The Wetass Chronicles

Monday, February 07, 2005

All Hail Ellen...! 

She's across the finish in 71d 14h 18m 33 seconds, beating the unbeatable by 1 day 8 hours 36 minutes and 49 seconds. It took a superhuman effort, but she is now the fastest solo circumnavigator...EVER. In the South Atlantic it looked as if she would be done in by generator problems. At Cape Horn it looked as if she might smash the record by 3-4 days. At the Equator it looked as if she was the unluckiest sailor ever to cleave a wave and might not break the record at all. And in the Bay Of Biscay, as fate teased her with the possibility of breaking the record, it threw a vicious, North Atlantic storm into her path, as if to test her seamanship, and the durability of her tri, before deeming her worthy of an epic, record-breaking finish.

It was quite a ride, and I'm not really sure where she can go from here. There's no solo sailor and boat out there--other than Francis Joyon and IDEC should he care to make another run at the record--who can challenge her time in the forseeable future. Sure, she can go out and nail the solo transatlantic record and the solo 24-hour record to take the Triple Crown, but compared to the Big One, it will be a bit anticlimactic. Should she go back and try to win the Vendee in 2008? Should she go back to maxi-multihulls? Who knows. Ellen reminds me of a sailing Alexander the Great, who in his twenties is said to have broken down and wept because he had no worlds left to conquer...

Ellen Triumphant: "But I'm crying inside. Really..."

Maximum Maxi-Multihull Action... 

These are heady days for high-speed sailing fanatics. In addition to Ellen closing in a new solo global record, and Orange II on course to destroy the outright record (see below), we've got the rest of the world's maxi multihulls racing non-stop around the world from (and back to) Qatar. The Oryx Quest got underway Saturday, and it's pitting Olivier De Kersuason's mega-tri Geronimo against her feline cousins, Cheyenne and Doha 2006 (former Club Med). Tony Bullimore is also in the mix on an endlessly updated older boat, Daedalus (former-Enza), but he won't be in the frame long (sorry, Tony, your boat belongs in a museum).

This race is interesting for three reasons: 1) it's a sailboat race; 2) it's the first non-stop race around the globe that starts and finishes in the Middle East, so for the first time we're going to learn about the Indian Ocean and the Monsoon; and 3) it's the first time that Geronimo has lined up head-to head with Cheyenne and one of the Ollier first-generation cats. So maybe we'll get some insights into the relative merits of a maxi-tri versus a maxi-cat.

For the moment, Geronimo appears to be out front, and the boats are in the Gulf Of Oman (see, I told you we were going to learn about some new places). Latest daily report is here. And here's Zelig-like multihull sailor Paul Larsen (of SailRocket fame), who's sailing with Brian Thompson's Doha 2006, on the early cat vs. tri duel:

"As expected of the upwind,12-14 knot start, the big tri was gaining some height on the rest of the fleet. Although we led across the line we were a lot closer when we tacked across onto starboard. Geronimo slipped across in front by a boat length or two, and then proceeded to tack right on top of us which may have worked if they had of got their canting rig sorted out at the same time. They were left going upwind with the rig hanging off to leeward and hence no sheet tension on the headsail and we quickly slipped by leaving them no option but to tack back. Around the first mark we changed to a reaching sail and quickly began to pull out some more as night settled in. Geronimo wasn't backing off and kept coming at us. Her masthead strobe light was a clear indicator and was watched intently as conditions began to build. Reefs were dropped in and headsails constantly changed as we surfed down hill heading for the exit. With Geronimo three miles directly behind we hit something with the port rudder which caused concern and the decision was made to drop the headsails, turn the boat head to wind and reverse it for a bit to help the offending object to float free of the rudder. During this manouever Geronimo went by only a couple of hundred meters away doing 25+ knots no doubt watching with interest. The object turned out to be a shark of some sort whose number had come up. We were quickly back up to speed and off after Geronimo who was now well ahead. With winds peaking at 40 knots it didn't take long to reach the Straits of Hormutz where... we promptly parked up."

The Oryx website has some very cool performance pages that are worth checking out. Let's see, we've got a 24-hour speed graph (Cheyenne is coming on); instrument displays (De Kersauson, true to his old-school, super-secretive nature, seems to have ripped the wires out of his); and a map display (that has links to global, leader, fleet and leg charts). Not bad. This is going to be fun (well, any race that features Olivier De Kersauson is bound to be fun)...

"That bast*rd De Kersauson can black out his nav data all he wants. I can tell you exactly where he is right now, and I hope he's enjoying the view..."

