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Sailing the Depressions

The leaders on this 53rd day of racing are jumping from one depression to another in a highly strategic game of meteorology. The concertina effects of a transition between two depressions translates as a 200.5 mile lead for Jean Le Cam (Bonduelle) today as he continues to ride the depression ahead. Behind him Vincent Riou (PRB) and Mike Golding (Ecover) are concentrating on lining themselves up for the much deeper chasing depression. As the hunters touch wind before the hunted, the variations in speed will be reversed and the gaps will once again be reduced. This approaching depression is currently sweeping up the second group with Wavre/Dick right in the thick of it in a 55 knot established wind and 70 knot gusts. Currently forced to sleep in their foulies and boots ready to race up on deck, the duo are likely to retain the fast speeds as far as Cape Horn. The celebrated passage may well prove rather feisty. Further back from this group, Nick Moloney (Skandia) is trying to hook onto this same depression to escape falling into a windless zone between two depressions. Bruce Schwab (Ocean Planet) is doing better than he thought, managing to stay ahead of a ridge of high pressure and Conrad Humphreys (Hellomoto) is in turbo drive just 179 miles behind him now. Of our two diverted skippers, Patrice Carpentier has fixed his boom and is hoping to head back into the race in a likely 14th position behind Anne Liardet (Roxy). Meantime, Marc Thiercelin (ProForm) is just 140 miles from the Bay of Akaroa where the sailor hopes to make a pitstop. He should make shelter at the end of tonight GMT.

Achieving the top speed of the fleet, covering over 350 miles in the past 24 hours, Jean Le Cam is on a direct route in his own weather system. He has stretched out his lead to over 200 miles now, Vincent Riou and Mike Golding in a trailing depression, set to make up their loss in the long term, having been forced temporarily off course by shifty, easing winds.

“I’m in good form though I didn’t get much sleep last night – battling to try and make out the icebergs from the rain showers” said Mike earlier today. “I’m quite far south as I was lifted by a breeze to the south. I went down to around 56.5 degrees south but got so badly headed that I gybed again. I then made a very bad north gybe trying to avoid the light weather and of course get away from the icebergs. I’m just hanging onto the same system as PRB and may have 1/ 2 more gybes to make. It’s not easy. I’ve trying virtually every point of sail. I keep zigging and zagging and will continue like that until the wind goes north. I don’t know how Bonduelle managed to get away like he has but I feel like I’m on a pretty good heading now. Once we’re into the new system coming up behind us we should have more stable winds. In 24 hours the winds should stabilize and go round to the west North-West. From then on I’ll be able to sail on port gybe almost directly to the Horn. For now it looks like we’ve got northerly winds pre-cape, followed by lighter winds and then more northerly after the cape. My ETA is approximately midday on 3rd January. I’m working the boat hard to get through the transition and it would be nice to break the Cape to Cape record…apart from anything else it will save us getting low on anything! It’s a bit milder now with a westerly rather than a southerly breeze, though it’s still bitterly cold. I saw some break in the cloud yesterday. The cloud cover down here is so impressive that it’s claustrophobic.”

Dominique Wavre (Temenos) is already in the midst of the depression chasing Mike, caught in the throes of a wild storm in survival mode. “It’s a bit tense! I’m in a storm. It’s a dark night and the noise is terrible. The anemometer reads between 50 and 55 knots. We’re in survival mode! The wind has risen throughout the day and I have gradually been taking in reefs. At the moment I am under 4 reefs and trinquette and it’s going well. I am a bit stressed as I fear breakage. I am trying to relax by sleeping in small 10 minute chunks, but there are some strong gusts and you have to be ready for everything. I am in foulies and boots, ready to act. I am making 14 knots, 20 in the surfs. After a week becalmed under the Tasman Sea, we are being scooped up into the storm without a transition. The difference has been brutal even though we were warned of it.” Jean Pierre Dick (Virbac Paprec) is also ensnared in the same system, while Sébastien Josse (VMI) can feel it coming.

In 10th and 11th place respectively, Bruce Schwab (Ocean Planet) and Conrad Humphreys (Hellomoto) are steaming along and back in 13th place, Patrice Carpentier (VM Matériaux) is heading back into the race tonight. “I have moored up 200 metres from shore (South Tasmania). It has curious vegetation but it’s rather a pleasant place. It’s silly that I won’t have the time to visit it. Last night, all was calm so I made the most of it to hoist the mainsail. Ah yes! The repairs to the boom are complete and I can hoist the sail up to the second reef. I made a kind of sleeve as planned. I sawed 40 centimetres off the boom and used the piece to join together the two ends. I wanted to join all of it with some carbon material, but I had the rather unpleasant surprise of discovering that half the little 30cl of resin I had left had gone hard. I boiled it up and spread it out as best I could, but it was of little use. As a result I had to sacrifice my spare battens, making a kind of 80 cm splint around the sleeve.”

