Rather than dissipating with each mile sailed towards the finish, stress can increase significantly. The real danger of a significant breakdown within the last 1000 miles to the finish line is greatly increased in the malicious Atlantic storms which have swept in from the west over the last ten days. Acute weariness, the mental and physical fatigue of nearly 100 days and more than 26,000 miles of solo racing makes it harder to keep a lid on any emotional turmoil, as does the knowledge that the dream will very soon be over.
In ninth place, Eric Bellion is now expected to arrive back in Les Sables d’Olonne on Sunday or more likely Monday on CommeUnSeulHomme. He remains objective and focused as he rides out the final big storm, racing to the SW of La Coruna and the NW corner of Spain today. “Gradually it gets harder and harder to deal with. But what does a few days more matter after three months? Sometimes I get fed up with being soaked. I get fed up with the food, but on the other hand I’m enjoying what I’m going through. I tell myself how privileged I am. I should now finish my Vendée Globe and that is exceptional," Bellion reflected today. “It’s pretty rough here at the moment with 40-45 knots of wind, but it’s better than a while ago. Over the past few hours, I had up to 73 knots, so 45 knots is a real pleasure. It’s pushing me along in the right direction and I’m on the right side of the low. In the 70-knot squalls, the boat got knocked down dozens of times. The autopilot was unable to cope. I got a bit scared at times, particularly when the boat broached, including one occasion when one of the backstays got swept away I hope to finish on Monday. The climb back up the Atlantic has been hard going, but that is part of the magic of the Vendée Globe. The race has been difficult, especially the final part.”
© Conrad Colman (DR)Conrad Colman was still preparing himself for the worst of the low. When he spoke today he was predictably more stressed as he considers what he has put himself through, what he has survived so far and the size of the final hurdle that stands between him and the finish line in Les Sables d’Olonne, the final realisation of a 15 year objective. Colman expects to finish on Tuesday but admitted today that he regrets most of all the loss of his key sails. Had he been able to press harder, he contends, he might not have been facing such a potentially hazardous final few days. Colman, 174 miles behind Bellion this afternoon, had 770 miles to finish – under other circumstances a couple of good days downwind sailing – but a tough uphill battle to complete his first Vendée Globe and third round the world race. The proud Kiwi skipper who has massively raised the profile of the Vendée Globe in his native New Zealand should be the first skipper to race non stop around the world using only renewable energies generated on board his Foresight Natural Energy told Race HQ in Les Sables d’Olonne today: “Despite the fact that I’m about to be hit by the mother of depressions, things are fine. I’m not really happy frankly. It’s a big storm just before I arrive. I’ve been slow to get out of its way after all the sail damage. I’ve been sailing a little bit underpowered in comparison to what I should be, although I’m playing it safe. Potentially I should have 40-50kts probably in a few hours with waves over 8-9m, so it‘s going to be very uncomfortable. The boat is as prepared as she can be. I haven’t come all this way just to cross the Doldrums, but to get to Les Sables d’Olonne. I get in there on Monday hopefully.”
Local Hero Friday?
Perhaps the week’s biggest crowds will be for La Mie Câline and Les Sables d’Olonne skipper Arnaud Boissières who will finish his third consecutive Vendée Globe on Thursday or Friday, with journalist turned ocean racer Fabrice Amedeo on Newrest-Matmut about 24 hours or less later. Amedeo is 180 miles behind Boissières.
The harsh realities of life after the Vendée Globe and what he perceives as the need to move on to his next project, seem to be occupying the thoughts of young Swiss skipper Alan Roura who also seems to share similar regrets to Colman’s. His meteo outlook is the opposite of Colman’s – considering a high pressure, a light wind finish to his race, is stressing him: “I have my ups and downs like everyone, except that some people don’t show it. I think it’s interesting to share what is really going on in the sailor’s mind. I’m a week from the finish, but the forecasts keep changing and that is what is getting me down. I should have gone further after the Equator, but I couldn’t. Looking at this long detour, I have lost a lot of miles. There is a huge difference between the charts and reality and even between the various models. It’s hard navigating correctly when it’s like that. I don’t have the money to get all the files. It worked out fine in the south, but not up here. I’m a bit afraid after completing what has been my biggest project. It’s something I dreamt of as a child. Ashore, I won’t have my boat, or money and I’ll have to start all over again. I’m going to have to get my finger out to set up another project with a more powerful boat and then come back. After more than a hundred days out on the water, you have to prepare yourself for the finish. It all ends from one second to the next. I’ll moor up. Tell myself I have done it. But then, it’s all over. So I’m a bit frightened and feel some sadness deep down."
British skipper Alex Thomson will enjoy an official reception on Saturday at his home port of Gosport to mark his second place in the Vendee Globe. Hugo Boss will enter the harbout at 10.30 local time and moor up at 11.00 at the Gosport ferry pontoon.
Didac Costa (One Planet, One Ocean): “The Equator and the Doldrums are behind us. In spite of getting increasingly accurate weather info, this area is still not very logical. When a squall arrives, you need to take in a reef and change the headsail very quickly, but often, when the boat is finally ready, the wind vanishes. Four or five times, I was completely stopped, tossed around on the swell. Romain (Attanasio) really stressed me out getting closer until he was within sight. After that, I picked up the trade wind a little earlier and managed to extend my lead by a few miles. In a couple of days, I shall have to cross a high with light winds, then I will have to decide which side of the Azores to go. My routing finally takes me all the way to Les Sables, which is a sign that we are not far from home now.”