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Vendee Globe Swings and Roundabouts in the Southern Ocean

by Philippe Jeantot on 18 Dec 2000
The characteristic low pressure systems, which sweep around the Southern Hemisphere, have disciplined themselves into a more typical
pattern. In the Indian Ocean, the low pressure centres stabilise themselves at around 52° South and advance fairly rapidly. The one situated at
77° East & 52° South is moving at 35 knots. As a boat averages about 15 knots, and the depression is travelling at about 20 knots faster, a
skipper doesn¹t stay a long time under its influence. An average duration is one day, which implies for the skipper a great deal of physical work.

Ahead of the depression in the light Northerly winds, the boat climbs on Port tack to try and keep the speed up. When the wind shifts and
builds from the Northwest, one can begin to head more to the East, still on port tack, but under reduced sail. When the wind finally veers to the
West, it is then at its strongest. So the key is to choose either the North or South side, depending on the strategy for the next day and the
depression following.

As soon as the centre has passed over, the wind begins to turn SW and then South South West, easing off gradually. At that point, the
skipper must gybe and set more sail, always keeping an eye out for the incoming depression in order to reposition the boat accordingly. This
rhythm is one of constant adaptation of the sail configuration, a routine which allows little respite for the single-handed skipper.

The first ten boats have covered the first half of the Indian Ocean. The weather there is by no means horrendous, even if at times there are 50
knot gusts. The sea is never enormous and the wind is more stable at around 25/30 knots, allowing the boats to maintain some very good
speeds.

Yves Parlier (Aquitaine Innovations) and also Dominique Wavre (Union Bancaire Privée) may have consecutively set new 24 hour speed
records, however these conditions are not a regularity and the average speeds have settled a little lower now. Parlier had a whole day in the bag
at the Equator compared to his leading position four years ago, and yet at the passage of the Kerguelen Islands he now has around 100 miles
advance, which is just about 7 hours. Admittedly the conditions of late have not been favourable in pushing up the average speeds, however,
now that the weather systems are behaving more to the norm, we could see these increased.

Michel Desjoyeaux (PRB) is still leading, but he can see the figures of Roland Jourdain (Sill Matines La Potagère) and Yves Parlier getting
bigger on the horizon behind his boat. Jourdain is but 70 miles away, albeit 2 degrees further South. Parlier has been whipping his boat like a
jockey in order to reduce his gap to 133 miles from the leader now.

This situation should stabilise, only then to invert itself. If Parlier has been consistently the fastest in the fleet for the last two days, the current
low pressure carrying him along will overtake him and favourise then Michel Desjoyeaux. So then it will be the leader who will accelerate off
and his pursuers who will slow down, waiting then for the incoming depression to start this concertina game again. It¹s certainly an art for the
skippers to manage this routine in terms of navigation and weather analysis, the constant anticipation using up every ounce of their worth.

The only two skippers to pass to the South of the Kerguelen Islands were Thierry Dubois (Solidaires) and Catherine Chabaud (Whirlpool). The
former saw no reason to reposition his boat given the slight 3 ­4 degree difference between the group, while the latter decided on this safer,
shorter Southerly route as a reaction to a predicted rising 40 knot wind that never blew in.

Ellen MacArthur (Kingfisher) and Thomas Coville (Sodebo) are framing Marc Thiercelin (Active Wear) to the North and South respectively,
just 20 miles in it between them, despite the first two suffering ripped sails in the last 24 hours. For Coville it was just the bottom edge of the
small gennaker, his first sail damage. For Ellen, however, it was firstly the tack of the staysail, then an involuntary gybe, followed by broken
battens and a jammed mainsail, which forced her to climb the mast and get the sail down manually in big seas. She has recovered without too
much of a loss in the rankings, but the experience has certainly exhausted her.

Mike Golding (Team Group 4) has also suffered ­ the shackle holding up the genoa failed, the sail itself starting to slide down the foil. After
quickly furling it he unsuccessfully attempted to pull the sail back up fully himself, as with the motion of the rig, he could only get a quarter of
the way up. He has told us that he is heading into the lee of Marion Island to find flat water to make the repair and get going again.

On day 39 of the race, and on the brink of entering the second half of the race, the Vendée Globe is still an endurance regatta with the tension
staying at its maximum.

Radio Chat Extracts

Catherine Chabaud (Whirlpool) : 'I had time to pass to the North of the Kerguelen Islands but the wind charts indicated 35 - 40 knots,
indicating to me a hard blow. So I chose the short route, safer for the boat. But the wind forecast wasn't quite right, as the actual conditions
were calmer than predicted. It's not necessarily an advantage to have done this race once before, when you live through painful moments, all
the bad memories rise to the surface.'

Simone Bianchetti (Aquarelle.com) : 'It¹s been very foggy in the last two days and last night I could have cut it with a knife! I have no problem,
sailing with two reefs and a staysail. Always the same atmosphere, the waves are very short. I hit something earlier this morning, in the rudders
and the pilot was blocked. But it doesn¹t seem like anything has broken.'

Thierry Dubois (Solidaires) : 'I passed the Kerguelen islands yesterday. I was 30 miles away from it and as it was cloudy. Yesterday I have had
a good day, 360 miles I think. When Ellen saw the iceberg, I was further North with Thomas. After that we changed courses. When you sail
with just 3-4° apart, there¹s no point to reposition yourself behind so I have no reason to go up. I try to avoid sleeping at night, as I want to
watch for the growlers and icebergs. The water temperature dropped to 3° and it was 4.5 - 5 before.'

Mike Golding (Team Group 4): 'I've been sailing with the genoa in a lot of wind speed and the problem is that the shackle that secures the
genoa up has failed. So I furled it away quickly but the problem now is how to re-attach it. The sail is normally attached permanently at the
head, and it is furled, rather than hoisted up and down on a halyard. To replace it I have to pull the sail fully up and go up myself. This means I
have to find flat water, as I've already made an unsuccessful attempt by going 1/4 of the way up, and got thrown bodily off the mast. So I'm
going to look for the lee of Marion Island.'

Thomas Coville: 'There is another dorsal catching up on us and up ahead they'll have plenty of wind! Yesterday, due to some silly thing with
the pilot, I had to slow down and repair it. I¹m a little apprehensive of this area, underneath Australia, perhaps due to the very big storm I
experienced with Olivier (de Kersauson) in the Jules Verne Trophy. We came close to a disaster there. So I am being particularly attentive in
crossing this part. I had my first sail rip yesterday. The bottom edge of the small gennaker.'


Latest Ranking* polled at 0900hrs (UT):

Psn Boat Skipper Lat Long Headg Av. Speed** DTF*** Miles from leader

1 PRB Michel Desjoyeaux 46°38'S 87°56'E 97 17.5 14104 0
2 Sill Matines & La Potagère Roland Jourdain 48°07'S 85°12'E 97 15.3 14173 69
3 Aquitaine Innovations Yves Parlier 48°32'S 83°12'E 99 16 14237 133
4 Sodebo Savourons la Vie Thomas Coville 49°13'S 77

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