|AFRICAN COAST-(28-11-2004) Some are still under a blazing sun, others have already put on their waterproofs and boots. The former are still struggling with erratic winds and flat calm seas, while the latter group has the wind howling around the rigging and has the roar of the waves in their ears. Two races in one. This is now how the fifth edition of the Vendée Globe looks, but this is not the first time we have seen such a pattern.
Nothing much new, except that the fight at every level of the rankings has never been so intense or so interesting to follow during the three weeks of the race. There is of course the leading pair, the irresistible couple of Riou/Le Cam, but the combat that is going on between Sill et Veolia and VMI is just as exciting, as is that going on a long way behind, more than 1300 miles to be precise, between Benoît Parnaudeau (Max Havelaar Best Western) and the two women in the race, Anne Liardet (Roxy) and Karen Leibovici (Benefic).
«Two or three big waves hit me in the face, and I can tell you, it’s cold». Vincent Riou (PRB) is still holding on firmly to the reins at the head of the race, even if he had a difficult night following a collision with some flotsam. «I was inside. I heard a loud bang. Then another one aft, and my boat went over ». Outside, it was pitch black. The wind was blowing at 30 knots with the boat over on her side. The rudder came up, as it was supposed to with the shock, but the accident couldn’t be avoided. «I thought I’d finished with messing around in the water. This is the sort of random incident that is difficult to face up to. It’s like Russian roulette».
This sort of incident shows that the life of a solo yachtsman will never be a quiet one. As a lively Jean Le Cam jokingly explained to us, “Yesterday, I was fed up hanging around. So, I hoisted some more sail after gybing. 17,18, 19 knots, all’s well, then it’s 21,22,23 and how on earth can you lower 350 m2 without leaving the helm? » King Jean managed to sort it out. During his radio link-up, he announced on the phone that he was reaching 18.4 knots, which is proof of the pudding!
The hunt is on
368 miles behind the two leaders, Roland Jourdain (Sill et Veolia) has a smile back on his face and always manages to find the right way to say things. «The bombers have arrived. Accompanied by a flock of petrels». The bombers or the gulls will be his companions for the next leg of the journey during the months ahead. «In the beginning, it’s always nice to find the birds again, and the swell, but in a month, we’ll be only too pleased to be turning left». Especially as the week ahead looks busy with two lows coming along one after the other for the frontrunners. «We’re not going to brag about it, but it will be an initiation». Bilou, the only one among the four leaders to have been down here before alone, isn’t boasting however. «Considering the quality of the competitors, the fact that they haven’t been down here before isn’t that important. It’s not really much of a help».
Having spent the day in his company yesterday, young Sébastien Josse (VMI) has moved away from Bilou’s route and let him get away a bit. «Since the start, I’ve been getting 100% from the boat and if I’m up here with Sill et Veolia, it’s because I’ve made fewer mistakes than him. I’m going to do my best on fixing the trajectory to try to avoid the winds that are going to be too strong ».
Still the high
The St. Helena high is letting them through one at a time. Having finally liberated the two British yachtsmen, Mike Golding (Ecover) and Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss), it seems like it’s giving a token of its esteem to the Australian Nick Moloney (Skandia). Yesterday, Skandia’s skipper was on a course similar to the one taken by Dominique Wavre (Temenos) and Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac-Paprec), sailing behind them in twelfth place, some sixty miles behind Jean-Pierre Dick. Today, Nick has made it back to 7th place and is 25 miles ahead of Dick. Or in other words, he has won back 85 miles in 24 hours!!
The high also showed some consideration to the American, Bruce Schwab (Ocean Planet), who managed to get back with the group ahead of him, and it is also applying the rules of fair play to the five bringing up the rear. «It’s easier for us than for those ahead, admitted Raphaël Dinelli (Akena Verandas). I’m keeping my eye on the pressure and watching the clouds forming off to the east. I’m right on the edge of the high, just like it says in the books. I’m having fun. I think I’ll be turning left soon to get on a more direct course».