by Oliver Dewar
Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR) fleet continue racing from Wellington to the third leg finish line in Punta del Este, Uruguay.
Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire celebrate rounding Cape Horn - Global Ocean Race 2011-12
Having rounded Cape Horn early evening GMT on Monday, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire have taken Phesheya-Racing through Le Maire Strait between Tierra del Fuego and Isla de los Estados joining Cessna Citation and Financial Crisis in the South Atlantic after 30 days in the Pacific Ocean’s high latitudes.
However the final 1,300 miles are proving to be as challenging as the 5,000 miles in the Pacific for the trio of Class40s that continued racing from Wellington, New Zealand. At the head of the fleet, Conrad Colman and Adrian Kuttel have experienced stop-start sailing with Cessna Citation as they close in on the coast of Argentina for the final 180 miles to the finish line on the northern shore of Rio de la Plata, while further south in second place, Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon on Financial Crisis have been hammered by headwinds north-west of the Falkland Islands but, finally, the breeze has gone right.
On the South African Class40, Phesheya-Racing, rounding Cape Horn on Monday evening was a momentous occasion for Phillippa Hutton-Squire. While Nick Leggatt has now logged six passages around the cape, it was a debut rounding for Hutton-Squire: 'We never thought we would make it when we were becalmed the last few days, but we pushed hard in the last 24 hours between the hail storms, snow and icy winds,' says the first South African female sailor to skipper a racing yacht around Cape Horn.
Leggatt and Hutton-Squire sighted Horn Island’s western peak from 27 miles to the south: 'From here the excitement and happiness set in on board!' reports Hutton-Squire. As the sun began to set at 56S, Phesheya-Racing arrived three miles off the cape. 'It’s a very jagged coastline with sheer cliffs and no trees,' she notes. 'The birds had increased in numbers and the dolphins had come out to ride our bow.' However, the magic moment was interrupted as the satellite phone began to ring, the VHF suddenly crackled into life and the AIS warning light started to flash busily after a month with barely any shipping activity.
As Leggatt and Hutton-Squire noted the position and course of a large cruise liner packed with adventure tourists rounding the cape, the Chilean Navy lighthouse keeper on Horn Island contacted the South Africans. 'They asked us to alter course as we were in Chilean waters and wanted to know where we were going,' explains Hutton-Squire. As Phesheya-Racing cracked off heading north-east and close to Deceit Island, the duo opened a bottle of champagne they had failed to open during GOR leg two: 'As it was blowing a gale on Christmas Day we delayed opening the bottle to New Year’s Eve, but another gale came through,' says Hutton-Squire. 'We first made a toast to the boat for getting us this far, then poured a bit in the ocean for Neptune, then I made a toast to Nick, for if it wasn't for him, I would still be sitting at home,' she adds.
Leggatt and Hutton-Squire sailed downwind with their A4 and full main, entering Le Maire Strait shortly after 06:00 GMT on Tuesday, exiting the 16-mile wide channel four hours later and entering the South Atlantic: 'Leaving the Pacific behind us is a big relief,' confirms Hutton-Squire, although reality has yet to set in. 'Having crossed the Pacific to Cape Horn is a major achievement and I can't believe that I’ve made it,' she admits. 'There have been some really hard times, difficult moments and generally it has been rather tough,' says the 28 year-old circumnavigator recalling the series of heaving-to manoeuvres in brutal conditions. 'There were a couple of times that I thought we were going to have to bail out, but where would we go?' she wonders. 'We had to come this way and we’ve made it across the Pacific as a team!'
Meanwhile, 470 miles to the north of Phesheya-Racing at 15:00 GMT on Tuesday, the environment on Financial Crisis was improving: 'Conditions have got a bit better and it’s just good enough to remove my drysuit briefly,' reported Hugo Ramon on Tuesday morning. 'We’re still trying to squeeze every knot we can out of the very tired Financial Crisis and she gave us a couple of scares,' says the Spanish sailor. 'First, a block exploded and a few seconds later, the primary autopilot suffered brain death, although a few hours later the unit suddenly woke up from its coma without any help from us,' says Ramon.
On Tuesday afternoon, Financial Crisis was 220 miles off the coast of Patagonia and the solitude of the Southern Ocean was over. 'It’s pretty strange that having spent a month in the empty and remote latitudes of the Pacific, we’re now in a zone of intense commercial traffic,' Ramon continues. 'It’s a bit like moving straight from a retirement home in Valldemossa and going directly to a rave in Magalluf!' he jokes. 'There are a lot of massive supertankers in the area that are too big to go through the Panama Canal and have gone round Cape Horn, although I hope they don’t wear the traditional Cape Horn earring in their left ear as I somehow doubt the experience is the same on a massive ship.'
With 730 miles remaining to the finish line and around three to four days of racing in leg three remaining, Hugo Ramon has been reflecting on the GOR: 'It’s now beginning to sink in that this adventure is coming to an end,' says Ramon, who will leave Financial Crisis having completed leg three. 'I know that I have to focus on finishing this adventure before starting a new one, but I can’t help thinking that I’d like to do this all over again, maybe even sailing solo.'
For the leading Class40, Cessna Citation, sailing 30 miles off the Argentine coast on Tuesday afternoon, the route across the 120-mile wide mouth of Rio de la Plata to the finish line in Punta del Este on the river’s northern shore is forecast to be blocked by a period of light winds giving a finish line ETA of Wednesday afternoon local time.
GOR leaderboard at 15:00 GMT 28/2/12:
1. Cessna Citation DTF 182 8.4kts
2. Financial Crisis DTL 551 6.8kts
3. Phesheya-Racing DTL 1032 8.5kts
Global Ocean Race website