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Vendée Globe Underway

November 8 - Les Sables d'Olonne, France

Photo Gilles Martin-Raget

The 20 competitors in the fifth Vendee Globe Race departed Les Sables d'Olonne, France, yesterday. The next time this enthusiastic small seaport will see them is sometime in February, when they have completed their 24,000-mile solo, nonstop circumnavigations.

Despite overcast skies and almost non-existent light breeze, the mood was jubilant in Les Sables, as it has been for the last several weeks. An estimated 15,000 people in 1,000 boats, 20 press launches and 13 helicopters came out to watch the noon start, with an additional 300,000 reportedly watching the 6-mile close-to-shore first 'leg'. Vincent Riou aboard PRB, was the first across the line, followed by - we know that guy! Alameda's Bruce Schwab, the race's only American, aboard Ocean Planet. As of this morning, PRB was leading and Schwab had dropped back to mid-pack.

The favorite for the 2004-2005 Vendée and currently in third place is British ironman Mike Golding aboard the well-funded, well-prepared Ecover, although there are several skippers who could give him a run for the money, including Roland Jourdain and two-time Vendée veteran Marc Thiercelin.

Photo Jacques Vapillon/PixSail.com

Schwab won't be running with those big dogs. In an interview with the New York Times the day before departure, Bruce once again stressed that his hardscrabble effort (he was selling Ocean Planet T-shirts and CDs of his guitar playing on the docks just to make a few more bucks before the start) is not there to win. "I hope we do fairly well and finish, and maybe that will pave the way for Americans in the future," he said. If he does finish, he will be the first American to do so. The only other American to have entered the Vendée was Mike Plant, who started the first race in 1989, but failed to finish.

Check 'Lectronic Latitude for regular updates on the race, or the official Web site at www.vendeeglobe.fr/uk.

Blown Away

November 8 - Altamont Pass

We always feel frustrated to drive through Altamont Pass and notice how many wind generators either aren't turning or have fallen apart. And even more frustrated to consider that free and dependable power generating sources like wind and solar seem to be so sporadically pursued - or politically mired - in this country. Over in Europe, they take wind generating a bit more seriously, and the future may look brightest offshore. It's not only cheaper to build out there, but the wind speeds are generally higher and turbulence lower. Denmark is the current leader in this technology with 80 generators at their Horns Rev offshore wind farm putting out 160 megawatts.

Ireland is not far behind. With the completion of phase one of the Arklow Wind Farm on Arklow Bank off the west coast, they have upped the bar. The seven giant wind generators - essentially really big brothers to the ones on Altamont
Pass - will generate 25 mw, enough electricity to power about 16,000 Irish households annually. Imagine how much power they'll put out when all 200 towers are up and working.

Each tower of the Arklow generators rises 240 feet off the shallow seabed - about the height of the Golden Gate Bridge roadway above the water. Each of the three propeller blades stretches 165 feet, and the swept diameter, including the propeller hub, is 341 feet longer than the wingspans of two 747s. The sail area of the three blades is 91,000 square feet, about three times that of a clipper ship. Although the towers will be lighted and therefore not much of a hazard to navigation, environmentalists fear that the blades may be bird killers. (Provisions have been made for observation stations in the towers to monitor this.)

The new Arklow Wind Farm, a collaboration between GE Wind Energy and Airtricity, a renewable energy company, is the 19th offshore wind farm in Europe (others are off Denmark, Spain and Germany). There are currently none in the U.S., although lots of hot air is being expended talking about them.

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