Victory for Vail Williams

The Challenge Transat concludes in Southampton

Monday October 14th 2002, Author: Rachel Anning, Location: United Kingdom
A victorious Vail Williams won the return leg of the Challenge Transat and claimed the top podium spot. A jubilant crew crossed the finish line, off Cowes Yacht Squadron, yesterday afternoon at 13.30 GMT in a time of 13 d 21
hrs 30 m 15s .

Just an hour behind were Logica - eight miles astern - who had been chasing Vail Williams continuously throughout the race, eyeball to eyeball at times, battling towards the finish.

The weekend's drama began on Saturday when long-time leader Vail Williams found themselves becalmed just west of the French coast and being pushed
back by the tide. Logica, who had been dogging Vail Williams for days on
end, were visible only a few miles behind.

"I just knew that dogleg toward France was the kiss of death for a leader," Vail Williams skipper David Melville said in a dockside interview after finishing, "At one point after we finally rounded the waypoint we could see Logica just three miles away approaching the waypoint from the other direction."

The slow conditions had fans and Race officials all planning for a finish Sunday evening. But, during the pre-dawn hours of Sunday what had been just a low pressure system passing over the fleet turned into a full gale. Boat speeds increased dramatically, reaching 15 knots at some times.

According to George Caras of Commanders' Weather, what had been forecast as just a plain vanilla low-pressure system, tightened up considerably over the weekend, turning into a gale. Weather buoys in the channel and Solent were recording wind gusts over 40 knots which made the last stretch home for the boats challenging and demanding after the hard and fast racing of the crossing.

The weather however was no deterrent for the friends, family and race fans who packed the wet and windy quayside in Ocean Village yesterday to welcome Vail Williams to Southampton and congratulate her tired but exuberant crew.

What makes Vail William's victory all the more remarkable was that, for nearly a week the team worked around the clock to repair a badly torn spinnaker sail. The team never mentioned the torn sail in its Daily Logs. Instead, while one watch battled to hold the lead, the other watch worked around the clock to repair the sail.

"The Vail Williams Swat Sail Repair Team swung into action," said skipper David Melville. "Initial assessments were not good - the head was severed and one of the sides had been torn - an 80 ft repair was needed. A skeleton crew was left to man the decks as up to nine crew members at a time packed around the galley table armed with needles and thread."

By the time the team needed the spinnaker again, it was ready. "After three days of 24-hour sewing, 800 metres of sewing thread and the sanity of at least one crew member, the sail was finally available on Thursday afternoon and was hoisted to a rousing cheer," Melville said.

Melville said that he had never seen a crew so determined to win and willing to sacrifice sleep to do so. "Breaking the flanker was a dark day indeed and threatened the success of our campaign," he recalled. "Fixing the sail was a monstrous job that demonstrated some of the crews' best qualities - determination, competency and humour. I found it really emotional to come down at 4 in the morning and find four bleary eyed crew sitting around the table, groaning with every lurch."

No less extraordinary was the dogged pursuit of Vail Williams by the Logica team. Vail skipper Melville had come to so fear and respect the team's single-minded, indefatigable pursuit that he dubbed them the "Borg Collective." For the past ten days Vail had been unable to shake the big yellow boat, which seemed to be attached to them like an elastic band, always keeping them a threatening eight miles behind.

At the time of issuing this press release Spirit of Hong Kong came into third place with a time of 14d 7hrs 15m 41s, BG Group fourth with a time of 14d 14hrs 12m 18s and Team SpirIT has just arrived into Ocean Village with a time of 14d 16hrs 40m 5s. BP Explorer is due to arrive in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

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