Just 20m behind them, and absolutely neck and neck, are Géant (Desjoyeaux/Jan) and Sergio Tacchini (Fauconnier/Foxall). The three second to fourth placed boats are all crossing the Doldrums between 24-26W and Belgacom is nearer to the rhumb line in the east. Michel Desjoyeaux philosophises: “The wind is not on our side, and the hours to come will be more difficult I think. There are two solutions: either you get frustrated and drive yourself up the wall, or you simply wait with patience and just take any puff of wind when it comes. I’m taking the second option but I’m still driving myself crazy…it’s Hervé who’s calming us both down!”
The next two boats Biscuits La Trinitaine (Guillemot/Guichard) and Sopra Group (Monnet/L. Bourgnon) may be around 200m from the leader but they have literally jumped the miles as yesterday they were over 300m from the front. Furthest from the rhumb line in the East is Banque Populaire (Roucayrol/Bidegorry) and the only boat aligned on the direct route is Foncia (Gautier/MacArthur), hoping to gain in the rankings from their current 11th place if the boats in the east get really stuck.
Bonduelle (Le Cam/De Pavant) announced today that although they are still racing, the rudder which was fixed in Porto Santo has come away again and now irreparable is on the deck. “The parts we used in Porto Santo have held, but this time it’s the support which has given way under the pressure of the sea in the squalls,” explained Le Cam.
The 13 monohull Open 60s are just a few degrees from the Equator, and one of the most unappetising parts of the race is on their doorstep - the Doldrums: “Well, it’s definitely changing out here but we’re not yet in the ‘black hole’…” said Jean-Pierre Dick early this morning from Virbac. “Last night we made good progress in the squalls, the wind got up to 25 knots. For us the main thing is to preserve the sails, and we are constantly on deck on manoeuvres of some kind. Yes, we do have a fair lead but the worst will be to see it crumble once we’re in the midst of this unpredictable weather system.”
And the latest position reports are proof of this: Virbac (Dick/Abiven) at 1500 had lost 12m in the last six hours and is now 131.9m ahead of second placed Sill (Jourdain/Thomson), with their boat speed hovering still around 10 knots. Jourdain and Thomson themselves are barely holding off Ecover (Golding/Thompson) with only 33.7 miles spare as the British duo eek a fraction more boat speed out of their new steed. They are more or less averaging the same speeds now just above 10 knots. There is of course a great surge from behind the leading trio as PRB (Riou/Beyou), Team Cowes (Moloney/Davies) and VMI (Josse/Autissier) have been clocking higher average speeds and are respectively just over 50m and 100m from Ecover.
Fifth placed Team Cowes (Moloney/Davies) is still positioned 1 degree further west at 27W latitude and until now have not been on a paying option, but since 1100GMT the team has clocked higher boat speeds in their own wind corridor, which has just bought them one place in the rankings.
For all now the squeeze is finally on… leader Jean-Pierre Dick commented on this ‘accordion effect’ as the French call it: “Well, with PRB and VMI coming back in the match it’s only good for us, as then the next four boats will be playing each other off rather than worrying about us…”
Mike Golding on Ecover spoke about the upside of what lies ahead: “We'll be seeing the first effects maybe tomorrow, certainly 24 hours away. There's lots of activity in the Doldrums, so it looks like it's going to be quite a difficult crossing, it doesn't look easy for anyone. That's what we're hoping, looks like to could be a complete stoppage and maybe the race will begin again. We hope so!”
Roland Jourdain on Sill was more sober about the Doldrums effect on the rest of the race: “It won’t be simple, that’s all I know! We’ll be right in it tomorrow and the 48 hours to follow will be a total lottery. But there is hardly any separation in longitude, so if we all stay in this procession, we’ll all get the same conditions one after the other and Virbac should come out ahead still. What is so nice about Jean-Pierre is that he has the courtesy to wait for us a little!! On the other hand, we expect our friends behind to come back on us in the next couple of days..!”
Sam Davies on Team Cowes is naturally optimistic about getting another chance to pass VMI (Josse/Autissier): “The one thing that could be good for us is that it is a potential opportunity to get back at the boats just ahead of us if they have a bad time too.”
In the Monohull 50 class, life is sweet under the trade winds: Hellomoto (Humphreys/Larsen) are in a solid 200m lead over 2nd place StorageTek (Guillemot/Salnelle), proving her phenomenal downwind performance without a doubt. The Brit-Aussie leading skippers are already approaching the Cape Verde Islands and in front of the back three 60ft monohulls.
Thursday: The leading multihull Groupama (Cammas/Proffit) is already escaping the Doldrums and has not been seriously slowed up. In fact, Groupama should be reaching the edge of the SE trades below 5 N, and so by the day’s end should have increased his lead again. The three chasing trimarans are neck and neck, and should also speed up by the time they get to 5 North.
For the monohulls, the same battle is happening, with Virbac already in the Doldrums and soon enough Sill and Ecover will be arriving in this zone. The skippers are wise, and have all lined up on the same longitude so that at least whatever befalls their boat should also happen to the one behind. They should slow up more than the multihulls but will pop out the other side in the same order all being well.
The SE Trades are well established at 15 – 25 knots between 4N and the Equator.