Orange (II) Crush... 

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Okay, that's an obvious headline. But it's spot on. Bruno Peyron and his crew on Orange II are absolutely mashing, smashing and pulping (okay, that's it for the juicing jokes) their virtual rivals--Cheyenne and Geronimo--as they power into the Southern Ocean during their outright, non-stop circumnavigation record attempt. They left two weeks ago hoping to leapfrog the St. Helena high in the South Atlantic--a major roadblock during record attempts--and they did exactly that. Now they are into the Roaring Forties and putting up monster daily runs: 686 miles yesterday (just 20 miles short of Orange II's 24-hour record) and just 640 miles today. The result is that Orange II is a whopping 1790 miles (or more than 4 DAYS!) ahead of Cheyenne's time to the same point (comparative chart and stats here). Go to the video page of the Orange II website and check out the latest clip ("Orange II: course in the south") to get a sense of the speed this giant is traveling at (nice flat seas, too). So far, they report no issues with the boat. But there will without doubt be any number of crises ahead (no world record attempt has ever come off without some major problem), and how they handle whatever pops up will affect their record chances much more than inherent boat speed (there's no doubt this thing is the fastest ocean racing yacht in the world). Bonne chance, Bruno...

"Holy Merde! If we hit a whale or chunk of ice at this speed, we'll rip the legs right off this cat..."

Ellen Is In The Home Stretch... 

She survived the worst storm of her voyage, and now she's gliding home at 13 knot-plus, with just 142 miles to go. Unless her mast falls down, she should be across the finish later this evening, and looks set to break Joyon's solo, non-stop record by just over a day. Pretty incredible, in light of the fact that most pundits thought Joyon's record would be around for about a decade. But it wasn't easy, and after witnessing Ellen's drive, resilience and physical and mental stamina over the course of this record run I feel comfortable saying that if it had been any other sailor in the world aboard B&Q (except perhaps Joyon himself) the record would not be falling. She's that special, and that good. Here's the latest daily report. And here's what Ellen had to say on her most recent call:

"The last 24 hours have been absolutely horrendous. We've had everything from full on gusts of 40 knots in the tail end of a storm, we've had huge sea states at the end of yesterday after the storm in the north, we sailed out of that sea state during the night still with some very strong gusts and we had to tack in a small low pressure system, off the north of Spain and that's proved very, very complicated. What we thought would be one tack on a shift off to the north ended up being seven tacks during the night. I had 100 degree wind shifts which lasted for 45 minutes which meant I had to tack and then came back again. It's been very, very variable very, very tough. And unbelieveably cold out here...

I'm absolutely exhausted, I had about 15 minutes sleep I think through the night, there has been ships everywhere, rain squalls. We had the wind direction changing. At one point the boat tacked itself because the wind shift was so great so! It's been a full on night and I am very, very tired. I was hoping to be in before sunset tonight but that looks absolutely impossible now, so I'm just going to have to hang in here and just try and hold on until the finish.

Getting to land is a strange thing to say because it's been a long time since we've even seen land. We didn't see Cape Horn, all I've seen have seen are the Islands in the South Atlantic. There's not been a lot of land sighted from B&Q so the thought of coming back to land is pretty novel in itself. I'm very much looking forward to getting in, to seeing all the team, my friends and family and all the supporters. I can't wait to get in. It's been a very, very long trip and an exceptionally hard one. I'll be glad to be crossing that finish line and finally feeling a little bit of relief."

Sailing a multihull solo is so much more stressful than a monohull. I wonder if Ellen was surprised by the difference, and whether it will affect how much more she goes on to do in this boat. She certainly didn't seem to having much fun. Anyhow, here's what she looked like crossing the Bay Of Biscay, thanks to a rendevous with the Royal Navy...

Friday, February 04, 2005

Have A Frozen-Ass Weekend... 

Geneva, Switzerland, After A Recent Ice Storm
(Photographer: Jean-Pierre Scherrer)

And Now For Something Completely Different... 

