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Ovington Boats - VX One

Vendee Globe

by Philippe Jeantot on 22 Nov 2000
Leaders trapped in the Doldrums; Parlier edges ahead from the East

The top ten boats in the Vendée Globe 2000 are in the middle of the intertropical front ­ the Doldrums ­ at around 9 degrees North, which is further North in comparison to the norm. Progressing South is the only objective, but how hard-going can it get when the wind either plays around, disappears or suddenly gusts in. The Doldrums seem to have spread in latitude as well and the boats arriving at 5 degrees North are finding that the weather is actually a lot worse than expected.
Last night, several boats, including Roland Jourdain (Sill Matines La Potagère), Michel Desjoyeaux (PRB), Thomas Coville (Sodebo) and Thierry Dubois (Solidaires) were practically glued to the spot with an average of under 2 knots speed. These conditions are incredibly draining on the nerves of each skipper and stressful on the hulls of each boat. Hand-steering is requisite as the information going into the autopilot changes constantly. Coville is particularly anxious about his rig : « These boats will suffer more stress in an enormous swell from the uncontrollable movements and lack of wind than when they¹re going at 14 knots in a strong breeze. »

All of the skippers have followed intense weather training on land with the experts, and yet nothing can prepare them for what it¹s really like. The effects of this meteorological phenomenon on the skippers has varied. Veteran circumnavigator Josh Hall (EBP ­ Gartmore) is remaining totally calm: « It¹s probably tougher here than in the Southern Ocean. The first time I raced here I was so frustrated but that¹s pointless, you have to keep your head. I¹ve just worked non-stop changing from spinnaker to gennaker and back, I get going at 7 knots and then the wind changes again 5 minutes later. » On the other hand, one of the Œrookies¹, Jourdain, is finding it mentally tough going : « You learn all this theory but it¹s completely different on the field and so nerve-wracking. I am more worried about losing a position here as it will be so hard to regain later ­ the tension is high. »

Yves Parlier (Aquitaine Innovations), furthest to the East, has slowed down remarkably little in comparison to the others. Today he experienced a new breeze coming back to push him ahead again in the rankings. Michel Desjoyeaux (PRB) touched some fresh wind at sunrise but it¹s from the North, not the expected trade winds. Ellen MacArthur (Kingfisher) in the West is feeling a new Southerly wind and threatening the leading duo as she travels directly South at 8 knots now. However no one dares predict who has made the right course. The most optimistic skippers estimate that they will have a further 100 miles to go before leaving this zone. The worst prediction has been 200 miles. Imagine going at 2 knots for that long ­ a real test of nerves.

Behind this leading group, the second pack are preparing themselves for the Doldrums in the next 24 hours, and regrouping more, surprisingly still slightly East of the direct route. Richard Tolkien (This Time Argos Soditic) has caught up considerably on his nearest rivals Patrice Carpentier (VM Materiaux) and Joe Seeten (Nd Pas de Calais/Choc. du Monde) by « hoisting my gennaker yesterday ­ I added 2 knots to my speed and have made 280 miles in 24 hours ! » His labours are not over though as the tack on the gennaker has blown out twice in the race and he still has to re-rig his genoa.

The distractions of this race are proving tempting at the same time. Bernard Gallay (Voila.fr) has told the Race HQ how to best cook flying fish, and Pasquale de Gregorio finds himself torn between stopping at Cape Verde and continuing ­ no grave problem, far from it ­ Bernard Stamm has told him how many beautiful girls he¹s met thereŠ

Radio Chat Extracts

Ellen MacArthur (Kingfisher): 'I am in the Doldrums, and yes it's hard going, but at 3 am this morning the Easterly wind came back and I've been going steadily at 9 knots since. At the same time I have managed to make good all my repairs, and done an enormous amount of boat maintenance over the last two days...I haven't been wasting my time! '

Michel Desjoyeaux (PRB): ' Since 6 am this morning the wind has come back again from the North, but it isn't the trade breeze...I've had no wind since yesterday afternoon, no idea about the others...Parlier, where is he getting his wind from? Well, it's snakes and ladders out here...'

Thomas Coville (Sodebo): 'Last night it started...a building swell, the wind playing and shifting everywhere. It's got better in the last 7 hours as the breeze is coming back a bit and I have been able to get the big gennaker up. I did try the spinnaker but that wasn't going to work - in short I¹ve hardly slept! The worse thing is this swell when there's no wind, as it really tests the rig...I am always thinking 'is it going to break?' but no, it's held up so far!'

Roland Jourdain (Sill Matines et La Potagère) - 'The night wasn¹t great. I only had two knots of wind, it¹s getting better this morning but nothing glorious. Nobody can tell when this is going to finish. It¹s completely different on the field from the theory and it's draining on the nerves, none of us wants to lose a position. Otherwise its a cleaning day, shower, shaving....it¹s been a long time...'

Thierry Dubois (Solidaires): 'I remain zen. We are not far from being glued to the sea, not moving very much. We have no choice but to go through this, and there is no point getting angry about this even if it¹s harder than yesterday. I am in my own game, I just look at the positions once a day from curiosity. I¹m not surprised at my fourth position, we¹ve worked very hard on the boat and it isn¹t like any of the others.'

Josh Hall (EBP-Gartmore): 'It¹s a really difficult part of the race, more so probably than the Southern Ocean. The wind changes all over the place, I spend the whole time changing between spinnaker, gennaker, spinnaker... The first time I raced down here I was so frustrated and aggressive, which is pointless. Right now I'm getting an 8 knot Northeasterly wind and the boat speed is 7.5 knots. But it'll change in 5 minutes.'

Bernard Gallay (Voila.fr) : 'This morning the deck was covered in flying fish, so I got cooking! I marinade them in lemon juice and spices which I found on board after the start. Eight years ago I was a terrible cook and had to throw away half my attempts overboard! I gybed onto starboard last night so I can place myself more West. The wind has eased off to 10 - 12 knots and the gennaker has gone up in place of my genoa. If I negotiate the Doldrums well I could get back up with the main fleet who are all becalmed there right now.'

Joe Seeten (Nord Pas de Calais/Chocolats du Monde): 'Flying fish are really tasty! I prepare them by slicing the fillets, marinade them in lemon juice and fry them with a knob of butter...eaten fresh they are delicious. I slept well last night, and feel well rested. There are a few little storm clouds right now but it isn't upsetting the boat much. This evening I think it will get worse and in 24 hours we will also be becalmed.'

Richard Tolkien (This Time - Argos Soditic) : 'The tack on the gennaker wasn't very well put in and it's blown out twice on the race so far, so I shall have to return to my labours soon to sort out another solution. Otherwise, I have caught up, but that's because I only put up my gennaker yesterday and the others have had them up for 2 days. Now I can sail better, I've added 2 knots to my speed & gone 280 miles in the last 24 hours. It's very hot, about 30 degrees, and I'm heading directly South, perhaps too East but I'm pleased with the performance.'

Pasquale de Gregorio (Wind): 'I have quite a problem here...(a hush descends on the Race HQ Radio Vacations in the Vivendi Centre)...Stamm has just called and told me that he's found lots of pretty young girls at Cape Verde and I don't know what to

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