Vendee leaders hit low pressure

In a week, fortunes at the head of the Vendée Globe have changed as the regular pattern of Southern Ocean low pressure systems roll east through the fleet. The leaders passed the Kerguelen Islands, approximately half-way between South Africa and Australia, yesterday and the main body of the fleet is now between 45 and 50 degrees south, the latitude at which they will skirt around Antarctica.

In a week, fortunes at the head of the Vendée Globe have changed as the regular pattern of Southern Ocean low pressure systems roll east through the fleet. The leaders passed the Kerguelen Islands, approximately half-way between South Africa and Australia, yesterday and the main body of the fleet is now between 45 and 50 degrees south, the latitude at which they will skirt around Antarctica.

For a week now the race has had a new leader: last Sunday evening Michel Desjoyeaux (PRB) and Roland Jourdain (Sill) blew past to the north of Yves Parlier (Aquitaine Innovations) as the latter battered into headwinds down south. Parlier is now 200 miles adrift as the two leaders concertina between 40 and 100 miles apart when the lows pass through.

Right now PRB and Sill are sitting on the top of the current low pressure and making around 13 knots. Parlier is further south and behind, sailing a better angle and making 17 knots, while in the south Thierry Dubois (Soldaires) and Catherine Chabaud (Whirlpool) are running the risk - like Parlier did a week ago - of sailing into the centre of the system.

Yesterday Ellen MacArthur (Kingfisher) was sailing in 40 knot winds and endured what she described as the most difficult six hours of her life so far. While she was on the fore deck - with the boat surfing at over 30 knots - wrestling with the sail, the boat went into an involuntary gybe and the impact shattered two of the carbon-fibre batons in the main sail.

MacArthur was forced to climb the mast to the second spreader, about 40 ft above the deck, to try to remove the batons before she could lower the main sail to make a repair. It took nearly an hour and at one point the solo sailor was hanging from the mast by just one hand trying desperately to find a foothole.

Behind, in 10th, Josh Hall is maintaining a cheery outlook on a cold, wet and windy situation while Mike Golding is chewing into the back markers and by today should be up into 14th place, having restarted from the back of the grid in23rd place.

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