by Oliver Dewar
The Global Ocean Race is currently underway and late on Friday, the final two Class40s broke free of the Doldrums and dug into the South-East Trades. Both Phesheya Racing in fifth place and Sec. Hayai in sixth place are gaining speed after three days of nerve racking conditions. Shortly after 23:00 GMT on Friday, Cessna Citation sailed across the Equator in third place and some fifteen hours later, Financial Crisis, in fourth place, also entered the Southern Hemisphere with all four Class40s on a shy reach with about twelve knots of breeze forward of the beam.
Nick Leggatt makes repairs to the bobstay system in the Trade Winds aboard Phesheya Racing - Global Ocean Race 2011-12
Approximately 360 miles south of Cessna Citation and 250 miles off the coast of Brazil, Campagne de France was gradually adding miles to the Franco-British team’s lead over BSL in second as the two Class40s reached south averaging 10 knots in 14 knots of easterly breeze separated by 37 miles at midday on Saturday.
For Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire on Phesheya-Racing, the final hours before picking up speed early on Friday evening were excrutiating: 'We really had to work to finally escape the clutches of the Doldrums,' reported Leggatt on Saturday morning. 'Yesterday morning found us beating into a SSW wind, coming from the exact direction we wanted to go and neither tack seemed to pay.'
The South African duo were desperate to use every breath of wind to keep moving: 'Port tack rapidly took us back into an area of no wind and starboard tack had the wind increase, but rapidly head us to the east,' he explains. 'I lost track of how many times we tacked, trying to wiggle our way into the SE Trade Winds. With each tack we tried a combination of ballast arrangements and stacking of all loose gear, so it was a very full morning.'
On Friday afternoon, the wind began to arrive and Leggatt and Hutton-Squire switched from upwind Code Zero to Solent, but during the sail change a crack was discovered in the bowsprit mounting. 'This is potentially quite a serious problem, at least as far as performance is concerned,' says Leggatt and a lashing was swiftly fitted to take pressure and load off the damaged area. After a quick investigation, the bobstay system running from the outboard end of the bowsprit to a point on the stem just above the waterline was found to be the culprit.
'I climbed into my harness and Phillippa lowered me over the bow on the end of the staysail halyard,' he explains. 'It was a precarious situation with the boat crashing to windward in a choppy sea, but we managed to remove both the inner and the outer bobstays, replace them and modify the system slightly so that hopefully it will relieve some of the strain on the deck mountings.'
By the time the fix was completed, the bowsprit had become temporarily redundant with the wind clocking to the south and the duo set off upwind to towards Fernando de Noronha and the Fastnet Marine Insurance Scoring Gate. At 18:00 GMT on Friday, Phesheya-Racing was up to speed while Nico Budel and Ruud van Rijsewijk on Sec. Hayai in sixth place had to wait until midnight before the Dutch duo found the Trades, dropping 29 miles overnight to the South Africans. In the 15:00 GMT position poll on Saturday, Phesheya-Racing was leading Sec. Hayai by 45 miles and making eight knots. 'There’s not a lot one can say about beating into the Trade Winds,' Leggatt believes.
'It’s frustrating, tedious and boring, but at least we can be sure that the wind will back more into the east as we approach the Brazilian coast, so we are looking forward to some fast reaching conditions.'
On board Cessna Citation in third place, Conrad Colman and Hugo Ramon have also slipped into a Trade Wind trance: 'After the intensity of the highs and lows of the Doldrums, getting into the SE Trades is a little like getting home and sitting on your favourite couch,' says Colman.
'You’re jolly pleased you’re there, but not quite sure just what to do with yourself.' Since dusk on Friday, the New Zealand-Spanish team has been averaging a solid eight to nine knots. 'The wind increases, but only by two or three knots; the wind turns, but ten degrees in ten hours. After the whiplash wind shifts of only a few days ago, it all feels a little too comfortable for my liking,' he warns.
