by Ivor Wilkins
Ross Field at Ascot Hospital, Auckland
The Global Ocean Race organizers should suspend racing in the current leg and restart the race in Uruguay following their decision to shift the mandatory Southern Ocean scoring gate in mid-race, says Ross Field of Team Buckley Systems.
Within hours of Team Buckley Systems and the French Campagne de France yachts arriving back in New Zealand, the Race Committee put out a notice that the scoring gate would be moved 180 miles south, as a safety precaution for the remaining three yachts.
However, Ross and Campbell Field, who were leading the race when they turned back a week ago after their Class40 yacht was damaged in heavy seas, believe the third leg of the double-handed round the world race has been reduced to a farce.
'We were opposed to the imposition of this arbitrary scoring gate in the first place,' said Ross Field. 'We warned the Race Committee that it would force the competitors to sail upwind in adverse and dangerous conditions – and that is exactly what happened. For them now to move the gate in the middle of the race is ridiculous.'
Team Buckley Systems was forced to turn back to New Zealand after crashing off a monstrous wave as they were sailing upwind in storm force winds. Ross Field injured his back and the yacht lost all its wind instruments and its main autopilots.
The second-placed French Campagne de France pair also decided to turn back.
A week later, with the remaining yachts struggling to reach the scoring gate, the organizers issued a notice that they would shift its location from 47°S to 50°S. 'If any boat feels they have been disadvantaged, they can obviously apply for redress, which would be dealt with by the GOR’s International Jury, but our priority right now is the safety of the skippers and the boats,' said Race Director Josh Hall.
Nick Leggat, skipper of Phesheya-Racing, which is still in the race, immediately said the decision had caused 'serious anger and disillusion' and added: 'This seems ridiculous to us, as it has made a mockery of our strategy and also Buckley Systems’ and Campagne de France’s decisions to retire.'
Back in Auckland, Ross Field was beginning treatment for his compressed spine injury, but said Team Buckley Systems would be looking closely at the rules to investigate redress. But he believed the fairest solution would be to suspend racing in Leg 3 and then restart the race again in Punta del Este, Uruguay.
'We are keen to carry on. Buckley Systems is a fantastic boat and this is a fantastic event. We and Buckley Systems have invested a lot of effort and money in this and were gutted at having to pull out when we were in the lead.'
Because of his injuries, Field would probably not be able to sail the next leg, but his son and co-skipper, Campbell, could carry on with a replacement crew. 'We are looking at options for getting the boat to Uruguay,' said Ross.
After the current leg, there are two more stages of the race: from Uruguay to Charleston, South Carolina and from there to the finish at Les Sables D’Olonne, France. Leg 4 is scheduled to start from Punta del Este on April 1.
Sail-World door-stopped Ross Field as he was about to consult medical specialists in Auckland this afternoon, and have the full interview later this evening.