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15 November 2001, 08:38 pm
Surprise In Every Fleet
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Transat Jacques Vabre

As the conditons build for the leading multihulls pushing hard upwind on route to the Ascensions, so does the tension ­ and the potential to damage the boat.

Kingfisher-Foncia (Gautier/MacArthur) continues to match Groupama (Cammas/S. Ravussin) move for move in the tacking battle, and is controlling their rival by placing themselves between them and the mark to the Southeast. Their speeds in these conditions are still remarkable ­ 17 knots average in the last 6 hours, and they should round the islands over night.

A dispirited Michel Desjoyeaux revealed Belgacom¹s Œbreak at the seams¹. "We were on starboard in 18 knots of wind under main & staysail banging into the waves, and had just decided to launch an attack on the leaders," he explained. "Suddenly all the main sheet travellers slid right along the stern track and snapped. We spent two hours fixing up a jury rig and we can¹t go shopping for the spare parts!" A serious handicap, unable to play the mainsail in the building breeze, and have slowed to 12 knots.

The other astonishing news of the day comes from Fujifilm (L. Peyron/Le Mignon). They stuck to the normally slower but direct route in the East through the light airs of the Doldrums, and last night revved back up to 16 knots and into 3rd place. They are heading straight to the mark, Peyron "hoping that the wind won¹t shift one fraction of a degree", whilst the Westerly boats Belgacom & Banque Populaire (Roucayrol/Parlier) have had to put in losing tacks to the East to reach the islands.

During the next 12 hours of stress, tiredness, wetness, tactics and manoeuvres leading up to the Ascension Islands, every skipper will be nervously watching each other¹s progress, knowing only too well that the outcome of this mark rounding could be definitive.

Monohull Fleet

The top pack is stuck well in the meteorological glue pot before the Equator, which are the Doldrums. Golding & Hutchinson (Ecover) have certainly not had their last word ­ they have shot back up to 2nd place now 75 miles behind leader Sill Plein Fruit (Jourdain/Le Cleac¹h). "We took a very good option two days ago to re-position ourselves to the West, which meant that passing Cape Verde we didn¹t lose the wind and were able to pass the others," explained co-skipper Hutchinson. "Also we wanted to be in the West to cross the Doldrums."

Ecover has covered the greatest distance in the last 24 hours, 283 miles, and are being hotly pursued by Casto-Darty-BUT (Moloney/Turner) within 2 miles of them, both to the West of the rum line. Both teams actually saw the navigation lights of the other as they crossed paths last night ­ incredible after 3,000 miles of ocean racing. Sill, however, made an intelligent move to the West, even if it sacrificed some of their lead, to remain in control
of their opposition, and have left them no option but to follow in their wake.

The spell has been broken, as today the Open 50 fleet leader changes hands, the newer Saving (Le Youdec/Bacave) a few miles nearer to the rum line in their West than One Dream One Mission (Bennett/Larsen), as they too battle with the Doldrums¹ effects. "It doesn¹t matter that Saving may be a faster boat in a straight line, it¹s all about how hard you push your boat. We¹re working flat out, even trimming sails at 3am," exhorts the young skipper Alex Bennett. "We¹re feeling the pinch of fatigue, but know how important it is to get rest as well. These boats are man-eaters though!"

Multihull Positions at 1500hrs GMT ­ DTF (nm)

Postn Boat Latitude Longitude Speed Hdg DTF DFL

1 Foncia 6 15.04' S 14 59.28' W 17.6 173 1574.8
2 Groupama 6 07.88' S 15 13.60' W 16.9 175 1587.2 12.4
3 Fujifilm 4 25.68' S 14 45.88' W 14.2 176 1677.5 102.6
4 Belgacom 4 32.28' S 17 03.88' W 14.4 068 1727.6 152.7
5 Bonduelle 3 43.24' S 15 56.44' W 14.4 183 1736.4 161.6
6 Banque Populaire 3 56.84' S 17 45.24' W 9.9 143 1781.1 206.2

Open 60 Monohull Positions at 1445hrs GMT ­ DTF (nm)

1 Sill Plein Fruit 5 48.72' N 29 49.96' W 7.6 184 1264.5
2 Ecover 6 53.96' N 29 09.24' W 5.3 191 1339.6 75.1
3 Casto - Darty - But
6 53.08' N 29 00.12' W 10.5 195 1341.8 77.4
4 Voilà.fr 6 17.64' N 27 22.28' W 10.2 203 1348.3 83.8

Open 50 Monohull Positions at 1430hrs GMT ­ DTF (nm)

1 Saving 9 36.07' N 24 45.28' W 10.3 204 14:30:00 1594.0
2 One Dream : One Mission
9 15.96' N 23 51.72' W 7.9 207 14:16:00 1602.1 8.1
Mary Ambler/News Editor
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