Vendee Globe - 1330 - 27/11/00

Mark Chisnell reports as Parlier leads the way south

Monday November 27th 2000, Author: Mark Chisnell, Location: United Kingdom
We're into the third week of the Vendee Globe, and the fleet are still pouring it on, headed south, with the leaders doing over 14 knots as they reach in the easterly breeze off the coast of Brazil. It was Yves Parlier (green) that broke free from the Doldrums first, hit the gas and got out of Dodge.

But just as big a winner on the bets placed going into the Doldrums was Catherine Chabaud (yellow), who entered a long way east of the main pack. The downside to this approach is normally that the Doldrums are wider to the east, and take longer to cross. But on this occasion, Chabaud sailed through with no more downtime than the boats in the - theoretically better - west.

The advantage of the easterly entry point is the shorter distance - their destination is to go east past Cape Town - and the further west that you cross the Doldrums, the more miles you sail. But as well as being closer to where they all eventually want to go, Chabaud is also upwind of the rest of the fleet. So depending on her strategy for the next section, she can either parallel the fleet and stay east of them, or trade the position for more speed. If Chabaud chooses, she can ease the sheets and sail a little lower and faster and gain some miles on the opposition while ending up on the same longitude as them.

The Virtual Spectator rankings now have Chabaud up to second, ahead of Michel Desjoyeaux (red), although the Race Office positions put her in third. This is because of the different waypoints - against which the fleet's progress is measured - chosen by the two leaderboards.

But none of the skippers will be counting any chickens based on the rankings of either system just yet, as they still have to tackle the South Atlantic (or St Helena) High, a high pressure system that dominates the South Atlantic, much as the Azores High dominates the North Atlantic. It's very visible in the above picture, sitting squarely between the fleet and Cape Town (in the bottom right hand corner).

The wind rotates anti-clockwise around a high pressure system in the Southern Hemisphere, so the fleet are currently reaching in the easterly wind on the top edge of the high. As they head south, the wind will backtowards the north and they'll be sailing fast downwind angles with the spinnakers up - so long as they keep on their current heading of south.

If Parlier turned and sailed south-east and direct to Cape Town, he'd be sailing upwind, and worse, through the light air in the centre of the high pressure. It's better to wait until he's south of the centre of the high pressure and the wind is north or north-west. Then he can turn east and run along the bottom edge of the high, with the wind now westerly and still blowing the boat downhill at high speed.

We shouldn't forget what's going on out of the picture. There are low pressure systems running west-to-east around Antarctica, below the South Atlantic High, reinforcing and strengthening the westerly breeze and providing the legendary hard running conditions for which the Southern Ocean is famed.

As one former Whitbread sailor once told me, 'There's nothing complex about the Southern Ocean, just head south until it's blowing forty knots, then turn left.' Catch a ride on one of those circulating low pressure systems and you will be dragged east as fast, and at times faster, than you want to go - this is the Southern Ocean travelator.

It all sounds simple enough, and in macro terms it is - run around the outside, western edge of the South Atlantic High, until you are far enough south to pick up a low pressure system, then head fully east. The devil, as always, is in the details.

The Vendee fleet have a fine line to judge between reducing the miles by turning east early, and going further for more and better breeze. It's a classic weather routing problem, and the onboard computers will be working overtime.

And while the leader holds the advantage - furthest south, he should be first onto the travelator - Parlier will be watching closely over his shoulder for someone cutting the corner, betting on the high pressure receding to the east ahead of them. And the South Atlantic High is forecast to do just that, there should be decent breeze as far east as 20W by Thursday morning, and the fleet are currently running down a longitude between about 28W and 30W. So who will make the first move?
Click for new window with link to Virtual SpectatorMap images courtesy of Virtual Spectator, click here to go to the VS site.

Please note that two different methods of calculating the Distance to Finish are being used, one by Virtual Spectator and one by the Vendee Globe Race Office, we will try to always make it clear which we are using!

Link to the madforsailing form guide.

Rankings (0400 GMT except where stated, Monday 27/11, with Distances to Finish from Race Office)

1 Aquitaine Innovations (Parlier) 19781 nm
2 PRB (Desjoyeaux) + 102 nm
3 Whirlpool (Chabaud) +165 nm
4 Kingfisher (MacArthur) +205 nm
? SILL Matines La Potagère (Jourdain) +336 nm (no position at this time)
5 Solidaires (Dubois) +263 nm
6 Sodebo (Coville) +267 nm
7 Active Wear (Thiercelin) +278 nm (at 0300 GMT)
8 Union Bancaire Privée (Wavre) +282 nm
9 EBP EspritPME Gartmore (Hall) +416 nm
10 Nord Pas de Calais - Chocolats du Monde (Seeten) +466 nm
11 (Gallay) +499 nm
12 VM Matériaux (Carpentier) +513 nm

Other British
17 This Time Argos Soditic (Tolkien) 1193 nm (returning to the Cape Verde Islands)
19 Team Group 4 (Golding) +2016 nm

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