Vendee Globe - 1230 - 5/2/01

Mark Chisnell reports as the elastic between Ellen and Mich retracts for what could be the last time

Monday February 5th 2001, Author: Mark Chisnell, Location: United Kingdom
The pressure cooker is steaming out in the North Atlantic, as Michel Desjoyeaux (red) once again runs into a barrier of light air, and Ellen MacArthur (light blue) once again comes flying into the back of him as the invisible elastic band that holds them together retracts, perhaps for the last time.

The weather has unfolded as we expected on Friday, with the Azores High forming a ridge of high pressure across the path of the two leaders. There was no way round it, they simply have to struggle through and as Desjoyeaux hit it first, he slowed first and Ellen closed him down. Just under 80 miles separated them on the leader board on Friday afternoon, on Monday morning it's only 15 and both were down under five knots of boat speed.

The same effect is being replicated behind them, as Roland Jourdain (dark blue) closes to within 260 miles of the leader - a 130 mile gain over the weekend. Jourdain's strategy to stay west through the Doldrums has really paid off, as fourth placed Marc Thiercelin (light brown) has only gained 21 miles in the same time period. But as we've said so many times in the past three months, catching up is one thing, getting past is another.

Fleet at 0400, 5/2/01

The ridge of high pressure is visible in the images above and below, and the biggest problem with it is that there is no single clear-cut centre, there is a swirl of clockwise wind circulation to both the west and east of the leaders. In this scenario the weather routing manuals go over the side, it's a matter of soaking every puff and cloud to the max, extracting distance north, which is the only place that offers a guaranteed exit.
As Ellen told the Race Office this morning, "I’ve got no wind. I spent the whole of last night in these light airs. I tried to get the boat moving, what else can I say really. I just have to wait, the forecasts weren’t very exact approaching the centre of this anticyclone the way we have.

"I’m sailing my own route, I’m getting out of this in my own time. I expect Michel is well placed in the north because there is better wind in the north-east, but I’m just doing the best I can. As usual in light airs I helm, I shift the ballast around. In the centre of the anticyclone, there isn’t a lot you can do. Just one small storm cloud passed overnight, but that wasn’t anything big."

The pressure and stress applied by yet another parking lot is clear, as Ellen went on, "But I have to get out of this more for my head, as I don’t want this to get to me too much. For now I’m just holding out, in light airs you have to live life hour by hour."

At least the gear damage shouldn't effect her ability to get clear of the high, "The gennaker isn’t a hundred percent but I can use it if I want. I changed the daggerboard from one side to the other last night, it’s in its good side now. In light airs I won’t take the daggerboards out so it’s not a big problem for me now. At 1.5 knots there’s no vibration through the boat!"

Weather at 0400, 5/2/01

The bigger weather picture (above) shows how tantalisingly close escape could be, maybe only fifty miles away the wind will start increasing and switch to the west - if this chart is accurate. But it's also clear how much advantage there is to being to the north. Ellen has to get past Desjoyeaux in this light stuff, she's done the right thing by holding to the east, getting some leverage and attacking a different line through the high. Now she needs a little luck and a lot of endurance to make the most of whatever breeze the weather gods choose to cast her way.
continued on page two

Map images courtesy of Virtual Spectator, click here to go to the VS site.

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