by Oliver Dewar
The Global Ocean Race fleet are negotiating the Doldrums while the leaders are rapidly closing-up some 360 miles north of the equator. The remainder of the fleet are scurrying west in an attempt to avoid an area of light airs ballooning towards them from the southeast.
Conrad Colman changes a spinnaker sheet
The Franco-British duo of Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron had a tortuous night on the fleet leader, Campagne de France, with speeds dropping to between two to four knots while the New Zealand father-and-son team of Ross and Campbell Field in second with BSL made double the speed of the leaders despite being less than 15 miles astern and closed down the distance deficit to just nine miles at dawn on Monday – the closest the two boats have been since sailing north of the Canary Islands ten days ago.
Conrad Colman and Hugo Ramon in third on Cessna Citation had a fast night on Sunday, digging into easterly breeze and gaining 11 miles on the leading pair of Class40s overnight, trailing BSL by 78 miles on Monday morning.
In fourth place, 330 miles south-west of the Cape Verde Islands and furthest east in the fleet, Marco Nannini and Paul Peggs on Financial Crisis dropped to three knots early on Monday morning losing 20 miles to Colman and Ramon overnight and with a more gentle descent towards the Doldrums, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire on Phesheya-Racing in fifth place dropped a handful of miles to the Dutch duo of Nico Budel and Ruud van Rijsewijk with Sec. Hayai as the two Class40s continue to head west and avoid the intense squalls and dead calms frustrating the leaders 430 miles to the south.
At dawn on Monday, Campagne de France picked up speed again with the averages climbing from five to eight knots in a handful hours and the onslaught from BSL was checked. On BSL, Ross Field was growing tired of the prevailing conditions: 'It has been real busy on board getting through these damn Doldrums,' he reported late on Sunday night. 'We have had nearly no sleep for the past 36 hours and very little food because we have been concentrating on getting every ounce of speed out of this old tub that hates light winds.' The New Zealand duo had encountered classic Doldrum-weather:
'We’ve had rain squalls, no wind, 30 knots of wind in which we were doing 18 knots, constant sail changes, steaming temperatures and it has paid off as we are now only a few miles behind my old mate Halvard.' Despite the hardship on board, spirits were high when the news of their country’s triumph over Argentina in the Rugby World Cup filtered out into the North Atlantic: 'With the All Blacks doing well, neither of us is complaining!' he added.
By midday on Monday, Conrad Colman and Hugo Ramon were 129 miles north of BSL and had consistently averaged the highest speed in the leading trio throughout the morning. Colman was already looking forward to the challenge of the Doldrums: 'The satellite images have shown that a path has cleared for us and we’re making max speed south before it closes up again,' he wrote from Cessna Citation early on Sunday evening.
'While I’m excited by the dramatic squalls and the fight to come, I can’t cope with the soft northerlies and endless little, puffy shifts that have been plaguing our days and nights.'
A bright future in the Doldrums for Colman and Ramon
By early afternoon, Cessna Citation was averaging a steady eight knots before dropping to five knots. 'This prolonged meteorological foreplay is all the more agonizing because the two leaders have clearly received the forecast easterly shift and are barreling south to where the clouds are parting as if before Moses.'
Despite being separated by 177 miles, speeds on Financial Crisis in fourth and Phesheya-Racing in fifth began to dwindle simultaneously in the very early hours of Monday morning. Having damaged their A2 spinnaker last week, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire were feeling the sail’s absence badly as the breeze softened: 'The wind has gradually been decreasing, as expected, and looking at the position reports it’s hopeful that our tactic of coming out west will be favourable, but with the lighter winds we are beginning to feel the loss of our A2,' reported Hutton-Squire on Monday.
'Our speeds using the smaller A4 in the lighter winds are only about 90 per cent of what we would normally expect, and sometimes even slower as the breeze decreases even more.' In frustration, the South African duo reassessed the damaged sail: 'The luff and leech are virtually completely separated with just the head patch and the foot line holding them together,' she confirms. 'Even if we had the repair kit for such extensive work, I doubt if we could finish the repair before we got to Cape Town!'
The route south for Nannini and Peggs - Global Ocean Race 2011-12
To guard against any further damage to the boat’s gear, precautions have been taken on board: 'In the light winds, with the sails slatting from side to side in the swell, chafe becomes an issue,' Hutton-Squire explains. 'So we have been carefully going around the boat every day and repairing, replacing or re-routing ropes to ensure that everything else on the boat continues to operate efficiently and effectively.' With the work completed, the South Africans have been searching for further distractions as the wind drops:
'One source of amusement on board is looking at the names of the ships that pass us,' she notes. 'Some of them are really funny or even bizarre. Yesterday, as we sat sweltering in 30 degree heat, a ship called the Ice Transporter steamed into view. Was it just a coincidence or some cruel cosmic joke? I guess we will never know.'
In the 15:00 GMT position poll on Monday, Campagne de France was making eight knots with BSL averaging an extra knot of speed with the deficit between the two Class40s becoming more stable at 12 miles with Cessna Citation just over 130 miles astern of the leading pair of boats, dropping back slightly as the breeze decreased. Following a slow patch in the morning, Nannini and Peggs were back up to speed making just over eight knots with Financial Crisis and hoping to reduce the 13 miles lost to Colman and Ramon since dawn. However, Nannini and Peggs aren’t relying on any favourable breeze or long term software predictions:
'We spent some time overlaying cloud satellite imagery with wind model predictions trying to figure out the easiest passage through the Doldrums,' says Nannini. 'But we have been caught out so many times in stronger or lighter winds than forecast that we have to play it one mile at a time.'
For the leading pair of Class40s, the south-easterly breeze should increase providing good conditions for the descent south-west to the Fastnet Marine Insurance Scoring Gate off the island of Fernando de Noronha currently 600 miles off the bow of Campagne de France. The forecast for Cessna Citation and Financial Crisis is less certain with the duo entering the Doldrums, but the two teams may find more stable easterly breeze early on Tuesday morning. Furthest west and separated by 30 miles at 15:00 GMT skirting the area of lightest breeze, Phesheya-Racing and Sec. Hayai should break out of the light airs into stronger north-easterly breeze late on Monday evening.
In the continuing series of GOR Offshore hygiene tips, Conrad Colman has rediscovered talcum powder: 'I am squeaky clean after a bucket shower today with Hugo’s foaming baby wash,' reveals Colman. 'This was followed by a quick fresh water rinse and a powder shower of talc,' he continues. 'To which I say, baby powder is totally underrated by those over the age of three years. It’s awesome. Clean fresh smell, super dry and silky smooth! What could possibly be better?'
It subsequently appears that the 27 year-old Kiwi is firmly in touch with his feminine side: 'Given my previous enthusiasm for cycling, and thus my hands-on experience with the wax versus razor debate when it comes to legs, and now my baby powder experiences, I can certainly be credited with broadening my horizons relative to the average male.' Colman also reveals an aggressive laundry technique: 'I did laundry by throwing my shorts over the side on a line, which, given their intensive use, was probably the only safe place for them!'
Global Ocean Race website