Sill Plein Fruit and Tiscali Global Challenge continue to play cat and mouse at the front of the fleet in the Regata Rubicon while Kingfisher retains third place

Sill Plein Fruit and Tiscali Global Challenge continue to play cat and mouse at the front of the fleet in the Regata Rubicon which started last Saturday.

Last night the former took a negligible advantage of 1.4 miles but is now seemingly impossible for these two boats skippered by Roland Jourdain and Simone Bianchetti to cover their rivals while continually match-racing with each other down the Portuguese coast.

The international team, on board Kingfisher, including Swiss, Belgian, Australian and British, with Ellen MacArthur at the helm, are keeping pace just 10 miles from the two leaders but have decided not to sit in their wake, and instead are now veering west to make their play for the lead.

Ellen admits she is finding herself ‘back to school’ on the boat: “I’m focused on the navigation, I hope I won’t make a mistake, and I am poured over the chart table the whole time, which is a shame as I prefer being on the helm. The boat is not the same as when I raced her in the Vendée, she has gone through a lot of modifications, so I am having to learn all over again.”

With just over 600 miles to the finish of leg one, Swiss skipper Bernard Stamm and his crew on Bobst Group – Armor Lux have taken a flyer out to the west to skirt the high pressure ridge and, although the other skippers aren’t so convinced of his option, it worries them nevertheless: “It’s a bit ambitious to me,”remarked Roland Jourdain. “But if he ends up being right, then we’ll be stitched up properly.” Bianchetti sounded less worried: “I really don’t think this is going to pay for Bernard, it’s a bit too radical.” At the back of the fleet, Tour Voile champion Jean-Pierre Dick, who has had a tough baptism into his first Open 60 race, prefers to not place his bets: “Right now it’s obviously not paying for Stamm, he’s taken some risk, but if he catches enough wind he could end up ahead.”

Stamm is obliged to stick to his option now and see it through to the end, come what may: “Well, to the east the boats are going to sail into light airs crossing the high pressure ridge. We are waiting for the front to pass and behind there is a fresh wind, although it will be on the nose, for us to charge south. The sky is covering, which is a good sign for us – we’re looking for bad weather!” On the other hand, Italian skipper Bianchetti thinks that they will cross the ridge before the low pressure hits Stamm’s boat: “We’re expecting the wind to shift in order for us to cross the ridge from the east, and then reach a north-easterly breeze to carry us straight to the finish.”

The back markers Temenos (Wavre), Virbac (Dick) and L’Heautontimorouménos (Koch) will be hoping that the fleet will concertina together again as the leading boats fall into lighter airs with the passing of the ridge to the south, so that they can close the gap. At 95 miles from the leader, seventh-placed skipper Jean-Pierre Dick is remaining optimistic after suffering a few knock-downs and consequently broken steering cables, which have since been repaired: “There’s still a way to go, we have to keep our spirits high.”

There are similar sentiment on board fifth-placed Temenos, as Swiss skipper Dominique Wavre contemplates the 55-mile gap between his boat and the leaders: “We tacked too early before Cap Finisterre and so we arrived a little too late in the weather system, which meant a lot more tacks for us. Now it’s time to play catch up!” The other ‘rookie’ in the fleet, Antoine Koch, and his crew are seemingly getting a good grip on handling the ex-FILA, as they have climbed from last to fourth place, some 46 miles behind third placed Kingfisher