Fifty-four year old Rich WILSON, born in Boston, Massachusetts, was happy to see The Transat finish line this afternoon having experienced 40 knot winds across the deck on his final night at sea.
Wilson sailing 50ft multihull, Great American II, crossed the line at 13:19:40 GMT completing the 2800 mile solo course in 15 days, 19 minutes and 40 seconds - 23 hours and 4 minutes after class winner Frenchman Eric Bruneel who crossed the line yesterday afternoon. Both skippers have sailed faster than the existing race record holder, Herve Cleris, who set a record pace of 16 days, 12 hours and 17 minutes in the 1992 race.
Rich WILSON is well-known for his adventures - in 2003 he and a crew sailed from Hong to New York via Sunda Strait in 72 days and 21 hours; in 2001 Wilson completed a record from New York to Melbourne via Cape of Good Hope in 68 days and 10 hours. The record attempts nearly cost him and his crew, Steve Pettengill, their lives when in the 1990 San Francisco-Boston record they capsized off Cape Horn.
Wilson is also no stranger to The Transat - in 1988 he won the Class 5 Mulithull division, although this time round Wilson said "it was harder than he ever thought". Wilson always looked comfortable in second and only slipped to third temporarily but the winner of this class, Eric Bruneel, set such a blinding pace from the start, it proved impossible for Wilson to stay in the chase.
As Wilson's supporters and family welcome him home, another American skipper (also born in Boston), Kip Stone, on Open 50 monohull Artforms, is just 20 miles from the finish line off Boston Harbour at 1500 GMT and is expected to cross the line around 1730 GMT today.
There are, however, still ten of the original thirty-seven Transat 2004 entrants sailing in the North Atlantic and, for many of these skippers, the competition and strain is no less extreme than that experienced by the leading monohulls and multihulls. Although the boats still racing may be older than the front-running boats and many are skippered by sailors who may lack familiarity with the Grand Prix, ocean racing circuit and are hampered by small budgets as sponsor-less entrants, they are all now near the limits of endurance but continue to push hard towards the finish.
The two remaining 50ft multihulls are separated by a distance of 457 miles west/east on roughly the same latitude as the finish line in Boston, with catamaran GiFi (Dominique Demachy) leading PIR2 (Etienne Hochedé). While this distance guarantees Demachy third place, there is an increasingly tight engagement unfolding in the Open 50 monohull class as two yachts trade second place 267 miles behind leader, Artforms (Kip Stone). The two skippers invoved have chosen different approaches to Boston: Joe Harris (Wells Fargo-American Pioneer), currently in second place by just 18 miles, chose a southerly option while Jacques Bouchacourt (Okami) raced north before short-tacking south along the coast of Newfoundland and is now repeating this tactic along the shores of Nova Scotia heading south to converge with Harris.
The two skippers have also displayed contrasting styles in managing their racing projects. With over 25,000 miles of inshore and offshore crewed and short-handed sailing experience - but no solo racing background - Joe Harris has assembled a highly knowledgeable shore team to prepare his yacht and has gained invaluable coaching from American, single-handed sailing expert, Brad Van Liew. Conversely, Jacques Bouchacourt is racing in his third Transat having taken class line honours in the 1996 race and finished second in class in 1992. Both the boats are of a similar age: Harris is racing a seven- year-old, Finot design with an impressive track record and two round the world races under her keel, while Okami waited for five years - half built - in the corner of a boat yard until Bouchacourt found her in 1999 and finally launched the boat in 2003. Shortly before the start of the race, Harris was busy studying the projected weather patterns in the North Atlantic as Bouchacourt hauled Okami out of Plymouth Yacht Haven Marina in a travel lift and was totally absorbed with faring and painting the boat's keel bulb. When Wells Fargo-American Pioneer and Okami meet tomorrow morning (Wednesday 16/06/04) on the continental shelf east of Boston, tactics will be complicated by a predicted drop in wind strength as the breeze veers to the west, presenting the skippers with fluky, 2-6 knot headwinds.
Harris and Bouchacourt will be joined by two Open 60s heading WSW down to the latitude of Boston - the 60ft monohulls Austria One of Norbert Sedlacek and Karen Leibovici's, Atlantic-Charentes Maritimes, are currently sailing 34 miles apart along the edge of the continental shelf. Last night, Sedlacek chose to sail north of the narrow, wreck-strewn shallows of Sable Island, leaving this strip of dunes, tussocky grass and its small herd of wild horses to port while Leibovici stayed on the Atlantic side. The first position polls this morning revealed that neither boat had made any significant gain or loss during this manoeuvre, but the light conditions ahead will effect the final 400 miles ahead of the ninth and tenth placed yachts. Sailing approximately 80 miles south of this pair in twelfth place, Charles Hedrich continues to maintain the 'Southernmost Yacht' status that Objectif 3 has held almost continuously since the start of the race - a decision possibly forced by the inability of the boat's engine to transfer water ballast effectively. Far to the north of these three 60ft yachts, Anne Liardet and Open 60 Quicksilver Edition are 80 miles off the coast of Nova Scotia and - despite a broken boom - have managed to pull-up one place to tenth, ahead of Hedrich.
The back-marker of The Transat 2004 fleet is Branec III - the eleven year old 50ft monohull of Roger Langevin. The French skipper has just over 700 miles to race before reaching the finish line and though he is facing a struggle against constant headwinds to the south of Newfoundland and seems unable to leave The Grand Banks, Langevin's recent recorded daily distances should ensure that he reaches Boston before the Sunday morning deadline. However, Branec III will have to contend with the light airs and slow progress that has afflicted many of the yachts as they close on the American coast.