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6 February 2005, 09:45 am
Close Start to Leg Three
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2004/2005 Global Challenge
Wellington, New Zealand

After one and a half hours of racing, four minutes separated the first and last yacht. For Matthew RATSEY, Technical Director for Challenge Business, who followed the fleet out of the harbour in Wellington today as they set off for the third leg to Sydney, the intensely close racing was the highlight of today's race start.
"It just goes to show the high standard across a very competitive fleet," said Matthew.

Me to You's Mark DOLTON was the first to send back a report from the fleet: "That was some start … As I write this we are in 1st place just ahead, and I mean just ahead, of Samsung, Spirit of Sark and BG SPIRIT."

Flying start for Team Stelmar

Mark's snapshot of the race written at 0425 GMT is indicative of the close racing that has characterised the first hours of the leg. Team Stelmar initially got off to a flying start, crossing the line first and carving out a four-boat-length lead over the fleet - an impressive feat when reporters on the water and in the air were reporting the yachts were so close it was difficult to ascertain their constantly changing fleet positions.

They rounded the first mark, Point Jerningham, in the lead and BP Explorer was in twelfth. After beating to Ngauranga Mark, they took a wide approach and second placed Samsung closed the gap significantly, but the pressure was short lived, Samsung broached after hoisting their 1.5oz race spinnaker and Team Stelmar were temporarily off the hook and still in front.

Samsung recovered though, and the whole fleet hoisted their race kites for the downwind run towards the entrance of Wellington Harbour. Team Stelmar's lead had been reduced to less than one boat length.

Samsung steal the lead

As the leaders approached Barrett Reef Buoy, Samsung stole the lead and boasted a ten second advantage over second place Team Stelmar round the mark. An hour and a half into the race first place was clearly a fragile place to be; just a few minutes later, reports put Spirit of Sark in the lead as the first Waypoint, Thomas Rock, became the next target. Barrett Reef Buoy had signalled the end of the downwind run, but most teams chose to keep their kites up, sailing a tight reach, except SAIC La Jolla and VAIO, who opted for headsails early on.

Unfortunately for Team Stelmar, by the time they decided to drop their spinnaker, they were forced to turn off their desired course and head further downwind to do so, losing valuable time on close rivals. They plummeted from second to eleventh in an instant.

Wind hole stops fleet in its tracks

BG SPIRIT, Me to You and Barclays Adventurer were having a particularly close tussle between themselves at this point, but the next obstacle affected the whole fleet.

Frustrating for the leaders maybe, but an opportunity for the tail-enders to close the gap and keep the pressure on. As they hit the breeze again, Me to You and Barclays Adventurer came out on top, in first and second respectively. The last visual report put Samsung close behind them in third , with the other Australian skipper, BG SPIRIT's Andy FORBES also keen to arrive in Sydney Harbour first and chasing hard in fourth.

Latest positions…

The latest position reports show the fleet has split into two camps. BP Explorer, Spirit of Sark, Me to You, BG SPIRIT, Samsung and SAIC La Jolla have opted for a course along the rhumb line. Team Save the Children, Pindar, Team Stelmar, Imagine It. Done. Barclays Adventurer and VAIO have headed further east, with VAIO taking the boldest move away from the rhumb line as the most easterly yacht.

They may be trying to position themselves to take advantage of winds from the east-northeast as they leave the Cook Strait and enter the Tasman Sea, hoping for a reach back towards the rhumb line on a faster wind angle than those sailing the shortest course.

However, the forecast shows low-pressure systems above and below the fleet, creating an area of potentially light and fluky winds ahead of the teams over the next 24-hours. High-pressure is threatening to steal their thunder and their boat speed after an exciting start. With reduced wind speed comes increased tension as every fraction of a knot counts, especially during a shorter leg.

Although the race viewer shows BP Explorer in the lead, it is more likely that one of the four yachts placed second to sixth is leading, all reporting to be 1nm off the top spot. BP Explorer polled slightly later than the rest of the fleet, hence their enhanced position.

Me to You and Spirit of Sark are the most likely contenders for a lead that is set to change hands continually during this leg. The race viewer will be updated soon and will hopefully clarify leaderboard positions.
Dan Wedgewood (As Amended by ISAF)
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