Foncia-Kingfisher makes gains in the light

Ed Gorman reports on the last day of the Challenge Mondial Assistance

Tuesday May 22nd 2001, Author: Ed Gorman, Location: United Kingdom
The closing stages of the Challenge Mondial Assistance are proving a real test of nerve for the five tired crews who are still in the race. With only the lightest winds to propel them towards the finish at Tarragona on the Spanish Mediterranean coast, it is nip and tuck all the way.

The good news from a British perspective is that Ellen MacArthur and the crew on board Alain Gautier's Foncia-Kingfisher have made big gains and have climbed from more than 40 miles off the lead in fourth place, to less than five miles behind and are now disputing third overall with less than 100 miles to go.

It appears Gautier and MacArthur benefitted from staying a bit further offshore than their immediate rivals where they picked up a little more breeze. "It is intensive," reported MacArthur this morning. "We're neck and neck with Belgacom and we're about to gybe. The night has been great. We were not as close to the land as the others. Therefore, we had more wind offshore and managed to close the gap."

But it was not an entirely incident-free night, as MacArthur revealed. "We had to drop the gennaker for an hour-and-a-half to fix it but now we're back sailing at 100%. We're close to a headland and therefore have some good wind. We'll look at the forecast in order to see if there is any strategic choice to make. But our aim for the rest of the race is not to go off on our own, away from the other boats," she added.

As the race entered its final stages - breaking all records for slowness, as one report put it - the top-four were all within a few miles of each other. Yvan Bourgnon, who had dropped to third place late on Monday in Bayer en France, was back battling for the lead with Franck Cammas on Groupama, with the two boats less than a mile apart. Jean-Luc Nélias in Belgacom was third until overtaken by Foncia which was only four miles behind the leader. With all four boats expected to finish later tonight, it is anyone's race.

Meanwhile Marc Guillemot's stricken trimaran, Biscuits La Trinitaine/Team Ethypharm, has arrived at La Trinité-sur-Mer in Brittany, in very poor shape, following what was described as a "wild tow" by an American freighter. When the crew abandoned ship earlier in the race, only the starboard float was damaged. However the tow has made things a lot worse with most of the starboard float now ripped off and extensive damage to the
port float. The mast is in three pieces and all the navigation instruments have been lost.

Despite it all Guillemot is still hoping he can repair the boat and be ready to start the two-handed Transat Jacques Vabre in November.

Positions at 1000 on 22 May 2001.

1 - Bayer en France, Yvan Bourgnon à 154.8 milles miles from the finish.
2 - Groupama, Franck Cammas, à 1.3 miles from the leader.
3 - Belgacom, Jean-Luc Nélias, à 4.3 miles from the leader.
4 - Foncia, Alain Gautier, à 4.4 miles from the leader.
5 - Gitana IX, Thierry Duprey, à 200.6 miles from the leader.
Retired : Banque Populaire, Lalou Roucayrol.
Retired : La Trinitaine / Team Ethypharm, Marc Guillemot.
Retired : Bonduelle, Jean Le Cam.

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