Thursday, January 01, 2009

Michel Desjoyeaux in lead of a longer and tougher Vendée Globe

[Source: Vendée Globe] On the current schedule the leader in this remarkable 2008-9 Vendée Globe is set to round Cape Horn on Sunday night, which means he should have caught up to be close to the time set by Jean Le Cam in 2004.

There is a major difference between the 2004-5 edition and this one. Because of the Ice Gates, the total distance for the race will be 24,840 miles instead of the 23,680 miles covered in 2004-2005.

This race will be 1160 miles longer, which equates to about three and a half days of sailing at a typical average of 340 miles per day.

The intensity and pace of this race is now confirmed, bear in mind the leaders were two days behind the time set in the last race, as they struggled to get around the St. Helena high pressure system in the South Atlantic.

Video highlights from day 53 of the Vendée Globe. 1 January 2009. Video copyright Vendée Globe

So as they traversed the Southern Ocean, despite the challenging and at times very difficult conditions, they will have gained five days. A huge gain, which certainly explains why some sailors are today feeling exhausted.

Further evidence, if it’s needed of the pace and intensity of the race can be seen by looking at the number of leaders since the start: 26 in all and nine of the 30 skippers who started held the lead at one stage.

At racing at these speeds mean there have already been a clutch of records, not just for the leaders: from the Equator to the Cape of Good Hope, Bernard Stamm (Cheminées Poujoulat) achieved the best time (12 days, 4hours and 50 minutes) one and a half days less than Vincent Riou in 2004.

Michel Desjoyeaux (Foncia) with a time of 10 days, 6 hours and 49 minutes improved on the 2004 time between the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Leeuwin by more than two days.

And with 15 boats still in the race, half of the skippers that set out have had to retire. That compares to a retirement rate of 46% in 1989, 53% in 1992, 63% in 1996, but 35% in 2000 and 2004. If we compare the weather experienced, 2008 has been is much closer to what was experienced in 1992 and 1996, while the previous two races have been kinder for the competitors.

Four boats have not yet reached the half way point and the leader has 8418 miles still to complete but already it is being hailed as vintage edition, a remarkable life affirming race, and a truly great sporting endeavour.

From Michel Desjoyeaux’s remarkable comeback, charging back through the fleet after re-starting 40 hours after the start, a deficit of more than 600 miles at one stage, to take the lead, to the true grit and adventurous spirit of Raphael Dinelli and Austrian Norbert Sedlacek who may be 5000 miles behind but their endeavours are equally enriching and inspiring.

Similarly the remarkable British pair Sam Davies (Roxy) and Steve White (Toe in the Water).

Davies’ historic double Vendée Globe winning Finot Conq design surfs 24/7 on Davies’ sheer joie de vie and exuberant passion, while White’s dogged determination to fulfil his dream to do this race of more than 10 years, his ability to not just make a silk purse of a race from a sow’s ear of a shambolic, last minute start has been amazing, but he does so with such a down to earth ego-free frank, and often whimsical approach that he is the ‘everyman’ racer.

The dramas and personal loss, the long held ambitions cruelly washed in seconds by a rogue wave or gust, may in time become the race’s legacy, the historic tapestry, but the raw human emotion exposed, time and again, has very few equals on the global sporting stage. Yann Eliès’ injury and rescue, Jean-Pierre Dick, whose megawatt smile had no sooner beamed out his New Year wishes, than mere hours later, his one remaining undamaged rudder was snatched off the stern of Paprec-Virbac 2 when he struck a second semi-submerged object. First time he lost the lead, second time his race is over.

Whether they prove the ultimate winner, a midfleet battler, a resolute adventurer, or one of the 15 skippers whose dreams have already been taken away, each can take huge pride in having been part of this magical race in 2008. 2009 is only just started and the race is far from over.

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