Vendee Globe - 1130 - 25/1/01
Having recovered after going back to Les Sables to mend his broken teeth and a broken spinnaker halyard on the first night of the race, Bilou has made another good fight back after having to stop just round the corner from Cape Horn to repair the mast track on Sill. However, his initial progress behind the south American cold front has been seriously blighted by a dose of light airs just as he was about to overtake Marc Thiecerlin in Active Wear and capture third place.
Even more frustratingly, the calm patch coincided with the moment that Michel Desjoyeaux in PRB and Ellen MacArthur in Kingfisher picked up the southeast Trades and accelerated away at the front of the fleet. Having been just a few miles off Thiercelin and only 200 miles behind Ellen, Bilou is now nearly 80 miles behind Active Wear and nearly 400 miles behind Ellen.
With easterlies finally blowing to his advantage, signalling his escape from the south Atlantic High, Bilou was puzzled by Thiercelin's better performance but could only complement Ellen on hers. "It doesn't bother me that Ellen is ahead," he told the race office in Paris. "She is a formidable competitor with a formidable boat and her project has been well managed."
Then, reflecting on what now looks to be a critical 17-hour delay when he stopped just past the Horn, he added: "For me, really, the frustration is more that I've missed my window thanks to my technical problems. I'm more annoyed about my problems than about Mich being in the lead. As soon as the boat got damaged Ellen sent me the sweetest emails. But watch out - it's not over yet! As we haven't crossed the finish line, you can't say what's going to happen. I can hope that the Doldrums will be harder on those ahead and that some may still be hampered by the odd technical problem etc."
Bilou then, apparently, started singing the theme tune to the French equivalent to the film "Carry On Cruising": "I took 4 or 5 showers yesterday, the water was about 26 degrees, turquoise blue, and the sunset was magnificent. It's quite refreshing to be naked under the sun," he added.
Behind Bilou - about 234 miles to be exact - Thomas Coville in Sodebo, another excellent correspondent, has slipped behind Dominique Wavre in UBP and is now in sixth place. Thomas found time to reflect on the ever-greater intensity of the race which, at the front end of the fleet at least, is now a full-on 24-hour-a-day grand prix spread over three months.
"Lots of us taking part this year have raced the Figaro," he said. "Five good ex-Figaro guys among the six leaders. I've done two Figaro races and Michel seven, two of which he won. With us, the psychological tension has moved up a notch. The pressure to keep pushing on racing, is ever-present. The boats are sailing faster than ever with a remarkable level of preparation. You haven't got any choice : this time round, you've got to make sure you're in the right place at the right time."
Despite losing position to the veteran Whitbread racer, Wavre, Thomas was not unduly worried, though he was planning to head a little further east from his position closer to the Brazilian shore than the Swiss skipper. "I enjoyed warming myself up in the sun whilst at the helm," he said. "The sun dries everything. The skin on your face, your hands. Before the sun set, there were all sorts of cloud formations. Big and dark with light streaming through".
Up ahead Desjoyeaux has a 100-mile lead over Ellen and was clocked at three knots faster, but there is still little to choose between them.
1 PRB (Desjoyeaux) On Jan, 25 at 00:00 UT -14.24 26.31 4027(miles to go) 354(course) 13.1(speed)
2 Kingfisher (MacArthur) 04:00 UT -14.58 28.26 102(dist to ldr) 349 10.1
3 Active Wear (Thiercelin) at 01:00 UT -21.54 30.39 501 3 9.54
4 SILL Matines La Potagère (Jourdain) at 05:01 UT -22.05 33 577 351 10
5 Union Bancaire Privée (Wavre) at 02:00 UT -25.3 34.3 768 27 7.16
6 Sodebo (Coville) at 01:02 UT -25.5 36.42 811 27 7.28