Injured crewman on Challenge Transat

As strong wind batter the fleet on their return passage across the north Atlantic

Tuesday October 8th 2002, Author: Rachel Anning, Location: Transoceanic
Strong winds are taking the six identical 72' yachts hurtling towards the finish line in Southampton, from Boston in the Challenge Transat 2002.

Although crews are enjoying the thrill of the downwind surfing with average speeds of 10 knots, BG Group has experienced two major setbacks and earlier visions of gold are turning a duller bronze for the team.

When the boats left Boston to start the race, dockside handicappers favoured Race One winner BG Group. And, for a while last week, it looked like those bets had a real chance of paying off. Over the weekend however, skipper John "JB" Burfitt took his team on a flyer, sailing a deep northerly course. He was in search of an incremental wind advantage he could exploit to get ahead of leaders Vail Williams and Logica. Instead, he found high seas that hampered his progress.

Just 20 miles behind the leader a few days ago, BG Group is now 125 miles behind and is carrying an injured mate, Laurence 'Loz' Marriott.

"Loz has taken a fall in the cockpit, he's strapped into his bunk now on doctor's orders and doped up on pain killers," JB reported to race headquarters. "We were quite concerned about him, he's almost certainly damaged some ribs. He's keeping a cheerful exterior despite the obvious discomfort and frustration. I've got to keep the boat & crew safe and I've lost my right hand man."

Now that the first mate is laid up, full time command of the yacht and crew will fall exclusively on the shoulders of the skipper. With at least another few days of sailing ahead of him, this means JB will find little time for rest.

Marriott's injury only compounds an already serious competitive setback for BG Group. According to Commanders' Weather conditions where BG Group is sailing are only going to get rougher over the next two days. "Sea conditions up there are going to be very bad," said George Caras of Commanders' Weather. "We are talking about mostly following seas and they could be up to 30 feet."

Meanwhile the three boats sailing south of the leaders, Spirit of Hong Kong, Team Spirit and BP Explorer, 4th, 5th and 6th respectively, may finally get a break. "Sea conditions down where they are will be much smoother," said Caras, "and they should have decent winds. So, we could see them gain a bit on the leaders as BG Group may fall even further back."

The two leaders, Vail Williams in first, and Logica nine miles behind in second, continue sailing a nearly mistake-free race. Both yachts chose a conservative strategy that kept them hugging the rhumline. Neither yacht succumbed to the temptation to chase elusive currents or winds far off the beaten track.

With less than 1200 n miles in front of the leader, it is likely the first boat will cross the finish line late Sunday or Monday. After a couple of days of fast sailing today and tomorrow it is likely the boats furthest back will move closer to the front, compressing the fleet a bit more than it is now. Once BG Group gets closer to the rhumline its deficit may shrink a bit. But, it appears highly unlikely that BG Group will claim better than third place. And, if anything else goes wrong for the team, even that prize may elude them.

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