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12 February 2005, 09:07 am
Jean Pierre DICK Homing In On Les Sables D'olonne
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Vendée Globe

After 96 days of racing Jean Pierre DICK (Virbac Paprec) is making good inroads into Les Sables d'Olonne, just anticipating a WNW windshift before he switches over onto a port tack to a probable finish this Sunday 13 February.
He is currently 475 miles West of Lorient in NW France and 548.3 miles from taking sixth place in this epic Vendée Globe, this home straight proving particularly stressful with multiple sail changes and careful gybes. In the battle for seventh Conrad HUMPHREYS (Hellomoto) is beating upwind to the Azores, the 100 mile lead he'd expected over Joé SEETEN (Arcelor Dunkerque) now a reality. The latest weather models show that the high pressure is going to slow progress up for the duo and the British skipper now estimates his arrival in Les Sables d'Olonne to be 20th February. Tenth placed Benoît PARNAUDEAU (Max Havelaar Best Western) is set to cross the equator tomorrow, leaving just three skippers in the Southern hemisphere.

An uncharacteristically tired-sounding Jean-Pierre DICK (Virbac-Paprec) is feeling the pressure today, still hand-steering for a large part of the day, between multiple gybes and very little sleep. The Nice skipper is now around 550 miles from a finish which he admitted today has been an objective for the past three years but it's not going to be easy: 'I'm coming from the south and the wind is in the North...' he said earlier, summing up the difficulties out on the water. 'I gybed at around 7 last night and again very early this morning. I wanted to wait until daybreak but in fact it was still night. I have a 22 to 27 knot SW wind and I'm gliding along well. I am helming a lot as I'm going to have to drop down to the finish at a certain point with the wind on the aft quarter. I'm very tired as it's pretty stressful sailing because the pilot makes the boat yaw around and use lots of energy. Gybing is always a stressful business, particularly with the fragile gooseneck. I end up having to put in a reef and canting the keel by hand pump as I haven't the power I need. If all goes to plan the finish will be a great moment.'

Conditions are far from simple for the duo chasing seventh either. 'It's been quite breezy and bumpy over the past 24 hours' said the fairly upbeat British skipper Conrad Humphreys on Hellomoto today. 'I'd prefer to be where Joé is as conditions look nicer there while I'm being forced to punch into choppy seas. It's still very changeable but perhaps the pendulum has swung back in my direction. All the weather models are suggesting that this high does join up with another high to form one big circulation which eventually drifts to the north. If Joé is intent on going round the high then he may end up going up to Southern Ireland and then down which is maybe giving him more headaches than it's giving me now. I'm very low on fuel which means that I'm doing a lot of hand steering, which is obviously tiring. Later down the track I think Joé may cross behind me. Progress looks quite slow for the next 72 hours and it will doubtless be hard all the way to the finish. At the moment I feel that I've made the right move tactically even if the fact of the matter is that we've got a 1500 mile beat to Les Sables d'Olonne which isn't too kind on the boat. The last thing you want at this stage is to put a lot of stress on it upwind. It obviously stresses the rig and the keel and the hull quite a lot. In the next 12 hours I'll probably see the breeze head as I approach the Azores. Then I'll probably have to tack for 100 miles. It'll be a pretty nasty tack to the South before I tack back. By that time the high should have moved over and then I'll be greeted by some nice 25 knot headwinds. That should rattle the boat around nicely and it'll be like that for a while.'

Hanging a big westerly option right round the outside of the Azores archipelago, 140 miles SW of the island of Flores, the Dunkirk skipper Joé SEETEN is still within striking distance of Conrad HUMPHREYS. Joé is currently making around 4 knots more boat speed to the detriment of about 4 knots less VMG. The racing is intense and with less than 1500 miles to the finish there is no sign of the pressure dropping off for either player.

Kate Jennings
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