<I>"Well, it's definitely changing out here but we're not yet in the Doldrums…"</I> said Jean-Pierre DICK early this morning from Virbac.
"Last night we made good progress in the squalls, the wind got up to 25 knots, and for us the main thing is to preserve the sails, and we are constantly on deck on manoeuvres of some kind.
Yes, we do have a fair lead but the worst will be to see it crumble once we're in the midst of this unpredictable weather system."
The rankings are proof of these sentiments: Virbac at 0900hrs has lost 13m in the last 3 hours and is now 143.7m ahead of second placed Sill (Jourdain/Thomson), with their boat speed dying to under 10 knots in the last two hours. Jourdain and Thomson themselves are barely holding off Ecover (Golding/Thompson) with 33 miles spare, and only now averaging similar boat speeds just above 10 knots.
There is a great surge from behind the leading trio as PRB (Riou/Beyou) and VMI (Josse/Autissier) have been clocking higher average speeds of up to 18 knots and are respectively just over 50 and 100m from Ecover. And so the squeeze is finally on… leader Jean-Pierre commented on this 'accordion effect' as the French call it: "Well, with PRB and VMI coming back in the match it's only good for us, as then the next 4 boats will be playing each other off rather than worrying about us…"
Mike GOLDING spoke about the upside of what lies ahead: "We'll be seeing the first effects maybe tomorrow, certainly 24 hours away. There's lots of activity in the Doldrums, so it looks like it's going to be quite a difficult crossing, it doesn't look easy for anyone. That's what we're hoping, looks like to could be a complete stoppage and maybe the race will begin again. We hope so!"
Roland JOURDAIN on Sill was more sober about the Doldrums effect on the rest of the race: "It won't be simple, that's all I know! We'll be right in it tomorrow and the 48 hours to follow will be a total lottery. But there is hardly any separation in longitude (East-West), so if we all stay in this procession, we'll all get the same conditions one after the other and Virbac should come out ahead still. What is so nice about Jean-Pierre is that he has the courtesy to wait for us a little!! On the other hand, we expect our friends behind to come back on us in a couple of days..!"
Needless to say the next two days will be the toughest in the monohull race. With its fickle winds, violent squalls, no-wind zones and shifting breeze, the Doldrums is a place to be on your toes the whole time. A mental as well as physical test for the skippers, already pressured by the humidity and heat and exhausted by the constant manoeuvres on deck.
In the Monohull 50 class, life is sweet under the trade winds: Hellomoto (Humphreys/Larsen) are in a solid 200m lead over second place StorageTek (Guillemot/Salnelle), proving her phenomenal downwind performance without a doubt.