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by Philippe Jeantot on 30 Dec 2000
While the rest of the world prepare to celebrate the 3rd Millenium in a couple of days, the Vendée Globe skippers are getting ready for harder
times. South of New Zealand, there is a windless barrier heading South East, which is blocking their route. Michel Desjoyeaux (PRB) has been
the first skipper to hit this Œbrick wall as the leader, and this morning slowed down to a mere 2.5 knots. Roland Jourdain (Sill Matines ­ La
Potagère) is now only 53 miles behind Desjoyeaux, just 2 degrees further South now and joked nervously: 'I will celebrate the New Year a day
early as by then things will be much worse.'

Desjoyeaux seemed unruffled by the positions and perhaps more as a psychological rebuff he replied: 'I'm happy to be here rather than further
South like ŒBilou, and if my calculations are right in three days I'll be 200 miles ahead again. I¹m not wasting energy to gain peanuts so I'm
just going to go back to sleep.' Normally in such airs a skipper is studying the weather or on deck trying to squeeze out those precious knots.
Certainly there is an amount of psychological warfare being waged, as the tension rises and each skipper knows that what they say on the
radio will be resounded throughout the fleet.

Meanwhile just behind, Ellen MacArthur (Kingfisher) and Marc Thiercelin (Active Wear) have kept their average speeds up in a good breeze
and reduced their distance to the leader. Ellen reported to be 'sailing on a great wind angle' and has taken back 140 miles on PRB in the last 24
hours. On the other hand, Marc, who had just emerged from a 'complex cloud front' and was predicting tricky conditions still ahead, has
clawed back only 94 miles on PRB in the same time. He had a small fright himself, when waking from a nap to get on deck and see Campbell
Islands dead on his nose just an hour's sailing away.

However, all these three skippers behind Michel have admitted today that in the next few days a new low pressure system will come and blow
the cobwebs away, and more: 'the mother of all depressions' as Ellen coined it, and in her opinion the worst yet. Their task now is to work out
where to position themselves for the onslaught, not an easy task as they have all remarked on how difficult it is proving to analyse the
forecasts with less than wholly accurate weather information for the area. Not such a Happy New Year it seems for them then.

For the group behind, the wind has eased off as well for Catherine Chabaud (Whirlpool) and Thomas Coville (Sodebo). Coville is evidently the
most stressed in these light conditions, and is 'fighting like a demon' to recoup the 400 miles he has lost out from his autopilot and
gyrocompass problems of the last few days. Jourdain noted that in these airs, fatigue and thus the probability of error increases more because
of stress rather than physical exhaustion. Keeping the manoeuvres to a minimum is the key, Chabaud herself added, if one is to be fully rested
for an incoming hard blow.

Thierry Dubois (Solidaires) is 420 miles from the port of Bluff, New Zealand, and remarked: 'I live with the engine running for 20 out of every 24
hours now as the batteries don't charge properly. With no problems, I¹ll reach New Zealand in two days and probably celebrate New Year on
land!' His shore team has pulled the local people and suppliers in Auckland together in double-quick time to ship the necessary alternator,
autopilot and battery parts for the intended 48 hour pit-stop. A real example of Œsolidarity¹.

For Yves Parlier (Aquitaine Innovations), a slight change in plans, as he heads now to Stewart instead of Auckland Island. This change is
mostly because he needs to have the best temperature for his resin to set. His predicted ETA: 'I still have another 1370 miles to do before I get
there, about a week in sailing I think.' Without assistance, Parlier should be able to set off after his operation to extend the mast height within
the race rules.

Radio Chat Extracts

Roland Jourdain (Sill Matines La Potagère) : 'In three days time it¹s really hard to analyse where these low pressure centres will be exactly. It's
Summer, the air is 11 degrees and the water 9 degrees! I can¹t remember the Southern Ocean being so agreeable! Going downwind in a
depression, it's like getting into a boxing ring to get the gennaker up, I don't relish it at all! I try not to do too many manoeuvres, so the fatigue
comes more from stress actually. The danger is to forget to stay alert and then you can really be in risk of making big mistakes.'

Thierry Dubois (Solidaires) : 'I'm making progress but the wind¹s right from behind so I¹m having a gybing game to get to New Zealand. I live
with 20 hours of engine running out of every 24, vital now as the batteries don¹t charge properly. I hope the stop-over will be quick but with
Christmas & the New Year everyone¹s in holiday mode. I have some modifications to make on the alternator, which isn¹t the same as the one,
which has broken down. I just need time to get up the mast too, and then hopefully in 48 hours I can set off with a top boat again. I'm 420 miles
South of New Zealand, so I should stay there for two days if all is well.'

Michel Desjoyeaux (PRB) : 'At 0500 UTC I nearly stopped, but not quite. Anyway there is a dead wind zone. It¹s a barrier coming down from
the middle of the two islands off New Zealand. Those 400 miles behind will not have the same conditions. But hopefully I'll be long gone by
then. When there is no wind you end up spending a lot of energy and not actually gaining many miles during the day. When your max speed is
7 knots, it's useless to fight for peanuts. Yesterday, I tried to rest as much as possible, after this conversation I will go back to bed.'

Yves Parlier (Aquitaine Innovations): 'I've decided to put into Stewart Island rather than Auckland Island, mostly because it's warmer there
and I absolutely must have some warmth in the temperature for the resin to hold ­ it¹s my main problem. I still have another 1370 miles to do
before I get there, about a week in sailing I think. During this time, I'm going to work on my mast so that I'll be able to get started on the
operation to extend the mast when I stop. After these repairs I'll be able to sail with my staysail under it's original setting, with a main sail at the
second reef and the storm jib. I want to make a sail of 70 square metres out of my genoa and a spinnaker of 150 square metres. With that I'll
have a Mini Transat rig, with a sail area of 200m2, and in that case I will be able to get back to Les Sables without running empty on fuel and

Thomas Coville (Sodebo) : 'It's not going well, simply because the others have left me. I¹m right in the middle of a depression and not going
anywhere! After helming and sailing for 3 nights and 4 days outside as my gyrocompass never got working, I think the worst is still to come.
I¹ve been stuck in this hole for two days, fighting like a demon. I've lost 400 miles after the problems with the compass and autopilot! I¹ve got 3
knots of wind, I've just come to a halt! But the aim is still fixed ­ I'm going to get this boat back to Les Sables d'Olonne!'

Catherine Chabaud (Whirlpool): 'I am wearing all my wet weather gear and my boots as there is a squall coming soon. The weather for the
coming days is not very clear. I try to focus on my three direct competitors. I am 900 miles behind Mich Desj, it¹s a lot. Physically, I have some
highs and some lows, it¹s a hard race. Until now it¹s not the weather conditions that have been so bad but more the number of manoeuvres and
the cold. I am looking forward to crossing the date line, I think I will be able to have two New Year's Eve's.'

Latest Ranking* polled at 0900hrs (UT):

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

1 PRB Michel Desjoyeaux 53°53'S 173°09'W 90 2.55 10630 0

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