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Vendée Globe, day 41: Happy to be here? Brave Bellion battles on

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Eric Bellion

Eric Bellion, fighting a storm in the Indian Ocean during his first Vendée Globe, only raced an IMOCA 60 for the first time one year ago, finishing seventh in the Transat Jacques Vabre with British co-skipper Sam Goodchild. He spent three years sailing around the world, via the three great capes, on an 8.5m yacht and is no stranger to adversity. But the Versailles born 40 year old sounded almost triumphant today after emerging from his worst night yet since leaving Les Sables d'Olonne on Sunday 6th November. In huge seas and 60kt winds, Bellion recounted how he was knocked flat on his Commeunseulhomme whilst trying to fix his engine.

Lying in eighteenth place behind USA's Rich Wilson on Great American IV on the rankings but on a course 430 miles to the north of the veteran American, Bellion told Race HQ today: “It was one of the worst nights of my life as a sailor. I had up to sixty knots of wind and really big seas. I had problems with my engine which refused to start. So I practically didn't have any energy left. One big waved knocked me over. I'm pleased to have come to get this low. I needed to reassure myself that the boat and I could get through it. Now that I have seen that, I shall be trying to avoid that kind of low again.” Bellion reflected: “It's extraordinary to be here and learning about myself.

The Vendée Globe is a discovery for me. There are ups and downs and you wonder whether you're doing all you can. This is a difficult adventure. You really have to push your limits. I'm pleased about my Vendée Globe. Even if it stopped tomorrow, I'm happy. I've gone further than I thought I would. I'm going to keep pushing, unless my safety is in question. I like being alone, even if it has been difficult at times. There are still two months left. Am I going to be able to do it? I ask myself that if I was ashore what would I be dreaming of?.....Of being in the Vendée Globe!"

 
Today Bellion is just happy to be still in the race, thankful for small mercies. He remains within contact with the other members of the United Nations Gang of Four – Ireland's Enda O'Coineen, Switzerland's Alan Roura, and Wilson, the Great American. Though there are now 375 miles from 15th placed O'Coineen to Bellion, this remains one of the most engaging and colourful of the races within the race. O'Coineen's zany humour and cultural musings belie a long career on the ocean, a reminder being last weekend's conversation with Loïck Peyron. Both were fellow competitors in the Mini Transat of 1979 when O'Coineen finished 18th and Peyron, the Jedi Master, in 26th. O'Coineen has a good chance now of closing miles on 14th placed Fabrice Amedeo who has damaged the lower section of his mainsail.
 
As Jéremie Beyou passed Paul Meilhat on last night's mid evening rankings to take over third place of the 22 skippers still racing, it means that once again all three top places on the ranking are held by IMOCAs equipped with foils. SMA's Meilhat was less than four miles behind his long time rival on Maître CoQ. Their advances towards the leading duo, Armel Le Cléac'h and Alex Thomson have stopped for the meantime, slowed by their own high pressure cell which hobbled their progress to just three or four knots earlier today. Béyou explained: “Paul (Meilhat) has been sailing well since the start of the race. I'm pleased not about being back in third place, but rather to have won back the 250 miles I lost with my hook problem. It doesn't really mean a lot being third, when we are still so close together. Each problem overcome is a little victory. Being third is the consequence of lots of small victories. And yet I was that far away from retiring. We made it through the low in one piece to the south of New Zealand. It wasn't easy because of the cross-seas.”
 
Speaking today to four times Vendée Globe racer Mike Golding, who in November 2006 sailed 80 miles back upwind and rescued him from the Indian Ocean 1000 miles south of Cape Town when he keel broke in a big storm, Alex Thomson revealed that progress without his starboard foil can sometimes be ugly: “Any way you look at it, it's pretty ugly. In the night, when it is dark, it is OK because you can't see your wake out the back of the boat. In the daytime you can see how bad it is. At night you can't.” Thomson quipped, explaining the mode he sails some of the time.
“What I try and do is sail very high. I have a lot of leeway and I try and sail as high as I can and trying to keep the boat as flat as possible but with quite a lot of keel cant. The keel, when it is fully canted, does help to pull you to windward.”
 
Hungarian Nandor Fa should cross the longitude of Cape Leeuwin this afternoon in eleventh place, 140 miles behind Stéphane Le Diraison (Compagnie du Lit-Boulogne Billancourt). The duo look set to be next to be hit by the strong low pressure system which has affected the Gang of Four behind them although the system looks to be losing a little of its intensity.