by Oliver Dewar
In Leg 3 of the Global Ocean Race, the South African duo of 45-year-old Nick Leggatt and 28-year-old Phillippa Hutton-Squire, crossed the finish line in Punta del Este in third place with their Akilaria Class40, Phesheya-Racing at 16:26:20 local (18:26:20 GMT) on Wednesday 7 March, taking 38 days 16 hours 26 minutes and 20 seconds to complete the 6,300-mile course from Wellington, New Zealand, to Uruguay.
Nick Leggatt working on the deck of Phesheya Racing.
Phehseya-Racing entered the channel between the Puerto de Punta del Este and Isla Gorriti, crossing the finish line in the blistering sunlight of late afternoon. Escorted into the marina by two RIBs from the Yacht Club Punta del Este (YCPE), Leggatt and Hutton-Squire were welcomed by a crowd of well-wishers including the YCPE’s Secretary, Pablo Elola.
It has been an immensely tough Leg 3 for Leggatt and Hutton-Squire with a series of upwind gales, severe autopilot problems and knockdowns in lightning storms. But despite becoming separated from the leading two Class40s, the team on Phesheya-Racing doggedly stuck with the course and completed Leg 3. In the very early part of the leg, the South Africans passed south of the Chatham Islands in fourth place, dropping back to fifth as Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon re-joined the pack of five Class40s after a southerly flyer with Financial Crisis.
With the Fields on Buckley Systems turning back to New Zealand due to injury after four days of racing, followed by Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron on Campagne de France, Leggatt and Hutton-Squire withstood 35-50 knot headwinds, moving up to third place, opting to hove-to for 13 hours as strong easterlies lashed their Class40. 'There weren’t very strong winds, only about 47 knots,' Nick Leggatt recalls. 'But the sea state was just horrendous,' he adds. 'As a front comes through, the wind shifts and the waves just turn into pyramids. We didn’t think the boat would fall apart, but we thought we might fall apart!'
Once hove-to, conditions onboard were remarkable, explains Phillippa Hutton-Squire: 'It was like being at home, very steady and you even make a cup of tea,' she says. The wise and seamanlike decision to hove-to began to isolate the South Africans as Cessna Citation and Financial Crisis further south missed the deep low pressure system and a separation of 250 miles between Phesheya-Racing and Financial Crisis opened up.
Within ten hours, Phesheya-Racing was hove-to again for 17 hours as the duo fixed their autopilots. 'One autopilot was completely cooked, but we re-wired it and although it doesn’t look like the way it should be wired in the manual, it does work,' says Leggatt. For both of the South Africans, the autopilot issue was fundamental to continuing the leg:
'The thought that we wouldn’t have any more self-steering and would never make it to Punta was right in the front of our minds,' says Hutton-Squire. 'It was more the fear that we would have to turn round and head back to New Zealand that made us determined to fix the problem.' The issues were fixed and, once underway, Leggatt and Hutton-Squire sailed north-east for approximately 380 miles to avoid strong north-easterlies.
Becoming temporarily trapped in the system’s windless centre, Leggatt and Hutton-Squire were making miles south again on Day 11 of Leg 3, but the separation from the leading two Class40s had grown exponentially as Cessna Citation and Financial Crisis crossed the mid-Pacific, bluQube Scoring Gate 1,000 miles to the south-east. For the South African duo, this separation was a low point of the race: 'The morale on board took a big dive,' Hutton-Squire admits. 'Both because we were so isolated in terms of safety with other boats, but also competitively,' she explains. 'I don’t think it did us any good at all initially, going north to avoid the cyclone, and for the rest of the leg we were on our own, so it was big time in our minds.'
Crossing the bluQube Scoring Gate five days later, Phesheya-Racing dropped south-east through the Furious Fifties, reaching 59S approximately 600 miles WSW of Cape Horn and ran into light airs: 'Last time I approached Cape Horn, exactly the same thing happened,' confirms Leggatt who has been round Cape Horn five time already.
However, on Day 29 of Leg 3, Leggatt and Hutton-Squire crossed the Felipe Cubillos Cape Horn Gate at 18:01:54 GMT on 27 February, passing 13 miles south of Horn Island, but hardened-up and sailed close to the cape, celebrating Phillippa Hutton-Squire’s achievement as the first South African woman to skipper a race boat around Cape Horn and winning the Cape Horn Navigation Prize for giving the closest ETA to rounding Cape Horn submitted 1,000 miles west of the cape, missing their target ETA by just under two minutes. 'We were within a mile-and-a-half of Cape Horn on a beautiful day despite squalls coming over and rain, but we did manage to take some photos and of course we drank champagne,' Hutton-Squire recalls.
Sailing through Le Maire Strait between mainland Tierra del Fuego and Isla de Los Estados, Phesheya-Racing headed towards the Falkland Islands, coming very close to the offlying Jason Islands and becoming trapped in a massive raft of kelp: 'We thought we were clear of the Falklands and then the boat stopped completely and we were in a massive raft of kelp stretching out as far as the eye could see,' says Leggatt. Hutton-Squire describes the scene: 'The Jason Islands are very steep and rocky and big waves were breaking over them and this focussed our attention remarkably!' Having attempted to free the keel of kelp using boathooks and halyards, there was only one alternative:
'It was time to go for a swim,' says Leggatt. 'With a wetsuit that is more suitable for the Caribbean, no boots or hood, I jumped in.' Fortunately, the operation to clear the keel was swift and Leggatt was back onboard within minutes. 'It just came off really, really easy and I got back on deck completely blue and frozen.'
Beating north through the South Atlantic from the Falklands for a full nine days, suffering a knock down shortly before the wind finally clocked round to the east as the South Africans approached the Argentine coast and the final 120 miles across the mouth of the Rio de la Plata to the finish line off Punta del Este.
While the South Africans begin celebrating on the balcony restaurant at the Yacht Club Punta del Este courtesy of Tony Lawsons’ Class40 campaign, Team Concise, Nico Budel and Sec. Hayai are in reaching south in easterly breeze averaging ten knots 1,000 miles north-east of Punta del Este and one week away from re-joining the GOR fleet. Due ast of the Brazilian coastal city of Florianópolis by 700 miles, Budel is enjoying his single-handed delivery from Cape Town:
'We’ve just had lots of rain and a lot of wind!' reported the 72-year-old Dutchman late on Tuesday. 'After days of very little breeze, I had to put a reef in the mainsail,' he adds. 'It was raining cats and dogs and I was outside in the pouring rain. After days of reading books and having nothing to, this suddenly meant a lot of work!'
Averaging just under ten knots on Wednesday afternoon, Sec. Hayai has a Punta del Este ETA of Wednesday 14th March when Budel will be met by family members and his co-skipper for Leg 4 to Charleston, Carolina, Erik van Vuuren.
GOR leaderboard at 21:00 GMT 07/03/12:
1. Cessna Citation Finished 20:37:30 GMT 29/2/12
2. Financial Crisis Finished 10:54:20 GMT 04/03/12
3. Phesheya-Racing Finished 18:26:20 GMT 07/03/12
Global Ocean Race website