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15 November 2003, 11:19 am
Snakes and Ladders
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Transat Jacques Vabre

A few skippers had what Roland Jourdain termed this morning "a bitter breakfast" when they received the first position report of the morning at 0300GMT…
The Doldrums have lived up to their name, as overnight all the boats in both fleets slightly to the East have slowed up considerably more than those positioned just one degree or so to the West. Those boats in the latter category found a wind corridor in the night, enabling them to jump their nearest rivals… but the top three rankings in multi and mono 60 classes are metamorphosing as we write..!

Leaders are still Groupama (Cammas/Proffit) and Virbac (Dick/Abiven), but in the multihulls Biscuits La Trinitaine (Guillemot/Guichard) leapt from 5th to 3rd place just 20m behind Belgacom when they were 95m behind 24hrs ago. The reason..? They are at 27W, one degree over from Géant (Desjoyeaux/Jan) & Sergio Tacchini (Fauconnier/Foxall), and were averaging 1 - 2 knots more boat speed than her nearest rivals. Further out to the West than that are Sopra Group (Monnet/L. Bourgnon), Bonduelle (Le Cam/De Pavant) and Foncia (Gautier/MacArthur), currently 6th, 9th and 11th respectively, and were all are in good airflow overnight going well above 10 knots in stark contrast to Sodebo (Coville/Vincent) and Banque Populaire (Roucayrol/Bidegorry) over in the East who hit the traffic lights and slowed to around 5 knots boat speed.

However, come the 0500GMT rankings, all change again! In just two hours, Biscuits La Trinitaine has dropped to 5 knots boat speed and dropped to 6th place! The only other boats glued to the spot are Sodebo midway West-East in position going at 1.9 knots, and Banque Populaire at 5.9 knots out in the East. Belgacom, Sergio Tacchini and Géant have found their morning deliverance as their speeds shoot up to 15+ knots again, and they are back up the rankings in 3rd and 4th. Just 70 miles separates 2nd from 6th place and so watch this space for more changes throughout the day…

In the monohull fleet, it felt like the worst Monday morning on board both Virbac and Sill, for different reasons…firstly Jean-Pierre Dick was barely able to talk for longer than a couple of minutes as he and Nicolas Abiven were battling with yet another imminent squall heading their way after a stressful and sleepless night on the deck: "This is what we feared would happen - and it has. We have had violent squalls, tons of rain and spent all night on deck reefing in and out the sails, I'm worried about being over canvassed all the time. We've got another 60m before we get out of this, perhaps this evening, but we haven't felt any easterly breeze yet. We're completely stuck in the 'Pot' now!" So at the 0300GMT report they were only making 4.7 knots boat speed, now at 0500GMT it has lifted to 8 knots, but they have seen their lead nearly halved in the last 2 days.

Now 98.5m behind them is none other than Ecover (Golding/Thompson), the British duo having sneaked over to the west by a dozen or so miles late yesterday, which has made all the difference in taking a good 45 mile chunk out of Sill (Jourdain/Thomson) and moving into 2nd place. "I've only just woken up so what more can I say but it's not good news!" said a tired sounding Bilou on the sat phone this morning. "Is it his boat speed, the wind, or both, I don't know but there's been more wind to the west. We got caught under a cloud yesterday afternoon and Mike was directly behind us but he obviously moved over to the West by a handful of miles and now we wake up to find him 35m over to the west and ahead. We're going a long nicely still, in 13 knots of breeze, and we're expecting it to go lighter today, look at Virbac ahead. Most annoying, not a good breakfast…"

Naturally, Brian Thompson on Ecover had got up on the right side of bed this morning and yet still spoke with a cautious tone about this change in fortune: "We've had a few squalls but nothing too bad. So we have passed Sill, it has to have been a good night then! We did have more wind where we were, maybe Sill were unlucky, it is still a lottery out here as Virbac has slowed right up ahead. It looks very light in front and PRB and Team Cowes are closing in behind. In our position we can at least see what weather Virbac is getting and then see if we need to go left or right to sail around any tricky weather. In the big picture, there's an opening and closing of gates which happens and we have had the gate opened but the next 24hrs is critical to get through and keep up the boat speed. We could be through in a day or get stuck and have another 48 hours of this to endure."

Thompson went on to describe night sailing in the tropics: "Last night Mike and I took turns to drive whilst the other one slept and if we saw a cloud approaching we'd wake the other one up to come up on deck. The clouds have killed the wind a bit really, we've had a few sprinkles of rain, nothing dramatic though. That's good for us as we don't have such a big sail wardrobe anymore. We need to keep a real eye out, though, until daylight, as we have no radar working and the worst time is the first half of the night up to midnight when there is no moon and you can't spot the squalls. The second half, the moon is up, which means you can see the cloud line better. We did see Biscuits La Trinitaine sail past us, which was surreal!"
So, Team Cowes (Moloney/Davies) is this morning's fastest boat going at an average of 12.5 knots over at 29 W longitude. They have come to within 5 miles of PRB (Riou/Beyou) ahead, and these two will be dueling through the day to see who wind through as well. Ninety five miles separates Ecover from VMI (Josse/Autissier) in 6th and so we could see the same kind of metamorphosing rankings in the following 24hrs…

For the Monohull Open 50's, Hellomoto (Humphreys/Larsen) enjoys a healthy 212m lead over Storagetek (Guillemot/Salnelle) as the three boats are still above 15N and yet to hit the Doldrums.

Full positions are available on the event website at the address below.
Mary Ambler
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