Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Vendée Globe 2008-9 Update as the Desjoyeaux Approaches the Finish

Brian Thompson in Bahrain Team Pindar plunges into a wave. Image copyright Brian Thompson/Bahrain Team Pindar/Vendée Globe.

For the top six or seven skippers of the Vendée Globe fleet these are the days to savour and to remember after their return to Les Sable d’Olonne, through the remaining weeks of the Northern European winter.

by Véronique Teurlay

Sunshine, generally favourable winds and warm temperatures are their just rewards, the recompense for the long weeks in the grey, usually oppressive, cold, damp world of the Southern Ocean. Roland Jourdain may have had his tongue firmly in his cheek when he described it today as ‘holiday time’ as he tries his best to deal with the Azores high pressure system and his inevitable slow down, as he follows Michel Desjoyeaux’s route round the northern ‘rim’ of the high pressure system, but still with decent breezes, making over 10 knots and to a great extent knowing what his fate is likely to be, he has no other options than to be happy with his lot.

Brian Thompson and Bahrain Team Pindar encounter big waves in the vicinity of Cape Horn. Image copyright Brian Thompson/Bahrain Team Pindar/Vendée Globe.

Michel Desjoyeaux has more reason than most to be upbeat, but he said today that he has been out on the helm of his Foncia, simply enjoying sailing time in conditions which contrast quite sharply with the mist and January chill of Les Sables d’Olonne as the Vendée prepares to welcome the winner this weekend.

Sam Davies is looking forward to what promises to be the most interesting joust among the top five. Five hundred miles between first and second, and second and third is not exactly a Hitchcock plot, but Davies and Marc Guillemot seem set to have a decent race up the North Atlantic.

The Safran skipper damaged his running back-stay yesterday and will continue to suffer under his enforced reduction in mainsail area against Davies, whose Roxy – aside from a few rust stains – is virtually in as good racing condition as when she left Les Sables d’Olonne 11 weeks ago. Davies is 50 miles ahead of Guillemot late this afternoon, is sailing over three knots quicker and has 380 miles to run to the Equator.

Steve White, GBR, (Toe in the Water) has been marooned in the middle of a high pressure system and has been struggling every which way to keep moving. In four hours he made less than a mile towards the finish, and only now is starting to make over one knot in boat speed.

“I am fine, if a little frustrated! There is NO wind, absolubltely none, less than 2 knots. The sea is flat as glass, so flat the sails do not even slap back and forth.” White noted this afternoon, losing over 60 hard earned miles to his nearest rival Arnaud Boissières (Akena Vérandas).

Armel Le Cléac'h takes advantage of the good weather in the Atlantic to climb the mast of Brit Air. Image copyright Armel Le Cléac'h/Brit Air/Vendée Globe.

Brit Air is currently lying in third place in the Atlantic Ocean. Image copyright Armel Le Cléac'h/Brit Air/Vendée Globe.

Racing towards Cape Horn, Norbert Sedlacek enjoyed a special sunrise, content in the twin pleasures that it is his birthday and he has managed a fix to his mainsail headboard system which allows him to sail with ‘one and a half reefs’ in, an improvement on before.

Roland Jourdain, FRA, (Veolia Environnement): “It’s holiday time here, which is nice. Flat calm seas, brilliant sunshine, a moment to savour. We’re entering a system with 10-15 knot winds. The stars were out in the night. It’s very pleasant. It’s true that our outlook can change rapidly at sea: when you have good conditions and the boat is happy, then you’re happy too. You mustn’t pay too much attention to what you hear on the phone in a short conversation. The problem is it’s very easy to get a false impression about our state of mind from a ten-minute conversation. If you’ve just had a little problem, you’re in a bad mood, while for the rest of the day you can be quite upbeat... As for the practical aspects of everyday living, everything is fine. I still have three weeks of deserts and two weeks of food left. Then I have my bean sprouts and plenty of fresh water thanks to the desalinator. I should be finishing sometime between Monday and Wednesday.”

Marc Guillemot ships a wave on board Safran. Image copyright Marc Guillemot/Safran/Vendee Globe.

