The Anglo-French duo have worked hard to reposition themselves to the West of Virbac-Paprec, and their boat speed and course made good has been fractionally higher by 1-2 knots, as they both run South at 27 W in 18 - 20 knots of steady trade wind conditions still. As they curved round the Cape Verde Islands, Sill et Veolia covered 408m to Virbac-Paprec's 384m in the last 24hrs, and they are anticipating a relatively fast transition through the Doldrums into the new, well established SE Trades around 5 N.
Bilou had his own thoughts about the marginally worse performance of their nearest rival this weekend in the same weather system: "The last 24hrs has been great, ideal conditions to play catch up. We crossed Virbac's track and we're wondering if they have something missing in their sail wardrobe, what's the story? We're sure they have lost a gennaker or something, they've been sailing a higher course than us, so we think there's a problem there.."
Jean-Pierre Dick may have been guarded about any problems on board, but was honest about his reaction to Sill et Veolia's spurt into the lead: "Sill is sailing faster but we've been working hard on board, so we're just trying to assess why that is and then see what we can do in response. There's nothing to panic over, we've got a way to go yet and it's a complex solution as there are so many factors at play: managing the boat speed, the manoeuvres, sail combinations, our routing, tactics and rest."
Behind, Bonduelle (Le Cam / De Pavant) has also extended their small lead in third place over Ecover (Golding / Wavre) by 11 miles in the last 6 hours. Report has it that Ecover's tack line broke this morning, but the Brit-Swiss team is nevertheless in good spirits and positioned the furthest in the West as they anticipate the Doldrums crossing point ahead: "I never like to see things broken on the boat because we are compromised. I am a bit happier with where we are now, but it would be nice to be pulling back real miles rather than just hanging on. Although the Doldrums are not too active we can see a way through while we are not so sure about where Sill and Veolia and Virbac-Paprec are lining up. Hopefully they will slow and we should be able to reel back some real miles."
Skandia (Thompson / Oxley) has held fast to their 5th place and caught up a precious 3 miles on Ecover, whilst holding off the charge admirably from Pro-Form (Thiercelin / Drouglazet) just 28 miles behind on the inside track. Further back, UUDS (Laurent / Massot) declared that they lost their gennaker when the halyard chafed apart in a particularly strong gust, which has rendered them slightly handicapped until they can find calmer conditions to shin up and fix a new halyard. They do have another gennaker with the same surface area, but until they get the new halyard fixed, they are losing miles on their nearest rivals, Roxy (Liardet / Merron) in 7th place.
Gryphon Solo (Harris/Hall) has now a good control of their 108m lead over Vedettes de Bréhat (De Broc / S. Escoffier) to the west of the rhumb line south of the Canaries. After the retirement of 4th placed Défi Vendéen, there is a renewed fight from the back as 5th placed Artforms skippers Stone and Owen continue to sail as if there's no tomorrow 386m behind Gryphon Solo, and take a westerly option wide around the Canaries in stronger breeze.
Merf Owen was on fighting form: "We're making good speed on a good course, going a little better than we thought although we have been realistic about opportunities since leaving Lorient so far behind. But we've been sailing fast and we're reassessing our goals compared to the rest of the fleet and pushing hard, we're still in this to race."
At last there is a close race going on in the ORMA 60 class as four of the five trimarans left in the race enter the Doldrums at 11 degrees North, which as ever has re-distributed the cards left on the table. Thanks to their Easterly option closer to the rhumb line, taken since leaving the coast of Portugal, skippers Fred Le Peutrec and Yann Guichard on Gitana 11 have enjoyed a corridor of strong trade winds off the African coast, and have finally managed to nose ahead into the lead by 10 miles in what breeze there is, whereas their rivals in the East, Bidégorry and Lemonchois (Banque Populaire) and Desjoyeaux & Destremau (Géant) are completely becalmed. Gitana 11 has been able to maintain boatspeeds of between 10 - 15 knots since last night whereas the other two leading multihulls slowed to 2 - 5 knots. Gitana 11 has covered literally twice the distance, 352m precisely, to that of second placed Banque Populaire's 183m.
Granted, Le Peutrec knows they are likely to be 'stuck' for longer over to the East where the Doldrums are wider, but as he explains "We're now in a position to attack and are very happy with our position nearer the rhumb line. What's important is where you come out in relation to the SE Trades, and we're hoping that our exit will be more favourable." The SE Trades are in fact strong and well established at around 5 degrees North, so the trimarans should be out of the thick of it in a day's time, but who comes out ahead is still not a sure bet.
