by Oliver Dewar
Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR) fleet are on the tenth day of racing in leg five from Charleston.
Hurtling east ahead of the gale - Global Ocean Race 2011-12
All four teams are focussed on one weather feature; a deep depression heading for the fleet carrying winds of up to 50 knots forecast to arrive within the next 24 hours.
In fourth place, the Dutch duo of Nico and Frans Budel have positioned Sec. Hayai far enough south to avoid the worst of the westerly winds spinning from the bottom of the system as it rolls east across the fleet before heading higher into the North Atlantic. In third place, the South African duo of Phillippa Hutton-Squire and Nick Leggatt have tried to take Phesheya-Racing south and out of harm’s way, but light winds and an adverse current have put a stop to the plan.
Furthest north in the chasing trio on Financial Crisis in second place, Marco Nannini and Sergio Frattaruolo have backed-off the pace, crossing the bluQube Scoring Gate on Tuesday morning and hoping that slowing their Class40 will reduce the impact of the gale as the depression passes ahead of them. Meanwhile, at the head of the fleet, Conrad Colman and Scott Cavanough continue to thunder east at pace with Cessna Citation, but there’s nowhere to hide from the gale force winds for the Kiwi-Australian duo.
Averaging over eight knots at 15:00 GMT on Tuesday, 540 miles west of the Azores, Conrad Colman describes the inevitable appointment with strong winds: 'We’re being stalked by a deepening depression in the North Atlantic that will hit us tomorrow with anything up to 50 knots,' says the 28-year-old skipper. 'Despite sailing through some really strong conditions in the Southern Ocean legs of the Global Ocean Race, this is the first time I’ve seen the single, triangular wind barb [Force 10 ‘Whole Gale’ 55-63mph] for 50 knots on a forecasted storm that is about to hit,' he observes. 'It doesn't look that scary from an armchair, but out here it really gets your attention!'
However, at the moment, Cessna Citation is pushing eastwards with 1,700 miles remaining to the finish in Les Sables d’Olonne, France: 'We’ve just turned out a 330-or-so-mile day under fractional spinnaker and Code 5,' Colman reports and although this is around 30 miles short of his best GOR 24-hour run recorded in Leg 2, he is justifiably pleased. 'We peaked out at 24 knots and averaged 17 knots for a three-hour period,' he adds. 'Considering that the Volvo boats are in the same neighbourhood in the North Atlantic and Abu Dhabi just extended on the fleet with a 338-mile day, it feels pretty cool to be running with the big boys,' says Colman. 'It was recently announced that the Farr VO70 cost 9.5 million euros to build, whereas our little fiberglass, fixed-keel 40-footer can be on the water for a twentieth of that cost, so our speeds look even better.'
On Financial Crisis, Marco Nannini has made a hard decision: 'The weather model shows we'll see at least 40 knots of wind, but things could get quite nasty as the depression will continue deepening as it travels east,' explains the Italian-Slovak skipper. 'Once more my focus has shifted away from the race and towards our safety and that of the boat,' he confirmed on Tuesday morning. 'Whatever position we finish in this leg we will secure second place in the overall points ranking, but if we do not finish, we could hand our second place over to Phesheya - in other words, strictly speaking, our goal is simply to finish this leg.'
Shortly before rounding Cape Horn in second place during Leg 3, Nannini opted to heave-to west of the cape as a vicious gale ripped through Drake Passage, and he is employing a similar strategy mid-North Atlantic: 'The boats are tired and frankly so am I, so we took the foot off the gas and instead of launching on a rather pointless chase of Cessna, we actually decided to lose ground to the south and slow down,' says Nannini. 'Hopefully, we'll avoid the worst of the gale force winds by letting the depression overtake us before it deepens and strengthens.'
While this is the prudent choice, it rankles slightly with the highly-competitive 34-year-old: 'I appreciate this doesn't sound very heroic, but from a cold blooded, tactical point of view, this is the best choice,' Nannini concludes. 'Nurse the boat as if she was made of crystal all the way to Les Sables and enjoy the celebrations of a round-the-world-race second place rather than take any unnecessary risks.'
Early GMT on Tuesday, speeds dropped on Phesheya-Racing for Phillippa Hutton-Squire and Nick Leggatt: 'Nick and I spent the day positioning ourselves for yet another storm,' Hutton-Squire explains. 'We tried to get south, but we got caught in an eddy with 5.5 knots of current that was trying to take us back to the States,' she reports. 'There was not that much wind and the eddy just took us with it whether we liked it or not, so progress was slow but eventually after about six hours we sailed out of it.'
Unable to work south, the South Africans are preparing for gale force conditions: 'We’re so close to the finish, yet so far, and the next few days look like a real challenge,' Hutton-Squire confirms. 'Nick and I don’t like this calm before the storm and waiting to be thrown around once more.' The duo have made the best effort to get ready for the arrival of the depression: 'We spent the day preparing the boat and ourselves for 45 to 50 knots of wind that is forecast,' she continues. 'The storm jib is ready as we expect we’ll probably need it along with three reefs,' predicts Hutton-Squire, but with the Class40 prepared, the storm’s likely intensity is preying on Hutton-Squire’s mind: 'Will it be worse than forecast? How big will the waves be? How will it approach us? Steady build up or sudden squall?' she questions. 'It‘s the unknown about these storms that is the worst part.
Meanwhile, 80 miles further south than Phesheya-Racing on Tuesday afternoon and beyond the low pressure system’s predicted path, Nico and Frans Budel spent Monday beating into large waves: 'It’s much more comfortable then yesterday,' reported Frans Budel on Tuesday afternoon. 'We need the wind to shift a bit more to put the gennaker up, but speeds are growing on Sec Hayai,' he adds as the first generation Akilaria Class40 begins to poll averages over nine knots. 'With the forecast that these conditions will stay a while, we are happy as we can start our race to the scoring gate and beyond,' says the Dutch skipper. 'The forecasts say we have these conditions until Friday? Let’s hope!'
GOR leaderboard 15:00 GMT 29/5/12:
1. Cessna Citation DTF 1687 8.4kts
2. Financial Crisis DTL 345 8.9kts
3. Phesheya-Racing DTL 501 6.7kts
4. Sec. Hayai DTL 670 7.3kts
Global Ocean Race website