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15 May 2002, 10:41 am
East or West - Which Way Will Pay?
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Regatta de Rubicon

Weather predictions for the fleet in the Regatta de Rubicon bring two systems into play.
A depression coming in from the West and a high pressure system sitting down in the South separate the fleet.

Last night for the 7 Open 60's racing in the Regata Rubicon was neither kind nor calm. The approaching high pressure ridge was signalled by fluctuating winds and the boat speeds varied between 0 and 9 knots. Sure enough the leaderboard also varied throughout the night, however in the light of day it is French boat Sill Plein Fruit (Jourdain) who has got away with a 23 mile lead over the Franco-Italians on Tiscali Global Challenge (Bianchetti).

Notably, British yacht Kingfisher (Ellen MacArthur) has pulled up to within half a mile in DTF of Tiscali, after heading slightly more offshore to the West to catch the incoming low pressure system.

The hours that come will be equally crucial, as Sill Plein Fruit &Tiscali are going to try and cross the high pressure ridge and catch favourable winds hopefully behind, and others such as Bobst Group - Armor Lux (Stamm) and Kingfisher more in the West are counting on the incoming low pressure system which could generate stronger winds.

"Last night was decisive, and the day ahead will be even more so!" was the message from crew Philippe Legros on board Sill Plein Fruit this morning. His voice was quiet, evidently the crew are exhausted, even though they should be satisfied to have won pole position from the racing overnight. "We fought non-stop last night through the light airs. We never had more than 10 knots of wind and were constantly on manoeuvres, I can't remember how many, but we used every sail on the boat! We've not slept now for two nights, and it's not over yet."

Sill Plein Fruit is crossing the infamous ridge, the ominous backbone of the Atlantic descent. "We are asking ourselves the whole time if we'll cross this and catch a favourable breeze behind!"

iscali crew member Laurent Cordelle gave his version of the events during the night: "It was just calm, calm, calm last night. There are two explanations for what happened. Firstly, we do not possess the same set of sails as Sill, ours have been made for Simone Bianchetti and the Around Alone, which is his next race. Secondly, in these light airs who's to predict which boat gets a lucky puff an! d which doesn't! In any case, last night's conditions kept us alert and awake the whole time."

On Kingfisher, Ellen MacArthur nosed ahead into 2nd place during the early part of this morning and is now just half a mile away from being in 2nd place again, and 50 miles to the West of the two leaders. However, last night she and crew Jonny Malbon spent 3 hours repairing the engine, as water has been seeping into the oil since the boat had left the UK. "We've had anything from 0 - 9 knots last night in terms of boat speed. We went for the Westerly option and are counting on this low coming in. The leaders are trying to cross the ridge from a more Easterly position but we are not so sure what the outcome will be."

As for the extremist Bernard Stamm on Bobst Group-Armor Lux, he has been clocking up the best average speed over the last 6 hours (9.2 knots). Does he have the time to come back into the match from a 77 mile deficit despite his longer route?

This scenario is being mirrored by the second half of the fleet, with Virbac (Jean-Pierre Dick) heading out West, aligning his boat practically on the direct route, and Temenos (Wavre) and L'Heautontimoroumenos (Koch) skirting the Portugese coastline to the East.

Today's Wednesday
The high pressure ridge is staying put between Southern Portugal and North of the Canaries. On the other hand the low pressure system at 45 N and 25 W will begin to generate SSW winds from 15 - 20 knots in the NW of Madeira. Light NE winds are likely to be found along the Moroccan coastline.

Wednesday night - Thursday morning
The high pressure zone with weak winds pushed by the low system should end up between Madeira and the Canaries. That indicates that the SW breeze in the West of Madeira should not be found in this zone.

The weather systems will certainly give the boats plenty to think about, but at the moment Roland Jourdain on Sill Plein Fruit holds the lead, closely chased by Simone Bianchetti on Tiscali Global Challenge and Ellen MacArthur on Kingfisher.

Mary Ambler/ISAF Secretariat
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