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6 July 2004, 09:48 am
Blixt Beats Humphries
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Volvo Baltic Race
Sandhanm

After 39 hours and 40 minutes at sea, during the Gant Round Gotland Race, which formed leg seven of the Volvo Baltic Race, Sweden's Thomas BLIXT, knocked Britain's Matthew HUMPHRIES from the podium and regained the overall lead.
The outcome will be settled tomorrow: the stage is set.

At 0436 local time this morning, a glorious Swedish sunrise greeted Thomas BLIXT and his crew as they crossed the finish line in Sandhamn, on Stockholm's outer archipelago, just two minutes two seconds ahead of Britain's Matthew HUMPHRIES. As the two boats reached the dock, the two crews immediately congratulated each other. There were broad grins on the faces of Stig WESTERGAARD from Denmark and Jeff SCOTT from New Zealand, Blixt's two principal helmsman. Blixt himself was ecstatic and sprayed his crew and most of the media with a large bottle of Bollinger.

"I've said it before, and I'll say it again, this is the best crew I've ever sailed with," Blixt said. "It was amazing. We were pushing, pushing, pushing the whole way. We really needed to win this race. It was close all the way. Sometimes they [Team Elanders] were three miles away and some times they were point three of a mile away. We were in sight of each other all the way round. At Almagrundet [the last mark of the course] they were coming at us. It was a relief to cross the finish line. We were hoping the wind would last all the way in and it did. Fantastic."

Matthew HUMPHRIES, although disappointed, was upbeat. "Sony Ericsson did a really nice job to get away from us. We sailed extremely well to close the gap, but it wasn't to be. We have to go out there and win tomorrow - the boys are fired up for that. Today it was Sony Ericsson, tomorrow we hope it will be us. The stage is set." Humphries now lies half a point behind Blixt in the overall scores, the outcome of which will be settled tomorrow during the three windward/leeward races.

The battles continued to rage for third place overall. Mikael LUNDH was determined to bring Avant home in third place and be the best of the second generation Volvo 60s. To do this, they needed to cover their opponent, JMS Next Generation, the whole way.

"We knew we had boat speed on them," explained Lundh, continuing, "We made sure we had the boat in perfect trim and every manoeuvre was spot on. We started the regatta with a young crew who had had no training. Now they're trained. They will leave this boat with a great experience. It was fantastic."

Avant eventually crossed the finish line at 05.38, just one hour behind Team Elanders, while JMS Next Generation were four minutes behind them.

AV-Teknik started this race with a whole new crew, and finished it with a whole new spirit. The crew were happy and smiling when they finished 20 minutes later, having been in contention much of the way round. "We're so positive now," said owner and co-skipper Marko MURTIC. "It was good sailing all the way."

The crew damaged their headboard car early on in the race and 24-year old Croatian, Ivan ZELENCIC, spent 30 minutes at the top of the rig making a repair. Oskar KARLSSON, the new co-skipper was impressed, "We were going upwind in a big seaway and he was up there for nearly half an hour and did a great job." Karlsson stepped onboard to beef up the afterguard and bring the team together. "We set the goal pretty high," he explained, "but we did a pretty good race. We had breakages and we came back. The team was great. Everyone was digging in and working hard. Nothing was a problem onboard."

This has been a long, tough series of races, which started on June 19. It culminates tomorrow with a series of three windward leeward races. The points are so close for first third place, that tomorrow promised a day of hot, intense racing.
Henning Johannesson
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