|CAPE OF GOOD HOPE, SOUTH AFRICA-(30-11-2004) Set to pass the Cape of Good Hope tonight after 23 days of racing, with a lead of around 5 days on Yves Parlier’s time, the leading boats are today sailing in an atmosphere of depressions, big seas with chaotic waves, broaches and cold, grey, rain-filled skies and 30 to 40 knots of wind; trying to find a compromise between “going fast and making a straight line to your destination.” It is looking like Mike Golding (Ecover) may be able to get up with the last carriage in the leader’s train (Riou, Le Cam, Jourdain and Josse), with Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) still hoping to hook onto the back of it though concentrating on consolidating on his position rather than stretching the limits. Behind him in the “second pack” Conrad Humphreys (Hellomoto) sums up their situation perfectly. “The weather situation ahead is developing into a real mine field. The breeze that comes in tomorrow from the WNW will allow our northerly pack to stretch our legs towards Cape Town. To the south the wind is from the east and this will keep us locked well to the north of the rhumb line. It will be vital to keep with the system, as any slow down would see a big shift in wind direction and an upwind stretch would follow. There is a narrow runway right through to South of Cape Point. The dilemma is that often the St. Helena high travels east and gets squeezed around the bottom of South Africa. We may arrive and then struggle to get south with light headwinds holding us up. The other option is to dive south, take the 40 knots on the nose and pick up the next system that comes along. I don´t think any of our group will take that on, so it’s ‘sh*t or bust’ tactics that will either bring us right back in to this race or see us wallowing off South Africa watching the boats in the south increase their lead.”
Vincent Riou (PRB) currently has a 29 mile lead over Jean Le Cam (Bonduelle) in this fifth edition of the Vendée Globe. “We’ve been firing on all cylinders this morning just ahead of a front. It’s stalling a little at the moment in the warm part of the depression; it’s raining, without much visibility, 3 to 4 metre waves and 35 to 40 knots of wind. We’re on the attack while the sea is ordered. After that, we have to find the right sail compromise to marry speed with preservation of the material. For now I’m remaining down below with my autopilot control, so there is no need to go on deck.” He passed second placed Jean Le Cam last night and his game plan in the coming days is to gain easting and remain north of the next depression, hopefully still accompanied by his two albatross. “We will be at the longitude of the Cape tonight” he says.
Riou believes his boat to be well designed for the south, a thought shared by Roland Jourdain for his new Sill et Véolia. “I believe my new boat to be much more stable than my former boat” (now Alex Thomson’s Hugo Boss). `The winter sports have started” he said chirpily. “At the moment it’s a real balancing act between wanting to go fast, and the hope of going in a straight line. We broached at one point in the night. I felt her going as I was sleeping but it was too late and I wiped out more than 90 degrees and had to do some mountaineering into the cockpit. I’m not really worried about when the mast goes in the water though as I have a system which links the mast rotation to the boom. What that means is that the huge stresses on the gear and the mast when the boat goes over are avoided as the mast compensates for this as it turns. I did break a small batten though. This all happened when the wind went up to 50 knots with the passage of a cold front and big seas with 6m waves. The wind dropped out a little after that but I remained on my guard. Fully crewed you’d be having a ball but it’s another thing when you’re single-handed.”
Sébastien Josse (VMI), 26.7 miles behind him, has been getting tossed about too. “I’m gliding along, it’s slamming, it’s smashing and we’re heeling. I’ve got 40 knots of wind with waves of 6m. I performed a number of manoeuvres overnight, a bit too many perhaps. I’m going to concentrate more on better average speeds now rather than always the best speed. With the violent motion of the boat at the moment I’m forced to crawl around the boat on all fours, hooked on with my back to the bow. The only way you could call it fun would be if I was in the bar tonight telling the story!”
Making up some ground on the leaders today in what must seem like an achingly long time, Mike Golding is tired after a gruelling night’s work. Now that Ecover has gybed, she is barrelling along in 36 knots of breeze. “The wind is very unstable, though. I can be in 30 knots one moment and then 38 knots the next. The sea is very awkward and the breeze has now come forward. I’ve got a following sea and reaching winds. So I’m making very good progress, sometimes travelling along at 28 knots, but the boat’s crashing and banging - very, very wet, and very noisy. The fact that I’ve been asleep at all is pretty good going. The boat seems to be coping with it well. We had a good sail yesterday, some great speeds.” Golding hit his highest speed earlier, a staggering 31 knots.
In contrast to Mike, 6th placed Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) has lost a bit of ground on the leader in the last ranking. He had VHF contact with the British inhabitants of the little island of Tristan Da Cunha yesterday as well as a 30 ft Brazilian yacht. “In my current situation at the back of the leading pack, I feel a bit like “piggy in the middle”! The only way I can catch up is if the leaders slow down. For now I’m remaining cool, taking it easy and not pushing too hard. My priorities are to consolidate on my position and protect the boat. The south is as cold as I’d envisaged but not as windy as I’d expected, yet! I’m learning all about trusting my autopilot, remembering how dangerous the cockpit can be etc...After three weeks of racing I am really settled into the rhythm. The first week was a shock thinking of spending 100 days at sea, the second week was spent getting used to the idea and now it seems normal...”
The second pack are battling east towards the tip of South Africa, looking to make southerly at the right moment while right at the back of the fleet, despite being over 2000 miles from the leader now, optimistic Austrian Norbert Sedlacek is very much of the same thinking...consolidating on his position and trying to make some ground on his pursuers. “At the moment the sunrise is dictating my onboard routine, trying to complete my checklist, taking time over the weather and the manoeuvres. Thankfully I have repaired the broken piece of the masthead now and though I still have spinnaker problems, the mainsail and gennaker are working fine now and I’m up and racing...”