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Vendee Globe leaders nearing the Doldrums

by Philippe Jeantot on 28 Jan 2001
The chase Northwards for the bulk of the Vendée Globe fleet continues in suspense. The breeze is stabilising in strength between 10 ­ 15
knots, however the errant squalls bringing short, sharp wind gusts require extra vigilance from the skippers. Now may not be the time to
risk any radical options, but now is also not the time to break anything, as the three pairs of leading boats play out their matches on the
water, counting every mile.

The two leaders, Michel Desjoyeaux (PRB) & Ellen MacArthur (Kingfisher), are fixed on getting their boats through at their full potential.
Ellen has been talking about the lengths she goes to changing the sails throughout the heat of the day to pinch out more speed from
Kingfisher and keep the pressure on Desjoyeaux. Undoubtedly, they are marking each other continuously.

Until reaching the Northern latitudes above the Equator, these two will benefit from such conditions right up until they leave the Southern
hemisphere and encounter the transition zone in between the two weather systems, commonly known as the Doldrums, or the
ŒIntertropical Convergence Zone¹.

This metamorphosing zone extends between the coasts of Brazil and Africa between 2° and 9° North and is the home of violent squalls
and fickle winds. It is known that the Doldrums tend to be less active in the West, which explains why the fleet are placed nearer to the
South American coast and are not dreading this phenomenon as much as when they crossed it from North to South.

Desjoyeaux sensibly is not disregarding any potential pitfalls. 'On the recent weather faxes, it looks easier ahead. But I¹m wary of all the
models I¹ve looked at for this zone.' Each skipper must determine the narrowest and most inactive point of passage through the Doldrums
and aim right for it to speed their way through and get into the Northeasterly trade winds generated by the Azores anticyclone in the
Northern Hemisphere.

Weather conditions vary abruptly in this area, and even on the same route, one boat can pass through practically without slowing, and a
few hours later, the door is shut again for any boat in pursuit. Also, one boat could be caught in a wind hole where 20 miles to his left or
right the way forward is free and someone else may get past without stopping.

With only 9 miles in it between the third pair, Thomas Coville (Sodebo) is clearly enjoying this return to regatta style racing and 'will be
fighting like a dog with Dominique Wavre (UBP) for 5th place right up to the finish!' The Vendée Globe is still a legend apart from the
solo Figaro regattas these Frenchmen are used to competing in. Coville pointed out: 'It¹s not just about a ranking, an average speed. It
has a real stamp of valour attached to it, as the solo sailors in it have to search for the energy to continue where there¹s none left.'

Desjoyeaux is banking on his extensive Figaro racing experience, however, to give him the edge in competition and strategy, but at the
same time he is not going to put the lady down. 'If today I have as an adversary a young woman, it only goes to show that there is no
gender categorisation in sailing, and that women have what it takes to compete against men with equal ability. Sailing is not an exact
science. You have to know how to analyse the weather, feel the boat performance. These sensations are intuitive.'

It is incredible to witness such an intense level of competition, where 94 miles and 1 degree in longitude separate the top two boats, after
79 days at sea, yet still over 3500 miles remains to the finish.

Radio Chat Extracts

Didier Munduteguy (DDP 60° Sud) : 'I alternate between sailing in light airs and strong following winds, and then upwind with breeze
from the North East. I¹m starting to feel the fatigue now, and I hope that my passage towards Cape Horn will be okay ­ yesterday the
weather forecast said I¹d get 40 knots all night! We¹ll see! I think it¹ll take me a further 15 days to get to Cape Horn.'

Michel Desjoyeaux (PRB) : 'The wind wasn¹t that strong last night. On the recent weather faxes, it looks easier ahead. But I¹m wary of all
the models I¹ve looked at for this zone. If today I have as an adversary a young woman, it only goes to show that there is no gender
categorisation in sailing, and that women have what it takes to compete against men with equal ability. Sailing is not an exact science. You
have to have sensory skills to analyse the weather, the feel of the boat performance etc. These sensations are intuitive. I think that without
my 7 seasons racing Figaro¹s, I wouldn¹t be where I am today on PRB. The Figaro is a fantastic experience in terms of competition and

Thomas Coville (Sodebo) : 'It¹s not going to be a cruise sailing through the Doldrums as the trades don¹t look so active ahead. If I¹m still
up with Dominique Wavre after that it¹ll be an all out fight for 5th place! To find yourself back in this Figaro mentality is crazy! If the
Vendée Globe is turning into a big Figaro race, I¹m asking myself what the second leg will be!! Well, you can¹t really call the Vendée Globe
a Figaro race, it¹s not just about a ranking, an average speed. It has a real stamp of valour attached to it, as the solo sailors in it have to
search for energy to continue where there¹s none left. Parlier is showing us how legends are made. We¹re now in 3 pairs of boats and so
we¹ll be fighting like dogs to the end.'

Joé Seeten (Nord Pas de Calais-Chocolats du Monde) : 'Soon I¹ll be done with the screaming and hurling. I¹m leaving the 50¹s this
afternoon at last. The sky is bright, clear, the sea is beautiful and the wind is building nicely. I can go where I want now. I know that my
friends Patrice & Bernard have got held up ahead. As soon as I get under 10 knots of wind the problem with my mast track will become a
handicap. But I don¹t need to go swinging in the rigging yet. I¹ll wait for a flatter sea.'

Patrice Carpentier (VM Matériaux) : 'I¹ve just witnessed the most stunning sunrise I¹ve ever seen in the last month and a half. It¹s always
a tricky place where we are. I remain reserved about the weather forecast for the near future. This part of the race in the Atlantic is quite
open. First goal is to get home, and then without stopping. Thirdly to win the 50ft class. Then put as many 60¹s behind me. I must preserve
the boat too, and we¹re far from finishing, us little people behind!'

Latest Ranking* polled at 0830hrs (UT):

Psn Boat Skipper Lat Long Headg Av. Speed** DTF*** Miles from leader
1 PRB Michel Desjoyeaux 07°51'S 27°10'W 354 13 3673 0
2 Kingfisher Ellen MacArthur 09°23'S 28°29'W 8 11.7 3767 94
3 Active Wear Marc Thiercelin 17°10'S 30°36'W 7 8.76 4244 571
4 Sill Matines & La Potagère Roland Jourdain 17°23'S 33°08'W 353 9.84 4305 632
5 Union Bancaire Privée Dominique Wavre 22°52'S 34°51'W 345 7.9 4658 985
6 Sodebo Savourons la Vie Thomas Coville 22°50'S 36°10'W 353 6.7 4667 994
7 Whirlpool Catherine Chabaud 33°12'S 36°26'W 345 8.44 5270 1597
8 EBP - Défi PME - Gartmore Josh Hall 40°24'S 50°16'W 40 7.77 5946 2273
9 Team Group 4 Mike Golding 45°07'S 47°25'W 49 9.22 6108 2435
10 Voilà.fr Bernard Gallay 45°27'S 52°42'W 7 6.68 6239 2566
11 VM Matériaux Patrice Carpentier 47°50'S 55°02'W 44 7.37 6404 2731
12 Nord Pas de Calais - Chocolats du Monde Joe Seeten 51°10'S 55°20'W 32 10 6584 2911
13 Simone Bianchetti 53°55'S 98°10'W 98 10.2 8210 4537
14 Aquitaine Innovations Yves Parlier 53°11'S 134°56'W 125 10.3 9380 5707
15 DDP - 60ème Sud Didier Munduteguy 52°58'S

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