“The race isn’t over until you cross the finish line,” is a constant refrain from the Open 60 crews flying to the St. Malo finish.
Spinnakers are shredding, masts taking a beating and exhausted crews are pushing almost beyond human endurance. With diminishing winds forecast today, the fight for the line will continue at high intensity, as the focus changes from high-speed, extreme sailing to one that is just as intense but more frustrating, as they fight for whatever breezes they can find.
The current leader ECOVER is still recording high speeds, although skipper Mike Golding reports that they have "a light patch ahead," but he said the light airs could be good for them, as long as it is "reaching and running." Although FILA is closest to ECOVER, he said, "We are still worried about Kingfisher."
Unbeknownst to the rest of the fleet, which might have been wondering about Kingfisher's tactics and speed over the past 24 hours, in a dispatch to Kingfisher Headquarters, skipper Nick Moloney reported a mast problem.
"Yesterday morning as we changed up a gear, going for the gennaker, we noticed the top of the rig was out of column and unstable. We immediately changed down again to make the rig safe, and have been examining the problem and trying to resolve it ever since. Youngster has been up the mast, and we've made some improvements, but it's not solved.
Since we discovered this we've throttled back and will wait for lighter winds for the loads to come off, to see if we can retune the standing rigging and come back up closer to 100%. Right now we're at about 80% to 90%, and have been for 24 hours, although we're still averaging some good speeds in a really kind wave pattern."
Despite this problem, they are still keeping up speed but Moloney said that the focus is on keeping the crew and boat safe, and finishing the race. "We are sailing reefed and with the Solent, a safe combination," he said. "We haven't throttled back at all, but it was a real shocker to see the state of the mast. The compromised mast is limiting the points of sail, he continued, saying that reaching is out of the question, but "square running and beating are OK."
The Italians on FILA continue to keep up the pace, losing very little to the leader. The repair on the mainsail is holding, and they have extended the "spider web" of Vectran lines down to the second batten. The sails are taking a real beating; yesterday they blew out the big spinnaker but they still have the smaller one that they want to keep in good condition for the end.
Sill Plein Fruit has had an excellent 24 hours. Gael Le Cleac'h said "we have had 25 knots of wind for the last 24 hours with lots of surfing. It is a very exciting boat." He continued that he thought the leading boats were "very wise" in their decisions, noting they all gybed yesterday. They are constantly watching the repaired mast and sailing safe. "We are happy to be sailing into France," he said, referring to the dismasting that could have sent Sill home on the deck of a freighter. Sill is sailing on the rhumline, and although they blew out the big spinnaker yesterday, they are still competitive, Le Cleac'h said there is "still time to eat the Brits."
At the back of the fleet, and far south, AlphaGraphics is trying to "edge around the high," which skipper Helena Darvelid said is creeping up. "When the barometer goes up, we will head further north." She sounded a little low when she said, "We were disappointed that we didn't stay in the low, the high pressure lassoed us into it and it was painful to watch the others get the wind." Despite being days behind the leaders, she affirms that all the AlphaGirls are in good spirits and thoroughly enjoying the sailing.
Javier "Cowboy" Sanso was the spokesman for Gartmore today and he was quick to praise skipper Josh Hall and the crew. "We have all learned a lot about sailing Open 60s with a crew," he claimed, and said that the experiences on this race have given him a lot of ideas for his new Open 60. "When you sail alone, you don't have time to test the limits of the equipment. With a crew, you have time to test everything." He suggested that in the future it would be of benefit to the designers and skippers to take sail makers, designers and media people on legs of the races so they get firsthand experiences of the boats. His main focus for the next three years is to sail the Vendee Globe in his new boat.
The entire fleet will experience a slow down later today. The weather forecast is calling for diminishing winds through tonight and into Thursday, with speeds of only 10 knots. This could benefit the boats at the back, allowing them time to catch the forerunners, provided they don't get caught first by the high pressure.
It could mean a restart of the race, just days before the finish.
Boat Positions: 13:40 GMT
4. Sill Plein Fruit