Vendee Globe - 1200 - 15/11/00

Mark Chisnell reports as Patrick de Radigues has a very close call

Wednesday November 15th 2000, Author: Mark Chisnell, Location: United Kingdom
The Vendee Globe had a very narrow squeak overnight from Tuesday to Wednesday, as Belgian skipper, Patrick de Radigués, aboard La Libre Belgique, was knocked unconscious. The incident happened not far from Lisbon, and everyone involved with the race will be aware how easily it could have been worse - if Radigues had gone overboard. In his own words;

'As I was gybing, my foot got hooked in a sheet and I have been violently projected onto the deck. I fainted during several hours. When I was finally woken up by the inshore rescue people, my boat had run aground on the beach. The boat is not damaged apart from a broken rudder. I have hurt my head, and I need to go to the hospital to have some stitches. For me, the Vendée Globe is over as I had to call for outside assistance.'

Fleet positions at 0600 15/11/00, Canary Islands on the bow

Back out on the race track, it's been an action packed night as well, as Yves Parlier (green) has finally been forced to give up his lead. After apparently being glued together for the past five days, Michel Desjoyeaux (red) has suddenly made huge gains overnight and is now 25 nm ahead. Marc Thiercelin (light brown) is shown as third on the race office scoreboard, but the timing of his position report is an hour earlier, and given that it puts him only six miles behind Parlier, it looks like Thiercelin is up to second after he's done that extra hour's sailing (Virtual Spectator certainly thinks so). We wait to see if Parlier has an as yet undisclosed problem.

Ellen MacArthur is still in touch with this leading group, 37 nm behind Desjoyeaux, though it's unlikely she's actually in fourth, as Roland Jourdain's position report was at 0400, three hours before the rest. Given that he's placed 27 nm behind Parlier at this time, the extra three hours of sailing may well have him up into third.

Weather at 0600 15/11, the Azores High still dominating proceedings

The leading group are all quickly converging onto the same heading, as they haul the mail down towards the media box - the mark of the course at the Canary Islands. The Azores high pressure system is still dominating proceedings in the North Atlantic, and this is set to hold through to the end of the week.

But while the macro weather picture is straight-forward - north-north-easterly breeze veering slowly to the north-east as they move from the bottom right corner of the high pressure into the trade wind zone - on the ground it will be more complicated.

At these latitudes convection clouds and squalls are common, and the breeze can be highly variable in both strength and direction. Thomas Coville has reported winds from five to 25 knots overnight, and Roland Jourdain has also had problems with the squall lines - reckoning he could feel the first hot breath of the trade winds on his face. And we shouldn't forget this is a solo race, attrition still plays a big part, Catherine Chabaud has been struggling with a recalcitrant pilot overnight.

And as if that wasn't enough, they are about to tackle the notoriously difficult passage through the Canary Islands. This land mass sticking up out of empty ocean has a profound effect on the wind - the development of a sea breeze, acceleration of wind through channels and wind shadows behind the islands are all possible race-wreckers. The impact of the Canary Islands can sometimes be felt forty or fifty miles downwind and given a choice, most racing sailors give them a wide berth on the route south. But there's a mark of the course in there, and the Vendee skippers have no option.

Once they've fought their way through the land effects of the Canary Islands, the big strategic issue will be the Doldrums. They need to start setting up for their passage through this notoriously difficult area as soon as they leave the islands astern. The first trick to traversing the Doldrums is picking the thinnest point to cross, usually but not always to the west. The second is getting the right position for what happens out the other side.

That Whitbread legend - and currently navigator aboard Club Med - Mike Quilter, has always aimed for 28W as his Doldrums crossing point. This is the so-called 'Sweet Spot', based on Quilter's research of the historical data and his racing experience - both Steinlager II and NZ Endeavour emerged from the Doldrums as clear leaders in their Whitbread races, and went on to win overall.

At the moment the Doldrums look particularly gnarly, with big holes in the breeze. But those gaps are closing and looking forward to the weekend and beyond, unusually, the best option looks to be to the east. In fact, on a very quick appraisal - somewhere just east of 28W would be about right. But this is a dynamic situation, and the solo skippers will want to make their decision with the very latest information.

It's going to be a very busy 24 hours for the Vendee sailors - torn between spending time on deck to optimise their passage through the potholes and bumps of the islands, and spending time pouring over the weather charts to find the best line through the Doldrums. We won't know who's got the balance right for a few days.

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 (0700 GMT except where stated, Wednesday 15/11, with Distances to Finish from Race Office)

1 PRB (Desjoyeaux) 22619 nm
2 Aquitaine Innovations (Parlier) 22644 nm
3 Active Wear (Thiercelin) 22650 nm at 0600
4 Kingfisher (MacArthur) 22656 nm
5 Sodebo (Coville) 22668 nm
6 SILL Matines La Potagère (Jourdain) 22671 nm at 0400
7 Solidaires (Dubois) 22678 nm
8 EBP EspritPME Gartmore (Hall) 22683 nm
9 Armor Lux Foies Gras Bizac (Stamm) 22686 nm at 0600
10 Whirlpool (Chabaud) 22705 nm
11 Union Bancaire Privée (Wavre) 22721 nm
12 Euroka Un univers de services (Dumont) 22772 nm

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