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25 May 2005, 10:59 am
The Delights Of Downwind
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Calais Round Britain Race 2005

Downwind in calmer seas, the four remaining competitors have made steady progress overnight and are currently lapping up the last third of Ireland, level with Donegal Bay. The fleet have squeezed back together due to a slight reduction in speed up at the front, and the three lead boats are now within 6.4 miles of each other.
At the 0554 GMT poll Bonduelle, Sill et Veolia and Ecover (in that order) were sailing within sight of each other (through the rain). The leader has been chopping and changing throughout the night amidst a series of gybes. In the last few hours the leaders have spread out slightly so currently, Jean LE CAM (FRA) on Bonduelle leads by twomiles from Roland JOURDAIN (FRA) on Sill et Veolia with Mike GOLDING (GBR) and Ecover a further four miles back. Virbac-Paprec, skippered by Jean Pierre DICK (FRA), in fourth had made up considerable ground on the leaders this morning, and was just 20 miles off the pace at the 0554 poll before dropping back another ten miles in the last four hours.

The sailing conditions are far from stable: the southwesterly wind, shifty in both direction and strength, is forcing the crews to constantly adapt their sails as Nicolas BÉRENGER (FRA) on Virbac-Paprec highlights in his morning message, 'In the space of an hour, we have gone from large spinnaker on port tack to genoa on starboard tack. We're hurtling along at 18 knots on a direct course.'

At the 1400 GMT ranking yesterday the leaders of the IMOCA fleet in the Calais Round Britain Race were already level with Dingle in the southwest of Ireland after a 'wet and wild' night trucking across the Celtic Sea on a broad reach with gusts peaking at 46 knots and cold, boat-breaking seas. Conditions are taking their toll on both the crews and their boats, with three retirees already.

Caen La Mer forced to retire at 0435 GMT on Tuesday morning after dangerous conditions in the Channel without power, working ballast tanks or the ability to cant their keel. Around four hours later Bernard STAMM (SUI) on Cheminees Poujoulat became the third skipper to retire from the race after breaking his sole daggerboard in a collision with a UFO (unidentified floating object) off the Scilly Isles at around midnight on Monday night.

'This is one of the most demanding and most difficult courses in Europe' said winner of the first edition of the race, Vincent RIOU (FRA), yesterday afternoon.

'As the result of a lack of power, the impossibility of using the ballast tanks, and a problem preventing the canting of the keel for the rest of the race, I took the decision at 0400 GMT this morning to make for Cherbourg and to stop racing' wrote the skipper of Caen La Mer, DEJEANTY yesterday morning after a frightening night floundering in big winds and seas. 'I am doing this to protect both the crew and the boat. There are no health problems or any major issues aboard. Everything is fine.' The young crew including Australian Liz WARDLEY, were due to make it to Ouistreham in Normandy, France at 2000 GMT last night without assistance, a crushing blow to a very motivated team.

Four hours later, a bitterly disappointed STAMM contacted Race Manager Philippe FACQUE with the news of his retirement following the breakage of his sole central daggerboard on hitting a UFO off the Scillies at around midnight GMT on Monday night.

'I'm really sorry for everyone that's been involved in the project and my sponsors in particular' said an emotional STAMM earlier. 'We were racing upwind in 35 knots of wind when we hit something just before the Scillies at around midnight and the daggerboard is broken. There was a strange noise on impact. We can't see under the boat but the hull doesn't seem to be damaged.'

For the four remaining boats the race looks wide open.

'It's very exciting racing with the fleet tightly grouped' said GOLDING at yesterday's lunch time radio session. 'It was a bit of a disappointment to see we were in third but it wasn't too much of a surprise. We lost a bit of time last night. There was nothing major. Just a little unfamiliarity with the boat which takes some getting used to in the dark and weather we had, but we're catching up now. It's easy to break something in these conditions. There have been some quite big seas and even now the wind is at an odd angle so we are finding ourselves surfing upwind at high speed. We reached a top speed of 24 knots last night and it was great to be neck and neck with the two French boats. We'll probably compress up slightly and I think the breeze will gradually clock round behind us and we'll find ourselves on a starboard gybe going north. That may well continue as far as the Shetlands, which will mean a fast rounding.'

RIOU summed up the race perfectly yesterday afternoon, 'For the time being there is no significant gap dividing the fleet. There are four boats still in the game which is unfortunate. It's not by chance that the four remaining boats are the latest generation, though Bernard STAMM was just unlucky. That's the richness of the Calais Round Britain Race. Of course it's difficult and restricting for the crews though. It's very wet and it's not easy to find the right balance when reaching in a strong wind. You mustn't have too much or too little sail up. They're now heading towards a messy little transition zone. Overnight the wind will clock round to the south enabling the fleet to climb fairly quickly up the West coast of Ireland.'

(At 0949 hours GMT)

  1. Bonduelle, Jean LE CAM (FRA) - 1069.6 miles from the finish
  2. Sill & Veolia, Roland JOURDAIN (FRA) - 2.0 miles behind the leader
  3. Ecover, Mike GOLDING (GBR) - 6.4 miles behind the leader
  4. Virbac-Paprec, Jean Pierre DICK (FRA) - 30.6 miles behind the leader
  5. Cheminées Poujoulat, Bernard STAMM (SUI) - Retired from race
  6. Caen La Mer, Jean Baptiste DEJEANTY (FRA) - Retired from race
  7. Pindar Alphagraphics, Emma RICHARDS (GBR) - Retired from race
Kate Jennings (As Amended By ISAF). Image, Current leader, Bonduelle:© Gilles Martin-Raget
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