Beluga Racer - Photo: Brian Hancock - Portimão Global Ocean Race
Six days into the Portimão Global Ocean Race and the German team of Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme aboard Beluga Racer are stamping their mark on the event. After a conservative start and some clever tactical sailing through the Canary Islands, Herrmann and Oehme have turned on the afterburners and opened a hundred mile margin on their closest rivals, Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz aboard Desafio Cabo de Hornos.
With their biggest spinnaker set and near perfect downwind sailing conditions, Beluga Racer has been averaging close to 15 knots for the last 12 hours. To keep such an impressive average for a 40 foot boat, you know that they have been surfing over 20 knots at times. Skipper Boris Herrmann is clearly finding the sailing to his liking and has been waxing poetically in his blog.
'There is nothing but an endless ocean ahead. Off to port the sea glistens in the sunshine with puffy trade wind clouds overhead,' he wrote. 'This endless vastness, this dependence on limited supplies and modern technology, the constant pressure of wanting to sail faster. That’s what each day is about for Felix and me.'
Beluga Racer is the southernmost boat in the fleet and like the dinghy sailors they are Boris and Felix are sailing a tactically smart leg constantly gybing to keep themselves between their rivals astern and their chosen waypoint ahead. This way they will not allow someone to find more wind pressure elsewhere on the racecourse. It’s a proven tactic on a short inshore course played out on a large offshore leg of an around the world race. Same principals apply.
Further back Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson had things other than boat speed on their mind. It started with a short email to Race HQ. 'Just a note to say we are concerned about a fishing vessel which has been tracking us very closely (200 metres) for the past hour,' the mail read. The position of Team Mowgli at the time was 40 miles off the African coast in a region known for piracy. The boat dogged them closely, altering course each time the race boat altered course, convincing a jittery racing skipper that their intentions were not amicable. Fortunately the incident had a happy ending and a few hours later Jeremy recounted what happened in an email to Team Mowgli supporters.
'We all know there is a fine line between someone being simply curious and, at least in one own mind's eye, being sinister,' he wrote. 'Shortly after dawn this morning we were sailing about 40 miles off the Western Sahara coast when we came across a fishing boat about two miles off our starboard side. Over the next hour or so it became clear that he certainly wasn't fishing and that he was simply keeping pace with us. He gradually came closer and closer. I woke David and at about 8am GMT we sent a message through to Pip (their Campaign Chairman) and to the race organisers saying we were concerned for our safety.
The boat then came within about 200 metres of our stern and stayed there for nearly an hour before slowly drifting off to our port side. Throughout this time we were sending update emails to the shore crew advising them of our position. By about 11am GMT he had moved off to about two miles away and this distance gradually increased until he was eventually out of sight. At about 2pm he reappeared on the horizon and our concerns started to grow once more although he never did approach any further.
Thank God he isn't still there as night starts to fall. This is a part of the African coast quite well known for its piracy and we felt pretty vulnerable armed only with rocket propelled flares which we had pulled out ready for action. In reality of course we would simply have given them anything they wanted without a fight! We will never know whether he was simply being curious or really harboured any ill intentions. But let's just hope we don't see the likes of him again!'
All the leading boats have gybed out into the Atlantic away from the coast and barring any stray fishing boats they should be able to enjoy the rest of their weekend. Their sights will be firmly set on the next tactical obstacle of the coures; the Cape Verde Islands.