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Global Ocean Race - Cessna Citation tangles with Sargasso seaweed

by Oliver Dewar on 18 Apr 2012
Fighting through Sargasso weed - Global Ocean Race 2011-12 Cessna Citation
The Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR) fleet are on their 15th day at sea in Leg 4 from Punta del Este, Uruguay, to Charleston, USA.

With Conrad Colman and Scott Cavanough falling foul of windless clouds north of the Equator with fleet leader Cessna Citation and then tangling with huge rafts of seaweed, dropping 45 miles to the chasing pack in the past 24 hours, the South African duo on Phesheya-Racing chased Financial Crisis across the Celox Sailing Scoring Gate off the coast of Brazil in third place as it was confirmed that Nico Budel and Erik van Vuuren on fourth-placed Sec. Hayai will pull into the Brazilian port of Fortaleza.

Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire took Phesheya-Racing across the Celox Sailing Scoring Gate at 15:30 GMT on Monday, squeezing round the north-eastern corner of Brazil 27 miles offshore and just 11.5 hours behind Marco Nannini and Sergio Frattaruolo on Financial Crisis. Later the same day, seven hours after Leggatt and Hutton-Squire netted four points at the gate, Budel and Van Vuuren crossed the virtual line and gybed onto port, heading for the coast having cleared Ponta de Calcanhar.

At 15:00 GMT on Tuesday, Sec. Hayai was 70 miles from Fortaleza where 72-year-old Budel will leave the boat and return to Europe. Having dismasted early in Leg 2 and missed out on GOR Legs 3 and 4, Budel and his team worked hard on returning to the GOR for the final two legs, re-joining the fleet in Punta del Este, and this most recent decision has not been easy. 'I have to leave the race for important business in Holland,' explains Budel who runs a highly successful property development company in the Netherlands. 'Originally, I’d planned to handle this business after the race had finished, but it has arrived earlier and I really cannot let someone else deal with it and it is imperative that I’m in Holland.'

Since the decision was made last week, Budel and Van Vuuren have been in constant contact with the GOR Race Committee to find a solution. For 42-year-old Van Vuuren to continue to Charleston single-handed would mean disqualification from Leg 4 and a lonely cruise north, but swiftly a practical plan was formed to find an appropriate skipper with the right skills and sailing qualifications. 'The boat will continue without me,' confirms Budel. 'Erik and his girlfriend will race the boat on to the finish line in Charleston,' adds the Dutch skipper.

Over the past four days, Dutch yachtswoman, Yvonne Beusker, has sent her sea survival documents and offshore sailing qualifications to the GOR Race Committee while organising a US Visa and is currently en route to Brazil. However, Van Vuuren and 40-year-old Beusker are not planning a gentle cruise passed the Caribbean to Charleston. Beusker is co-owner of a J-105, Panther, alternating between the roles of skipper, tactician and trimmer with a taste for offshore racing and successful campaigns in the RORC North Sea Race, the Viuurschepen Race offshore from Scheveningen and the Harwich to Woolverstone Race which she won overall in 2010.

Van Vuuren and Beusker have already sailed together and make a formidable team with Erik joining Panther for the Rolex Fastnet Race last year, taking fifth in class, and the duo took bronze in 2010 racing together in Croatia at the OCRi World Championships. For the unavoidable change in co-skipper, Sec. Hayai will receive a 24 hour penalty to be applied after they cross the finish line in Charleston.

Meanwhile, 90 miles north of Sec. Hayai, the South Africans on Phesheya-Racing are running parallel to the coast averaging 7.6 knots. Crossing the Celox Sailing Scoring Gate delivered a points reward, but Monday was especially sweet for Phillippa Hutton-Squire: 'Having never raced across an ocean before starting this race, today marked a big milestone in my life,' she confirmed on Tuesday morning. 'On leg one of the GOR we sailed through the first gate, rounding Fernando De Noronha to port about 190 miles from the coast of Brazil,' says Hutton-Squire. 'Had we sailed a bit further offshore in the past few days, we would now have crossed our southerly track on leg one.'

