Friday, January 02, 2009

Vendée Globe leaders approach Cape Horn

[Source: Vendée Globe] One final sting in the tail from the Pacific is being dealt out as the five leaders rush towards Cape Horn and the exit from five weeks of the Southern Ocean.

According to Richard Silvani of Météo France, the low that will be accompanying the leaders is likely to be the most powerful that they have recorded since they entered the Roaring Forties.

The leading five skippers who may have been harbouring hopes that they would be able to profit from a relatively benign final stage of the Pacific and typically long surfs have been disappointed. From Roland Jourdain (Veolia Environnement) to Armel le Cléac’h (Brit Air) the leading group admit that they have been on a boneshaker rather than on the long downhill slide they had hoped for. And so they are unanimous that these final two or three days are about conservation and preservation, inflicting no unnecessary punishment on their boats and equipment which has already been stressed and tested enough. Indeed while the tactical climb back up the Atlantic affords many options, so too having the equipment in shape to exploit every option will be vital.

Video highlights from day 54 of the Vendée Globe. 2 January 2009. Video copyright Vendée Globe

Although Cape Horn marks the exit door from the Southern Oceans, the race will be far from over at that point. They still have a third of the route, or likely around 30 days to sail and they will have to pass through several complicated weather patterns. Recall that in 2005, Jean Le Cam rounded Cape Horn more than 250 miles ahead of Vincent Riou and Mike Golding, who both went on to lead at different times even before crossing the Equator. In 2001, Michel Desjoyeaux had a lead of more than 600 miles over Ellen MacArthur, who was later right behind him off the coast of Brazil.

Between the natural obstacle of the Falklands, the sometimes vicious Pampero winds that sweep down from the Patagonian plateau and the calms generated by the St. Helena high, there are plenty of traps in the South Atlantic. Of course, rounding the Horn in the lead offers a clear psychological advantage, but does not guarantee outright victory.

British skipper Sam Davies is up to sixth place now in this, here first Vendée Globe although she admits that she would rather not have profited from the unfortunate withdrawl of Jean-Pierre Dick who lost a rudder when his Paprec-Virbac struck an object, the Nicois skipper spoke with Sam by phone, entrusting sixth place to her as a New Year present.

For the most part Jonny Malbon is the skipper who has not had to seek out his troubles. His mainsail continues to degrade, with the Artemis II skipper confirming today that he has already had to double patch one hole above the fourth reef. Dee Caffari has reported that she has a similar problem, although not to the same extent as Malbon does.

Meantime Steve White is back on top of his jobs list today on Toe in the Water. His autopilots are doing a good job again as he was working upwind in 25-28 knots of breeze today, looking for a window in the weather to complete the repairs to his goose-neck.



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