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10 October 2002, 03:01 pm
Standings Shift as the fleet Enters Final Third
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Challenge Transat - Race 2
Boston (USA)-Southampton (GBR)

Leader Vail Williams appears to have broken the invisible rubber band that has kept second place Logica a near-constant 8 miles astern for the past week.
This morning Vail Williams had extended its lead over Logica to 22 miles.

No one was more surprised than Vail skipper, David Melville.

"We were surprised," Melville said., adding, "I wonder if they broke something or it was just a bad night. There is such a fine line at the moment it could have just as easily been us losing 10 miles and we would be gutted to see them sitting right behind us."

But, all appears well aboard Logica. Not only did the team not report any boat damage, but mate Jasper Heikens reported a fast and exciting night of sailing.

" What a blast!" Heikens said, "Power sailing downwind with winds consistently above the 20s, speed records tumble every watch. impressive to see 50 tons of steel surf down a wave at 21 knots."

Further back in the fleet Spirit of Hong Kong ripped third place from the hands of BG Group. BG, which won Race One, had fought its way to a strong third position last week after falling far behind early in the race. But, the team took a flyer north of the rhumline early this week and has watched its dreams of a podium spot in Race Two turned to dust ever since.

BG Group not only failed to find the better winds it sought on its northerly course, but was hit by rough seas that not only slowed them but led to BG Group mate, Lawrence Marriott, to break two ribs when he fell on deck. Then a giant wave hit the yacht damaging its steering causing the yacht to sail in circles for several hours Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, Spirit of Hong Kong, which had chosen a southerly route, was spared the worst of the rough sea conditions that slowed BG Group. As BG Group steadily lost miles up north, Spirit of Hong Kong steadily gained miles down south. By yesterday it was becoming clear that BG Group was rapidly losing its grasp on third place.

Then this morning, it was gone. At this writing Spirit of Hong Kong had a six mile lead on BG Group and was sailing 2.3 knots faster than BG Group.

Further back, in fifth place, Team SpirIT skipper, Mark Taylor, reported that at long last his team has finally repaired its shredded spinnaker.

"For the first time in over a week we are not stitching," Taylor reported. "We finally repaired the Flanker and our mainsail. The flanker has taken approximately 7 days of 24 hours a day work with up to 4 people at a time stitching."

The sail damage suffered by TeamSpirit has cost the team dearly. Early in the race the team had enjoyed the fresh air near the front of the fleet. Then, early last week, a freak accident shredded the team's valuable spinnaker. Then one of their smaller headsails tore. Then, its mainsail began to tear requiring three reefs.

Now, that all the sails are back in operation, Taylor says the team will push hard to make up the miles they lost. "We have lost a lot of ground to the fleet and the crew are very keen to make it up and if possible catch Spirit of Hong Kong and BG Group. As to the quality of the repair to the flanker we will find out."

According the Commanders' weather Taylor will soon get his chance to find out if his repaired spinnaker will hold. The entire fleet is about to feel the affect of a high-pressure system - a pause in wind ahead of the next low. That means that tonight and tomorrow will produce spinnaker conditions. Even though the team may have poured their hearts into repairing Team SpirIT's spinnaker, such repairs are often in vain. The gossamer-like spinnaker fabric is notoriously difficult to patch and, when patched, often blow out at the slightest shock.

The good news for last placed BP Explorer and Team SpirIT and Spirit of Hong Kong is that a new low is brewing and moving towards them from the west. They will not only enjoy the effects of the low long before the two leading boats, but will also get the best of it. Once the front finally reaches the lead boats the wind will clock to a less favourable angle, according to Commanders' Weather.

The prospect of the back-enders closing on them does not exactly delight the leaders. "Very shortly we will park up, basically this means we stop dead in a no wind area," complained Logica's mate. "It's very frustrating to see your hard-fought lead diminish in a day. To make things worse the back of the fleet will get the new winds first and creep up behind you, very unfair. The race will have to be fought out in the tactically highly challenging channel."

BG Group will benefit the least from the new front, according to Commanders' Weather.

The yachts are now 700 to 900 miles from the finish. And, while today's open ocean sailors' benefit from technology like global positioning satellites to tell them when they are close to land, the old fashioned signs still provide plenty of low-tech clues.

"Everyone has also been amazed that we have seen birds every day, we have noticed a significant increase in quantity as we are nearing [land]," reported TeamSpirit skipper Mark Taylor.

Positions as at 1423 GMT Yesterday

Boat Name Position Lat Long DTF CMG VMG
Vail Williams 1 N 49° 45' 48" W 13° 59' 17" 650 87 5.4
Logica 2 N 49° 31' 9" W 14° 22' 33" 666 92 6.3
BG Group 3 N 50° 57' 29" W 16° 42' 38" 756 85 10.3
Spirit of Hong Kong 4 N 49° 28' 5" W 16° 43' 7" 758 87 9.9
Team SpirIT 5 N 50° 3' 31" W 18° 2' 58" 806 89 9.4
BP Explorer 6 N 49° 57' 24" W 19° 15' 31" 853 81 8.3

Stephen Pizzo/ISAF News Editor
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