Are you male, over 65, and bored? Fancy a little adventure, a little male bonding, and an ocean adventure? Then you might want to give 78-year old Englishman Anthony Smith a call. Why? Because Smith is looking for three elderly, interesting gentlemen to join him on a raft for a little jaunt across the Atlantic, from the Canaries to the Bahamas.
Smith is a classic example of the Eccentric Adventurer. He has flown a balloon over the Alps, ridden a motorbike the length of Africa, rafted the Amazon, a searched for new species of fish in Iran. He's even had the pleasure of reading his own obituary (written after he was--mistakenly--feared dead in an African balloon accident). His latest attempt to avoid boredom involves a 45 ft. by 25 ft. raft, built out of massive gas pipes that have been bolted together (some will be sealed and empty for buoyancy, and others will contain water and provisions). It will feature two huts fashioned out of large heating oil tanks, and Smith expects quite a smooth ride for the 50-day voyage. "You can sit on the deck in your bedroom slippers having a drink; I thought it would be far more civilized. We won't have a fridge, because it needs too much electricity. But there will be food and drink on board," says. "I like the idea of cultivating bamboo shoots. They grow very quickly and, as anyone who goes to a Chinese restaurant will tell you, they are delicious. If you are Ellen MacArthur, food is enriched protein coming out of a toothpaste tube. We will not be eating out of a toothpaste tube."

If you are worried it might be dangerous, have no fear. "We will all be tied on to the raft. Being old, we will know what we are capable of," Smith says. "There have been 43 raft voyages since the Kon-Tiki in 1947 and only one person has died."

Oh, and it will help a lot if you are interesting: "I would like a raconteur or perhaps a musician with the right kind of instrument - not a violin, which would fail in a salt water environment."

So what are you waiting for? I guarantee it will beat sitting around watching Dr. Phil and waiting for your dentures to be bleached...

Forget The QE II: "Let's go, gentlemen, the evening poker game is about to start on the bridge deck..."

Ellen Gets Mad.... 

I'm mad, too, because the geniuses running Ellen's website are apparently surprised by the sharp increase in traffic as Ellen approaches the finish. So the website, other than the opening page, is down. The sponsor has got to love that.

Luckily, however, I received the e-mail version of her Day 69 report, which I'll pass on almost in its entirety in case you also can't navigate her website. She's 918 miles ahead, which her team calculates as a 2 day 12 hour advantage. Here's the report:

* SOLO RECORD DEMANDING FULL VERSE AND CHAPTER from MacArthur as the final stages of her solo, non-stop round the world record unfold. She has had endure a night of little to no wind as boat speeds rarely topped 1 knot [1 nautical mile per hour, 1.15 mph, 1.85 km/h] of speed for a six hour period and then, this weekend, she will possibly have to face a northerly gale gusting up to 40 knots with very rough seas. As expected, B&Q's lead has fallen to 2 days and 15 hours this morning [200 miles north of the Azores and 735 miles west of Vigo, Portugal], losing 11 hours in the last 24 hour period as > only managed 154 miles of distance towards the finish. > has now sailed 26,288 miles at an average speed of 16.1 knots and there are 946 miles left on the clock requiring an average VMG [Velocity Made Good towards the finish] of 7.9 knots, current VMG at 0710gmt this morning is 7.1 knots. The early part of the night offered MacArthur no reprieve and sleep became impossible as the total lack of wind meant the autopilot alarms were constantly going off - unable to hold on as the wind data goes round in circles and lack of boat speed means no steerage left - leaving MacArthur evenly more deeply fatigued and seething with frustration [a bruised fist and broken mp3 player resulted!]. This solo attempt is demanding everything from her and the 75ft multihull >. If they can hold it together they have a good chance of reaching the finish line off Ushant by Tuesday. But as Mike Golding's spectacular finish to his solo Vendée Globe race has proven [he lost his keel 40 miles from the finish in Les Sables d'Olonne] - it isn't over, until its over...

* IS MACARTHUR'S LEAD ENOUGH TO GET HER THROUGH? Yes, definitely, if she can get into the stronger wind soon. The latest boat data for 0800gmt shows wind speeds nudging over five knots suggesting she might be already seeing signs of new breeze ahead of schedule, as the forecast is for very light 5 knots to develop from the north from 1200gmt today. There are three distinct weather phases for MacArthur to get through to the finish line off Ushant: phase 1 - clear the light winds of the high pressure some time today to get into fresher breeze from the north; phase 2 - survive a northerly gale over the weekend delivering 30-35 knots of breeze, gusts of 40, and very, very rough seas - potentially boat-breaking conditions and extreme conditions for MacArthur; phase 3 - hook into more favourable south-east winds off north-west Spain to reach [wind at 90 degrees ie side on to the boat] to the finish line, although some weather files show this becoming very light as Ushant approaches. Latest routing shows that as the northerly breeze kicks in, > tack will tack on to port to head east towards Cape Finisterre, north west tip of Spain, before tacking back on to starboard as the breeze veers into the south-east to head for Ushant. Once in a more stable weather system of low pressure [albeit a gale!], the prediction of when MacArthur is expected to arrive, technical issues aside, can be made with greater confidence. But for now the best guess for her arrival is Tuesday...