Karen Leibovici (Benefic) brings up the 16 strong fleet, and is currently over 5000 miles back from the leader having made a respectable 242.8 mile day.

Quotes from the Boats:
Raphaël Dinelli (Akena Verandas): “I am in a very complicated southerly and my series of misfortunes continue. I was behind the cold front this morning and I had a succession of squalls. Some of them had no wind in them, others had 40 knots. It was very bizarre and I ended up getting surprised by a 45 knot gust which sent the boat into a broach under one reefed main and small gennaker. The boat remained over on its ear for quarter of an hour. The good news is that the mast held superbly, though the gennaker blew out. It came away at the masthead and it was war to try and detach it. I am exhausted and must nevertheless get the pace up again as a ridge of high pressure is coming in on top of me and I don’t want to get becalmed. All these unstable conditions have forced me to manoeuvre a great deal. My boat is very physical with winches everywhere and no grinders. (Raphael cants his keel by winch). The upshot of that is that I have a fine lumbago which is really painful and which I am trying to care for with the help of Doctor Chauve (Race Doctor). I am a bit disillusioned, perhaps because of the fatigue, but it’s clear that the Indian doesn’t like me. While the others have got smoothly through the same area, I have had nothing but north south pressure ridges, with crossed seas which make the boat and my pilots suffer. I am beginning to ration my food as I have only brought along 110 days of food and if I don’t lengthen my stride in the Pacific Ocean, I am not going to have enough.”

Nick Moloney (Skandia): “Breeze has dropped off a lot, but it’s not that bad, we are still moving. It will get lighter and lighter until I fall out of the breeze…It was great to cross the Dateline, puts you in the right frame of mind to finish. Before that you really feel like you are half way around the world and going backwards. Now, I feel I am just get closer and closer. Awesome to have the [Global Challenge] fleet out here – I have company from a safety point of view. It’s a great race and I have great admiration for the crews and Challenge Business”.

Sébastien Josse (VMI): “The depression is coming. I can feel it. The barometer is dropping rapidly and I already have 35 knots. The seas are better organised than the Indian which is rather good news. The depression will pass over us. I then hope to be able to hold onto it until the Horn. You rest in a different way in the storm. I am in boots and foulies. I doze at the chart table, ready to pull out my guns. Call me « Joss Randall » ! I am really keen to leave the Southern Ocean. The permanent surveillance of the horizon and the radar, the threat of icebergs, the stress and the poor sleep… but that’s how it goes. It’s all part of a Round the World. I hope to pass Cape Horn at around 6 January. I hope to see it this time around…”

Bruce Schwab (Ocean Planet): “I feel pretty good. The weather is a bit tricky but the sea isn’t rough anymore, it’s medium now. I headed north last night as I am just in front of a ridge of high pressure, which is heading east. I was on a starboard gybe getting sucked in towards the system last night, I then went onto a port gybe trying to get north-east. The good news is that I am still “just” ahead and have still got wind and might make it! It’s going to be very close. I’m lucky, I think the system has been moving slower than the models forecast. I’m working hard making numerous sail changes. Tomorrow I think I’ll have upwind and hope that I will be able to pass south of New Zealand rather than heading straight at it. It is stressful sailing but you combat that by retaining a sense of humour and having a good attitude. You can have different emotions at the same time and it’s clear that in a big storm when you are fearful, you need to have a sense of humour too. I also play my guitar when the weather allows, I also tell myself jokes and talk to myself. At New Year I hope to be past the southern tip of New Zealand. My biggest wish is to finish the Vendée Globe safely…and pay the bills!”

Conrad Humphreys (Hellomoto): “I was pretty surprised to find out via a text message that I’d moved up into 11th place yesterday passing VM Materiaux, I wasn’t expecting that at all, although I knew Tasmania was well up to the North. I would need to get 400m further north, like Nick, to get over the top of the ice. It’s a real hard one, I haven’t ruled out going through, but I just know that this race is stressful enough without putting yourself through it, which I don’t need to do at this stage in my life. You’re fighting your competitive urge the whole time in your own mind. I know I could cut 300m off the corner here. I think it was Shackleton who said something like it’s better to live the life of a donkey than that of a courageous lion. You’re fighting these urges to go for it, hang on to the sail longer, put your foot down harder, or sail through the ice, and yet you know you’ll spend that whole period living on edge, not sleeping, staying up on deck but not seeing anything. I probably don’t need to feel like that, but there’s a little naughty feeling in me saying ‘go for it’…I’m at 52 South and the sea temperature is the biggest difference when you drop even 1 degree, it was hovering about 8 – 9 degrees yesterday but today it just dropped to 6 degrees, and the air is noticeably chillier, but we’re still in the NW breeze so it’s relatively okay.”

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This entry was posted on Friday, December 31st, 2004 at 7:25 am and is filed under Vendee Globe. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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