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17 July 2001, 03:59 pm
Gale Force Winds Strike
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Sill Plein Fruit ©2001 Jacques Vapillon

EDS Atlantic Challenge
Portsmouth

The yachts racing Leg 3 of the EDS Atlantic Challenge from Portsmouth, Great Britain to Baltimore, USA are experiencing gale force winds and large seas. Sill Plein Fruit has regained the lead.
The forecast gales have overtaken the yachts participating in the EDS Atlantic Challenge and the weather is rough and nasty for the competitors. Nick Moloney, co-skipper on Kingfisher summed up the situation in five words. "It's all on out here," he said. In a satellite phone call Tuesday morning Moloney elaborated. "We have lost our wind instruments so I am not sure how hard it's blowing, but I guess at least 45-50 knots. Ellen and the crew are at the mast taking a third reef and the deck is awash. It's as rough as I have seen it." Moloney, a veteran of the Whitbread Round the World Race knows whereof he speaks.

The conditions were just as bad for Helena Darvelid and the crew on Alphagraphics sailing further to the south. "We have dropped our mainsail and are running under staysail alone," she said. "It's blowing a solid 45 plus with very confused seas. I had to go to the top of the mast to free the main halyard which had jumped the sheeve and it was quite scary I will say."

The low pressure system reached the front yachts late Monday afternoon abruptly changing the conditions. Sill Plein Fruit, the northernmost boat got the wind shift first and spent the early evening heavily reefed with a steady 40-45 knots of wind. Their position relative to leg leader Ecover allowed them to take advantage of the change in wind direction, and they soon retook the lead. Gael Le Cleac'h, skipper of Sill Plein Fruit was pleased with their position. "We now have 25 knots out of the northwest and are sailing with two reefs and staysail. The seas are very bumpy, but we are making good speed and good course," he said.

During the night the centre of the low pressure moved right over the top of Sill Plein Fruit bringing a brief respite from the incessant gale. Fifty miles to the south Kingfisher was not so lucky and was not making a very good course, nor was Mike Golding aboard Ecover. With the noise of his boat drowning out his words, Golding said, "It's quite uncomfortable out here." British understatement is rapidly becoming a mark of this event.

The wind is forecast to abate throughout the day with light winds forecast for Wednesday and Thursday. The first yachts are expected to reach Baltimore on the east coast of the United States by July 31.

Leg 4 starts on August 5, 2001 and sails to Boston. The final leg returns to St. Malo, France where the first yachts are expected to finish the race between August 19 and August 22. The EDS Atlantic Challenge website www.edsatlanticchallenge.com is an innovative and interactive resource for rankings and breaking news.

Boat Positions

At 10:45 GMT, on a distance to finish (DTF) reading, the positions were as follows:

1st Sill Plein Fruit (Gael Le Cleac'h - FR) DTF " 2764 miles
2nd Ecover (Mike Golding - UK) DTF + 55 miles
3rd Kingfisher (Ellen MacArthur - UK) DTF + 57miles
4th Gartmore (Josh Hall - UK) DTF + 100miles
5th Fila (Andrea Scarabelli - IT) DTF + 120 miles
6th Alphagraphics (Helena Darvelid " SWE) DTF + 241 miles

Some Radio Interview Extracts:

Andrea Scarabelli, Fila. "All is well on board. We have a lot of wind, but it's no problem. In the night we had dolphins and they looked fantastic racing through the water all illuminated."

Nick Moloney, Kingfisher. "I told the boys to just hang in there. In a couple of hours this will be over and we can get back to racing."

Helena Darvelid, Alphagraphics. "Before this front arrived we had a great sail with dolphin and gannets everywhere. It was just fantastic."

Josh Hall, Gartmore. "Javier, who was driving, found a great wave to surf on and we went ballistic - so much spray and solid water flying back from the bow that the instruments were barely visible, but the magic number of 32 knots could be seen registering on the big speedo."

Gael Le Cleac'h, Sill Plein Fruit. "I think we are well positioned and we are very happy with our position. Our new crew member on this leg, Franck-Yves Escoffier, is fitting in just fine, he's on the helm right now and we seem to complement each other well."
Sue Forsyth/News Editor
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