At today's check-in at 15h00 French time, nearly 700 miles (1296 km) separated Groupama, the multihull leader, from those following up the rear of the multihull fleet, the Swiss boat Banque Covefi, who has had to cope with one technical hitch after another. That did nothing to prevent her from pocketing the Trophée Baume et Mercier this morning covering a distance of 513 miles (950 km) in 24 hours. Then second best time in the event to date ...second to Gitana that is, who retains the record for the greatest distance covered in 24 hours for the time being. A record which will no doubt stand to the finish of this Transat Jacques Vabre 2003, with 551 miles covered yesterday at an average speed of nearly 23 knots (42 km/h).
At this same 15h00 check-in, Gitana lay 260 miles (481 km) behind the multihull leader and is fighting tooth and nail in 7th place. " Moral on board is high" , pointed out the router Sylvain Mondon from Météo France, who is in contact every two or three hours with the skippers by telephone. "Lionel and Marc attacked the Doldrums yesterday evening on a course slightly west of the rest of the fleet. It was the best way in through this zone full of danger and pitfalls. Since the start, the crew has managed their race and effort perfectly, with each having the time to rest, indispensable for safety reasons on such a long course."
The Doldrum trap
The Doldrums lie at the point where the north and south Atlantic tradewinds converge and have long had the reputation of putting seamen's nerves to the test, whatever the reason they happen to be sailing these waters. Anarchy reigns in this part of the ocean dominated by a "cyclothymic" rhythm, where storms and windless zones alternate over a band stretching some 500 miles from north to south. Every ounce of the skippers skill and knowledge is called upon to find the best way through the succession of pitfalls scattered left, right and centre, where endless strings of manoeuvres, slalom and extreme vigilance are the only keys to the best solution, or rather the lesser of two evils.
At 15h00 today, Gitana had already dodged her way through more than half this critical zone at an average speed of not far off 20 knots. A fine performance indeed for these two newcomers to this Transat Jacques Vabre. Their progress in the 24 hours ahead remains difficult to predict but the westerly position looks favourable in relation to the group of boats directly behind Groupama, lying further east and who appear to be suffering form lack of wind today. This may turn out to be critical in the medium term.
Having come back on the monohull fleet at great speed after their late start following a three-day postponement, the leading multihulls, led by Groupama, overtook the leading Open 60 monohulls two days ago.
At this rate, the two Francks (Cammas and Proffit) ought theoretically to cross the finishing line sometime during daytime hours on Sunday 17th November. But if you recall the surprises which the last days of the Route du Rhum 2002 held in store for the fleet, you will realise that the race is far from played out yet. Not until the finishing line has been crossed in any event, particularly on racing machines like these, where 140 miles can be covered in just 7 hours at an average speed of 20 knots !