With only a few days remaining on the Challenge Transat, Vail Williams continues to lead the fleet by 17 miles from second-placed Logica

With only a few days remaining on the Challenge Transat, Vail Williams continues to lead the fleet by 17 miles from second-placed Logica.

BG Group and Spirit of Hong Kong are still battling it out to take third place in the race.

BG Group have clawed their way back to third place over the past week, having diverted their course to a more northerly route, which failed to find them favourable winds. They were also hit by rough seas that led to BG Group mate, Laurence Marriott, breaking two ribs when he fell on deck and, more recently, they were hit by a giant wave which damaged their steering.

With the third mishap now under control BG Group’s run of bad luck could be over, although the crew will have no room to rest on their laurels with Spirit of Hong Kong hot on their heels.

In fifth place is Team SpirIT, 154 miles from the leader and BP Explorer in sixth place with 201 miles. Team SpirIT skipper, Mark Taylor, reported that at long last his team has finally repaired its shredded spinnaker: “For the first time in over a week we are not stitching,” Taylor reported. “We finally repaired the flanker and our mainsail. The flanker has taken approximately seven days of 24 hours a day work with up to four people at a time stitching.”

Now, that all the sails are back in operation, Taylor says the team will push hard to make up the miles they lost. “We have lost a lot of ground to the fleet and the crew are very keen to make it up and if possible catch Spirit of Hong Kong and BG Group. As to the quality of the repair to the flanker we will find out.”

The weather conditions have been driving the boats hard in this second race, so hard that the first boats’ ETAs have now been brought forward. Initial indications are predicting that Vail Williams and Logica could arrive at the Royal Yacht Squadron line at Cowes as early as Sunday afternoon.

Jasper Heikens, mate aboard Logica described the conditions: “What a blast!” he explained, “Power sailing downwind with winds consistently above the 20s, speed records tumble every watch. Impressive to see 40 tons of steel surf down a wave at 21 knots.”

The latest weather conditions however are now promising slightly less energetic conditions for the final stretch home. According to Commanders’ Weather the entire fleet is about to feel the effect of a high-pressure system – a pause in wind ahead of the next low. That means that tonight and tomorrow will produce spinnaker conditions, where Team SpirIT’s sail repairing skills will be put to the test.

The good news for the last placed boats is that a new low is brewing and moving towards them from the west. They will not only enjoy the effects of the low long before the two leading boats, but will also get the best of it. Once the front finally reaches the lead boats the wind will clock to a less favourable angle, according to Commanders’ Weather.

The prospect of the back-enders closing on them does not exactly delight the leaders. “Very shortly we will park up, basically this means we stop dead in a no wind area,” complained Logica’s mate. “It’s very frustrating to see your hard-fought lead diminish in a day. To make things worse the back of the fleet will get the new winds first and creep up behind you, very unfair. The race will have to be fought out in the tactically highly challenging Channel.”

Although not a welcome prospect for the front-runners, this change in the weather pattern will make viewing of the race all the more exciting for the spectator as the boats jostle for places with no let up.