Vail Williams in rightful spot

As Challenge Transat returns eastward across the Atlantic

Thursday October 3rd 2002, Author: Rachel Anning, Location: Transoceanic
Vail Williams is out in the lead on day five of the Challenge Transat Race 2 with strong tail winds and rolling seas making for fabulous downwind sailing conditions for the entire fleet.

Logica is in its familiar second place, just one mile behind and chasing Vail Williams. In third place is BG Group, winner of leg 1, 32 miles behind the leader and in fourth place is Team SpirIT eager to close the three-mile gap between the two boats. Spirit of Hong Kong currently lies in fifth place 65 miles from the leader and chasing the 85 miles to Vail Williams, in sixth place, is BP Explorer.

The racing over the past few days has been hard, fast and exciting for the Crew Volunteers with the boats hitting speeds of over 20 knots. Ian Woodhead, aboard Spirit of Hong Kong described one of his watch periods as being, "what down wind sailing in the North Atlantic is all about, completely exhilarating."

Also flourishing in the conditions is Gordon MacKenzie who was helming BG Group when: "the stern of BG went up & up, we accelerated down our temporary mountain, hitting a peak speed of just over 20 knots, quite awesome on a boat of this tonnage."

But the weather has also taken its toll on the yachts. TeamspirIT Skipper Mark Taylor reported that it's main spinnaker had torn as the crew was attempting to take it down in rising winds: "The head was completely torn off about 20 ft from the top and then both tapes ripped off the remainder of the way."

The crew has started repairs on this critical sail but Taylor has said that it will be at least two days before they know if it can be used again in this race. This leaves TeamSpirIT sailing at a disadvantage. "Having lost the flanker last night, it has been a bit like sailing a car without top gear," Taylor explained.

However there could be some hope for TeamSpirIT with the weather ahead, which may just nullify their current handicap. "Thankfully we are due to have a moderate gale coming through the fleet," Taylor noted. "So whilst we may be losing out today, there will be too much wind tomorrow and no one will be flying their flankers."

For many of the crew the sailing has been true baptism by fire as John Cunningham aboard Spirit of Hong Kong reflected: "It has really played hell with the watches," he explained. "There were lots of times over the last couple of days when we had to have all hands on deck, whether it was your watch or not. That means we have some sleep deprivation going on here today."

Crew Volunteers will have to get used to these conditions as the heavy weather looks set to continue with the forecast predicting near gale conditions for the fleet. During Friday a large area of high pressure will move over western Nova Scotia and there will be a tight gradient between the high and the front, resulting in more strong winds.

To see the official race tracker click here

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