Virbac, skippered by Jean-Pierre Dick in the Transat, now has an 18-mile lead over Mike Golding further to the north

The latest news from the Transat course shows that the southerly gamble taken by leading Open 60 monohull, Virbac – skippered by Jean-Pierre Dick – paid off early this morning and the Frenchman reports that he caught the new, south-west wind before the rest of the fleet and now has an 18 mile lead over Mike Golding on Ecover further to the north.

Dick has managed 2.5 hours sleep overnight, taking his total to 5 hours since the start, but was unable to risk resting during the variable, tricky winds during his passage through the high pressure ridge, preferring to constantly manoeuvre Virbac through the light airs. Behind Virbac, Ecover and Pindar AlphaGraphics have closed positions and Mike Sanderson – currently in third place on Pindar AlphaGraphics – is no longer isolated in the north.

During the light airs the two, leading trimaran skippers continued to match race; Thomas Coville (Sodebo) and Michel Desjoyeaux (Geant) spent much of yesterday racing within 200m of each other, juggling positions as the boats encountered wind shifts and lifts. This morning Coville described sailing at speed through the dense fog experienced by the trimaran fleet as: “A strange atmosphere, like sailing through soft cotton. The feeling of speed is intense with nothing visual to register on [there has been under 300m visibility] except our wake, we seemed to be flying along in 14 – 15 knots of wind and a gentle, long swell.”

Now, however, the leading trimarans have broken free of the light airs and have picked-up pace again; Desjoyeaux (Geant) reports this morning that in the constant reaching conditions expected, he plans to let the boat sail on autopilot, claiming; “The boat drives herself better than I can in these conditions,” and the French skipper plans to remain strapped into his seat, clutching the mainsheet, always ready to de-power his mutlihull. Desjoyeaux has no qualms of the 35 knot winds in the current low; “These are good winds for us. It is what the boats are designed for.”

The next depression – now building in the Western Atlantic – looks set to cover a huge area of the North Atlantic by Friday and it is unlikely that any of the race yachts will escape the resulting strong winds, driving rain and tall seas produced by this system.

For lastest positions, click on Transat 2004 on the YW homepage/positions.