Portimão Global Ocean Race. There is a saying amongst sailors; nothing beats time in the boat. This is not an obvious comment about how much fun it is to go sailing. Rather it’s about knowing how to get the absolute best from your boat and nothing, as the saying goes, beats time spent in the boat, offshore, under sail, in a race.
That, in a nutshell, is why Michel Kleinjans is showing his transom to some fairly seasoned sailors and a couple of brand new boats. Kleinjans is an old salt. His boat is the oldest in the fleet yet he continues to dominate the opening stages of the Portimão Global Ocean Race.
At this afternoons poll Kleinjans and Roaring Forty held a sizable lead over their only solo rival, Nico Budel on Hayai. Both boats were sailing at 8 knots with Roaring Forty 60 miles ahead. Perhaps more telling is his 17 mile lead over the leading double-handed entry, the German team of Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme on Beluga Racer. Kleinjans must have put found time to sleep while Herrmann and Oehme can switch off and rest and so his current dominance over the fleet is that much more impressive.
'In the more stable breeze of this morning I caught up with some very needed sleep after the frantic times in Portimão to get the boat ready for the start,' he wrote in an email to race HQ. 'Next question, however, is how to get quickly past the Canary Islands. To the east, take the middle or go west. I will answer that tomorrow or a bit later.' Like all good strategists Michel is taking the long view. The Canary Islands are around 250 miles down the track, but the decisions he makes now will effect how he passes the island group.
The electronic troubles on the British entry Team Mowgli seem to have resolved themselves. Skipper Jeremy Salvesen described what happened: 'At about 7-am yesterday morning when I was enjoying a bit of kip and David was helming, I heard a cry from him that something was wrong. I rushed up on deck to discover that something had gone seriously wrong with our navigation instruments - they had just packed in. This meant that we had no way of knowing what the wind was doing - wind speed and true or apparent wind direction relative to our boat, all of which makes things doubly hard when conditions are so light and variable. In addition this had knocked out the autopilot so we couldn't use it even if we wanted to.'
Co-skipper David Thomson helmed while Salvesen manned the satellite phone and had a series of lengthy conversations to the race technician, Mark Wylie. Wylie, a master of sorting complicated issues over email and sat phone, talked Salvesen though a jury rig and eventually after pulling out and replacing many many wires through the boat and cobbling together a bit of old cable run from one end to the other, managed to get one of the instruments going again by mid afternoon.
It took a bit of soul searching to decide whether to turn back to Portimão, or press on knowing that they team may have had to hand steer all the way to Cape Town. Salvesen continued: 'We had to seriously consider returning to Portimão for urgent repairs but decided that this would cost us too much by way of time and would almost certainly give us a firm last position in this leg down to Cape Town.' Clearly they made the correct decision to press on and while they are the current backmarker on a distance-to-go basis, they have taken a strategic gybe to the southeast in the hope of a tactical advantage.
Despite the occasional light patch most of the boats are into some decent trade wind sailing that will only improve as they sail south. Leaderboard at 15:30 UTC Monday, 13th October 2008
Roaring Forty - distance to finish 6001 nautical miles
Beluga Racer - distance to finish 6018 nautical miles
Desafia Cabo de Hornos - distance to finish 6028 nautical miles
Kazimir Partners - distance to finish 6061 nautical miles
Hayai - distance to finish 6067 nautical miles
Team Mowgli - distance to finish 6073 nautical miles Leg 1 strategy
Sailing from two fixed points via the shortest route is sometimes achievable in a motorised vessel: for a racing yacht that relies upon wind power, the only viable option is to utilise weather systems existing between Point A, the departure location and Point B, the destination. In Leg 1 of the Portimão Global Ocean Race, the 6,000mile route from Portugal to Cape Town, South Africa, will take the fleet of six boats into the western Atlantic towards Brazil before they can dive south and head towards the southern tip of Africa.
A great advantage of starting the Portimão Global Ocean Race from the southern coast of Portugal is the quick access this location provides to the North-East Trade Winds: the corridor of wind that blows across Portugal and down along the west coast of Africa. In theory, once the racing fleet hooks in to the NE Trades, a conveyor belt of breeze should propel the yachts south into the Atlantic. The strength of the NE Trades is affected by the position of a high-pressure system known as the Azores High and named after the archipelago of islands that often act as the centre of this mobile and often unpredictable weather system. However, before the competitors can access how best to use the NE Trades, they must pass the first of two mandatory race gates included in Leg 1. The first gate, Gate 1, is a line running north-south from the historic Portuguese peninsular, Sagres Point, just 20 miles from the starline off the ancient city of Portimão. The fleet must keep close to the towering cliffs at Sagres Point to comply with the race rules before taking any individual, tactical choices for a fast route south into the Atlantic.
The second hurdle confronting the fleet is the choice of route through – or around - the Canary Islands and the Cape Verde Islands. Do you sail through the archipelagos and risk falling into the wind shadow cast by one of the islands and the chance of an encounter with fishing pots or unlit fishing boats at night? Or do you opt to skirt the island groups and sail the extra miles? Tough decisions that can mean major gains or losses.
A significant meteorological barrier in Leg 1 is the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), more popularly known as the Doldrums: a band of low pressure running across the Atlantic near the Equator. At the Equator, warm air rises and – as ‘nature hates a vacuum’ – cooler air from the NE Trades in the Northern Hemisphere and from the South-East Trade Winds in the Southern Hemisphere are sucked in to the area creating an environment that can deliver sudden, vicious squalls, torrential rain and windless periods of sail flogging frustration. The trick is to make the traverse of the ITCZ at the narrowest – and therefore quickest – point. Generally, the ‘west is best’ rule pays dividends for crossing the Doldrums and the Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet are likely to head for the South American side of the Atlantic on their approach run.
Once through the Doldrums, connecting with the SE Trades is a fundamental requirement to get further south at pace. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Azores High was the dominant weather system for the fleet, in the South Atlantic a similar high-pressure system, the St. Helena High, blocks the direct route to Cape Town. Once the six yachts have passed through Gate 2, a scoring gate off the coast of Brazil, stretching for 100 miles from the coast just south of Recife to a point due east offshore, the skippers can asses the various options for skirting the St Helena High and making the fastest route south-east towards the southern tip of Africa. As the fleet swoops south they will cross into the strong breeze in Roaring Forties below latitude 40°S, tasting the Southern Ocean before climbing back northwards towards Cape Town at just north of 34°S. However, even the approach to Cape Town can present challenges as the African landmass affects wind strength and stability.