Fri, Jan 21, 2005 - Page 22 News List

Vendee Globe frontrunners cross equator on last lap

AFP , PARIS

An aerial view taken on Jan. 3 shows French skipper Vincent Riou aboard his single-hull ``PRB'' near Cape Horn. Riou passed the equator on Wednesday, leading the round-the-world, non-stop solitary Vendee Globe race.

PHOTO: AFP

The leaders in the Vendee Globe round-the-world race were crossing the equator into the north Atlantic on Wednesday with some two weeks left before the ocean-going epic finishes.

Leading the way was still Frenchman Vincent Riou in his yacht PRB, with compatriot Jean le Cam in Bonduelle 132 nautical miles behind and pre-race favorite Mike Golding of Britain in Ecover 245 nautical miles off the pace.

The winner was certain to come out of this trio as they headed into the tough equatorial sailing area known as The Doldrums.

The official race Web site though said that they looked set for a fairly easy passage.

"Satellite images of the zone would seem to confirm that it is not very active in the east with little cloud cover," the site reported.

"As a result there should not be too many wind holes and in principle the boats won't go that fast but are unlikely to be slowed as there should be a fairly constant wind."

Golding was attempting to get his challenge back on track after losing valuable ground due to a broken mainsail halyard.

"There's another 12 to 14 days of this race and I intend to use those as best I can to pull back the deficit," he said.

"I'm 18 hours behind which seems manageable. The distance involved is quite large, but the time deficit puts it into perspective," he said.

The fifth edition of the Vendee Globe set off from the French Atlantic coastal town of Les Sables-D'Olonne on Nov. 7 for three tough months of 25,000 miles, non-stop sailing.

Around-the-world record

British sailor Ellen MacArthur was on Wednesday 2 days 23hr ahead of Francis Joyon's 72-day round-the-world record pace, but her lead over the Frenchman's record fell to below 1,600km for the first time in two weeks amid desperately slow average boat speeds.

MacArthur has 8,000km left and must cross the finish line at Ushant, off the French coast, no later than Feb. 9 to break the record of 72 days 22 hours 54 minutes and 22 seconds Joyon set last February.

She started off on Nov. 28 and has already sailed more than 34,400km.

She took a record 44 days 23hr 36min to complete the solo trek to Cape Horn, but has since fared much worse in the unstable winds of the southern Atlantic.

24-hour average runs have slumped significantly in the past two days to just over the 320km mark, compared to a good downwind day in the Southern Ocean of 820km-plus, MacArthur reported on her Web site, www.teamellen.com

"It seems like we are chasing a front that is moving away from us, we're going nowhere," said the 28-year-old MacArthur, who on Saturday suffered a slight head injury when she was hit by a piece of equipment which had come loose on her trimaran B and Q.

"The south Atlantic has not been kind to us, nothing has been easy since Cape Horn. This is a very hard challenge and there are very few relaxing moments.

"The boat is never still, even with no wind, it is always banging, crashing on a multihull," the 1.58m tall sailor said.

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