by Oliver Dewar
Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR) - At the head of the fleet, the gap between the double-handed Class40 leaders, Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron with Campagne de France and Ross and Campbell Field in second with BSL has closed further as the Fields connected with a front they have been targeting for a week and celebrated the rendezvous with a fierce knockdown.
South Atlantic rainbow - Global Ocean Race 2011-12
In third place, Conrad Colman and Hugo Ramon ended their rapid descent through the South Atlantic on Cessna Citation and hardened up, keeping in the north-easterly breeze and avoiding the headwinds lurking to the south spinning from the top of the rapidly expanding high-pressure system currently engulfing the western half of the South Atlantic.
Marco Nannini and Paul Peggs in fourth on Financial Crisis continue their port fetch south-east and should remain out of the approaching headwinds until Friday and, 180 miles further north in fifth and sixth place, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire with Phesheya-Racing and the Dutch duo of Nico Budel and Ruud van Rijsewijk on Sec. Hayai remain attached by elastic with the difference deficit between the two first generation Akilarias compressing by 11 miles in the past 24 hours.
However, throughout Tuesday, the South Africans on Phesheya-Racing were struggling to get their 2006 Akilaria up to speed with Budel and Van Rijsewijk taking 28 miles from their lead between dawn on Monday and Tuesday afternoon. Leggatt and Hutton-Squire exhausted all the trimming alternatives on Monday night, but this failed to improve progress. 'We topped up the ballast tanks and checked the keel to see if anything was caught that might slow us down,' explains Hutton-Squire. 'We eased the sails and then trimmed them back on to make sure we were not over powered and that did not help at all.' Leggatt then started investigating down below around the forward bulkhead. 'Nick went up inside the bow and noticed that the crash box was filling up with water!' she continues.
Last week, the South Africans replaced and redesigned the bobstay system when it was discovered the Class40’s bowsprit was under unusual loads and working loose from the deck mounting. 'We noticed that the new bobstay had worked its way loose again and the bowsprit was moving around quite a lot.' The result was water ingress through the deck fitting’s bolt holes each time a wave came over the bow and Leggatt had to remove the forward bulkhead hatch to access the crash box and fill the holes. The duo refuse to ditch any rubbish when sailing and the crash box is the team’s offshore garbage collection area. 'When Nick opened the crash box, this brown muck started to flow out all over the forepeak,' says Hutton-Squire. 'I think I carried about eight buckets of water out of the crash box, so no wonder we have been struggling for boat speed with all that water in the bow.'
Phesheya-Racing is currently furthest west in the fleet, 280 miles off the coast of Brazil, and following the unpleasant task of removing the fermenting crash box soup, the fun really started: 'While sailing at a reasonable speed - for once - we heard a sudden load bang from under the boat,' says Leggatt. 'We looked around to see two halves of a wooden pallet floating away in our wake. It didn't seem to cause any damage, but certainly gave us a start!' With pulse levels returning to normal, inquisitive commercial traffic began: 'Then a long-line fishing boat passed close to starboard,' continues Leggatt. 'It looked like one of the Japanese type, though I know that the Brazilians have some of these boats, so who knows where it came from. As with most fishing boats, it did not appear on the AIS.' In the 14:00 GMT position poll, Phesheya-Racing leads Sec. Hayai by 51 miles with both Class40s averaging slightly under nine knots.
While Phesheya-Racing was solving the lack of boat speed, there was no absence of pace 860 miles south as Campagne de France and BSL were waiting for a front and the opportunity to swap from port reach onto a chilly, southerly, starboard reach. Over the past 24 hours, the Fields’ Verdier-design Class40 has been averaging 11-13.5 knots on a wind angle that favours BSL while Campagne de France has been averaging one-half to one knot slower. The result is that the New Zealand team have gained 16 miles in 24 hours. However, there has been a price and with Ross Field at the helm, the Code Zero was swapped for masthead spinnaker as the breeze went left. 'Champagne yachting, clear blue skies and sparkling seas,' reports Campbell Field. 'However, as the front approached, it started to cloud over and by sundown we had spits of rain and building breeze.'
The duo was expecting a potential 30 knots and had plans to swap to the fractional spinnaker at 25 knots and down to a jib at 30+. 'The moon we have been enjoying has been getting weaker and weaker over the last week and with the cloud cover as the sun set, it took all light with it,' he explains. As Campbell Field took the helm for a 1.5 hour stint, the backlit cockpit readouts were dimmed and the steaming light activated to illuminate the huge, white spinnaker: 'It seemed like a high powered spotlight rather than the measly little bayonet bulb that it is.' The breeze didn’t hit over 25 knots and – for a while – all was well: 'To make things really fun, the steaming light was occasionally flicking off, plunging me into a darkness as black as the inside of a cow and having to rely purely on feel and instruments while charging along on a 40 footer at 15 knots plus and then - just as I was getting dialled in to the waves and puffs - the bloody thing would switch on again like the sun had come out.'
Eventually, an LED head torch was used as back-up. 'Imagine driving up a country lane at 60mph in the depths of the night and someone is randomly switching the headlights off,' continues Campbell. 'I might as well have had a blindfold on.' Over the space of half an hour the gusts built to 27 knots. 'It was getting a bit of a handful,' he admits. 'Then bang we hit that country lane wall and over we went, flat on our side, everything banging and crashing and flapping in my first wipeout on this boat.' Recovery from the knockdown was swift: 'Had a bit of an issue trying to get the sail down, but we managed it and hoisted the Solent and trundled off into the dark, dark night with no damage and spent the rest of the night in ‘Nanny mode’ with the Solent up as the front really puffed-in and the pilot – now formally known as Baldrick – switched on.' In the 14:00 GMT position poll, BSL was 18 miles off Mabire and Merron’s starboard beam making 13.6 knots in around 23 knots of breeze with Campagne de France in around 17 knots and averaging a fraction under 12 knots.
Since passing through the Fastnet Marine insurance Gate at Fernando de Norohna, Nannini and Peggs have spent three days on a fetch averaging between eight and ten knots with Financial Crisis and Marco Nannini’s mind has been wandering: 'Since the gate, it has been rather monotonous and I’ve had a little more time to think away from the sailing,' reports the London-based, Italian skipper. 'This race is a massive commitment and has profound consequences on every person taking part. It will certainly change us a little, hopefully for the better, as we go around,' he believes. The nine-month circumnavigation is a life-changing challenge made more demanding by the campaign’s absence of corporate funding despite the team’s immense amount of international support: 'I made no secret of the fact that my finances are in total disarray,' says Nannini. 'After deciding to start the GOR with no title sponsor, hopefully the years of hyperinflation ahead of us all will devalue my debts so quickly that one day they’ll amount to the cost of a cup of coffee,' predicts the former City of London banker. 'Italy financed their existence for decades that way when there was the lira, a sequence of money printing, inflation and devaluation of the currency - sounds like a plan!'
In the 14:00 GMT position poll on Wednesday, Nannini and Peggs were still making nine knots despite a loss of breeze: 'The wind has started to drop which first meant changing sails to a bigger reaching gennaker in just 12 knots of wind with our averages are starting to fall,' he confirmed mid-afternoon on Wednesday. Looking at Campagne de France and BSL 670 miles to the south turns the duo a shade of green: 'The front runners are screaming along under spinnakers in probably 20-25 knots of wind, so we admit to a little envy down here,' admits Nannini, but his closest target is Conrad Colman and Hugo Ramon 122 miles ahead. 'Our immediate opponents on Cessna Citation have turned left as expected and are keeping up good speed, but they should run into light airs as early as this afternoon, so we'll see how the situation will develop for them.'
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