The last three boats still racing are now devouring the North Sea in much milder weather. The northerly wind has dropped to between ten and 15 knots, enabling the crews to reach down towards Calais. Ahead of them numerous oil rigs are dotted across their route. The British boat, Ecover, skippered by Mike GOLDING (GBR), is still heading the fleet, 3.6 miles ahead of Roland JOURDAIN (FRA) on Sill et Veolia at the 0554 GMT poll this morning.
Jean Pierre DICK (FRA) and his team onVirbac-Paprec lost a little ground on the leading duo overnight and are currently 41.1 miles behind Ecover.
Bonduelle's dismasting occurred about 16 miles after the passage to the North of the Shetlands whilst skipper LE CAM was sleeping. The boat was on a close reach in a strong westerly wind and big seas under ORC (small breeze jib) and three reefs in the mainsail. The mast broke 3 metres above the deck.
Several minutes later Race Management received this message from GOLDING:
'Just spoken with Bonduelle - sadly she has dismasted a few miles astern of us on the east side of Shetland. All the crew are OK and they are in no immediate danger - if they haven't contacted you already - they are clearing the decks before making way towards Lerwick. I am sure they will contact you soonest.'
'At least we are guaranteed a podium place,' mused Ecover's Brian THOMPSON (GBR) this morning as Ecover sailed level with Aberdeen and Peterhead with Sill et Veolia an ever present threat on her hip. 'I have mixed feelings really,' continued THOMPSON, 'because this has changed the depth of the field. To be honest this has turned into something of a race of attrition, which I did not really expect it to be. The Open 60 races I have done mostly about 80-90% of the boats finish. Maybe something just reached its half life after the Vendée but this has been a pretty rough trip all in all. It's not the way you'd like to win but I guess that I am quite used to it after the Oryx Cup race where half the fleet had to retire. You just have to accept that it is part of the game and as long as no-one gets hurt then it happens.'
THOMPSON was on the helm of Ecover and was taking regular bearings on Bonduelle to see if she was catching them. They were about a mile and a half behind when they disappeared suddenly off their horizon. 'There were some rain showers around and I thought they might have disappeared into a shower. I called down to Mike and suggested they might have lost their rig, because there was 38 knots of wind and big seas. The seas wrap round Shetland and were meeting the wind swell so it was very confused. We were doing about 14 knots at the time. I gather they just jumped off a big wave and heard a crack.'
'Everything is perfect on board here though. We still have a race on our hands with Sill. They have come back a bit in the reaching but with more downwind sailing ahead I hope we will be able to hold them off. They are a little quicker reaching because of their sail plan but so far we have been quicker downwind in 15-20 knots.'
Speaking of the remainder of the race THOMPSON believes that the wind will drop and swing from the north west round to the east and then back again to the south west. 'We are reasonably happy with where Sill is at the moment, we will just have to see what happens,' he concluded.
(At 0554 hours GMT)