Home > Journals > 2004 – 2005: Vendée Globe

Who Dares Wins

November 11, 2004

Bruce is on his way around the world hurtling down the coast of Africa at a record setting pace. He’s on a grand adventure, the likes only few people have experienced. As a friend and supporter of Bruce, it will be my pleasure to bring you some insight and analysis as he rockets around the globe. These updates will be a weekly feature on the Ocean Planet website. I hope that you enjoy them.

As this first report goes out Ocean Planet is negotiating the tricky waters between Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura, two of the Canary Islands. It’s a strategic move; the high peaks on each island force the wind to accelerate as it squeezes between them and Bruce can expect a nice push from behind that the rest of the fleet will not get. It’s also a dangerous move, both tactically and because land always presents its own set of dangers like fishing nets, unlit boats and general debris in the water. Tactically Ocean Planet could enjoy a nice private wind, but as Bruce sails south the wind shadow from Gran Canaria can extend 30 miles out and should he get caught in the calm waters, Ocean Planet’s progress could slow to a trickling halt. Bearing this in mind it’s not surprising that most of the Vendee Globe fleet chose to leave the gamble to the braver souls. Fortunately Bruce knows the area; he sailed this way two years ago during the Around Alone race so I am sure that it’s a calculated risk.

The pace being set by this year’s Vendee fleet is causing even seasoned solo sailors to wince. It’s only four days since the boats left Les Sable d Olonne and the leaders are already two days ahead of where the fleet was in the last Vendee. If Bruce and Ocean Planet are finding the going tough, there is no word on the subject from the skipper. Bruce, like the other 19 skippers, hold their feelings close to their chest in a game of Who Dares Wins. The first skipper to publicly announce that he, or she, is afraid, or that the boats are being pushed too hard will leave a door open to their nearest rival to push even harder in the hope of demoralizing the timid one. In fact some skippers go to great lengths to play down the fact that life on board is difficult. Vincent Riou, currently leading the fleet on PRB sent out an email stating that he was “enjoying the sailing and in fact was sleeping very well.” One can hardly believe that he is getting much rest. His sleep pattern will be much like that on board Skandia. Australian Nick Moloney emailed his shore team to say that he has had a total of nine hours of sleep since the race started. It’s a frenetic pace being sailed by largely sleep deprived sailors as they plummet south.

For now the sailing is relatively pleasant. The trade winds have not quite kicked in yet and a low pressure system approaching from the west will likely slow the front boats down a little. It will give the fleet a chance to compress and tighten the race. The first boats to feel the effect of the approaching low will be those out to the west – Mike Golding on Ecover and Roland Jourdain on Sill. This is good news for the boats to the east – Bruce on Ocean Planet and Conrad Humphreys on Hellomoto. Adding to the good news for the easternmost boats is that the new wind is expected to fill in from the east meaning that they will be the first to get it. If that long wind shadow spares Bruce, look for Ocean Planet to make some big gains in the next 24-hours. By then the trade winds should be fully formed and some of the most pleasant sailing of the race will begin.

The trade winds rotate around a large area of high pressure that is situated in the middle of the North Atlantic. The wind circulates in a clockwise direction meaning that the boats on the eastern side of the system will get wind from a northerly direction, in other words, wind from behind. By now both the air and water temperature has warmed up to the point where days will be spent in shorts and T-shirts and the nights much the same. Other than errant squalls that develop in the early evening and early morning as the temperature changes, it should be pleasant and relatively easy sailing. The skippers will be able to catch up on their rest, fix broken bits on board and plan strategy for the days ahead. Now if only there was time for some fishing….

— Brian Hancock

Brian Hancock is a veteran round the world racer who has parlayed that experience into a career as a writer and is author of five books. His latest are: “The Risk in Being Alive” and “Maximum Sail Power.” “Risk” is an autobiographical account of his sailing and travel adventures. “Maximum Sail” is a definitive guide to sails and sailmaking and sail technology.


Next Story