The ten sailors competing in the Portimão Global Ocean Race could not have asked for a better way to slide into an around the world race.
As Peter Van Der Wel, co-skipper on Kazimir Partners said, 'We are enjoying perfect downwind sailing. Starting the race from Portugal was a stroke of genius on behalf of the race organisers as it has allowed us get into the rhythm of the race without any major dramas.' Indeed, other than a few blown spinnakers and an uncomfortable encounter with what might have been a pirate ship, the fleet is well into the tropics unscathed. The current leaders, Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme on Beluga Racer are just entering the Cape Verde Islands as they free fall south on a fast leg to the equator.
The racing has been tight. From the outset Belgium skipper Michel Kleinjans, one of two sailors racing the Portimão Global Ocean Race single-handed, has shown his skill and determination as a solo sailor. After taking an early lead just an hour into the race, rounding the mandatory gate off Sagres on Portugal’s south coast in first place, Kleinjans set a blistering pace holding off his double-handed challengers for the first 48 hours. It was only on Tuesday that his breakfast was interrupted by the sight of a red hot chile pepper off his port beam. The Chilean entry, Desafio Cabo de Hornos, with full sail set and being hand driven by co-skippers Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz had closed the gap between the two boats and a few hours later had taken the lead.
Earlier this summer Boris Herrmann, skipper of Beluga Racer, warmed up for the Portimão Global Ocean Race by racing solo across the Atlantic in the tough and competitive Artemis Transat. He had only bought his boat a month or two earlier and was feeling it out as he and 10 other sailors set off from Plymouth, England. Five days into the race, after a bout of loneliness and seasickness, Boris found his stride and finished the race in second place behind the legendary Italian sailor Giovanni Soldini. Soldini had predicted that Beluga Racer would be a challenge and he was right. A couple of days before the start of the Portimão Global Ocean Race Soldini paid a visit to Portimão to lend his support to the event. When asked who he thought would win, Soldini did not hesitate. 'Herrmann,' he said.
The first tactical challenge of the race was the transit through the Canary Islands. The high mountain peaks on some of the islands present both a favorable venturi effect as well as the potential pitfall of a long wind shadow. Cubillos and Muñoz on Desafio Cabo de Hornos opted for a conservative passage between Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura. Herrmann and Oehme took the more riskier route between Gran Canaria and Tenerife looking to line themselves up for a better sail once through the island chain. Their strategy worked. The anticipated venturi gave them a boat speed boost, but more importantly it allowed them to hold their course without gybing. As Desafio Cabo de Hornos sailed south the coast of Africa loomed ahead forcing an unfavorable gybe. Day four and Beluga Racer had the top spot.
Further back in the fleet the racing has also been close. For the first three days the British entry Team Mowgli, the other solo sailor in the race Nico Budel on Hayai, and the South African team of Peter and Lenjohn Van Der Wel on Kazimir Partners were within a handful of miles of each other on a distance-to-go basis. Team Mowgli were rattled by a threatening fishing boat that was not fishing and with flares at the ready in case of an unwelcome boarding, they held their nerve until the suspicious boat peeled away on a diverging course. They have since found their stride and are in a solid fourth place. Nico Budel, loving life as a solo sailing grandfather of five, has sailed his older Open 40 Hayai with masterful ease and held off a charge from Kazimir Partners for as long as he could. In the end the Van Der Wel brothers overtook the Dutch sailor and at the most recent poll lead Hayai by 30 miles.
The weather for the week ahead looks to be smooth sailing, at least for the first half. As the boats reach around 12 degrees north they will start to feel the effects of the Intertropical Convergence Zone, the ITC, better knows as the doldrum belt. It’s one of the loathed parts of the race as towering squalls and torrid heat play havoc with the sailors. It’s also an area where fortunes are won and lost so Beluga Racer and Desafio Cabo de Hornos will have to be vigil if they are to remain at the front of the pack. Plus it’s going to get hot. Seriously hot as an unrelenting tropical sun make life miserable both above and below decks. Stay tuned. Leaderboard at 00:20 UTC Monday, 20th October 2008
Beluga Racer - distance to finish 4693 nautical miles
Desafia Cabo de Hornos - distance to finish 4805 nautical miles
Roaring Forty - distance to finish 4887 nautical miles
Team Mowgli - distance to finish 4960 nautical miles
Kazimir Partners - distance to finish 5130 nautical miles
Hayai - distance to finish 5174 nautical miles www.portimaorace.com www.globalracetracker.com/en/