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23 April 2003, 10:21 am
Final Leg Gets Closer and Closer
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Tiscali at the Barra Lighthouse Gate

Around Alone - Leg Five
Salvador (BRA) - Newport (USA)

The frontrunners, Bernard Stamm and Simone Bianchetti still enjoy a sizeable lead, but the race for third in Class 1 is getting closer and Bruce Schwab is anxiously looking over his shoulder.
The strategy that Thierry Dubois on Solidaires and Emma Richards on Pindar played early in the leg is finally paying off and they are well situated to roll over the top of the slim Tom Wiley design. Schwab is hoping to make it through a patch of lighter air and into fresher winds before getting rolled, but only time will tell how he does. "Yikes!" he wrote. "Thierry and Emma are flying up from behind with better wind and faster reaching boats. I'm working like crazy to hold them off until the next light transitional patch coming up in a couple of days, but it's tough with our current weakness in reaching conditions. Just before dawn, I put up our big gennaker as the wind is going lighter, and definitely can't let up at all."

From the outset Dubois planned to head more to the east of the fleet in a long term plan to situate himself better for the northeast trade winds north of the equator. Boats to the east will have a better sailing angle as they head up the North Atlantic and with the a better angle comes better boat speed. Emma Richards had the same idea, but both skippers found themselves on the losing end of a wind gradient. The boats inshore had more pressure and before long they had done a horizon job on Thierry and Emma. Now that the trades have filled in and all the boats are sailing in similar conditions, Solidaires and Pindar are barreling along and have narrowed the gap on Ocean Planet. At the last poll Solidaires was only 46 miles behind Ocean Planet with Pindar 47 miles astern of Solidaires with both boats sailing faster than Ocean Planet.

Between Schwab and his pursuers is Class 2 leader Brad Van Liew on Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America just over 30 miles behind Ocean Planet. If Bruce is nervous about being overtaken, he should give Van Liew a call. Brad see things differently as he wrote in his daily log. "Man I wish I could just coax a wee bit more out of Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America so I could reel in Bruce Schwab. His Open-60 is even paced in these conditions, but when the winds get light in a few days Ocean Planet will be quite the weapon for Thierry Dubois and Emma Richards to worry about." Brad seems convinced that Ocean Planet will regain the lost miles once the new wind kicks in. Soon all the boats will be reaching that transitional stage from trade winds to the frontal systems coming off of the eastern United States. The whole game will change once that happens.

All of this is interesting because much is at stake. Bruce Schwab desperately wants a podium finish and so far this has been his leg. On the other hand Emma Richards will feel robbed if Tiscali finishes ahead of Pindar with a boat between them. The Italian skipper will move up into third overall. Even if Solidaires and Pindar both manage to get by Ocean Planet, it will not help Emma unless Solidaires passes Tiscali, or she passes Solidaires. If this is starting to sound like something from Dr. Suess it's because the fleet is entering the final stages of the Around Alone and the overall outcome is far from decided. Bernard Stamm might have the race locked up, but he knows that race is never over until it's over. Dubois, on the other hand, has conceded first place in the overall standings to Stamm. He also knows that if nothing happens between now and Newport, there is no way he can be beaten out of second place. "I will finish this leg this way, or in a duel if it happens, but either way I am definitely second to the invincible helming of Bernard Stamm!" he wrote. We all know better than to call the race with 2,000 miles still to go, but the next week is going to have some tense moments. Stay tuned.
Brian Hancock
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