable VMG as she makes her way along the edge of the trade winds and escapes the influence of the Saint Helena High with less than 4000 miles to the finish.