Groupama due tomorrow

Cammas heads for second Transat Jacques Vabre win

Saturday November 15th 2003, Author: Mary Ambler, Location: Transoceanic
Brian Thompson reports from on board Ecover

"Well, we are about to cross the equator within the next hour so these will be my first and last words this race from the Northern Hemisphere. The time has gone so quickly and there has always been something to do. At present we are racing neck and neck with Sill across the SE trade winds and this battle is set to run and run to the finish. We are watching the output of each shed like exam results, hoping for at least a C for effort, and right now its a B minus as we extend our lead by one mile over the two hour interval. Even though we are separated by 50 miles across the course, I can almost see Sill driving through the waves with spray flying from their leeward hull."

"So that is the future if all holds together - Virbac are just over a hundred miles ahead with 900 to go, so only a breakdown or extreme bad luck with the stable weather of the tropics in going to keep them out of first. We are pushing 100%, not just to stay ahead of Sill but also to see if we can close up the gap ahead, to be ready for any opportunity. At present the gap is about eight hours of sailing."

"From my perspective this race has been a strange one, with a great first week where we had to fight tough conditions to gain every mile of our lead. Not only was it rough upwind, but we had a number of technical problems to deal with, we had the main down on the deck a few times in that week, plus other time consuming problems with steering systems. But it was a fascinating time with a many different weather conditions, sail configurations and tactical options to keep busy with, and leading the fleet in a brand new state of the art boat was a great."

"The second week was not so great, with two successive halyard failures we dropped out of the lead and into a high pressure ridge that decided to track us like a bloodhound. We had to go through it twice and only narrowly missed a third acquaintance before we were into the trades. Then we had much time to ponder our misfortune as Virbac sailed away in the building breeze, and Sill came from the west to take second. Spinnaker problems were not over yet as before the Cape Verdes we had blown out our final kite and were left with a Code 5 gennaker to go downwind with. We got it going well with a staysail inside it, and to our pleasant surprise managed to at least stem the tide until the Doldrums gave us reaching conditions and put us back on an even footing."

"So what should have been the easy downwind part of the trip, actually turned into a battle just to stay in the leading pack. It was always going to be difficult to get back into the lead from that position, but we kept motivated and it is starting to pay off now as we have taken a slim second and closed the gap significantly on Virbac through the Doldrums."

"It is still a long way to the finish and although this section across the trade winds is straightforward, there are snakes and ladders ahead. How close to go the Brazilian coast? Will the wind shift aft so far that the others can set their spinnakers? Watch this space..."

Nick Moloney reports from on board Team Cowes

We have been getting squall after squally after squall...really hasn't stopped but trying to get some rest now...lying on the floor in one big wet pile. We are wearing our waterproof gear to protect you from the downpours but then you sweat buckets inside as well so pretty uncomfortable all round and physically very, very tired.

We have had 6 or 7 big ones [squally] tody seeing 43 knots in one - it was just a major. You see them coming and think, 'right, what sails shall we go with?' we are basically taking conservative route most of the time - reefing main and furling head sails then stacking it up again when the squalls gone through.

The leaders had these conditions yesterday and we're paying for it now. Meeno [weather router] thinks we through the Doldrums but still seeing a lot of cloud activity. This is one of the hardest Doldrums crossings I've done...We should cross the Equator in about 10 hours we are at 2 20 degrees north doing around 13 knots, right now.

I think we will be looking to lean a lot on our westerly separation... Obviously, everyone is starting to turn putting more west in their course. PRB is about 150 miles east of us so she's got some distance to cover. We will also look to take advantage of the current off the Brazilian coast and probably not go too close inshore because there is often more breeze about 40 miles offshore.

In the last TJV we had very similar conditions - off the coasts the breeze was freer and we were wo sail reaching then close to the finish we were actually downwind with the big kite. Boats like Ecover and Sill are not out of reach - especially as Mike & Brian don't have any kites left - and 1000 miles is still a long way to go and anything can happen.

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