Hmm. Wonder what she was listening to when the MP3 player met its end? Or maybe she had just received the following weather report from Commanders Weather. It's both ugly (boat-breaking conditions ahead) and promising (if she survives the weekend intact she'll have good finishing conditions):

Still very slow going for Ellen next 6-12 hours as she negotiates a small cell of high pressure not far away. But a much bigger high pressure system now in the central Atlantic near 51n 40w will be building eastward over the next 1-2 days. By midday Sat expect the center of the high to be centered near 52n 29w.

Initially this high will begin to freshen Ellen's winds slightly late Friday afternoon or evening up towards 10 kts. By daybreak Sat speeds likely in the 15-20 kt range and by Saturday evening likely 25-30 kts with stronger gusts. The wind direction for the most part will be northerly so Ellen will have to play it tight to the wind to get home.

There likely will be one last period of gale force winds overnight Saturday night into early Sunday as the wind gradient strengthens between the big high and developing low pressure near Cape Finisterre. Winds likely will gust utoward 40 kts and seas will be building to 15-20 feet. This will be a very rough period for Ellen.

But diminishing winds Sunday and clocking to E-SE by Monday should allow Ellen to have a more comfortable finish to her long journey.

Wind forecasts
Wind directions are TRUE, wind speed in kts, time is UTC

Fri, Feb 4
09: 320-340/ 4-7
12: 320-340/ 4-8, near 42 n/25 w Bubble high just to your W
18: 320-340/ 6-10
Partly cloudy to mostly cloudy, maybe a brief, squally shower or 2

00: 350-010/10-15
06: 360-020/15-20
12: 350-010/20-25, near 44N/20 W
18: 340-360/25-32
Cloudy to partly cloudy - squally showers likely with gusts to 40 kts overnight
Seas building to 12-18 feet at night.

Sun, Feb 6 - VERY ROUGH
00: 350-010/26-34, gust 40
06: 360-020/24-32, gust 40
12: 010-030/24-32, gust 35, near 45 N/13 W
Want to be up near or north of 45 if possible
18: 030-050/22-30 g 35
Lots of clouds and more squally showers likely - gusts to 35-40 kts likely
Seas 16-22 feet but subsiding pm/night.

It's going to take all Ellen's skill and intuition to decide how hard to drive her fatiguing tri through the rough weather. It would be tragic to break down now. But it would also be tragic to nurse the boat only to miss out on the record by a few hours...

"Damn, I hope this boat is put together a bit better than that MP3 player. I didn't even put any weight into that punch..."

Golding Glides Home In Third... 

Well, last night Mike Golding officially become the first man ever to finish a global race with no keel. And just as amazing, he still made the podium. Golding sailed the course in 88 days 15 hours 15 minutes, which was just over a day slower than winner Vincent Riou, but more than four and a half days faster than previous winner Michel Desjoyeaux. This morning Golding gave an account of what it feels like to have the boat suddenly sit upright in 22 knots of breeze while you approach the finish of the world's most difficult sailboat race and are daydreaming about steaks, and booze, and...well, never mind:

"I jumped up and released the mainsheet, and then I felt I was easing a lot of mainsheet, and didn’t really understand why. There was no real noise….no, actually there was a slight noise but it was quiet, it wasn’t particularly noisy, anyway so then I operated the keel buttons for a few seconds and it ran for a few seconds and stopped. I then went below and checked the ballast tanks and made sure there was water in the weather one and the leeward one was empty and they had not dumped the water across, and the leeward one was empty. I looked in the top of the keel and the keel was fully canted. I went on deck to the cap shrouds and looked over the side where you would see the keel and I couldn’t see the keel. It could have been murky water and I was thinking maybe it was murky water so I went down below and got the endoscope out and had a look out through the rudder endoscope fittings and couldn’t see anything forward. I could see the daggerboards but I couldn’t see the keel, but a lot of paint had been coming off the keel so consequently it wasn’t as orange as it should have been and I just thought mabe that was it. Then I looked through the escape hatch and stuck my head in the water and there was a keel, but it was at a different angle to what I had seen at the keelbox, but it was at a different angle but your head doesn’t get round that and I thought there was something I was missing, and I got a torch and looked down the keelbay. Usually when the keel is canted you can see the edge of the ‘olive’ and there should be an orange strip where the blade is and in the middle of the orange strip I could see daylight, and I couldn’t work that out and while I was there, looking, there was a larger crack and that was the keel departing the boat. It didn’t do anything. I had the sails flogging but still had the Solent drawing. I went back round the whole routine again, did every check all over again and that’s when I thought : ‘I’ve lost the keel’."