1 Sill et Veolia
1 Gryphon Solo
2 Vedettes de Bréhat
3 Top 50 Guadeloupe
5 Défi Vendéen
6 Polarity Solo
2 Banque Populaire
3 Géant 10
4 TIM Progetto Italia
1 Crêpes Whaou !
2 Jean Stalaven
Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac-Paprec): "Sill is sailing faster but we've been working hard on board, so we're trying to work out why that is and then see what we can do in response. There's nothing to panic over, we've got a way to go yet and it's a complex solution as there are so many factors: managing the boat speed, the manoeuvres, sail combinations, our routing, tactics and rest. We'll be entering the Doldrums tomorrow night, I can't say more on how it will be. This race is hard, really hard, we haven't lacked strong winds since the start.."
Roland Jourdain (Sill et Veolia): "Sorry, you caught me scoffing some cake! The last 24hrs has been great, ideal conditions to play catch up. We crossed Virbac's track and we're wondering if they have something missing in their sail wardrobe, what's the story? We're sure they have lost a gennaker or something, they're on a higher course than us, so we think there's a problem there. We definitely wanted to work ourselves over to the West and we hope to be ahead coming out of the Doldrums. This race has been all about speed, we've not changed our rhythm at all since the start, still lots of work on deck, although we put the autopilot on last night so were able to both rest a bit for the first time."
Kito de Pavant (Bonduelle): "Things are improving, there's less sea and wind so we've had the autopilot on for a bit to allow us to get some rest. I did hurt my knees yesterday when I was up at the bow by the furler when I was hit square on by one wave and fell quite hard on my knees. We've got 20 knots still, fantastic conditions, the gennaker and full main are up and we're flying. The flying fish are getting a beating when they hit the main! We're watching our backs more than the boats ahead, and tomorrow we'll be entering the Doldrums."
Anne Liardet (Roxy): "I'm just tucking into a bowl of cereals with milk and raspberries..time for a change from the freeze-dried stuff. It's Sunday brunch! We're doing okay, Miranda is so stress-free, such a joy to sail with. We took off wet weather gear yesterday but today it's wet and wild again so we've got them back on, but the sky is blue we have 18 knots of wind. This race is incredibly competitive and physically tough, our shoulders are aching a lot. But I'm so glad I bought two sets of ear-plugs as they really help when we need to get some rest. We're both losing weight so we'll look really toned and fit for the finish! We've got a problem with the water-maker, nothing to cry about and I'm working on getting it fixed."
Merf Owen (Artforms): "It's the first day we've had real blue skies, it's been so grey since we left Lorient. We're making good speed on a good course, going a little better than we thought. We were pretty realistic about our opportunities but we've been sailing fast and have been lucky that others have chosen a different side of the course which has allowed us to choose a better route. We're reassessing our goals compared to the rest of the fleet and pushing hard, racing for ourselves as ever.."
Paul Metcalf (Polarity Solo): "We've got lots of wind, hammering down south at 12-13 knots boat speed. The waves were stacking up when we crossed a bank passing Madeira. We've got an in-line rig so we're able to sail deeper, and the boat's solidly built so we've had no problems with breakages. In fact we crash-gybed at 3am and the only thing that broke were the dozen eggs which are now splattered over the starboard water ballast tank. Apart from that some diesel contaminated some of our dry goods so we are eating riceless curries now.."
Pascal Bidégorry (Banque Populaire) : "The Doldrums…well, there's definitely no wind. We entered first and now the others have come back from all sides. The sky is grey, the sea is oily-looking and there is absolutely not a breath of wind or sight of a cloud. In 15 minutes the wind has swung through 360 degrees. We're stuck here for a good 30 hours, and we just have to bear with it patiently, and hope we can get into the SE trades before the others have leveled with us.."
Michel Desjoyeaux (Géant): "They've shut the fans off! We are moving along thanks only to the swell, it's very light here.There's a cloudy patch which is avoiding us, and no squalls as yet to spur us on or even let us have a royal fresh water shower from the rain. We hope to be out of here in a day.."
Fred Le Peutrec (Gitana 11): "Yann went up the mast in a light patch. Now the halyard is fixed again and we can sail with our gennaker. There's a long way to go yet compared with the miles already under our belts. Our Easterly position since the start was largely due to the fact that we were behind passing the anticyclone off Portugal. So we've been driving south in a band of wind to the East of the Trades corridor. We're now in a position to attack and are very happy with our position nearer the rhumb line. Things could change quickly though, the Doldrums in theory should be stickier for us than the boats in the West, but what's important is where you exit in relation to the SE Trades, and we're hoping that our exit will be more favourable. Nothing's guaranteed in here, and we're surprised that all 4 boats are level again, so it's going to be close.."