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17 November 2003, 05:14 pm
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Transat Jacques Vabre
Salvador deBahia

Virbac due to finish at midnight local time; Sill pulls ahead of Ecover in their match-race for the podium; Team Cowes still on the tail of VMI.
Virbac (Dick/Abiven) has sailed a faultless course and with 130 odd miles to the finish going at 10 knots VMG, is expected to finish ahead of the 12 other 60ft monohulls tonight around midnight local time (0300GMT). Still with a buffer of 114m over the second boat and with the Trades expected to push them all the way to the finish, bar an unforeseen technical incident onboard, French duo Jean-Pierre Dick and Nicolas Abiven look set to take their first major offshore victory in their brand new Farr 60. Speaking to the skipper today, the phrase "metho-Dick" comes into mind:

"It's an extremely positive result for us. The first confrontation against the best of the current Open 60 class. Whether it's to do with managing the boat or the expertise of the people, we can only congratulate the team on the overall management of the project. We haven't suffered a major breakage, everyone's put their back into it and so we've got to be happy about the result. The only negative is the upwind performance in a strong breeze, but we've time to work on that. The first thing we want to do on arrival is have a shower as we forgot to pack any soap! We really did stick to the minimum on board, one toothbrush, one pair of shoes, boots and 2 T-shirts. We've only eaten two real meals each day and not three, and the cereal in the morning had to be stomached with baby milk - can you believe it - so the person who did our shopping was either playing a practical joke or seriously mistaken!"

The battle for second place has stepped up another level, as in the last 24hrs, both Ecover and Sill have been switching places in the podium rankings for second and third place, so close are they to each other in terms of the distance to finish. At the latest rankings of 1500GMT, it is now Sill (Jourdain/A. Thomson) who points her bow 11 miles ahead of Ecover (Golding/B. Thompson) but the VMG and actual boat speed for both boats over each two-hourly position update has seen no significant difference as they converge to the line some 250m away. Sill is currently 60m offshore and Ecover about 25m nearer the coast. The Trades look stable with consistent breeze in force, and so the only thing certain is that the four skippers will both be on dry land by tomorrow morning, they are expected in between 4 and 6 o'clock local time (0700 - 0900GMT), but between now and then it is a match-race down to the wire.

Not only is the competition for rankings, but for prestige as well, and the race is also about who will be the first British skipper in the international Open 60 class. Alex THOMSON, co-skipper on Sill, remains level-headed despite all the pressure on him as the 'new boy' racing against the combined talent of Mike Golding and Brian Thompson: "It was another hectic night on Sill, we stayed offshore to keep in the breeze, but the wind varied from between 8 - 19 knots, which meant it was very physical, hand-steering with the gennaker, changing to Solent and back again, totally stop-go all night. Now we expect the wind to stabilize in force, but come more behind us. So as it moves to the left more we will probably end up flying the spinnaker. We are 60m offshore, with Mike about 25m nearer to the coast, and Bilou and I are hoping that Ecover will have to come back out and so sail behind us. At the end of the day, we've just got to get the rag up and go!" Indeed, all will be revealed by this time tomorrow.

Behind, PRB (Riou/Beyou) is conservatively holding her fourth position with a comfortable gap of 67m until fifth placed VMI (Josse/Autissier). Josse has served an invaluable apprenticeship with Isabelle AUTISSIER on his Open 60 during this race, and has clocked some of the fastest speeds downwind on their spaceship-like hull, which has put them in the running for the overall Baume & Mercier 24hr record Trophy.

Unfortunately, Team Cowes (Moloney/Davies) has been squeezed out of the top 5, and she lies just 35m behind VMI in a difficult Westerly position and unable to match her nearest rival's performance despite pushing 100%. Co-skipper Sam Davies has mixed feelings: "I will be sad when this race is over. We are struggling a bit though to keep up with VMI, she took 23 miles out of us today and we can't sail Team Cowes any faster. I think that they got this wind first and the rich are getting richer, so to speak. Hopefully we will not lose too much more now we are up to speed. Then we will still be in with a chance of catching her."

Hellomoto is still leading the Monohull 60's but the dreaded Doldrums has them well and truly ensnared. Down to just 3.2 knots boat speed, Humphreys and Larsen will be watching their lead melt as Storagetek (Guillemot/Salnelle) eat into their lead at a rate of 11 knots. They still have a 169m advantage but will it be enough to get them to the other side before their rivals get too close?

More details and full position reports are available on the event website at the address below.
Mary Ambler (As Amended By ISAF News Editor)
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