Uh, that's got to be a moment he'll remember forever. Undeterred, Golding sailed on under reduced sail, averaging a whopping five knots (and touching nine knots at one point) in his suddenly flat-bottomed 60-foot dinghy, and finished well before anyone expected. Nicely done, Mike. It's not always about the placings...

"In my darkest hour, this is the vision that kept me going: A man. A beer. A burrito. Buurp.."

"If they were impressed that I sailed home without a keel, just think how amazed they're going to be when I eat this bottle..."

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Golding Gallery... 

The pictures tell the story. Minimal sail. Ballast tanks full. Submerged waterline. A nervous looking skipper...

Can't imagine the suspense when he tries to gybe that baby around once he hits the layline...

Breaking News: Killer Keel Flu Hits Golding... 

How cruel a race can the Vendee Globe be? Just ask Mike Golding, who is believed to have lost his keel just 52 miles from the finish. The most complete report I could find on the situation comes courtesy of the always excellent Daily Sail:

At the same instant the Ecover shore team in Les Sables d'Olonne were about to pull the champagne out of the cooler, so disaster struck Mike Golding's Open 60, lying third in the Vendee Globe, incredibly just 50 miles from the finish line after the best part of 23,000 miles of sailing.
At 1400GMT Ecover developed a severe problem with her keel. At this point the team are not 100% certain whether the keel has fallen off or not, but they think the most likely scenario is that, like Skandia, the keel foil has broken outside of the hull. Golding has inspected the underside of the boat with an endoscope, but this is not providing him with an answer. Golding says the keel is not behaving as it should, so it seems likely that as with Skandia the foil may have failed and the bulb itself not yet fallen off.

Ecover Boat Project Manager Graham Tourell spoke to Golding after the incident. "The boat did come upright, but looking through the endoscope he said 'I cannot be sure 100% whether it has gone or not'. It is definitely not a ram problem. If it broke it would have broken in the same way as Skandia.

The 1500GMT position reports show Ecover making just 2.1 knots on a course of 317deg, 52 miles from the finish line.

At present Ecover is still upright and Golding is safe. The Cross Etel, the French equivalent of the MRCC are aware of the situation and are on standby. Golding says that at present he is not in need of assistance. At present he is heading towards Les Sables d'Olonne gingerly with the daggerboards down, her centreline water ballast tanks full to stabilise the boat and flying just her staysail alone. Tourell says that it is possible to sail upwind under the arrangement.

The Ecover shore team are currently looking into way they can get a member of their team out to Golding.

There are of course theories that Golding is cursed in this stretch of water. It cannot have been far from his present position that Golding's Team Group 4 was dismasted at the start of the 2000 Vendee Globe.

Another theory is that the keel foils of the Owen Clarke designs may be too small/not strong enough. Hence why the Skandia Open 60 and Ecover have both developed similar problems.

Is it safe to say there may be a fundamental issue with the fitting of canting keels on board race boats?

Interestingly, the next closest competitor, Dominique Wavre on Temenos, is more than 800 miles back. So even though Golding's boatspeed is just over 2 knots, he can still snag third...if he can just keep the damn boat upright. He's got light air for another day or so, but after that the wind will fill, and start to blow hard from the north. So the window is small. If he pulls it off, I have no doubt that he will be the first sailor ever to finish a round-the-world yacht race without a keel. Go, Mike, go...

Keel-less Golding?: "Bugger! Bugger, bugger, bugger..."

Wetass Hall Of Fame... 

One man's hurricane is just another man's big surf day. Check out this absolutely classic news clip, in which the reporter is doing the typical fire and brimstone hype job on the weather ("Winds of more than 110 miles an hour!"). Then his producer points something out to him. The camera zooms in. He can't believe it. But yes, there is a Hardass Wetass out there, surfing for his life on a massive storm wave. If you watch closely, you'll see him surf right past a sailboat getting pounded into scrap. Cowaf*ckingbunga, Dude! We are not worthy...
(Update: E-mailers are saying this is from a Powerade commercial. Ah well, it was too good to check...and still worth a look. It's called suspension of disbelief).

"Look, Ma. I'm live on News 4...!"

Ellen Exhausted.... 

