Ecover has made a great comeback and is now in third just 15.5 miles from the leader PRB and 11.8 miles from Sill. The anglo-saxon fortune continues with Team 888 up into fifth after streaking past VMI.
The leaders are currently sailing east of Newcastle and expected to finish between 1600 and 2000 hours BST tomorrow.
As a result of this morning's general technical problems with the transmission of the rankings, the crew of Ecover were completely in the dark about being in third position and were obviously over the moon about the news at the noon radio session. At 1500 BST they were just 15.5 miles from the leader and 11.8 miles from Sill who is suffering as a result of the ideal conditions for solent sailing and a less than ideal solent! Ecover has scorched past Bobst Group Armor Lux, doubling its lead since noon today as the latter weaves very close to the beautiful beaches of Northumberland. Joint fifth, the hard work on Team 888 has finally paid off as they have realised yesterday's target of catching up with VMI as well as knocking off 21.6 miles on the leader in 24 hours. A bare 29 miles separates the final trio forming the fourth battle in this Calais Round Britain race and the tension, just 278.2 miles from the finish, is tangible. The arrival is expected to be between 1600 and 2000 hours BST tomorrow evening.
In the very clement wind conditions (15 knots) on virtually flat seas, the nine monohulls continue to tack down the coasts of England and Scotland. The wind has now shifted to the south west, enabling them to make a virtually direct course on starboard tack down to Calais. To be well placed this morning, it was necessary to find a compromise between the shortest course, right up against the coastline, and the most favourable winds, further out to sea. These varying options have lead to some very interesting developments.
At around 30 hours from the finish line, the definitive ranking is far from being written. There are three pairs duelling for a podium finish now and the lunch time radio session left a mixture of concern from some and hope from others as they get ever closer to Calais with everything to win...or lose.
It's war between PRB and Sill and at midday Vincent RIOU and his crew were relishing their lead: good tactics, good speed and the crew in good shape. "We have a bit of air this morning, 17 to 18 knots. Sill passed us under staysail earlier to preserve its solent, and that went in our favour. The ambiance is excellent. We've been managing our sleep well and the freshness of the crew is essential at the moment. We really have to try to keep our lead because anything could happen in the last 30 hours. During the next 24 hours of racing, it's going to be very sporty", comments the skipper.
Aboard Sill, Roland JOURDAIN was not quite in such high spirits, admitting that he'd been had with less wind on the coast, and had lost several miles in barely half an hour. "It's very annoying. The closer you get to the coast the less wind you have."
Bobst Group Armor Lux know all about that! Bernard STAMM and his crew were by far the closest to the coast, surfing down the coast of Northumberland.
Their coastal options cost them third place and Mike GOLDING and his team are reaping the rewards. "It's great to be in third. I think we're in good shape and have been sailing well all race, especially under these circumstances. We've not been out of the picture at all. Just got to see if we can't get ahead of the 2 boats in front of us! We've been having computer problems since Saint Kilda. It's only a handicap because the other boats do have access. We're now using more traditional methods, but don't even have access to those always. We're using the good old shipping forecast on BBC radio 4! There are potentially tactical opportunities coming up as we near the Thames estuary with the water being more shallow and further influenced by the tides. That's where we could make gains or even losses. That's the case for any 1 of the top 4 really. I'm very impressed with Bobst; they've had a corking race and PRB are back on the pace with a vengeance! No boats have specifically been designed for this race but I would say that the Lombard design is the best all round boat as it is particularly suited to this strategically restricted course along the coast."
Mike GOLDING concluded that it is very interesting to be in such close contact because if you find yourself in a good system and start to get away from the fleet you are also giving away a certain amount of information about your position. This is doubtless the case for any of the leading pack and the only way to win will be to get on the right shift.
Team 888 have also come good passing up into fifth position by the 1500 BST ranking 1.3 miles ahead of VMI skippered by Sébastien JOSSE with top French navigator Isabelle Autissier aboard after hanging out from the land where the air was more lively. Isabelle was fairly fatalistic about the comeback. "We're keeping our eye on Team 888. We're certainly not the "Kingos" upwind. It's not our boat's favourite point of sail."
It should be noted that VMI are currently on a more direct course though but co-skipper of Team 888 was clearly not giving anything of their strategy away at the radio session!
Arcelor Dunkerque, Garnier and Objectif 3 are bringing up the rear of the fleet with just 29 miles separating the trio. "What is pleasant,"
said Fred DAHIREL from the latter boat, "is that we have a real fight going on at the back. We're hoping to keep on a direct course so that we touch the south-westerly quicker. This upwind descent is really invigorating!"
. Meantime a couple of places ahead, Arcelor Dunkerque is "attempting something out to the east and running the risk of being caught up by the rest of the trio"
said skipper Joé SEETEN.
Full position reports are available on the event website at the address below.