"We were looking out for them and they were there - and tough they are too " wrote Marc Guessard in charge of navigation on board Gitana... Who ? Or rather, what ? The Portuguese trade winds as they are known, a system of steady north/north-easterly winds which blow along the coast of Portugal. "After having come off track twice (Ed's note : broach-to : the bow of the boat's leeward float nose-dives and she swings round broad side on) and as the wind was strengthening, we preferred to shorten sail, reducing the surface of the main sail and setting the Solent (flattest headsail with the smallest surface area) as the wind had increased to 37 knots (68 km/h). Then we took a bit of time before increasing sail (cf. Foncia capsizes)" continued Marc.
And Yann Marilley added at today's lunchtime radio chat session at Race HQ in Paris: "We really got shifting last night sailing a little further out into the open sea than the others. The sea was quite heavy. So we shortened sail, but the boat made it through no problem". Difficult conditions certainly, but ones which accentuate how well Gitana reacts to delicate navigational conditions where there is a heavy price to pay for the slightest mistake.
A Jules Verne "bag"
The next objective is the Gibraltar Strait 143 miles (265 km) away at 12h00 today, Gitana having rounded the Cape of Saint-Vincent (SW Portugal) at the beginning of the morning. "Everything is fine on board, the crew are asleep, Benjamin is at the helm and Lionel is busy trimming the sails" continued Marc. And Yann and Benjamin confirmed in chorus : "We really are enjoying ourselves. We're really pleased to be in contact with the rest of the fleet and to be able to sail with the others. It's highly motivating."
As for the navigation, Marc now has to think about the approach to the Mediterranean which is without doubt the meteorological sticking point on this course. Today's anecdote will be a veiled reference to Jules Verne : "We had a (giant) plastic bag in the dagger board too ! So it is not so original as a giant octopus, but alas, much more frequent !" ends the navigator. At 12 o'clock today, Gitana checked in 131 miles (242 km) behind the leader Groupama, thus in 7th position ahead of Banque Covefi, Sopra Group, Sergio Tacchini and Sodebo.
Foncia capsizes / 20h00 French time (GMT + 2) 13th May
Skipper Alain Gautier explains the incident via a satellite connection: "We had our gennaker (balloon jib) and mainsail up in a 25-knot (46 km/h) wind and a heavy sea, usual for this area. Suddenly the rudder blade on the leeward float struck something. As the boat has lifting rudders, the rudder moved into a horizontal position. I was helming at the time. I sent crew over to the leeward side to see what had happened. In order to move he made fast the gennaker sheet (rope used in manoeuvring). When he was over on the leeward side, a particularly big wave raised the stern. As I no longer had a rudder to leeward and the central hull was out of the water, Foncia could not be steered and was sharply caught broad side on to the wave. Then we capsized sideways. I hung onto my steering column (about 15 metres above the water) and waited for the boat to turn over completely to avoid getting hurt. The monolithic mast (Ed's note : identical to Gitana's) did not break immediately and as it does not float it could not damage the boat. Everything is fine on board, apart from a few bumps. We're partly responsible for what happened and have to accept that. Now we've got to wait for the tugboat which should be in the area sometime on Wednesday afternoon".
Challenge Mondial Assistance
Cherbourg (F) Channel / Rimini (It) / Adriatic. 2734 miles (5063 km)
Start 11th May 2003
Finish between 19th and 23rd May 2003
Races in Rimini on 23rd and 24th May
Distance remaining to finish: 1773 milles (3284 km)