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10 December 2003, 10:57 am
Virbac Dismasts, Golding Hits Whale
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Le Defi Atlantique

Last night at 0200GMT Jean-Paul DICK'S Open 60 Virbac dismasted while lying in fourth place in the Defi Atlantique singlehanded race from Salvador to La Rochelle.
Race HQ picked up on Dick's predicament quickly. From going 10 knots his speed suddenly dropped to less than 3. Race HQ attempted to contact Dick but were unable to establish communications. Speaking to Dick's shore team, it was confirmed that Virbac had dismasted.

Virbac's position at 0500 this morning had her 350 miles to the northwest of the Cape Verdes. This could prove problematic initially because at present Dick will have to sail upwind to get there.

Elsewhere in the fleet Vincent Riou yesterday afternoon took over the lead from Mike GOLDING. Both boats are pretty much neck and neck and lining up to sail up the west side of a giant high pressure system located to their northeast.

Positions at 0500 UTC 10 December
Pos Competitor Latitude Longitude Dist. to first Dist. to finish
1 Vincent RIOU N234748 W0285068 0 1921.1
2 Mike GOLDING N232179 W0282408 7.5 1928.6
3 Sébastien JOSSE N221672 W0280660 53.3 1974.4
4 Nick MOLONEY N214360 W0280984 83 2004.1
5 Alex THOMSON N242244 W0340212 147.3 2068.4
6 Jean Pierre DICK N212280 W0303684 174.7 2095.8
7 Joe SEETEN N192804 W0295040 247.8 2168.9
8 Benoît LEQUIN N182960 W0284220 265.7 2186.8
9 Benoît PARNAUDEAU N162768 W0311156 442.2 2363.3
10 Anne LIARDET N143280 W0313636 553.8 2474.9

Earlier this morning Golding told his shore team that he had just hit a large UFO, believed to be a whale, which snapped off part of Ecover's bow. Fortunately it sounds as though it may only have been the sacrificial part of the bow, so should not prevent him continuing. The object first hit the bow, then the daggerboard and then the keel. Golding was most worried about the daggerboard, but has since checked it and everything is fine.

The success story of the last 24 hours has been the recovery of Alex THOMSON on board AT Racing. Night before last Thomson gybed west and yesterday morning resumed his course and this ballsey move has paid dividends over the last hours. Yesterday at the 0500 position report Thomson had dropped back to seventh place 224 miles from the leader and this morning he has recovered 80 miles, having covered 397 miles in the last 24 hours. A look at the chart above explains why - positioned some 280 miles to the west of Rio and Golding, Thomson is sailing is substantially more wind than they leaders are. If he plays his cards right then the forecast charts show that Thomson may well remain in more pressure for the next few days. We would say his prospects look good..

"My position on the race course yesterday meant I was in more of a southerly breeze rather than SE like the others," said Thomson yesterday. "I saw that the strongest band of wind was in the northwest so the idea was to get into this corridor of wind for the next two days. So I sailed into the low pressure and at midnight the wind picked up big time, topped out at 39 knots once, and I've been averaging 19-20 knots since - I'm hooning it! It's a risky move, but I've got nothing to lose. I wanted to do something different, and it's the only way to learn stuff. I gybed out of the low at 8am this morning, now I'm in the strongest breeze and even if it doesn't work out, I'm having wicked fun!

"Looking ahead, I need the boats in the east to get less wind further up the course as they get nearer the coastline, as over here I should stay in the breeze for longer. I hope to gain in latitude again and although I am 300m to the west of Ecover, this may pay later on. If I'd been 100m further north when I made this move I'd be in better shape in the rankings, but the low moved north a bit too and so I didn't come out with the best wind angle. It's not a winning move but I hope it will put me back in the game in a couple of day's time."

Part of experiencing different wind conditions - especially the top end of the weather - is invaluable practice for Alex as he learns to handle his new Open 60, and importantly gets to know the limits, by himself. "I did actually broach the boat for the first time. I had the full main and fractional asymmetric spinnaker flying, about 430 square metres of sail up, when a black cloud came over with 36 knots of wind under it, and I must say the boat fell over in a very graceful fashion going down a wave - I've got to do these things, otherwise I'll never know. I dumped the sheets and headed down, but the tack on the kite blew across the foot and up the luff. When this happened with Bilou it was a total nightmare, but I have rigged emergency drops systems for the kites and it worked beautifully - it took 10 minutes to get the sail down - I was shocked!"

"I'm just having a wonderful time out here, in 28 knots of breeze with 1 reef in the mainsail and Code 5 up and the boat speed is going 21…22…23...! I also did my first ever gybe this morning in 35 knots of wind - it's going to make all the others easier from now on! It was such a palava before with two of us, so by myself, I had to shift the sails over, put a second reef in the main, then roll the Code 5 which takes 15 minutes to grind in. Then I gybed the boat, unfurled the Code 5 and got going again. The boat is spot on and it feels comfortable even going along at this rate, my only problem is that I'm pretty exhausted, I haven't slept properly for two days, but now I can't sleep because I want to stay up and enjoy it!"
Event Media (As amended by ISAF Secretariat)
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