Winds of up to 50 knots swept the fleet last night, dismasting three French Open 60 entries

June 8th 10.30

A rapidly deepening low pressure system generated storm force winds that swept the Europe 1 Newman STAR fleet on Wednesday night. Ironically, it was the boats opting for the more northern route, viewed yesterday as being the more favourable, that bore the brunt of the storm, allowing those in the south to surge ahead.

The first to lose her rig was Eric Dumont’s Euroka, followed by Sodebo Savourans la Vie sailed by Jacques Vabre winner Thomas Coville and then second placed Yves Parlier’s Aquitaine Innovations. All three were reported safe and heading back to France under jury rig. A fourth 60, the US entry Hawaii Express sailed by Bruce Burgess, returned to Plymouth last night with engine problems but plans to re-start.

Michel Desjoyeaux sailing PRB continues to lead the Open 60 fleet and Britain’s Ellen MacArthur (Kingfisher) has moved up into second place, just ahead of Roland Jourdain’s Sill Buerre le Gall, whilst Mike Golding in Team Group 4, one of the most northerly boats, has slipped to 5th. During the storm Catherine Chabaud sailing Whirlpool was forced to run off as she was unable to lower her staysail as it was too dangerous to go on deck.

Overall leader is still believed to be Alain Gautier sailing the 60ft trimaran Foncia, although his position was not picked up on the last satellite pass. He had a comfortable lead earlier in the race.

In class 2 the Open 50 monohulls Pindar and, sailed by Britons Emma Richards and Alex Thomson were neck and neck in first place. Thomson had earlier suffered sail problems and lost a lot of time climbing the mast to retrieve the head of the staysail, which he then took several hours to repair.

STOP PRESS News has just come in that Thomson has suffered further sail damage and, more significantly, has broken one of his two dagger boards, without which she cannot sail to windward efficiently. Unless he can effect a repair this could effectively end his hopes of honours if much more upwind sailing is expected.