by Oliver Dewar
Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR) fleet are on the 27th day at sea on the third leg of racing from Wellington to Punta del Este.
A spot of sightseeing for Marco Nannini in Le Maire Strait - Global Ocean Race 2011-12
The trio of boats still racing are split between the South Atlantic and the Southern Ocean. At midday GMT on Saturday, fleet leaders Conrad Colman and Adrian Kuttel are 119 miles off the coast of Patagonia with Cessna Citation making good pace towards the finish having broken through light headwinds. Holding second place, Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon cut the corner with Financial Crisis emerging from Le Maire Strait at 23:00 GMT on Friday, leaving the Southern Ocean just before nightfall in the South Atlantic.
South-west of Cape Horn at 58S, the South African duo of Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire on Phesheya-Racing have tapped into following breeze in the semi-static, Southern Ocean high pressure system that has dogged their passage to the Felipe Cubillos Cape Horn Gate, but are making good progress: 'The barometer has been absolutely flat on about 1024mb for over 48 hours, maybe even 72 hours now,' reported Nick Leggatt on Saturday morning. 'The wind has gradually backed into the south as we have rounded the bottom of the high necessitating a gybe early this morning,' he continues. 'In fact, as we skirt the south side of the high pressure the weather has been remarkably stable and yesterday evening we hoisted the A4 spinnaker.'
At 12:00 GMT on Saturday, Phehseya-Racing was averaging 8.8 knots with 355 miles remaining until crossing the Felipe Cubillos Cape Horn Gate. As Leggatt celebrated his birthday on Friday, Phesheya-Racing dropped to 59S – the deepest the South Africans have ventured into the Southern Ocean: 'As a matter of interest, in terms of latitude we are only 120 miles north of Elephant Island, the scene of perhaps the most famous Antarctic survival story, where Sir Ernest Shackleton's crew sheltered for months while he took a small, wooden, open boat and some colleagues to seek help from the whaling station at South Georgia,' Leggatt explains.
The strangely benign conditions just north of Antarctica look set to continue for the near future: 'Overnight we had some fog, but that cleared by the morning and we were left with the usual dreary grey Southern Ocean sky,' says Leggatt. 'The wind has generally been very light, though we have had some periods with stronger gusts where we have made good speeds despite hooking a large raft of kelp around a rudder.'
With the South African team’s Cape Horn ETA bid for the Navigation Prize standing at 02:18 GMT on Monday, the confused conditions ahead remain a handicap: 'We’re still not completely clear of the high pressure, though we are now reaching quite fast in a southerly breeze,' continues Leggatt. 'We still anticipate some variability in the wind tomorrow before it swings back to the west ahead of an approaching cold front that should take us the rest of the way to Cape Horn.'
Meanwhile, 560 miles to the north-east, Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon had emerged from Le Maire Strait between Tierra del Fuego and Isla de Los Estados spending four hours in the 16-mile long channel and keeping to the mainland shore: 'Sighting land was quite special,' says Nannini. 'These are stretches of land you only get to read about in books and that I will probably never see again unless I do another yacht race around the world!' he adds of the extraordinary backdrop after four weeks at sea without landfall. 'The steep cliffs of Tierra del Fuego are snow-capped even now, in summer, and everything looks quite wild and barren,' explains the Italian skipper. 'The strait has a bit of a reputation for its strong currents and overfalls, so much so that most yachts racing up this way tend to pass to the outside and east of the Isla De Los Estatos, but we figured we had good weather and could do with some sightseeing after so many days with just water around us,' he adds.
Tide and current data for the strait is patchy and hard to find, but Nannini and Ramon got lucky: 'The current increased steadily until it reached nearly five knots,' continues Nannini. 'It’s a good job we didn't arrive at the wrong time of the day as the wind was so light that there's no way we could have gone against the flow,' he admits. 'A few hours later we had been spat out into the Atlantic and as the current faded away, we drifted slowly for a while before a gentle wind started to fill the sails.' At midday GMT on Saturday, Financial Crisis was on port tack in light headwinds from the high pressure system centred above the Falkland Islands 200 miles to the north-east.
Leading the fleet 355 miles to the north of Financial Crisis and with 809 miles to the finish, Conrad Colman and Adrian Kuttel on Cessna Citation had broken free of the light airs from the Falkland’s high pressure system and were making good speed towards the predicted strong, following breeze from the low pressure system to the north which may provide a fast finish for the Kiwi-South African duo.
GOR leaderboard at 12:00 GMT 25/02/12:
1. Cessna Citation DTF 809 8.9kts
2. Financial Crisis DTL 355 7.6kts
3. Phesheya-Racing DTL 952 8.8kts
Global Ocean Race website