Marc Guillemot, FRA, (Safran): “I’m sailing off Recife and have now moved away from the coast of Brazil, as I’ve picked up some steady wind. Everything is fine on board. But I lost a lot of time, when I broke one of my runners. The result was I lost ground to Sam Davies. I had to change tack and move my remaining runner from port to starboard. I should be fine now, as I’ll be on the starboard tack all the way up to the Azores high. If I have to gybe or change tack, I shouldn’t need to worry: I’ve talked over with the designers. It was the staysail runner. If I sail without it, it just means my forestay may not be taut. But as long as I’m not sailing upwind, that shouldn’t matter. Sam has been sailing very well and has an excellent outlook on things. She’s my pen-pal, as ever since the start we’ve been in touch by e-mail… I’m just pleased to be sailing alongside her. I don’t want to take anything away from her, but I’m still handicapped, not being able to go to full mainsail.”

Sam Davies enjoys the summery weather on board Roxy. Image copyright Sam Davies/Roxy/Vendée Globe.

Samantha Davies, GBR, (Roxy): “It is just a big relief for me to find out that my plan, albeit long term and I had to take a big loss to come out OK in the end, and so it is reassuring when you can have confidence in your own decisions, but when it takes so long for the situation to evolve it can be quite frustrating. So I am kind of proud that I hung in there and kept going with my decisions that I felt were right. Even though I lost quite a lot of miles in the process that was something which was inevitable, and just the luck of the draw and so now I have to get them back.

Sam climbs Roxy's mast. Image copyright Sam Davies/Roxy/Vendée Globe.

View looking down from up Roxy's mast. Image copyright Sam Davies/Roxy/Vendée Globe.

"I was just saying how Safran is my favourite boat and Marco is managing to sail her fantastically, considering he is stuck with two reefs. So once we are past the equator then I think we are in conditions where I will be sailing Roxy with two reefs anyway, so I don’t think it will be a handicap for him anyway. So, I am not resting with the fact that it is going to be easy for me, it is going to be very, very hard, and I am just going to have to try and sail Roxy as fast as possible, and the best that I can sail, and try not to think too much about Marco and what he is doing and just see how it pans out in the end.

"There is still a long way to go to the finish, and we have still all got to get there.”

Sam Davies recently planted seeds on board Roxy, in order to eat fresh salad. Image copyright Sam Davies/Roxy/Vendée Globe.

Michel Desjoyeaux, FRA, (Foncia): “We’ve got another fine day for sailing. I’m under spinnaker and moving along smoothly. Last night the stars were out. Not a single cloud in the sky, so I took advantage to spend a couple of hours at the helm. That’s fairly rare and you have to grab that opportunity. I’m pleased now as I’m able to enjoy myself at the helm of Foncia. We’re no longer on our roller-coaster ride and we’re no longer slamming into waves. I’ll be attacking via the south face and staying with the warm weather for as long as I can… and it will mean downwind sailing in conditions that are not too strong. I’ll head back down to the south again, if the winds get up too much. In the north, it’s cold and nasty. Not a nice place to be. I can’t be any more precise yet about my arrival time. It will all depend on my route across the Bay of Biscay. I can just repeat that it will be sometime between Saturday lunchtime and Sunday afternoon. I’m trying to find a rock I can wedge the accelerator pedal down with. I should be getting stronger winds soon of around 30-35 knots. So that should mean, the speed will increase. In this point of sail, we’re not slamming too much, as the waves will be on the beam. It’s not ideal, but there aren’t exactly 101 ways of getting home.”

Norbert Sedlacek, AUT, (Nauticsport-Kapsch): “At first light it was nice and clear and so it looks like it will be a great sailing day. It is quite a special situation when you are on your birthday and you are on your way to Cape Horn. And when the light is up a bit more I will open my little parcels and some good sailing, it is a really special day. I have a plastic container with some presents and look forward to opening them, and I will make some special food today.”

“It was not a nice situation with the headboard car. I don’t know why but the bolt which fixes the main was broken and so it all started to bend. I had to do some serious manoeuvres to break the ring and get the mainsail down . There was lot of wind and rain and I was quite worried that there would be damage to the mast track or to the rigging, and in the end I was lucky because there is no damage to the mast and the rigging. I was able to fix the sail yesterday and get all the stuff out of the way, all the cars, and fix it up with U-bolts and I think I can get it up to one and a half reefs, just above the first reef.”

Sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean. Image copyright Sam Davies/Roxy/Vendée Globe.

ETAs for the first three boats in Les Sables d'Olonne:

1. Foncia: ETA between 12h on the 31st January and 18h on 1st February
2. Veolia Environnement: ETA between 12h on 2nd February and 12h on 4th February
3. Brit Air: ETA between 12h on 4th February and 0h on 7th February

Vendée Globe

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