With just 26 miles between Open 60s Virbac and Sill the stage is set for an exciting finish later tonight

As the Open 60s in the Transat Jacques Vabre head for the finish line this afternoon, there is no time for e-mail logs, just a few hasty words via the satellite phone for Roland [Bilou] Jourdain and Ellen MacArthur who are funneling all their energy and focus into getting to the finish line ahead of Virbac-Paprec.

That is all they have time for, little else, apart from what counts as survival – eating, re-hydrating and sleeping when they can. On day four [10.11.05] of the seventh edition of the 4,340-mile Transat Jacques Vabre race, Sill et Veolia having held the lead since the off, slipped into second and the battle with Jean-Pierre Dick and Loick Peyron on the Bruce-Farr designed Open 60 Virbac-Paprec began in earnest. On day nine [13.11.05] the Anglo-French duo pushed hard to regain the lead in the afternoon after passing the Cape Verde Islands only to lose it again that night to their adversaries. The battle has raged on with no more than 26 miles separating them since that point. And it is going to the wire, neither of these two teams giving any ground whatsoever.

It has been the speed of Virbac-Paprec in the tight-reaching conditions over the last few days that has allowed them to hold the edge as the Farr designed 60 enjoyed their perfect sailing angle and benefited from a slightly taller 27m mast. But since passing Recife yesterday night the wind rotated firstly into the east then further into the north-east, allowing Sill et Veolia to take advantage of their Lombard-designed boat that reveled in the fresh broad-reaching conditions.

Jourdain and MacArthur pushed hard taking 10 miles out of the leading French duo’s lead by 0500 GMT this morning. In these broad reaching conditions that look set to continue through today with 15 knots of breeze from the north-east, Sill et Veolia will need to sail over a knot faster in the final 100-mile sprint to Brazil to stand any chance of getting passed.

But time is running out, Jourdain and MacArthur will be praying for a drop in the wind to give them more time to overtake, or for Dick and Peyron to make a mistake. The pressure must surely be building on the leaders as they face the prospect of one error costing them the race. However, barring any change in conditions or damage onboard, the two leaders will make their final gybe into All Saints Bay (approximately two miles from the finish line) later tonight and one of them will establish a new monohull course record, smashing the existing 16d, 13h, 23m record set by Jordain in 2001 onboard the old Sill. Although they might be just too tired to care!





4 ECOVER / 167.6 MILES

5. SKANDIA / 211.4 MILES