Vendee Globe competitors live on the edge of fear in Southern Ocean life

Sébastien Josse (VMI), managed to get back on course again yesterday evening and still retained fourth position following a collision with a growler in the afternoon. Going from 13 knots to 0 knots in less than a second is as violent for the boat as for the skipper who, fortunately, was not injured. Surely shocked by the accident, Sébastien Josse preferred to delay tactics for a few hours, the time to study the damage with his shore crew, and make the repairs necessary to continue.

Other than the bow sprit and the pulpit, one broken and the other folded, the monohull doesn’t seem to have been damaged structurally. A problem with the play in a rudder, also hit by a little growler, is more of a worry to the youngest skipper of the race for continuing his course.

Finally everything now seems to be in order since Sébastien has the highest speed of the fleet, 14.1 knots (also matched by Marc Thiercelin and Joé Seeten).

The incident cost him a bow sprit and 85 miles on his closest rival, Mike Golding (Ecover). From now on, Sébastien can no longer use his foresails for medium and light winds, something which will be even more of a handicap on the climb up the Atlantic.

Meanwhile at the very front of the fleet Jean Le Cam and Vincent Riou are inseparable. After 46 days of racing they are fighting just as fiercely as they were the first day. After getting back to within 10 miles of the leader yesterday evening, Vincent Riou has only conceded 14.5 miles this morning. A mere drop in the ocean in the Vendée Globe!

140 miles north of the leader, Vincent Riou opted for safety as he crossed the ice field to the south-east of New Zealand. The last two are just 400 miles from the next gateway, and 3,400 miles from Cape Horn.

At the moment where the unfortunate Sébastien Josse hit a growler, yesterday around 1500 GMT, there was a big seismic tremor measuring 8.2 on the Richter scale, 500 miles to the west of the skipper. At around 0500 GMT this morning, Dominique Wavre (Temenos) passed within two miles to the south of the Macquarie Islands, very close to the epicentre of yesterday’s tremor, which took place between 3,000 and 4,000 metres down. According to Michel Cara, Manager of the Central French Seismological Office, such a violent shake-up rarely occurs so deep down.

The famous Tsunamis, giant waves linked with earthquakes, only occur on the approach to the coast and not in the middle of the sea. The Macquarie ridge, an extension of the mountains and volcanoes of New Zealand, is a veritable wall which blocks the bottom of the Southern Ocean and separates the Indian Ocean from the Pacific. Underwater the ocean bed rises up by 5,000 metres in less than 20 miles, often creating messy seas with the upwelling currents.

And the rest of the race? As has been the case for the past few days, Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac-Paprec), 6th, is once again the fastest of the fleet and the only one to exceed 300 miles in the past 24 hours (322.7 miles exactly). The least rapid is his closest rival, Nick Moloney (Skandia), 7th, who has only covered 131 miles as a result of some full on reaching to avoid the calm under Tasmania. A further 1,000 miles back, the American Bruce Schwab (Ocean Planet) is the 11th competitor in the Vendée Globe to have crossed the longitude of Cape Leeuwin, to the south-west of Australia. There are still five skippers yet to pass this second great cape in the round the world, after the Cape of Good Hope and the before Cape Horn. As a comparison, Vincent Riou passed Cape Leeuwin 10 days, on Tuesday 14 December.