She's fighting for every minute and mile, and that means she's not sleeping. In other words, Little Big Mac is fried (sorry, couldn't help myself). She's had just 20 minutes in the past 24 hours, and not much more in the preceeding days. Getting through the Azores was a nightmare:

"Can't believe what we've been through. We stopped for two hours with two knots of breeze from the wrong direction, we were so close to the island. The breeze went into the north-west and we were heading back towards the island, only 14 miles away. We've moved some, we've stopped, we've talked about tacking, we've been taking reefs out, putting reefs in, we've had 22 knots then we've had 4 knots, then 19 knots, the whole **** fight."

Early this morning B&Q was ripping along at a stupendous 0.72 knots. Now they're back in good southeasterly flow, but she lost about 6 hours of her precious lead on Joyon. That leaves her with a lead of 944 miles with just over 1000 miles to go. Can she sail at least half as fast as Joyon in his closing sprint? Latest report here; latest weather here. Before she finishes Ellen is going to get: light air, no air, and then a nrtherly gale which will force her to beat toward the finish. Finishing this thing is going to be the hardest thing Ellen has ever done, and it will take every ounce of guts and determination she's got. But I still wouldn't bet against her...

"Hello, Commanders Weather? I really don't like the forecast. Have you got another...?"

Veni, Vidi, Vincent... 

"Vincent The Terrible," as his competitors like to call him, conquered the Vendee Globe race last night, gliding home to a massive welcoming fleet in first place. He lapped the planet in just 87 days, 10 hours, 47 minutes, setting a new nonstop record for a solo sailor in a monohull. Jean Le Cam followed him in six and a half hours later. Riou had lots to say about his experience. Here are his comments:

"We suffered damage in two areas. On entering the Indian Ocean I suffered problems with my keel, the hydraulics in particular. That prevented me from canting the keel. I also had trouble with one of the ballast tanks. The water would come in and the air would go out and then the tank would become pressurised to the extent that it finally exploded. When on port tack I lacked 1.5 tonnes of water. Fortunately a lot of the climb up the Atlantic was on starboard tack. Thanks to my shore crew I had a very well prepared boat."

I didn’t suffer with the solitude but I like the contact with the shore. I spent a lot of time on the telephone. The difficult thing was that I had some hard days but I find it difficult to express my feelings. The descent down the Atlantic was pretty stable (in terms of place changing and pressure) but the return proved expensive. The Indian Ocean was very hard with some big depressions but we always had the choice as to whether to go there or not. We always had the solution of a compromise route. We finished with 8 days of beating between the Indian and the Pacific. The Southern Ocean is exceptional.

You can decide yourself if you are going to stay in the North or not and then we managed to get through the Pacific pretty much just on the front of a depression.

Good routing of the weather enabled me to sail calmly. I was prepared to lose some miles in the pursuit of more favourable conditions to the north. I don’t go looking for difficult situations.

I love it. Strategy is the greatest aspect of sailing; the tactics and the strategy to choose the optimum route.

Jean made a mistake at the Horn. He went into a light wind zone which couldn’t be seen in the weather models. Satellite picture observation enabled me to spot it, but Jean went right into it. He lost 200 miles in 36 hours, maybe he didn’t have any Fleet 77 aboard. I was really fed up after the Azores, and also when I lost the lead after Australia. The tropical depression off Brazil and the big anticyclone after the Azores annoyed me a lot. I was very frustrated not to be able to mark my adversaries too. The conditions were changing an awful lot so I had to make a lot of sail changes.

The Vendée Globe is an adventure and that’s not something you can forget. You have to prepare yourself for something new. You try to discover where your limits are. It’s a very important human dimension.

I haven’t always had the means to prepare myself in my career. This Vendée Globe enabled me to achieve that. I think it’s easier to win a Vendée Globe that requires versatility rather than pure racing.

I’m not difficult. I like competitions of all types, on any kind of boat. I just want to continue to earn my living doing something I love to do and know how to do. I would like to do another Figaro campaign next year.

I’ve known this boat since it was conceived. It has a soul. I am happy for the people that designed it. I have never understood why you would choose to build a boat anywhere else than France. Boats have evolved greatly over a number of years as regards the hull shape.

Jean and Mike have raced a fine race. Being ahead doesn’t mean much in the southern Atlantic. Jean had a chance to comeback and didn’t take it.

Hmm. I don't think Le Cam is going to like what Riou had to say much. But to the victor goes the right to talk a little trash. I guess...

Riou Returns: "Bon. Steak-frites s'il vous plait..."

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Wetass Video Of The Week... 

