The sun put in a brief reappearance yesterday evening, but ever since it has been a return to unremitting greyness and damp for the 52 skippers making their way from France to Dingle, on Ireland's west coast – a phenomenon the predominantly French fleet are happy to attribute to their growing proximity to the British Isles. The leg's second night at sea presented the second of its key strategic challenges: the all-important timing of the change onto port tack to cross the ridge of high pressure blocking the route to Ireland. The result has been two principal groups of front-runners, and while Armel Tripon (Gedimat) and Antoine Koch (Sopra) have profited in the short term, 30 miles south-west of the Scillies they are now engaged in a to-and-fro battle with the opposing group, presently led by Armel Le Cleac'h (Brit Air).
The first part of the night presented some temporary respite after the tensions of the passage along the Breton coast during the first twenty-four hours; with no grand manoeuvres or changes of direction immediately imminent, only the fluctuations of the west-north-westerly breeze and the need to keep a close lookout for passing merchant shipping stood between the skippers and the possibility of some well-earned rest. The real business came between 0200 and 0300, when within the space of an hour virtually the whole fleet tacked across the high pressure ridge that will have been occupying their thoughts since before the start in St. Gilles. In the event nobody reported sailing into any really disastrous wind holes, but the wind remained very unstable both in strength and direction, reflected clearly in the differing courses and speeds of the boats, and the considerably increased lateral separation of the fleet.
It is that lateral separation that is the key to the game this afternoon, with the breakaway group of Armel Tripon (Gedimat), Frédéric Duthil (BBox Bouygues Telecom), Antoine Koch (Sopra Group), Yann Eliès (Generali) Nicolas Lunven (CGPI) and Gérald Veniard (Macif) tacking perhaps half an hour earlier and heading to the north of the theoretical direct route, taking some short-term advantage in the rankings. Tripon and Koch have shared the lead during the day, but at the 1600 position report it would seem the second school of thought five miles to their south-west are edging back into the game. Le Cleac'h presently lies in second, with colleagues Charles Caudrelier-Benac (Bostik), Erwan Tabarly (Athema), Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert) and Michel Desjoyeaux (Foncia) not far behind. Anticipating the wind going further to the left, they will hope to avoid the fate of their friends to the north, who may find themselves having to cede a more direct route to the finish in order to maintain comparable speeds.
The night will have been a frustrating one for British skippers Nigel King (Nigel King Racing) and Jonny Malbon (Artemis), who while remaining relatively stable in the rankings have lost considerable distance on the front runners. King is now 39th, 11.5 miles from the front, with Malbon in 48th, with a deficit of 23.9 miles. The first of the fleet is expected to arrive in Dingle during tomorrow evening.