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Global Ocean Race fleet on the hunt

by Oliver Dewar on 4 Oct 2011
Phesheya Racing - Global Ocean Race 2011-12 © Jesus Renedo http://www.sailingstock.com
The Global Ocean Race fleet continue to experience dramatically varying conditions in the hunt for the elusive North East Trade Winds. The South African duo of Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire in sixth place on Phesheya-Racing finally dug into some breeze shortly before midnight on Sunday, releasing them from imprisonment in a wind vacuum 90 miles north-east of the Canaries.

As Nico Budel and Ruud van Rijsewijk, in fifth place, maintained their course for a rendezvous with a replacement A6 for Sec. Hayai on Gran Canaria, Leggatt and Hutton-Squire kept 60 miles off the coast of Morocco with a gap of 180 miles to fourth place Financial Crisis.

While the race leaders, Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron on Campagne de France and Ross and Campbell Field with BSL ran into a light airs early on Monday morning as the two boats crossed into the Tropic of Cancer 60 miles off the coast of Western Sahara, Marco Nannini and Paul Peggs on Financial Crisis and Conrad Colman and Hugo Ramon with Cessna Citation in third held the breeze fractionally longer than the leaders with Colman and Ramon collecting 29 miles from the front pair’s lead between midday Sunday and midday Monday and Nannini and Peggs holding onto Cessna Citation after dropping behind at the Canary Islands.

Following the incident with a rusting, highly-inquisitive fishing boat over the weekend, Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron have had restless nights on Campagne de France: 'Obviously, the following night we didn’t sleep too much and paranoia set in,' confirms Mabire. 'Any similar ship coming anywhere near immediately becomes suspect and a potential threat.'

Since the encounter, the duo has sailed between 60 -70 miles off the coast: 'We continue our descent towards the south, always going along this cursed coast – but not too close - moving through air that’s like dirty, yellow, cotton wool with minimal visibility.'

The warm water coming up from the south along the coast meeting colder water from the southerly-flowing Canary Current has produced thick fog and gyres delivering uncomfortable conditions. 'We’re fighting the adverse current and it’s quite violent making a sea filled with potholes because of the many peaks and cliffs underwater that rise several hundred metres from the seabed to a couple of dozen metres below the surface,' he reports. 'For the moment, this isn’t a very pleasant place to be, but the race goes on.'

However, on Sunday night, the race temporarily stopped for Campagne de France. With Mabire and Merron’s Pogo 40S² making eight knots under spinnaker, the Class40 ran straight into a network of fishing pots and lines for a third time: 'We were 50 miles offshore with around 100 metres depth and the lights of the fishing boats were extremely dim in the pitch black night,' explained Mabire on Monday afternoon. 'You really couldn’t see the lights until about 100 metres away, and only if you were looking very hard,' he adds. The boats approached Campagne de France to check their fishing gear:

'While they were alongside, they took the opportunity to ask if we had any cigarettes and whisky and I thought of explaining that our sponsor, Campagne de France, only distributes food, but it was going to get complicated,' he reports. 'I asked how on earth we could get out of this labyrinth of fishing nets and lines.' With vague hand signals from the fisherman a direction was given, a gennaker was hoisted and Campagne de France got underway…. almost. 'We just didn’t seem to be going at the right speed relative to the wind,' says the French co-skipper. Checking around the boat with a torch, Mabire and Merron appeared to be towing a large part of Western Sahara’s commercial fishing equipment:

'We looked back in the wake and there was a single float attached to an enormous network of lines trailing out behind us and we were completely trapped with the whole mess wrapped around the keel.' In pitch blackness with a strong current, the option of diving under the boat was off the agenda: 'We took one look at the mesh of ropes and lines and the pale flesh of the bait on the nasty-looking hooks and realised it was just too dangerous.' Dropping the sails, the duo spent the remainder of the night disentangling Campagne de France: 'It wasn’t an enjoyable experience and we’re both glad it’s over and we’re underway again,' adds Mabire.

Sailing close to the African coast and taking Financial Crisis 30 miles off the beach at Cape Boujdor in the 15:00 GMT position poll on Monday, Marco Nannini has considered the piracy problem carefully: 'This is a serious issue which has been in the mind of competitors for several days,' says the Italian sailor. 'One instance gave rise to a chase where Campagne de France sped off under masthead spinnaker leaving behind a rusty fishing boat that had been following them for hours offering the latest blockbusters on DVD,' he continues. However, the DVD-piracy issue is fundamentally flawed:


'I am not up to date with the latest statistics on Mauritanian piracy, but I think the local fishing community is not really involved,' he concedes. 'I doubt they have the programming skills to be playing any significant role in the development of peer-to-peer networks which all have their origin in the Silicon Valley and most of the physical copies of pirated DVDs are known to come from Asia, not Africa'. With the piracy issue (partially) resolved, Nannini and Peggs are remaining inshore:

'Reassured and confident, we proceed close to the coast,' Nannini confirms. 'A steady wind has helped us regain some of the miles lost to Cessna and after a very frustrating night of light variable winds, our gap to them went from 50 miles after the Canaries to 85 overnight, but now we should have a few hours with a chance to pull some miles back.'