Enough high speed sailing. It's time for some kickass, crazy skiing. And I don't know who they are, but Chris and Matt Collins are apparently just the guys to give it to us. Check out this Atom films production of the duo tearing it up and jumping off some rather large cliffs. Their Mama must have had a stressful time with these boys...

"I sure hope they get this in one take..."

Annals Of Ingenuity... 

Here's a real puzzler. You're on your way to a relaxing winter vacation, with a car full of beer and provisions. Suddenly, as you are winding along a mountain road, an avalanche buries your car. You open your window and try to dig your way out, but you have nowhere to put the snow and it starts to fill your car. What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO?

Well, if you are a sharp Slovakian named Richard Kral, you take note of the fact that you have 60 half liters of beer. You drink a little, scoop a little snow from above your window, and pack it below your window. Then...you pee on it. It melts. You drink a little more beer, pack a little more snow, and pee again. And you keep repeating the cycle until you have packed and melted enough snow to burrow your way out. "It was hard and now my kidneys and liver hurt. But I'm glad the beer I took on holiday turned out to be useful and I managed to get out of there," said Kral, after he was found drunk and staggering on a mountain path four days after the avalanche hit.

I can't even begin to imagine what the snow outside his car door looked like by the time he escaped. But I suspect there was a bit of serendipity involved. Why? My guess is that he was stuck in his car and just started drinking the beer, because why wouldn't you? And when he started peeing out his window...EUREKA!

After his escape, Kral still had a surplus, so...

Vendee Vincent.... 

Unless his mast falls down or his boat sinks, it looks certain that Vincent Riou will be the first across the Vendee Globe finish line tonight. He's got a lead of 97.4 miles over Jean Le Cam on Bonduelle with just 162.7 miles to go. Pretty hard to screw that up. Latest report here; latest positions here. Mike Golding is another 90-plus miles back, and resigning himself to a hard-fought third. Golding wanted a win in this race in the worst way and is torturing himself with "what ifs" before he even hits the docks. Here's some of what he said during his last radio interview:

"It’s a shame, I would have liked to have won this race in particular and we have worked very hard towards that, but it’s quite clear that whatever you do, no matter how prepared you are there is still an element of it which is not fully in your control. It is a long race and lots of things can happen, and the good thing for me it is that I have competed in the Vendee twice and had major problems on one and very few on the other, but both times I have been successful in completing the course and there are lots of less fortunate people than myself, and again this race has been no different in having a very high rate of attrition...My regrets are obviously all linked to the halyard saga, and that is just a twofold regret and one is whether we made the right choice of what to carry as a spare, and that is a matter for us to discuss when we hit the shore, but secondly the fact that I did find a resolution that is working and that I am comfortable and confident with and so there is a slight annoyance in my mind that if only I’d elected to make this change on the first occasion then I wouldn’t have had to go through two of the halyard failures, one of them which was very expensive in terms of miles I had to give, so that is the only regret and that is remarkable that that is the only regret, because this is a long, long race, and yet I have had lots of other things happen to regret and yet I don’t regret them, so I feel very lucky to be in the situation where my regrets are so few, and I can say with honesty that I have been honest and true to myself and that I have sailed the best race that I can.”

Golding also spoke generously about his competition:

“I think that both the other guys (PRB and Bonduelle) have sailed a fabulous race. PRB I think I noticed very quickly how sharp he is tactically and I think that my first recognition of that was actually at Finisterre on the way out, when he took a little hitch down to Finisterre and got a little boost off it, and I remember thinking then he was really on the pace, and prepared to do whatever it takes. Jean: Jean has been extremely talented, extremely reliable and just consistently fast. I think that they have both done a fabulous job and I am honoured to be here amongst the two of them.”

It's been quite a race...

Gloomy Golding: "Sigh. Stupid halyards..."

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

More Skiff Candy... 

Still have cravings? Here, have another bon-bon. We gave you the Musto Performance skiff, a J-105, and the Melges 32. And now it's time to go back to a new video of an old favorite: the PS8. (Read a Sailing Anarchy review here). We've featured this baby before. But Sportzboats USA has a nice new clip up. Watch it, and drool. If this keeps up, we're going to have to start handing out Wetass bibs. Note to self: that's not a bad idea, smurfy (uh-oh, I've been reading too many dispatches from Maud (see below))...

"Heh-heh. Can't wait to see the faces on the big boys up ahead when we fly by them..."

Ellen Extends... 

