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28 February 2005, 01:41 pm
Fleet Converges After Split But The First Night Back At Sea Brings Mixed Fortunes
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Global Challenge:©Event Media

2004/2005 Global Challenge

BG Spirit lead but the top five are incredibly close, separated by just 6nm in terms of distance to finish.
At the 07:42 GMT poll this morning, SAIC La Jolla and Me to You were west of the rhumb line fighting for first, about 12nm ahead of the chasing pack of ten. They were reporting at least two knots of boat speed less but boasted a commanding position at the head of the fleet.

By the 09:42 poll the main pack of yachts had tacked and were sailing towards the rhumb line in a densely packed group. SAIC La Jolla had pulled slightly ahead of Me to You but the main pack were now only 8nm behind James ALLEN (GBR) and his crew.

The teams placed third to eleventh were separated by a tiny 3nm in terms of distance to finish and reporting average boat speeds of up to three knots faster than the leading pair by the coast. The fleet was closing in.

The only team not bearing down on the leaders was Samsung, who had opted for an easterly flyer, and were still heading southeast at the time away from the rhumb line in twelfth, now 26nm behind the leader.

All Together Again

By 11:52 GMT the convergence of the fleet after the tactical split out of the harbour was about to shake up the leader board beyond recognition. Me to You and SAIC La Jolla were level pegging and still reporting average speeds up to three knots slower than the chasing pack. As a result, only 3nm separated them from BG Spirit, who were leading the charge in from the east to challenge the coastal pair's lead.

The nine yachts placed third to eleventh were still only 5nm apart in terms of distance to finish, and Samsung had also altered course to head back in towards the rhumb line and gained 7nm on the leaders over two hours, reporting a distance of 19nm to the leader, down from 26nm. The top of the leader board was clearly about to change hands…

At the 13:42 GMT poll the east-west split had vanished. As the main pack merged with the former leaders, SAIC La Jolla took up position amongst the top five teams separated by 1nm, but Me to You decided to tack and head south-east across the paths of the incoming teams, ending up as one of the more easterly teams and slipping to ninth place.

Boat speeds across the fleet were dropping, some reaching as low as 3 knots as the wind eased off. A high-pressure system in the south western Tasman Sea was making its way towards New Zealand, causing the breeze to reduce in strength and start gradually backing to the southeast. As this high continues its journey eastward, the wind is forecast to continue backing all the way round to the north-east.

Opening Gaps

The latest position data shows the teams taking the opportunity to head further offshore, to gain a good position for the downwind run back towards the rhumb line once the wind shifts. However the six hours since lunchtime (GMT) have brought mixed fortunes and the fleet has begun to spread out. They are eleven hours ahead of GMT so they are waking up to their first full day of sailing, but many will be disappointed with their performance during the first night back out at sea.

'We must knuckle down and try to get into our routines immediately,' wrote Mark DOLTON (GBR) from Me to You today, 'I find this one of the hardest aspects after a two-week break. Straight back into the shift system and working at night, it's a far cry from the Sydney party atmosphere!'

Unfortunately for Me to You, it was the teams that headed further south when they moved off the rhumb line that have come out in front. A group of five, led by BG Spirit in first and only separated by 6nm in terms of distance to finish now lead the way. ALLEN and his crew were among the teams who headed further east and have lost ground as a result - they now lie 25nm behind the lead yacht.

Nevertheless, the first eleven yachts are now separated by 27nm and Samsung is still fighting to regain miles lost after heading east on their own yesterday and are now 39nm behind the leader. Put this in context with 6,100nm of leg four still to run and the weeks of sailing ahead, and these margins suddenly seem much smaller.

Over the next twelve hours or so there should be a switch to downwind sailing with 10-15 knots from the east-northeast, which will require absolute concentration under spinnaker as the fleet heads toward the notorious Bass Strait.

Dan Wedgwood (as amended by ISAF)
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