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24 April 2003, 05:41 pm
Fight for First
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Spirit of Southampton© Challenge Business

Round Britain Challenge

An astonishing poll of boat positions has revealed that the distance between Spirit of Southampton and BG Group is now so small that a leader cannot be named.

The lead is currently held by both boats, literally neck and neck as the rapidly condensing fleet head towards Muckle Flugga, the most northerly point of the course. Approaching the halfway mark, it is becoming evident that all the boats are still in contention. LogicaCMG are just two miles behind the joint leaders with the mid fleet group of five boats now separated by 7 miles. Spirit of Hong Kong may have only reduced Basilca's lead by a mile but the latest information reveals that over the past 24 hours only two boats have travelled a greater distance.

Last night Team Spirit gained a massive 56 miles on the lead and had the fastest 24 hour run to date, clocking up 208 miles, an impressive 49 miles further than first place, BG Group. Their daily log reflects the boost to morale, an inevitable result of such impressive progression through the fleet from their position in last place at the start of the event "The crews commitment has been rewarded and we believe that we have moved up into sixth place, we have our sights firmly set on being in 4th by Muckle Flugga, this will enable us to attack the leaders on the way down the North Sea." Commented Mark Taylor. In fact Team Spirit, now in 5th place, are already applying heavy pressure on Daily Telegraph, currently in visual range just two miles ahead.

During the eventful start in the Solent, John Quigley, first mate on Spirit of Hong Kong was submerged in four feet of water when the boat broached while he was out on the spinnaker pole. This morning he described what was going through his mind at the time: "I knew what was happening, the boat was broaching as we had a little too much wind, so I stayed put and waited for the crew to ease the sails so I would pop up out of the water again."

Hopefully his composure underwater will be mirrored on deck if the winds continue to pick up and boat speeds rise. Although John does not believe the wind speed will increase dramatically in the immediate future, "we've got this low building from behind us, so as that comes in the winds may increase slightly but we don't expect them to get too high, probably nothing more than about 25 knots and still from an easterly direction so I don't think there'll be too much change in the next couple of hours."

Talking about his situation this morning John described "a pretty flat sea, the wind is about 16 knots … we're keeled over at about 30 degrees and trucking along at about 9 knots." Asked whether the increasing wind speed has come as a relief he replied, "It has actually, two or three days ago off the west coast of Ireland we were 'ghosting along on the zephyr of the breeze', to quote Chay Blyth, for quite a while which is very frustrating, especially when the other boats ahead of us actually had a breeze and were moving away".

"After the incident in the Solent the other boats got ahead of us, in most instances there's not much chance of catching up if you follow the same course as they do as it's simply drag racing for speed. As we came up the west coast of Ireland we tried to go a bit further out so we wouldn't get any wind shadow from the land. By taking a slightly different course we were hoping if there were any changes, we would be the ones to take advantage."

Asked about the atmosphere on board John insisted the crew "are still very motivated and we still believe we can catch the leaders." With approximately 1000 miles of racing ahead of them their determination is certainly warranted, the extensive gains across the fleet overnight demonstrating the fragile nature of boat positions in a yacht race.

"Everything is up on a notice board so Crew Volunteers know what time they have to get up or when it's their turn to clean the head (toilet). It may sound a bit regimented but it's very organised."
However, John provided an insight into the team ethos that may explain their position on the leader-board, "We don't want to finish in third place having had a miserable time - we want to be able to enjoy it so we're trying to find the right balance. Maybe we've been having too much of a good time and not been doing enough racing yet, but things will change! We haven't incurred any further damage after the start day and none of the Crew Volunteers have been injured, nobody has sustained even a broken nail so we've been very safe."

Jon Crawford, skipper of Basilica, echoed the frustrations and aspirations of John Quigley, "It's impossible to describe the feeling on board when you're caught with no breeze and watching the rest of the fleet creep past."

However, the atmosphere on board is increasingly optimistic, "When the wind filled in this afternoon it was greeted with euphoria on board, the mood has changed from one of nervousness to one of eager anticipation - the next few chat shows will be the acid test... The hope is that the breeze which has filled in from the south will not benefit the 'front runners' until we can catch up. It looks as though the whole fleet might bunch up over the next few hours which will certainly liven things up!"

An advantage of lighter winds, despite the frustrations they cause, was described by Crew Volunteers aboard LogicaCMG, "We can open the hatches and get some air below... as some of the smells of eighteen people living in a 72 foot confined space is at times overpowering, some socks have been seen walking on their own around the saloon and others have been captured and thrown over board. Some lucky crew have had showers, others are still waiting...."

This morning Clive Crosby was clearly well aware that their slim lead was under constant threat. Now that he and Spirit of Southampton are level both boats will be pushing hard to make the lead their own and claim a significant psychological victory.

Latest Positions at 1304 GMT

Pos Boat Name DTF DTL 24 Hour run 24 Hour speed
1 Spirit of Southampton 958 - 182 7.6
2 BG Group 958 0 180 7.5
3 LogicaCMG 960 2 178 7.4
4 The Daily Telegraph 989 31 190 7.9
5 Team Spirit 991 33 205 8.5
6 Vail Williams 995 37 203 8.5
7 Basilica 996 38 199 8.3
8 Spirit Of Hong Kong 1014 56 200 8.3

Dan Wedgewood
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