Looking foward on Cessna Citation - Global Ocean Race 2011-12
Indeed, the 27 year-old Kiwi is already becoming nostalgic after 24 hours of freedom from the Doldrums: 'I will never forget our last Doldrums squall,' says Colman. 'We were beset upon by such rain you wouldn’t believe! It rained torrentially for hours accompanied by a solid 27 knots and, initially unsure of its force, we quickly put in two reefs and then, as the rain beat down the waves and smoothed the sea, we flew along on a blast reach.' As the duo clung-on, an escort arrived for the final miles into the Trade Winds:
'The colour was a steely blue everywhere and to top it off, we had 30 dolphins in our wake and at our bows in one final heroic send off. I felt like Neptune himself!' In the 15:00 GMT position poll, Cessna Citation was trailing the leaders by 365 miles averaging just over nine knots with Marco Nannini and Paul Peggs on Financial Crisis 143 miles astern.
Since passing through the Fastnet Marine Insurance Scoring Gate at Fernando de Noronha on Thursday, Ross and Campbell Field on BSL have been locked on a port reach chasing Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron on Campagne de France: 'We approached the island as the sun was setting and the stunning geography can only conjure up images of some Robinson Crusoe movie,' recalls Campbell Field of the last piece of land he will see for the next 3,000 miles of South Atlantic racing. 'Huge towering rock peaks and lush green hillsides. The island is a psychological halfway-point of this leg and we are now on the home straight. No islands or fishermen or Doldrums or peninsulas to negotiate: just open ocean.'
Similar to many of the GOR crews, the stable winds have imposed a routine on board BSL and the tempo of life has changed: 'The days roll into days and minor items become more significant,' he reports. 'For example, I had the first change of socks for this trip and it feels quite liberating!' However, the hunt for first place never stops: 'Every three hours, one of us sits and stares at the computer, willing-in the position reports to see how we are going against Halvard and Miranda up ahead.'
Since passing through the Scoring Gate, the distance between Campagne de France and BSL has increased by around six or seven miles each day and the father-and-son duo are naturally obsessed with squeezing every knot out of their 2008, Verdier-designed Class40: 'Shuffling weight forward and aft as the wind increases or decreases, slight adjustments of trim every few hours to suit the subtle wind direction changes,' confirms Campbell.
They are also constantly checking the boat’s performance via polar software: 'We monitor how well the pilot steers by polar percentage - if it cannot do 100 per cent, then we hand steer,' he explains. 'If we are hand steering and getting tired and struggling to maintain 100 per cent, then engaging the pilot and monitoring its percentage can give us a rest. If the pilot cannot maintain a percentage better than hand steering, then we are back to steering.'
In addition to helming, sail choice, sail trim and water and movable ballast adjustments, there are other features that could explain underperformance: 'There was masses of weed through the Doldrums and it’s hard to see the keel all the way to the top,' says Campbell.
'The most telling way to know you have caught some is in polar percentages - a few tenths of a knot of speed is hard to see in boatspeed, but easy when you cannot get better than 95 percent. It’s an honest number too, no point in being all pleased with yourself for doing 11 knots when you are only doing 97 per cent - there is another 0.4 of a knot somewhere that you need to find, and that equals almost 10 miles in one day…..' In the 15:00 GMT position poll, the Fields had found that extra fraction of speed, averaging 10.5 knots – one knot faster than Campagne de France – and had stolen one mile back since midday, trailing Mabire and Merron by 36 miles.
Meanwhile on Campagne de France, Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron have tasked ‘Nestor’ the autopilot with the bulk of the work: 'Most of the time Nestor is on the helm,' reported Mabire on Saturday morning. 'He doesn’t mind the constant spray, he is always alert, he never drops off to sleep and his concentration is always sharp despite the relative monotony of helming in the current conditions.' There are additional benefits to using the pilot:
'Nestor doesn’t need food, he needs power, provided by our hydrogenerator ‘Wattson’ who supplies free, clean energy to charge our batteries and run all the electrical systems on board.' Slung from the transom, the low-drag hydrogenerator is lowered on a fixed bracket into the water when battery charging is required.
'The only problem is that Wattson likes to sing while he’s working, a bit like a house painter whistling a little tune from time to time to speed up the work,' continues Mabire. 'The problem is that Wattson sings very loudly and very badly. Sure enough, as the boat goes faster, the amps just pile out of Wattson, but the singing gets louder and louder until the sound drowns out every other noise on the boat. However, Wattson works tirelessly and efficiently, so it’s good to have him on board.'
Global Ocean Race website