Racing the record

Orange stuggling to make record time to the Equator

Friday March 8th 2002, Author: Denis van den Brink, Location: Transoceanic
1236 Saturday is the time each crewman on board Bruno Peyron's maxi-catamaran Orange has in his mind as their race south has slowed to a trudge. If they reach the Equator by that time they will have broken the record set by the late Peter Blake and Robin Knox-Johnston when they made their record breaking Jules Verne attempt on board ENZA New Zealand in 1994.

At lunchtime today Orange still had 415 miles to go. Normally on a 110ft catamaran like Orange can cover this distance in an average day, but Peyron and his crew have the Doldrums to contend with in between. Peyron's thoughts go out to Sir Peter Blake, who was murdered at the end of an expedition up the Amazon last year and this record, which most recently Olivier de Kersauson's Geronimo was unable to beat, is a testament to the great Kiwi sailor.

Aside from a brief respite yesterday, the wind for the last 4 days has continued to blow stubbornly from dead astern forcing Orange's crew to gybe constantly under their big genniker to keep the best downwind VMG for the big cat.

"Conditions aren't bad" described Bruno Peyron, "they're just not ideal for good speed." The absent Trade winds have traded places off Sierra Leone with light winds, unstable in strength and obstinately blowing in their backs.

Ahead of Orange the masses of hot humid Equatorial air are crushing down on the sea and from tonight the wind will gradually start easing on the giant cat's sails and it will be down to Peyron, meteorologist Gilles Chiorri and the crew to make the most of the conditions. "We have on board some veritable 'jewellers' and a lots of 'artists'" described Peyron, "The jewellers work away at sometimes three-times-nothing on elements vital for the good progress of the boat - the artists are at the helm. They are at one with the boat, breathe to the rhythm of the waves and create with each movement of the helm the necessary acceleration that keeps speeds over those of the wind!"

To make the most of the 12 knots winds they're experiencing at the moment Orange has altered course slightly to the South-east. This will mean that they will cross the Equator at around 26° longitude West - "A good door" according to Gilles Chiorri to skirt the Saint Helena high in the coming days.

At 0143 last night the crew's collective heart went into its mouth when there was a huge bang from the top of the mast - had the top snapped off again? The crew carried out an emergency back off, but in the darkness with the mast towering some 130ft into the black it was difficult what was going on, expect that the luff of the gennaker was slack. The crew rolled it up, lowered it and put up the reacher in its place. Then Florent Chastel scales to the top of the mast in complete darkness to find that the halyard swivel has exploded... an express repair, back up with the gennaker, down with the reacher, and off again at full speed - all within an hour.

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