Vendee Globe - 1330 - 8/12/00

Mark Chisnell reports as Ellen MacArthur feels the icy chill of her first iceberg up close and personal - and the crashing and burning begins for Desjoyeaux and Thiercelin

Friday December 8th 2000, Author: Mark Chisnell, Location: United Kingdom
The most dangerous, dramatic and important part of the Vendee Globe has begun, as Yves Parlier dips below 50S and Southern Ocean conditions begin to dominate the action. Ellen MacArthur has seen her first iceberg and phoned her support team to relate the tale, in what they described as an 'edgy' state: "I awoke with a start from a short nap, I’m not sure what it was that brought me to. I stuck my head up and looked out of the window in the cabin. And there it was - an iceberg right by the boat. Within seconds I was on deck (I’ve started wearing waterproof socks the whole time so I can go on deck in a hurry without getting socks wet), and I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

"We passed within 15 to 20 metres of a huge iceberg, we were actually sailing through the white water next to it. I checked ahead to see if I could see any more - nothing. Wasn’t sure what to do, so I even filmed it as it disappeared in to the distance. It was right behind me, which shows how close to it I was. I think all the kids in the hospitals, whose names I have on a plaque onboard, must have been willing that iceberg away from the boat, that is why we didn’t hit. At the time, all I could think of was what would have happened if we had. The radar was on and alarmed, but as is sometimes the case, this berg was invisible to it, even when I was right next to it."

In the same 24 hour period, both Marc Thiercelin (light brown) and Michel Desjoyeaux (red) have had their first wipe-outs, both broaching to windward. Although Desjoyeaux woke up with his boat on its side, it took him quite a bit less time to clear up the mess than Thiercelin, who had rolled into windward with main and full spinnaker up and spent four hours getting straight - Desjoyeaux only lost ten miles.

Fleet at 0500, 8/12/00

That's the problem with autopilots - they find it difficult to cope with downwind conditions in a seaway. Leader Yves Parlier (green) is pressing on relentlessly, but admits to sleeping very little as he constantly watches for failure in the pilot. I can't believe that this performance is sustainable for another month, till he's out of the Southern Ocean.

But it's not just about how hard you press the boat and how often you crash - as we can see from the 0500, 8/12/00 positions (above), where Desjoyeaux is giving away more miles to the chasing Roland Jourdain (royal blue) by gybing and heading north-east, Virtual Spectator even has Jourdain up to second.

These three are in a race of their own right now, with nearly three hundred miles to the chasing pack. That's still led by Ellen (light blue) and Thomas Coville, apparently joined at the hip and dead-even according to this morning's Race Office rankings. Thiercelin and Dubois (purple) are next, before the big gap back to Josh Hall (dark blue) and the rest of the skippers who are getting caned by the high pressure. Catherine Chabaud is now almost 300 nm behind Ellen MacArthur, who she was running neck and neck with just a few days ago.

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