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Global Ocean Race fleet negotiate light airs

by Oliver Dewar on 11 Apr 2012
One of the huge drilling platforms encountered off Brazil - Global Ocean Race 2011-12 Cessna Citation
Global Ocean Race (GOR) double-handed Class40 fleet have had an immensely tricky 48 hours.

The four boats have negotiated light airs, a strong foul current and the oil and gas platforms littering Brazil’s continental shelf. Fleet leader, Cessna Citation, found the first relatively stable breeze at 20S and has been averaging the best speeds, but has yet to dig into the trade winds, while, at 06:00 GMT on Tuesday, in second place and currently 98 miles south of Colman and Cavanough, Marco Nannini and Sergio Frattaruolo with Financial Crisis re-took second place following an excursion offshore to find some breeze and escape the two-knot Brazil Current.

Furthest inshore, the option taken by the South Africans on Phesheya-Racing saw Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire sailing very close to the surf line on Brazil’s white-sand beaches as the Dutch duo of Nico Budel and Erik van Vuuren doggedly punched the current on Sec. Hayai in fourth place in minimal breeze with the two Class40s still struggling to make headway 30 miles off the coast.

Since passing through the ridge of high pressure blocking progress, Colman and Cavanough had been averaging over seven knots with Cessna Citation until the speed dropped back to six knots at 15:00 GMT on Tuesday. Conrad Colman paints the scene 35 miles off the coast: 'We’ve been blessed with perfectly clear skies both day and night, leaving us to enjoy the most spectacular, watercolour sunsets and sail the boat without head lamps at night thanks to the lunar light left on high beam for our convenience,' he reported on Tuesday afternoon.

But the tranquillity was soon shattered: 'Given the light conditions and the virginal white moonlight, it was a shock to be presented by the hustle and bustle of the New Jersey Turnpike in the middle of the ocean,' says the 28 year-old Kiwi. 'Burning gas flares, hulking drilling platforms and bright lights make up the Campos Oil Field just off the Brazilian coast and for an entire night our passage was illuminated by flickering towers of light.' Temporarily incensed by the petrochemical industry’s intrusion, Colman quickly revised his opinion: 'Sadly, I had to check my indignation, for the shiny white race boat that I now steer, pushed by the wind though it is, is laminated from tendrils teased from the black filth they peddle,' he concedes.

Meanwhile, on Monday afternoon, Nannini and Frattaruolo tacked Financial Crisis back onto starboard and ran parallel to the Brazilian coast following their half-a-day beating offshore away from the main pack of the fleet. 'We had a tough choice to make,' explains the Italian-Slovak skipper. 'Either we went inshore in shallow waters, or offshore in deep waters where the current would be less,' says Nannini. 'Given the forecast at the time, we headed offshore on a slow painful tack to the east as we watched Phesheya on the tracker take the opposite gamble and head inshore gaining initially many miles on us and overtaking us in the official rankings.'

Heading further east to avoid risking becalming in the middle of the oil fields, Nannini and Frattaruolo’s gamble became intensely frustrating. 'As the wind died out, we battled all day for every inch,' Nannini recalls as he watched the boat speed dwindle to sub-six knots. 'We could have been forgiven to think we had already reached the Doldrums as the conditions were very similar; windless patches broken by rain clouds and wildly variable winds,' he reports. 'In the space of few hundred meters the wind could come from the south then from the north, three knots or 25.'

However, although the wind stabilised in the east overnight and Financial Crisis regained second place over Phesheya-Racing, the conditions are still dire: 'With sunshine this morning more rain clouds and variable airs, turning around the clock and varying in intensity,' describes Nannini. 'We wait painfully for each position update, keeping our fingers crossed that the situation is just as difficult for everyone.' In the 15:00 GMT position poll on Tuesday, Financial Crisis held an 18-mile lead over Leggatt and Hutton-Squire on the south African Class40.

While Cessna Citation broke through the windless zone and Financial Crisis took their high-risk gamble, Phesheya-Racing and Sec. Hayai fought it out inshore with Leggatt and Hutton-Squire sailing straight for the beach west of Cape São Tomé. 'We continued our long inshore tack as long as we dared, eventually being forced to change course by the rapidly approaching beach at Praia de Ubatuba!' explained Phillippa Hutton-Squire on Tuesday morning having cleared the cape at 21:00 GMT the previous night. 'A couple of short tacks took us inshore of the reef at Cabo de São Tomé and set us up for a clear leg towards the NE for the next several hours, but as the sun set, dark rain squalls began to gather all around us,' she adds.

At 15:00 GMT on Tuesday, Phesheya-Racing held a 37-mile lead over Sec. Hayai with both boats averaging below two knots as the inshore agony continues for the South African and Dutch teams.

GOR leaderboard 15:00 GMT 10/4/12:
1. Cessna Citation DTF 4302 6kts
2. Financial Crisis DTL 98 3.9kts
3. Phesheya-Racing DTL 116 1.5kts
4. Sec. Hayai DTL 153 Global Ocean Race website
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