Global Ocean Race fleet pummelled by low pressure system

Flying down a wave at the height of the storm - Global Ocean Race 2011-12
Phesheya Racing
Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR) fleet are on the twelfth day of racing in leg five from Charleston.

As the mid-Atlantic low pressure system moved north-east after pummelling the GOR Class40s, the fleet leader Cessna Citation with Conrad Colman and Scott Cavanough held onto the wind longest, polling averages of over 11 knots before finally dropping off the back of the system at around 06:00 GMT on Thursday.

With no damage reported from the fleet, in fourth place, Sec. Hayai of Nico and Frans Budel crossed the bluQube Scoring Gate at 21:00 GMT on Wednesday but dropped back behind Phesheya-Racing losing just under 50 miles to the South Africans in the past 24 hours as Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire start polling the highest speeds in the fleet on Thursday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Marco Nannini and Sergio Frattaruolo in second on Financial Crisis have carved around 60 miles from the lead held by Cessna Citation, sailing a shorter route across the North Atlantic, while Colman and Cavanough stayed glued to the low pressure system sailing more miles at breakneck speed.

On Phesheya-Racing, Phillippa Hutton-Squire and Nick Leggatt were confident throughout the storm: 'Having beat upwind for a solid ten days in strong winds on the way to Cape Horn, this low pressure has treated us very well,' reported Hutton-Squire on Thursday morning. 'On average, we had winds between 22 - 30 knots, occasionally we saw over 30 and the most we saw was 37.1 knots,' confirms the South African skipper and the dramatic scenery around Phesheya-Racing matched the force of the wind: 'Big, blue-black rolling waves with white breaking caps surrounding the boat coming from all directions,' recalls Hutton-Squire. 'We surf down the waves and the boat gains momentum, we surf from one wave to the next sometimes the boat does bang,' she adds. 'It’s not the same bang as when we are beating, it's almost a fast, happy bang when we skip from one wave to the next.'

Throughout the strong conditions, the duo were constantly changing the mainsail reefing: 'Nick would get the strong gusts on his watch and then put a third reef in and then on my watch I would come along and shake it out,' says Hutton-Squire. 'This happened on two occasions. At one point we felt brave and went to one reef and we did over 19 knots down a wave under auto pilot, but the boat soon spun out and I was putting another reef in while Nick took the helm,' she explains. 'Generally the boat felt great, even though we may have lost out on a few miles to Marco,' she concedes. 'In weather like this, we sail safely and not to be heroes.'

With under 2,000 miles remaining until the finish, the GOR’s Race Ambassador, Dee Caffari MBE, has been assessing the latest tactics and weather for the fleet: 'They say that fortune favours the brave and, so far, that has worked for Cessna Citation leading the fleet across the Atlantic,' said the multiple circumnavigator on Thursday morning. 'Some boats did better than others and it’s sad to hear that Sec. Hayai has suffered sail damage,' says Caffari of the loss of a gennaker on the Dutch Class40 as the storm began to build. 'Losing a key sail at this late stage could make all the difference because looking ahead to the weather that stands between the fleet and their final destination of Les Sables d’Olonne, there’s a huge variety, including light and variable conditions in the form of a high pressure ridge that is constantly changing shape,' Dee continues. 'Ask the Volvo fleet who are facing a potential change to the leaderboard in the final 100 miles into Lisbon.'

After nine months spent fully-focussed on the GOR and around 27,000 miles sailed, Caffari understands the fatigue and motivation issues that some teams may feel: 'It’s difficult for the GOR teams to keep pushing hard, but I must encourage them to keep that fighting spirit all the way to the line,' she urges. 'There will be plenty of time for rest and recovery when they finish, but right now they must stay focussed.'

As the recent storm collapses north of the fleet, there’s likely to be a period of relative calm although the sea will be rough in the wake of the gale: 'It will feel that the fleet have gone from all to nothing, but they should enjoy the break in the strong winds to make checks as there’s another system hot on their tail that will reach those boats to the south first,' warns Caffari of a depression forecast to connect with the fleet late on Saturday.

In 2006, Dee Caffari became the first woman to sail solo around the world the wrong way, non-stop and in 2009, her sixth place finish in the Vendée Globe made her the first woman to sail solo and non-stop in both directions around the globe. Having completed the Barcelona World Race, Dee has circumnavigated the globe non-stop more times than any other woman and is uniquely placed to comment on the achievement of the GOR competitors: 'For all these teams it is nothing short from impressive and they all deserve the congratulations that they will get at the finish of the race,' Caffari believes. 'To sail around the world still puts them in the minority and it will take time for what they have achieved to sink in,' she realises. 'In the meantime, they have a job to do that is hard, wet and exhausting as they sail their boats hard to the finish line as fast as they safely can.'

GOR leaderboard 15:00 GMT 31/5/12:
1. Cessna Citation DTF 1267 9.2kts
2. Financial Crisis DTL 337 9.3kts
3. Phesheya-Racing DTL 537 11.4kts
4. Sec. Hayai DTL 729 5.4kts

Global Ocean Race website