Transat Jacques Vabre fleet experiences big winds three days into the race 7/11/07

The tempo in the Transat Jacques Vabre has changed from the complete drifter the competitors experienced over the first few days to a howler.

The Open 60 fleet out in front yesterday was first to clash with the 30-35kts of wind which claimed its first victim. The British duo of Jonny Malbon and Graham Tourell on Artemis Ocean Racing were dismasted early yesterday afternoon while lying in 10th position and are now limping towards the Spanish coast. Malbon explained what happened: “We had the masthead spinnaker and the full mainsail up this morning but knew that the wind was forecast to increase, so we put one reef in the mainsail and changed to the jib. We had been pushing the boat hard to try and make ground with the front group but we weren’t pushing too hard. You wouldn’t expect this to happen in these conditions, but it always happens when you least expect it.

“We surfed down a wave, a pretty steep one, and then hit this wall of water in front of us. The boat literally came to a standstill and the rig just fell forwards towards the bow of the boat.

“We tried to save the boom and the bottom section of the mast but to save the hull, we had to cut them free and throw everything over the side – the rig, the boom and the sails.”

Meanwhile out in front heading out to the west again Marc Guillemot and Charles Coudrelier on Safran are maintaining their leading position. They have pulled away slightly from Michel Desjoyeaux and Emmanuel Le Borgne on Foncia in the last 24 hours and Loick Peyron and Jean Baptiste Levaillant on Gitana are still holding third.

Mike Golding and Bruno Dubois on Ecover however, lost out yesterday by staying inshore too long and are now over 50 miles off the leader. Talking from the boat yesterday afternoon Dubois explained: “We tried to go west earlier but it was not good and we probably lost a couple of places, but we are going west now and it will get better for us in the future. We had to gybe because we were too close in on the Spanish coast and the wind was dying and so we had to get west.”

Apart from Giovanni Soldin and Pietro Ali on Telecom Italia who are maintaining the top spot in the Class 40 fleet positions elsewhere are swapping and changing by the hour. British sailors Alex Bennett and Ifor Pedley on Fujifilm were through into second place yesterday but a tactical decision to head east didn’t pay off. Speaking to Team HQ this morning, Bennett explained: “The boats further west may have had a better wind angle than us. However, there’s still a long way to go and we expect the conditions to favour us as we head toward the Canaries.”

“The conditions were extreme last night. Big, big seas and 35kts of wind. We were surfing at over 25kts at times, burying the pulpit on the big ones? We tried to furl the Code 5 but the wind was too strong. We ended up having to drop in onto the deck and pull it in by hand. Pretty hairy stuff in the dark with such big seas.”

Dominic Vittet and Thierry Chabagny on ATAO Audion System, marked as one of the race favourites, have pulled through to second place from 13th yesterday and are now just over 20 miles off Soldini, while British sailors Simon Clarke and David Lindsay on Offshore Racing have dropped from third to seventh (over 50 miles from the front of the fleet).

Further down the fleet but having a huge amount of fun are the two young British sailors Dan and Tom Gall on Concise. Reporting on the first few days Gall said: “The past few days have been pretty hard. Sailing into no breeze in the channel and watching the fleet go past was tough. Clarke offshore racing and AST group were just next to us at the time but they managed to get some light pressure that took them around Ouessant before the tidal gate closed. They went straight to the front of the fleet and we ended up at the back.

“We are know half way through the bay of Biscay running with full main and mast head spinnaker sitting at around 15kts boat speed. As we are playing catch up we are pushing really hard. Finding the balance between foot to the floor and wiping out! We have past two boats in the past eight hours and are catching others at pace.

“The sailing is amazing. Downwind, big breeze, in Biscay on a Class 40! Fantastic.’

Franck-Yves Escoffier and Karine Fauconnier on Crepes Whaou! are storming along in the eight-strong Class 50 fleet and have pulled out another 35 miles in the last 24 hours. They are now a clear 71 miles ahead of Victorian Erussard and Frederic Dahirel.

Lionel Lemonchois and Yann Guichard on Gitana 11 have taken the lead of the ORMA fleet despite the loss of their starboard foil last night. They are currently still making over 22 kts and are pulling away from Franck Cammas and Steve Ravussin on Groupama but have reported they may have to take a pit stop. Lemonchois described what happened: “Yesterday morning, 200 miles off Cape Finisterre, we heard a cracking sound coming from the float and rushed to have a look, We couldn’t see anything, but a few minutes later, there was another loud crack and we realised we had no starboard foil. We were first of all very disappointed, as the course we’d taken overnight had paid off in fine style. But we soon found our motivation again, thanks mainly to our technical team, who were truly exceptional, and we went back on the offensive again, which I don’t regret at all!

“When I see today what we’ve managed to achieve, I realise that our position was excellent and that we really did make the right choice. For the moment, we still don’t know if we’re going to stop to change the foil. It’ll be decision time in a few hours.”?