by Oliver Dewar
The Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR) fleet are on their 18th day at sea in Leg 4 from Punta del Este, Uruguay, to Charleston, USA.
Yvonne Beusker and Erik van Vuuren take Sec. Hayai across the Equator - Global Ocean Race 2011-12
The majority of the Class40s are now the furthest offshore since the start of this leg as Cessna Citation leads the fleet towards the Caribbean’s Windward Islands in the North-East Trade Winds.
In fourth place, Erik van Vuuren and new co-skipper, Yvonne Beusker, have slowed slightly since Sec. Hayai restarted racing from Fortaleza on Wednesday night after disembarking Nico Budel and, having crossed the Equator at 03:00 GMT on Friday morning, the duo have encountered adverse current and rafts of weed 450 miles off the mouth of the River Amazon.
Leading the fleet, 750 miles north of Sec. Hayai on Friday afternoon, Conrad Colman and Scott Cavanough on Cessna Citation averaged just under 12 knots for most of Friday, slowing fractionally at 15:00 GMT on Friday, but still increasing their lead to 389 miles. In second and third place, Financial Crisis and Phesheya-Racing are separated by 145 miles – another 40-mile gain for the Italian-Slovak duo in the past 24 hours - as the two Class40s settle in to the trade winds.
Since crossing the Equator on Wednesday and clearing the Doldrums, Financial Crisis has picked up speed from six knots to a steady nine-ten knots: 'We’ve got around 20 knots from our starboard side and the unexpected, adverse current that we had all experienced after the Equator comes and goes and we still see no sign of the favourable Guiana Current that should be helping us along the way,' reported Nannini on Friday morning.
In the spring, the Guiana Current can extend to around 300 miles offshore, but is strongest along the edge of the continental shelf, while Nannini and Frattaruolo are 400 miles off the coast of French Guiana and subject to the limbs and meanders extending from the current’s offshore edge. Furthermore, freshwater anomalies from the Amazon’s outflow can create lobes stretching for 300km across the north-westerly flowing current.
Nonetheless, the Italian-Slovak duo are rolling north: 'I guess if sailing around the world was as easy as the last few hundred miles, no one would bother doing it,' reasons Nannini. 'A donkey on tranquilizers could steer through these waters, but as usual the sea is not without its perils,' he warns as a small fishing boat appeared dead ahead of Financial Crisis 400 miles off the Amazon: 'We had to change course to avoid it and luckily we’re still keeping a continuous radar lookout so once the target was identified - a little blip on the screen - avoiding it was no problem, but a little distraction could easily spoilt the party.'
South of Nannini and Frattaruolo by 367 miles on Friday afternoon, Van Vuuren and Beusker are very relieved to leave Brazil in their wake: 'The well-known red tape of the authorities in Fortaleza was an interesting experience,' confirmed Erik van Vuuren on Friday afternoon as the Dutch duo recover from Brazilian customs’ multiple choice paperwork. 'What boxes do you tick for a sailing vessel amidst all the cargo ships; exchanging an existing crewmember with new crew; no intention to stay in beautiful Fortaleza and then taking off asap, to name a few of the pitfalls,' he recalls.
Although Friday morning was a landmark for Van Vuuren and Beusker, there was no party on board Sec. Hayai: 'As we’ve been working hard to get going, we were actually too tired to celebrate our first Equator crossing together,' Van Vuuren explains, but progress is positive: 'Speed is good, about ten to 11 knots, but like Phesheya, we’ve experienced a strong current of two knots which is not exactly cooperating with us,' he adds. 'The wind, though, is not letting us down, so far, but we’re sailing through islands and strings of seaweed which means continuous checking and getting rid of it from the rudders and keel.'
North of Sec. Hayai by 174 miles, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire had been wondering why Phesheya-Racing felt so sluggish as Sargasso weed in the nutrient-rich waters off the Amazon’s mouth claimed another victim: 'Cessna Citation had mentioned sailing through this weed a couple of days ago, but we were still somewhat surprised by the quantity,' admitted Phillippa Hutton-Squire early on Friday. 'All day long we wove our way through the stuff which is unavoidable as it drifts in long lines aligned with the wind and so every few hours we would turn up into the wind a haul another large chunk off the rudders.'
To add to the hardship on board, the South Africans had to deal with endless squalls: 'All day long the wind shifted and gusted or died faster than we could trim or change sails and the boat never seemed to be ‘in the groove’ and sailing happily,' reports Hutton-Squire. 'We’ve had some frustrating days during this race, but today really seemed to take the cake!' she fumes. However, conditions soon improved: 'At around 15:00 Z, the log indicated that we’d sailed about 2,870 miles from Punta del Este while the GPS indicated 2,870 miles remaining to Charleston so, psychologically at least, we are now starting the final run in and as our mood lifted with that news, the weather began to change too.'
One final rain squall pelted Phesheya-Racing before the wind began to freshen from the north-east: 'By then the A4 spinnaker had been packed away and the Solent jib started to power us onto a beam reach,' confirms Hutton-Squire. 'For the past few hours the sky has generally been clear and the wind steady at 15 to 20 knots, but with the occasional passing squall gusting over 20. The squalls now have a different character, not the towering, threatening cumulonimbus monsters, but now they are fast moving and localised.'
GOR leaderboard at 15:00 GMT 20/4/12:
1. Cessna Citation DTF 2085 9.7kts
2. Financial Crisis DTL 389 9.9kts
3. Phesheya-Racing DTL 545 9.9kts
4. Sec. Hayai DTL 756 8.2kts
Global Ocean Race website