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      The southerly gamble taken by leading Open 60 monohull, Virbac skippered by Jean-Pierre Dick, paid off early this morning and the Frenchman reports that he caught the new, southwest wind before the rest of the fleet and now has an 18 mile lead over Mike Golding on Ecover further to the north.

Dick has managed 2.5 hours sleep overnight, taking his total to 5 hours since the start, but was unable to risk resting during the variable, tricky winds during his passage through the high pressure ridge, preferring to constantly manoeuvre Virbac through the light airs. Behind Virbac, Ecover and Pindar AlphaGraphics have closed positions and Mike Sanderson, currently in third place, is no longer isolated in the north.

During the light airs the two, leading 60ft trimaran skippers continued to match race. Thomas Coville (Sodebo) and Michel Desjoyeaux (Geant) spent much of last night racing within 200m of each other, juggling positions as the boats encountered wind shifts and lifts. This morning Coville described sailing at speed through the dense fog experienced by the ORMA fleet as: "A strange atmosphere, like sailing through soft cotton. The feeling of speed is intense... with nothing visual to register on [there has been under 300m visibility] except our wake, we seemed to be flying along in 14-15 knots of wind and a gentle, long swell."

Now, however, the leading trimarans have broken free of the light airs and have picked-up pace again. Desjoyeaux (Geant) reports this morning that in the constant reaching conditions expected, he plans to let the boat sail on autopilot, claiming: "The boat drives herself better than I can in these conditions," and the French skipper plans to remain strapped into his seat, clutching the mainsheet, always ready to depower his mutlihull. Desjoyeaux has no qualms of the 35 knot winds in the current low: "These are good winds for us. It is what the boats are designed for."

The next depression now building in the Western Atlantic looks set to cover a huge area of the North Atlantic by Friday and it is unlikely that any of the race yachts will escape the resulting strong winds, driving rain and tall seas produced by this system.

For latest positions go to http://www.thetransat.com and click on the 'Latest Race Data/Latest Positions' on the orange bar and then click on leaderboard. Positions are available daily every 2 hours from 0600BST-1800BST.
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For further information, please contact Lou Newlands or Isabel Genis

isabel@offshorechallenges.com (French/Italian/Spanish speaking)
T: +44 (0)870 063 0218
F: +44 (0)20 7681 2912

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