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15 December 2003, 11:52 am
Fight To The Finish
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Le Defi Atlantique
Salvador de Bahia - La Rochelle

Vincent RIOU has pipped Alex THOMSON to the lead with 4.5 miles between them. VMI has been putting the pressure on ECOVER, who were sailing next to each in the early hours of this morning, and currently have 7.2 miles between them.
Both ECOVER and VMI have made huge gains on the 2 front-runners, Golding reducing the gap by 120 in the last 24 hours. The fleet looks ahead to the Bay of Biscay, with 550 miles to go to the finish in La Rochelle.

This morning we spoke to Alex Thomson on his Sat B as over last night the Mini M sat phone went down. This cut in communications until Alex got the B working early today has had its consequences as this the normal means by which he downloads his weather files:

"Sorry, I'm not in the best of moods today, I've only just got the Sat B working and been able to get the weather for the first time since yesterday evening. I just don't understand how PRB has kept moving on the inside of me! It's so frustrating. Ecover and VMI are now heading slightly more North and may well sail over the top of me at this rate. I know they have another 70 miles to make up but it doesn't take much to turn things around, well I went from 7th to 1st in just a couple of days last week. So, it's hard to predict my ETA, I'll have to say Tuesday still for now. I'm going nowhere, the wind keeps flirting around and I've changed headsails too many times already, it's agonising!"

So we left Alex to get on with the job in hand, to get the boat moving and reassess his route and tactics in the final sprint to the finish, not without a word of encouragement to tell him that crossing the line is all he needs to do to qualify for the Vendée Globe, as he's already made enough of an impression in this race - but we get the sense that resignation is not in Alex Thomson's character as he responds with one final quip: "That's not good enough for me…"

ECOVER has gained 35.7 miles on the lead since 0500 this morning and has successfully held off VMI, who is now 7.2 miles behind Golding. This morning there was only 3.9 miles separating them. At 0500 this morning, Golding reported to his shore team, "I've got VMI right next door. He's been smoking it with 1 more knot of wind. VMI is a good reaching boat - It is going to be very useful sailing next to her."

By 1100 Golding was sounding pretty happy. "I'm just doing the best I can. I'm pushing left, trying to go round them (PRB & AT Racing), any thing is still possible - this is yacht racing. If I can get it down to 20 miles, which could be doable by the corner, it gives you the Bay of Biscay to catch them - so long as it stays upwind its not impossible. I'm actually having a nice relaxing day, making the boat go, and just had sausages, onions and a glass of wine. It is really quite pleasant. The sea's quite flat and I still have 10 knots of breeze. The boat's tramping along at 12-13 knots. It looks like there's a whole around the leaders, which I'm just skinning the edge of. VMI have come further out and could potentially miss by a good margin. We'll see."
Event Media (As Amended By ISAF News Editor)
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