Crossing their outbound track made last October when racing to Cape Town verifies Phesheya-Racing completing a circumnavigation; or maybe not: 'Strictly speaking, a circumnavigation has 21,600 miles and you have to cross all the points of longitude,' the South African skipper explains. 'So to be absolutely correct, we have not completed my first and Nick’s third circumnavigations yet,' she adds. 'We will be able to celebrate this on Leg 5 of the GOR. But nevertheless, it was a day to remember!'

Tuesday was also memorable for a satellite link interview with South Africa’s Cape Talk Radio, a Cape Town-based station that has been following Leggatt and Hutton-Squire closely throughout the GOR: 'We’re very proud of being South African as are most South Africans,' stated Phillippa Hutton-Squire whan asked about flying the RSA flag around the globe. 'When we rounded Cape Horn, there were three South Africans in the race with Adrian Kuttel who went on to win the last leg with Cessna Citation,' she continued. 'So it has been great to represent South Africa.' The radio host raised the issue of coping with so much time spent together in such a confined space: 'Nick and I are definitely still talking to each other, but we don’t see each other very much,' she explained. 'He’s asleep right now and I’m awake doing the watches, but the system works well.'

With media committments completed, the South Africans could return to racing: 'Although we’re in third crossing the gate, or the second Akilaria generation one boat, we would still like to catch our biggest rival this race, Marco on Financial Crisis,' says Hutton-Squire as Phesheya-Racing steals seven miles from Financial Crisis in the past 24 hours, trailing the Italian-Slovak Class40 by 100 miles on Tuesday afternoon. 'Marco somehow always seems to slip away from us,' says Hutton-Squire. 'We’ll continue to push hard as we are not going to give up the chase now.'

Positioned 320 miles NNW of Phesheya-Racing, Colman and Cavanough have had a struggle since crossing the Equator at 17:00 GMT on Monday with Cessna Citation. 'After celebrating our crossing of the Equator we drank a celebratory bottle of Argentinian sparkling wine care of German, the Cessna Authorized Sales Representative we met in Punta, and then the clouds rolled in without pause,' reported Colman on Tuesday afternoon. 'Normally we get a solid puff of breeze that shoves us past the gathering storm cloud, but this time we were trapped by a series of end-of-life clouds that had rain, but no wind.'

The result was a seemingly random trace on the GOR Race Viewer. 'We turned in circles with slatting sails in the torrential downpour,' Colman describes. 'Our route looking like it was drawn by a hyperactive two-year-old with circles and zigzags all over the place.' The Kiwi-Australian duo attempted to plot the clouds on radar, but there was no escape. 'Instead, it looked like we wore a cartoonish rain cloud hat that stretched for miles in every direction.'

At sunrise on Tuesday, a new barrier appeared in the route northwards: 'Sargasso seaweed!' curses Colman. 'Comprised of leggy collections of scraggly ‘petals’, each about the size of a rose, they float in massive clumps on the surface of the sea,' explains the Kiwi skipper. 'Collecting in patches the size of tennis courts, or long rusty-coloured streaks hundreds of metres long, they explode into their constituent pieces at the passage of the boat,' he continues. 'Except that one wily bunch clings to the rudder creating a geyser from the back of the boat. We then have to round-up, slowing the boat until the reduced force of water allows the weedy particles to fall off, before continuing on our way.'

At 15:00 GMT on Tuesday, despite the setbacks, Cessna Citation was averaging eight knots with a 224-mile lead over Nannini and Frattaruolo on Financial Crisis.

GOR leaderboard 15:00 GMT 17/4/12:
1. Cessna Citation DTF 2,873 8kts
2. Financial Crisis DTL 224 8.5kts
3. Phesheya-Racing DTL 324 7.6kts
4. Sec. Hayai DTL 417 Global Ocean Race website
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