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Doldrums Slow Leaders

The multihulls in the Transat Jacques Vabre have run into the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), as the Doldrums are formally known, while the monohulls are negotiating the Cape Verde Islands and

November 12, 2001
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6S, 20W–The multihulls in the Transat Jacques Vabre have run into the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), as the Doldrums are formally known, while the monohulls are negotiating the Cape Verde Islands and are in the Northeast Trades. Place changing is regular in two of the three classes, but Alex Bennett and Paul Larsen appear to have stamped their authority all over the 50-foot monohull class onboard One Dream One Mission, the Adrian Thompson design that Pete Goss built for the 1996 Vendee Globe.

They’re 60 miles clear of Renaud Le Youdec and Jean-Francois Pellet in the new Jean Berret-designed Saving and 300 miles clear of Simon Accati and Alessio Stefani in a similar design, Tredici. Bennett and Larsen paused briefly as they approached the Trade Winds and their lead dropped to 20 miles, but as soon as they found the favorable winds they hoisted their biggest spinnaker and set off at a brisk pace until nightfall, when they swapped the big kite for a more manageable one.

Using the African coastline as a guide, or so it would appear, Franck Cammas and Steve Ravussin in Groupama have taken over the front running in the multihulls from Alain Gautier and Ellen MacArthur in Kingfisher-Foncia. These two are now sandwiching Loick Peyron and Loic Le Mignon in Fujifilm; a mere 32 miles spanning the three in terms of distance to Ascension Island 800 miles away, which they have to leave to starboard before heading across the Atlantic to Salvador da Bahia.

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Kingfisher-Foncia is the most westerly of the three in this stop-start crossing of the Doldrums, which all the skippers admit is a massive lottery. Jean-Luc Nelias and Michel Desjoyeaux in Belgacom, who had led earlier, were ambivalent on their chances of improving from fourth place. “Well we’ll just wait and see if they really get out of the Doldrums quicker than us,” said Desjoyeaux, “But if we pass quicker it’ll be hell for them to catch us after that.” First to the Southeast Trades should win the race.

The 60-foot monohulls are some 600 miles north of the leading multihulls with Roland “Bilou” Jourdain and Gael Le Cleac’h in Sill Plein Fruit carving out a useful 92 mile lead over Bernard Gallay and Kito de Pavant in Voila.fr. Sill is the farthest west of the leaders while Mark Turner and Nick Moloney in Casto-Darty-But follow Voila.fr’s line and are beginning to make slight inroads on the lead.

There are some hazards in closing the Mauritanian coastline as Javier Sanso and Eric Dumont in Sme Negoceane found when they were 20 miles offshore. “The Mauritanian Navy called up and ordered us to drop our sails and go head to wind,” reported Sanso, “We replied that we were in a race, so then they asked lots of questions, and we said that there was another boat just behind us. I guessed we convinced them as they left an hour later.” Then he admitted his anxiety, “We were pretty scared that they would stop and search us, only because we’d lose three hours racing.”

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