She's pushed out to a lead of 3 days and 10 hours (almost 700 miles), with just 1,714 miles left. Normally, that would be Game Over, barring a major breakdown. But the North Atlantic weather gods are not ready to let Ellen rest easy yet. They've thrown up one of the strangest weather patterns ever seen, and the prime feature is a massive, light wind, high pressure system that will be sitting directly between Ellen and the finish. See latest report here, and latest weather forecast here. Here's what Ellen has to say about it all:

"I don’t know what’s going to happen with the high... I’m sitting here and every single report that’s coming in its moving - the four different models this morning, all say different things. The only thing I hope really doesn’t happen is that we end up finishing with 35 knots upwind and, to be honest, I think that’s the most likely scenario. I’m not trying to be negative, it’s going to be really, really bad at the end if that’s what happened. It will be 'boat-breaking' scenario...

My hands are so hard and so tight and so rotten...they look quite disgusting! There is white rot underneath all my fingernails, I can chew bits of the skin off without feeling a thing, it’s that hard and that knackered. Not very beautiful..."

No, it's not. But skin is very nutricious...

Snack, Anyone?: If this is what they looked like at Cape Horn, I'm not sure we want to see an update...

Is Maud Losing It...? 

I'm beginning to worry about Mme. Fontenoy, all by her lonesome out there in the Pacific. She's got months and months, and miles and miles, of rowing to go before she makes landfall in Tahiti. And she's already created an entire fantasy world. Check out this recent report. I admit the rough translation only makes it sound more bizarre, but still:

"It’s about 11 smurf in the morning when it happened. I was smurfy rowing, my ipod in the smurf pocket; and then, a smurfy wave, 3 times bigger than a smurf bush arrived on OCÉOR’s portside. My ipod was running away but nevertheless, the smurf wave catched him, and in a last cry he couldn’t even let Johann Pachelbel finish my favourite canons.
The ocean, feeling that I was smurf angry, remained quiet.
My little Ipod in my smurf hands, trying to dry it, turning it in all ways but nothing to do.
I organised a little altar, with a small candle (looking like a duck) offered by Jean Jacques D.
Pétula manage all this really well."

Are the Smurfs still big in France? Thank god Petula is still there. Wait, who the hell is Petula...?

Mad Maud: "I'd better finish this quickly. It's almost Petula's birthday. Hmm, I wonder if I should start rowing again tomorrow..."

Vendee Final Sprint... 

Well, it looks as if Vincent Riou on PRB is surviving (so far) the massive risk he took by heading north and separating from his pursuers, Jean Le Cam and Mike Golding. He's sailing directly toward the finish, which is now less than 400 miles away, and holding a lead of just over 20 miles on Le Cam. Golding has fallen back to 77 miles, and doesn't look like a threat. See daily report here; and latest positions here. Riou is in an older boat (it won the last Vendee) so you know he's sailing flat out, on the edge of any number of disasters. Le Cam is no doubt doing the same, so we'll see if Golding's suspicion that someone's rig might fall over the side before all is said and done comes true. Here's Riou's assessment of the end game. He sounds very French, very cool, about the whole thing. But do I detect a slight note of regret that this epic battle is drawing to a close?:

“Conditions are like they were the other night. It’s unstable so you have to take care of the boat, on course, dividing my time between easing and hardening up the sheets. I have little siestas, waking up when the boat stops so I’ve no idea how long they last. It was cold last night but it’s warmed up a bit now.” Asked if things were going to plan, Vincent replied in a dead pan voice “they’re going. I’m making do with what I’ve got. It’s nice to be back in home waters and it will be good to get home. I’ve got wind shifts of 30˚ with 8 to 18 knots last night. Jean is not on course and he’s going slower. I’m reaching at the moment though it can change to close-reaching in the space of just 5 minutes, while he will be headed fortunately. It all depends on the cloud cover. I’m not between Jean and the mark so I haven’t got perfect control. You just have to make as much ground as you can, you mustn’t fall asleep. I have all the cards in my hand but when racing you always know you have to be careful. I’ll be reaching to Les Sables d’Olonne and I think I’ll be behind a small light patch. It doesn’t look like a clean lift for Jean but I reckon he may make a direct course. I’m limiting myself to the bare minimum in terms of sleeping, eating and drinking. It’s been a fine race, I knew this kind of finish was possible but didn’t quite imagine this. I don’t feel stressed but it is tiring. I hope to get in, in around 36 hours time but it may well be 38.”

I can't get over the fact that less than 2 hours separate these guys after an entire lap of the globe. We'll update frequently as the boats approach the finish...

PRB Pursued: "Merde, if I have to keep looking over my shoulder all the way to the finish I'm going to need neck surgery..."

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