But cannot return to Kerguelen yet

Vendee Globe, non-stop, solo, round-the-world-race yachtsman Dominique Wavre has contacted his shore crew to report that the steel part weighing close to 100 kilos, which had been attached to the head of the keel in Kerguelen, wasn’t able to withstand the considerable stresses currently placed on the boat. Surprised by weather conditions which were more violent than forecast, heightened by the strong venturi effect around Kerguelen, the skipper is currently negotiating a solid cold front and is struggling to make headway in cross seas and a wind oscillating between 30 and 40 knots.

For the time being there is no way Dominique can envisage returning to Kerguelen. Were he to turn back, the boat would end up in headwinds, tacking upwind, slamming against what is already a very bad sea state. The damaged keel would stand no chance of withstanding that. Dominique finds himself in the same situation as when he arrived in Kerguelen. Though he’s not requested assistance, the skipper has transmitted a PANPAN (emergency message). The CROSS (emergency services) and the Vendee Globe race management were immediately alerted to the skipper’s situation and are ensuring the regular monitoring of the boat’s positions. Though the skipper is currently preparing his grab bag and getting into his survival suit, he isn’t abandoning the boat for the time being.

Dominique is sailing at a reduced speed, with all his ballast tanks filled so as to make the boat as stable as possible. The two lowered daggerboards are also limiting the boat’s movements as much as possible as it gets tossed about in the big seas of the Indian Ocean. In this configuration, Temenos II is managing to make headway under reduced sail, three reef mainsail and storm sail, making between 8 and 10 knots.

Dominique will only be able to escape the strong winds by climbing northwards, but the keel damage is limiting the points of sail which are possible for the boat. Currently the skipper is managing to maintain a course of 45 degrees, a heading which is still not far enough North to stand a chance of extracting himself quickly from the continuous flow of australe depressions, however it should progressively get him away from them. In order to make more manageable conditions forecast at around 46 degrees South, Dominique still had 200 miles of northing to make. However, prior to being able to reach this latitude, the skipper still has to negotiate strong winds forecast for Thursday morning. — translation by Kate Jennings

* Gains are steady for Michel Desjoyeaux (Foncia) who now has 36 miles lead over Roland Jourdain (Veolia Environnement). Seb Josse (BT) and Jean Le Cam (VM Materiaux) exchange third and fourth as Le Cam earns in the south. Many duels in the fleet are marked by real sporting camaraderie, communication between rivals shows strong bonds this epic race is encouraging. Those in the second half of the fleet consistently getting worst of the weather with little respite between the systems.

The rich maybe getting richer, but the poor are not just getting poorer but they have been taking a regular thrashing. Such are the cruel inequalities of life at the extremes of the Vendee Globe fleet.

Leader Michel Desjoyeaux, now 36.5 miles ahead of Roland Jourdain, remains typically sanguine; amost aloof. His reports vary between the brutally straight-forward, making it sound easy, or rich with hidden meanings, rhetorical questions and clever up-ended metaphors. But the reality he reported this morning is that he has not seen more than 42 knots of wind. Last night the race leader remarked

” The Indian didn’t dig up the hatchet, but feathers have been ruffled. I haven’t seen more than 42 knots down here over the last 15 days, served up with a few bits of ice for the drinks. I can remember tougher conditions in this region. Two masts, one keel and some rudders and some other unmentionable damage, but what else (and I’m not excluding myself)? So the question today is will the Pacific pacify us (with fewer punishments, some good behaviour and serenity?”

1500 HRS GMT 17 December, Top Five Rankings:

1. Michel Desjoyeaux, Foncia, FRA, 13282.7 miles to finish
2. Roland Jourdain, Veolia Environnement, FRA, 36.5 miles to leader
3. Jean Le Cam, VM Materiaux, FRA, 99.3
4. Seb Josse, BT, FRA, 104.4
5. Armel Le Cleac’h, Brit Air, FRA, 314.5

Vendee Globe