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Global Ocean Race fleet sail through second gale

by Oliver Dewar on 4 Jun 2012
Storm jib at the height of the gale - Global Ocean Race 2011-12 Phesheya Racing
Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR) fleet are on the fifteenth day of racing in leg five from Charleston.

As Tropical Storm Beryl prowls around the North Atlantic, the GOR fleet of double-handed Class40s has successfully sailed through the second gale in three days. Furthest south in fourth place, Nico and Frans Budel recorded gusts of up 35 knots on Sec. Hayai, while 260 miles north of the Azores, the South African duo of Phillippa Hutton-Squire and Nick Leggatt in third with Phesheya-Racing report gusts of over 40 knots.

However, while the fleet leaders, Conrad Colman and Scott Cavanough on Cessna Citation, were too far east to feel the strong winds, the big winner was Financial Crisis in second as Marco Nannini and Sergio Frattaruolo positioned themselves perfectly to lock into winds in front of the system as Beryl slewed northwards in their wake with Nannini’s three-year-old Akilaria Class40 averaging over 13 knots for a sustained ten hours, closing down the lead on Cessna Citation by 27 miles in 24 hours and trailing the leaders by 300 miles at 12:00 on Sunday.

As Beryl rolled eastwards, the Budels were 500 miles west of the Azroes and were first to feel the storm on Saturday evening as the centre of the low pressure passed to the north of Sec. Hayai. 'We’re now in the depression with the wind building to over 30 knots and occasional gusts to 35 knots,' reported Frans Budel in a brief email. 'So we’re sailing with two reefs in the main and staysail, but there’s still water flying everywhere,' he added as Sec. Hayai continually polled averages over ten knots.

Surprisingly, at the peak of the strong winds, the Dutch duo had company in the middle of the North Atlantic: 'We also passed a small, old yacht with a lone Englishman on board sailing from the Dominican Republic to pick up crew in the Azores!' wrote an astonished Budel. 'Sailing all the way without any weather information, he’d been at sea for 23 days and was very happy to speak to someone on the VHF,' the Dutchman continues. 'But really quickly he was out of sight behind us.'

However, it wasn’t all plain sailing for the Dutch duo: 'We put the A2 up at 05:00 GMT and two hours later we nearly lost her,' reports Frans as a gust of 28 knots hit Sec. Hayai. 'Nico was on deck helming and warned me with three quick smacks on he deck with his fist,' he explains. 'I put my clothes on really quickly and went to the foredeck and using all of my bodyweight, I got the A2 down just in time. I’m absolutely exhausted, but we got through it all!'

Meanwhile, further north, Phesheya-Racing felt the full force of the storm, but the South African duo had been preparing throughout Saturday: 'We’d already reefed the mainsail and later went to the second reef with a steady 26 knots of breeze and occasional gusts over 30,' reported Nick Leggatt on Sunday morning. By 17:00 GMT, they further reduced sail: 'With a rising sea and squalls to over 34 knots we decided to put the third reef in the mainsail,' said Leggatt. 'This sail combination, of three reefs and the staysail, is normally more than adequate for riding out a gale but at sunset, with the gale still increasing, we decided to play it really safe overnight and changed from the staysail to the tiny storm jib.'

The combined experience and judgement of Leggatt and Hutton-Squire proved entirely correct as the wind continued to build as night fell: 'The wind blew constantly at gale Force 8, with frequent gusts over 40 knots,' Leggatt continued. However, for once, the GRIB files were uncannily accurate: 'At almost exactly 02H30 Zulu, precisely as forecast, we had a big squall and the wind shifted suddenly over 50 degrees towards the west,' he confirms. 'We quickly gybed and very soon found ourselves under clear, moonlit skies with moderate breeze and a heavy, confused sea with waves about four metres high.'

However, on Sunday morning, approximately 380 miles north-east of Phesheya-Racing, Marco Nannini and Sergio Frattaruolo had a fast ride as Beryl passed astern of Financial Crisis: 'Progress in the last couple of days has been fantastic,' confirmed a delighted Marco Nannini at noon GMT on Sunday. 'Beryl was behind us and threatening to give us a nasty battering and - all things considered - the safest option was to try to run as fast as possible ahead of the centre of the cyclone which then, hopefully, would have passed to our stern on its northward trajectory,' explains the Italian-Slovak skipper.

Nannini and Frattaruolo’s timing was immaculate: 'Before the winds built up on Saturday, we were surfing along, fastest boat in the fleet, with the biggest masthead spinnaker,' continues Nannini. 'Then, before sunset, the sky started to be covered in clouds, the wind was backing to the south and increasing, all signs of the approaching low pressure system,' he explains. The duo changed down to their smallest spinnaker at dusk: 'During the night we had steady 30-35 knots with the maximum gust at 40 knots, a bit more than we expected, but we decided to ride it with the spinnaker up.' Financial Crisis took off fast: 'The boat was surfing often at 15 to 18 knots in an exuberant power display, sometimes surfing at over 20 knots between two walls of spray,' says Nannini.

Furthest east and with 636 miles remaining to the finish line in Les Sables d’Olonne, Colman and Cavanough have been recovering from the gale of Thursday and Friday: 'Now we’re out of the storm, I’ve just had a wash,' reports Scott Cavanough from Cessna Citation. 'I know how you English comment on how dirty the Aussies are, so I just want to let you know that I’m clean, OK!' he confirms. 'It’s really good to clean all the salt off my face and body,' says Cavanough.

While the low pressure system is currently spinning anti-clockwise north of the fleet in the middle of the Atlantic, it may not be the last the GOR fleet see of Tropical Storm Beryl. Nick Leggatt explains: 'Almost unbelievably, Beryl is expected to absorb another gale before turning around yet again and heading east across the Atlantic once more, ready to shove us forcefully into the Bay of Biscay at the end of the week!' says the South African yachtsman. 'With this massive storm churning around the North Atlantic is does at least look as if we should generally have moderate west or south west winds for most of the week, which will be a welcome relief.'

GOR leaderboard at 12:00 GMT 3/6/12:
1. Cessna Citation DTF 636 9.7kts
2. Financial Crisis DTL 300 12.6kts
3. Phesheya-Racing DTL 717 8.3kts
4. Sec. Hayai DTL 889 Global Ocean Race website
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