Vendee Globe sailors battle on

Christmas is proving long and cruel for those solo sailors in the Vendee Globe non-stop race now stretched out between the Kerguelen Islands and Australia’s Cape Leeuwin.
Whilst Michel Desjoyeaux (Foncia), number one on the Vendée Globe Christmas chart for the ninth day running, awaits the south westerly winds which should relieve the leading duo from the tedium and mild discomfort of sailing hard into northerly breezes, those among the lower orders continue their suffering in a sustained period of robust gales with big, confused and angry seas.

Contrast Michel Desjoyeaux’s Christmas message – a simple plea for a better angle, that the breeze will lift him rapidly north, to allow him to hook up and cross the New Zealand security gate 150 miles to his north – with the fortunes of the typically understated Steve White, the British soloist on Toe in the Water.

“The barometer is as low as it can go, but still falling.” Writes White whimsically this morning, whilst listening to his Christmas CD and watching the confused sea state, “I am having to nurse the boat at the moment as the gooseneck pin which holds the boom to deck has broken and if I am not careful the boom will come off. That problem has finished off a few peoples’ races in the past.”

Desjoyeaux, after losing 11 miles to second placed Roland Jourdain since yesterday leads by 44 miles from Jourdain, still bemoans:
” Father Christmas has not been kind. How on Earth can I open my presents heeled over at 25° with my “moped” jumping around like a kangaroo? This was not forecast. We’ll manage somehow I suppose, but it’s not nice. I should have remained on the other side of the International Date Line. I could have started cheated by opening things, while the seas were still reasonable.”

Raphael Dinelli, (Fondacion Océan Vital) 17th of the 18 boats in the fleet now, reported a big broach this morning, wiped out breaking his lazy-jack (essential to controlling the mainsail while it is being raised and lowered):

“Major broach this morning under staysail and 3 reefs in the main. 50-knot squall and some violent gybes. . Some damage – broken lazy jack, a real mess inside. Sailing with three reefs in the mainsail but it’s not stable. Trying to find a way to bring down the mainsail without smashing the coach roof and solar panels. Very high sea”

Whilst Canadian Derek Hatfield, (Algimouss Spirit of Canada) has also been knocked down three times in recent days in winds to 47 knots, beaking battens in his mainsail:

“?.all we want from Santa is to get through the next few low pressure systems?” noted Hatfield last night. He has quietly been making steady inroads into the lower half of the fleet, and has American Rich Wilson (Great American III) less than 100 miles ahead of him now.

Vincent Riou, (PRB) has been the quickest in the fleet over the last 24 hours, gaining 40 miles on his nearest rival Armel Le Cléac’h (Brit Air) and wresting fifth place from him.
Riou and Le Cléac’h have a better angle to the gate now than the leaders, gaining with the SW’ly wind. Seb Josse BT) appeared to have the new wind last night and gybed north east at around 2200h GMT while Jean Le Cam (VM Matériaux) followed suit at between 0200h and 0300h this morning.

Brian Thompson’s problems continue to compromise his attack on Bahrain Team Pindar. Thompson had to slow for a couple of hours during the night to replace a broken lazy-jack. In 35 knots of wind he had to climb 8 metres up the bucking rig to re-run the line which stops the mainsail blowing away when the halyard is released to reef or shake out a reef. He is now just over 60 miles ahead of fellow Brit Dee Caffari (Aviva).

Both British girls, Sam Davies (Roxy) and Caffari have continued to turn in strong, consistent mileages in the challenging conditions, Davies, eighth placed, gaining miles on her nearest rival Marc Guillemot (Safran).