EDS boats slam their way to windward

Sill Plein Fruit continues to lead Kingfisher and Ecover

Wednesday July 25th 2001, Author: Rachel Anning, Location: United Kingdom
It has been an up and down kind of day for most of the yachts competing in Leg 3 of the EDS Atlantic Challenge.
With strong headwinds and short, choppy seas for the five northern yachts, the conditions are tough and trying. Sill Plein Fruit (Gael Le Cleac’h) continues to hold onto a small lead of 33 miles over Kingfisher (Ellen MacArthur), with Ecover (Mike Golding) hanging close waiting for his opportunity to overtake.

With the wind blowing directly from the direction the yachts are trying to go, there are few passing lanes, however the forecast is for lighter winds on the back side of the current low pressure, and more tactical sailing lies ahead. "We are still in shallow water with strong headwinds and it’s quite bumpy out here," Ellen MacArthur reported. "We are well reefed down and just hanging on through this current weather pattern."

Sill Plein Fruit continues to match Kingfisher move for move and is in a controlling position. All three leading yachts are sailing in the shallow waters of the Grand Banks not far off the south coast of Newfoundland. Dense fog encapsulates the yachts as they slog south chipping away at the 'distance to finish' number and wearing down both boats and crew.

Further to the south Gartmore is sailing in deeper water, but with a knot of favourable current from a Gulf Stream eddy, the wind against tide situation has the seaway choppy and confused. "Some of the waves have no back to them," said Josh Hall, skipper of Gartmore. "We ride up the front side of the waves okay, but then the boat just launches itself into the air and free-falls into the troughs shaking the rig and the crew. This is repeated every 15 seconds or so."

The constant bashing was taking a toll on the spirits of crew, and on the gear. "We had a problem in the night," Hall said. "The mainsheet snapped. We had to drop the main, lead a new sheet and then hoist the main again. I sailed all the way around the world in the Vendée with the same mainsheet. The fact that this one broke after only two weeks tells a lot about the punishment we have been taking."

The tedious slamming conditions will soon give way to easier sailing and the long slog to windward may soon be over for these yachts that are designed and optimised to sail with the wind from behind.

Commanders Weather, the experts who advise the fleet on weather conditions issued the following forecast: "The strong winds will not last much longer for the leaders as an approaching cold front will bring a lighter wind regime for tonight and Thursday. Winds will be much, much lighter after the cold front passes. This will lead to very light winds within 25 miles of the Nova Scotia coast during Thursday."

Commanders Weather noted the fine sailing conditions the crew on AlphaGraphics was experiencing. "The women on AlphaGraphics will continue to sail quickly in the tradewinds south of the mid-Atlantic high."

Boat Positions at 10:50 GMT, on a distance to finish (DTF) reading:

1 Sill Plein Fruit (Gael Le Cleac’h - FR) DTF 1217 miles
2 Kingfisher (Ellen MacArthur - UK) DTF + 33 miles
3 Ecover (Mike Golding - UK) DTF + 100 miles
4 Gartmore (Josh Hall - UK) DTF + 486 miles
5 AlphaGraphics (Helena Darvelid - SWE) DTF + 1006 miles
Fila (Andrea Scarabelli - IT) not racing

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