In the 15:00 GMT Monday position schedule, Financial Crisis was 67 miles behind Cessna Citation with Nannini and Peggs averaging just over seven knots; two knots faster than Colman and Ramon. As the New Zealand-Spanish team’s Akilaria RC2 ran into light headwinds and slowed to just over two knots at midday on Monday, the yacht’s 26 year-old, Spanish co-skipper took the opportunity to run a personal hygiene check:

'Personally speaking, I haven’t changed my T-shirt, socks or just about anything since the wonderful afternoon at the start in Palma one week ago,' admits Hugo Ramon, the youngest skipper in the GOR fleet. 'To be honest, I’ve only got four changes of underclothes and I can’t afford to waste them!' The clean clothing budget for the 6,800 miles of Leg 1 to Cape Town is tight: 'Each set must last ten days approximately, to be able to arrive at day 40 without problems,' he explains. 'As we use baby wipes to keep clean and we have a limited supply, we’ve rationed the towels very carefully,' Ramon continues.

To avoid any toxic outbreaks on board, Colman and Ramon have achieved a relatively sterile environment: 'We use an alcohol-based gel to constantly disinfect our hands and nails to limit any infections and so that we don’t contaminate anything we touch.' The prospect of saltwater, bucket-showers is not appealing for Ramon: 'I’m really looking forward to the Doldrums with fresh water rain showers,' he says. 'Cessna is also getting a little grubby and Conrad has thrown a few buckets of sea water about to smarten her up.'

Meanwhile, Campbell Field was questioning the AIS policy of some commercial vessels as BSL passed close to the shipping lanes: 'A ship goes by with the ‘Not Under Command’ label transmitted on its AIS, then who is in charge?' he asks. 'Is it because everyone gets a day off on Sunday including the Captain?' There is also some confusion on board about telecoms in the Canary Islands, Africa and Hampshire: 'I can get a mobile phone signal 30nm off the coast of an island in the Atlantic Ocean and 25nm off the coast of the Western Sahara, but not on the A337 from Lymington to Brockenhurst.

What’s going on here?' Shortly before dawn on Monday, Campagne de France and BSL slowed to below four knots, separated by 18 miles: 'We’re hanging in there with Halvard and Miranda and are very pleased with progress,' reports Campbell Field. 'It does appear that we are losing miles by the day, but we are very happy with our performance as we know that the lighter air running conditions may be a weak point for this boat,' he says of the three year-old, Verdier-designed Tyker 40.

'Looking forward to getting into ‘our’ conditions, so don’t worry, we are taking these few losses philosophically and on the chin and just making sure we stay in touch enough to pounce when the time is right. Right now we are very much in touch and managing our position so that we do not get dropped off by the crafty Frenchman ahead of us.' At 15:00 GMT, Campagne de France and BSL remain 18 miles apart with both Class40s matching speeds at slightly under six knots.

Trailing the leaders by 380 miles in sixth place, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire were just six miles off Cape Juby near the Moroccan-Western Sahara border due east of the Canary Islands at 15:00 GMT, cutting the corner with Phesheya-Racing and pushing hard to make up lost ground: 'We had the big A2 up and were humming along,' says Hutton-Squire. 'It did not last long as the wind increased and we had to get it down and we struggled and battled with the shoot,' she explains.

'Eventually, we landed up with two pieces in the cockpit and two very unhappy crew! We are drying it out now and hope to try to fix it and today we have been sailing along with the A4 up.' Hutton-Squire’s background as a safari camp manager and chef in Kenya and Zambia has given her a keen interest in all wildlife and despite the disappointment of dropping behind the fleet, this pastime endures aboard Phesheya-Racing:

'We have been very lucky to see so much marine life,' she says. 'Yesterday we were joined by a small brown bird that looked a bit like a sparrow which stayed with us for hours. Every now and again the little bird flew away to catch moths and would bring them back to the boat and eat them up in in one or two mouthfulls. Today, we have been joined by Gannets, Terns and many other birds.' The marine wildlife sightings are also numerous: 'We’ve seen Common Dolphins and big and small dolphins that come and surf our bow wave. At night it is very spectacular as they look like shooting torpedoes through the water with the phosphorescence around them.'

With the distractions of fishing boats; commercial traffic and wildlife, the unspoken question for the GOR fleet is the location of the Trade Winds. Round-the-world sailor and the GOR’s Race Ambassador, Dee Caffari, has been following progress closely and broaches the topic: 'In theory, they should be in stable conditions enjoying some fast downwind sailing catching up on eating and sleeping,' Caffari explains. 'In reality, they have been faced with light, shifty zephyrs of breeze and have struggled to keep moving. These conditions are often more difficult to deal with than a strong breeze.'

The choices for the fleet have been limited: 'The weather forecasts have left hugging the African coast as the only sensible option as they head south in search of any Trade Winds this early in the season,' Dee continues. 'With no established, central, high pressure in the North Atlantic, those Trade Winds will not show up until the fleet are further south than they may have expected.' Weather models suggest that the GOR fleet may have to wait until Wednesday before they encounter any stable north-easterly breeze to take them through the Cape Verde Islands and across the Doldrums.

Global Ocean Race website

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