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11 November 2003, 09:50 am
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Transat Jacques Vabre
France - Brazil

Groupama leads the top 4 boats into the trades; Sergio Tacchini spears south; backmarkers including Foncia and Bonduelle becalmed.
Virbac streaks ahead, Sill and Team Cowes try to take advantage of more Westerly position; Ecover is back on form and closing the gap, PRB gets glued to the spot.

Multihulls

Although Groupama (Cammas/Proffit FRA) is still commanding a 59m lead in the multihull 60 class with three other boats all below 26N and now in the Trades, second placed Sergio Tacchini (Fauconnier/Foxall) has speared off south about 360m from the African coast, whereas the other three have all put some westing in their route. Both Géant (Desjoyeaux/Jan) and Belgacom (Nélias/L.Peyron) are clocking higher speeds downwind, and so we could see the gaps close up by the Doldrums. For the next flank of boats above this latitude, only those placed over to the west, Biscuits La Trinitaine (Guillemot/Guichard) the furthest at 23W, Sopra Group (Monnet/L. Bourgnon) and Sodebo (Coville/Vincent) are in the wind corridor to the West of the Canaries. Four hundred miles to the East is Banque Populaire (Roucayrol/Bidegorry) to the lee of Gran Canaria. There has not been much choice for those forced to stop in Madeira. Gitana (Lemonchois/Guessard) headed West, which is paying for now, whereas Bonduelle (Le Cam/De Pavant) and Foncia (Gautier/MacArthur) headed South, and it is these last two trimarans that have been becalmed. Ellen Macarthur philosophized on the sat phone: "It's hard to have endured a broken mainsail halyard, a ripped staysail and a pit stop in Porto Santo, but harder still is to not have more than 2 knots of wind right now, just one of the many challenges of this race…one day the wind will return."

Whilst Bayer CropScience (Le Peutrec/Cressant) has set off again from Porto Santo, the 50ft multihull Mollymawk skippered by British duo Ross HOBSON and Andi NEWMAN is still the back marker of the whole fleet at 36N, and their goal is to catch up on the Open 50's before too long!

Monohull Open 60's

The leading Open 60 monohulls are picking up speed as they each in turn reach the new NE wind. "The big news for today is that we are well and truly in the Trade Winds!" said Jean-Pierre Dick on the sat phone this morning. Leading monohull Virbac has been gibing under spinnaker in a 15 NE breeze and able to reach 16 knots boat speed. She is now 135 miles from her nearest rival, Sill (Jourdain/Thomson) and 169m ahead of Ecover (Golding/Thompson) at the 1500GMT position update. "The flying fish are not yet jumping for joy onto the deck but last night was incredible, one of the best out of the 95 days I have spent on my boat. Now the next hurdle is to get well positioned to attack the Doldrums and for the Equator."

Now, the skippers must work out the most favourable gybing angle to keep up maximum boat speed with a view to heading towards a chosen latitude through which they will cross the Doldrums the most easily. A whole 214m to the West of Virbac, Alex Thomson, co-skipper on Sill, talked about how they might take advantage of their position: "We are into the trades now, with the small reaching spinnaker and full mainsail up. Tonight the breeze should clock round more to the North, which favours Virbac and Ecover then, but afterwards it should clock back slowly and we can sail on a hotter angle then. We can't afford any mistakes, and it's just as important to hold onto this second place as it is to catch Virbac. We shouldn't have a problem, but we're still worried about Mike!"

Fellow Brits Golding and Thomspon on Ecover are back up to speed now and gaining back miles on the two leaders at each sched. Mike positivised on the sat phone: "Speed is always important, you can't ever replace speed. It makes you look tactically very good. Of course there is an element of positioning, particularly where we are positioned in the line up to the Doldrums. In the next few days we'll see boats shuffling across the course trying to prejudge the position of where they'll cross the ITCZ, the Doldrums."

With 2,400m to go, the monohull fleet are nearing the half way mark and have all to play for still. They are looking at the development of the Doldrums, the bizarre meteorological phenomenon otherwise known as the ITCZ (Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone) where the weather interchanges between fickle and variable winds if any at all, to violent rain squalls in a very short period of time.

Exciting racing just behind the leading trio, as PRB (Riou/Beyou) get holed, to allow Team Cowes (Moloney/Davies) to come to within 3 miles as they stay in the narrow airstream just out to the west. PRB co-skipper Jeremie BEYOU sounded down in the dumps: "We've been caught by the high pressure cell and it's so frustrating to be becalmed when you can see the others taking off ahead and the boats behind catching up. Since the start we've been right in there and have sailed hard. But now, it feels like we're going nowhere, and Brazil seems a long long way away…We are trying to keep moral up."

Skipper on Team Cowes, Nick MOLONEY, was sounding jubilant for their gain, but also keeping an eye on the route ahead: "Once everyone is in the Trades, I think, they will fall into a line. The difference will be in the approach to the Doldrums...from here on in we are thinking about that approach. Approaching further west can give you a better crossing so it's looking all right for us and Sill. PRB is a rocketship downwind and she has a massive 380sqm spinnaker. Virbac is going fast in these conditions...I would say that in the upwind stuff we were matching her definitely but when she bore away by a few degress she was off and sailed through us and Pindar. I guess they twigged early that they just had to sail fast which has dictated the route they have taken. We have 040 now so we will be looking to gybe in next half hour so we don't get any further away from the fleet."

Monohull Open 50's

In the Open 50 fleet, Hellomoto is still maintaining her lead of 41m over Storagetek (Guillemot/Salnelle) and is pulling away from third placed boat Défi Vendéen 108m in her wake as they continue down the direct route. Storagetek is actually lower in latitude but much further over to the East as the top two boats pass below 32N.

Weather Forecast

Tuesday - The boundary of the Trades should rise North to place themselves between 28 and 30 N. The back markers should benefit from getting the new breeze earlier than the leaders. Then all boats will be on the southern highway heading direct to the finish line, with the Doldrums in the way. The best strategy will be to remain on the direct route for now as until the boats get nearer to the ITCZ zone they won't know for sure how active this area will be.

Full positions are available on the event website at the address below.
Mary Ambler (As Amended By ISAF News Editor)
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