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26 May 2005, 01:40 pm
Flat Out In The Half-Light
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Calais Round Britain Race 2005

The fleet, now led by Mike GOLDING (GBR) on Ecover, have reached the north of Scotland at breakneck speed. Downwind amidst some big surfs and gybes in 25 to 30 knots of wind, the monohulls, enveloped in grey, are belting along towards the highest part of the course - the picturesque Shetland islands.
At the 0600 hours GMT ranking this morning, the whole fleet were making over 20 knots of instantaneous speed, GOLDING and his crew taking back the controls aboard Ecover, six miles ahead of Jean LE CAM (FRA) and Bonduelle. At the 0954 poll the speeds across the fleet had dropped slightly but Ecover had maintained her lead 5.6 miles in front of Bonduelle and 21.6 miles in front of Sill & Veolia and Roland JOURDAIN (FRA).

The game plan overnight had been to maintain the pace and hang on in there. At this morning's radio session, the crews were unable to hide their fatigue. Being forced to take it in turns at the helm with manoeuvres monopolizing the whole crew at each of the numerous gybes has deprived the teams of a much needed rest, after the wearing sailing conditions they have had since the start.

While the competitors were 'blasting along all night', Sill et Veolia's prudence has cost them 20.6 miles on the leader. Virbac Paprec has made the most of this situation to come back on the leaders but is continuing to yoyo at the tail of the fleet.

At their current latitudes, around 59 N, the night does not last longer than a couple of hours and instead takes on the hue of a grey universe which reminds Jean Pierre DICK on Virbac Paprec of the Roaring Forties. This phenomenon will be magnified as the fleet pass the Shetlands at the end of the day.

Only the seabirds on Britain's remotest corner, St Kilda, witnessed Ecover's act of late night piracy as they stole an overall lead.

Racing alongside Bonduelle, which had held the lead for much of Wednesday, Ecover picked the best line past the lonely rock strewn landmark, which is one of the most significant sea bird breeding grounds in the Europe, and has been able to build a small lead of just over six miles over Bonduelle during a protracted spell of fast, downwind sailing.

Making over 17 knots VMG at times, skipper GOLDING admitted this morning that it had been another physically demanding night as they put in ten gybes to stay with the best wind pressure and angles:

'We've got about 35 knots of breeze at the moment so we are enjoying some really fast sailing, making the high speeds so the guys on deck are having a good time with it. We just lost a little time when we flogged a spinnaker and it shredded . We got laid over by a strong gust and the sail flogged. We are back under the Code Eco [genoa] and making very fast progress have probably six or seven hours more of this downwind sailing to go and should get to Muckle Flugga, and the turn for home, by daylight.'

GOLDING is expecting to make another two gybes to Sula Sgeir and is reasonably confident that, despite their recent down-time, they have been continuing to advance on Bonduelle in the downwind conditions.

'We can still see Bonduelle behind and seem to be doing well on her and don't seem to have lost anything with our little drama. It's good to be leading but we do need to make all we can just now because I suspect that they are a bit quicker reaching, and there is going to be a lot of reaching in the North Sea.'

He is predicting that the pace will remain quick for a fast race time, and considers that at present the overall record is within reach, but only just.

Assessing Sill et Veolia's corner cutting manoeuvre this morning GOLDING thinks they proved a little too conservative in their rounding at St Kilda, 'We had to look and see if there was much of a lee behind the island and there wasn't so we just went in there and they sailed a good few extra miles because of that. I am not sure why they have lost miles since, but we'll take all we can. They do seem to like to sail low and slow, whereas we have had Bonduelle and been sailing hotter angles a lot of the time and that seems to be working.'

Positions
(At 0954 hours GMT)

  1. Ecover, Mike GOLDING (GBR) - 732.4 miles from the finish
  2. Bonduelle, Jean LE CAM (FRA) - 5.6 miles behind the leader
  3. Sill & Veolia, Roland JOURDAIN (FRA) - 21.6 miles behind the leader
  4. Virbac-Paprec, Jean Pierre DICK (FRA) - 33.0 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/Andi Robertson (As Amended By ISAF). Image, Race leader, Ecover:© Gilles Martin-Raget
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