Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR) leaders worked down the eastern side of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands, throughout Friday night, having opted to skirt the archipelago and leave the islands to starboard.
At dusk, Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron with Campagne de France continued to lead after four days at the front of the fleet, gybing close in to the shore of Lanzarote towards the lights of Costa de Teguise in around ten knots of northerly breeze before gybing back onto port and clearing the coast. Overnight, Mabire and Merron kept Ross and Campbell Field on BSL seven miles astern with the breeze dropping and clocking slightly to the east at around eight to ten knots as the two Class40s left Fuerteventura to starboard, heading eastwards, with both Class40s averaging seven knots, into the centre of the 55-mile wide channel between the islands and Morocco, making use of the southerly flowing Canary Current, before moving across to the African coast and grabbing the only available breeze in the area.
Shortly before dusk on Friday, the Fields met a familiar yacht north of the islands when they encountered the maxi yacht and 1989-90 Whitbread Round-the-World Race entry, Fisher & Paykel: 'We were sailing along, minding our own business, when this IOR beast came steaming over the horizon on our line, big spinnaker up with mizzen staysail,' says Campbell Field. During the 1989-90 Whitbread, Ross Field raced with the late Sir Peter Blake on Steinlager 2, winning all of the event’s six legs. 'Quite an impressive sight and I was dreading the start of old IOR stories from Ross,' he adds. During the encounter, the 82ft ketch came slightly too close for comfort: 'We made our intentions clear and they sailed very close to leeward - which in itself gave us a few anxious moments as they struggled to keep her tracking in a straight line, so I got the camera out in case we needed some evidence for the big insurance claim as the underwriters might be a bit dubious with a description of the incident as ‘mounted by a dinosaur’.' An invitation from the bigger boat via VHF to a stopover in the Canaries and a barbecue was politely declined by the New Zealand duo: 'When I explained that we were in a race and were close second to a French boat ahead of us by a few miles, they very kindly offered to go and run them over!' Campbell reports. 'So they lumbered on ahead and over the horizon, although as we approached the northern tip of Lanzarote we overtook them again, which in itself is quite interesting; a 40ft boat racing around the world overtaking a yacht that - in its day - was a huge, state-of-the-art racing machine. According to Ross, there were damn near high-fives all round when Fisher & Paykel hit 10 knots and hitting 20 was an event worth writing a book about!'
Prompted, possibly, by the sight of an old adversary, Field Senior launched into the blogosphere: 'Campbell reckons his old man doesn't understand what a blog is, let alone how to type one and I am sure he thinks that I don't know how to use a computer!' wrote Ross, whose primary communications portal on Steinlager 2 would have been an SSB set with the size, weight and power-demand characteristics of an industrial, deep fat fryer. 'We have had some fantastic sailing since the start and really pleased how we are going,' he adds of progress on his sixth circumnavigation race. 'Made a couple of mistakes and let my old friend Halvard Mabire get through us outside the Med, but we are right on his tail now, he’s right in our sights, just on the bow and Campbell is convinced that we are getting closer - I hope he’s right.' Throughout Saturday morning and afternoon, Campagne de France and BSL remained between six and seven miles apart with Mabire and Merron’s new Pogo 40S² and the Fields’ Verdier-designed, 2008, Tyker 40 producing matching speeds in the diminishing breeze.
'The days now just roll into each other and we have been racing for nearly a week - only four more weeks to go, but it passes real quick,' Ross continues. 'Life on board is great - eat when you like, make a mess, don't wash, snore without being yelled at - the list goes on, but, seriously, it’s real nice to be ocean racing and to have some fantastic competition.' However, despite a sailing career that has taken him all over the globe and offshore for extended periods, there are still strong connections to land: 'The only downside is that I am away from home a lot and I miss home, my wife, Jan, and all our animals in our beautiful home at Waipu Cove, Northland in New Zealand,' he admits. GOR Leg 1 has meant his absence from landmark events: 'As per usual, I missed another grandchild’s birthday as Campbell’s son, Fraser, is one year-old today. My daughter, Paula, back in NZ, claims I am the most useless grandparent because I am never around and I have three beautiful granddaughters back at home.' Snapping out of the reverie, it was soon back to business on BSL: 'Better go and hound Halvard!!' he signed off.
For the remaining four boats in the GOR fleet, the breeze throughout the Canary Islands and north of the archipelago disappeared early on Saturday. Around nine hours after BSL rounded the northern tip of Lanzarote, Conrad Colman and Hugo Ramon took Cessna Citation east of the island at 02:00 GMT, trailing the Fields by 62 miles and dropping speed to just over three knots as the wind vapourised. In fourth place, Marco Nannini and Paul Peggs on Financial Crisis were north-west of Lanzarote when the wind failed and the Italian-British duo may well be committed to sailing through the middle of the island group. Meanwhile, 75 miles north of Financial Crisis, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire in fifth place on Phesheya-Racing were trapped in their second windless zone having only escaped from a personal breeze vacuum on Thursday. The Dutch team of Nico Budel and Ruud van Rijsewijk with Sec. Hayai had remained in stronger breeze as the South African team stalled and were making up ground rapidly, stalking Leggatt and Hutton-Squire along the coast of Morocco while planning to replace their damaged sail inventory. On the second day at sea, the Dutch duo damaged their A2 assymetric, trawling the sail in the water and they were forced to cut the tackline to preserve the valuable headsail. The following day, their brand new A6 disintegrated, shredded in breeze well below the sail’s upper range of 35 knots. While Budel and Van Rijsewijk broke out a smaller, far older, 90m² headsail, the duo contemplated the prospect of repairing the A2, but the A6 – the team’s Trade Wind workhorse – was beyond repair.
As Sec. Hayai continued towards the Strait of Gibraltar, the Budel family – or ‘back office’ as they have named themselves – mobilised in Holland. Frans Budel, who will race on the GOR’s Leg 2 with his father, explains the plan: 'At first, we thought about getting the boat to a port in Spain and having the sails professionally repaired,' says the 41 year-old yachtsman and father-of-three. 'Then we thought about buying a new, replacement sail, but where can you buy a Class40 A6 at such short notice?' His immediate reaction was to call the family’s friend, Michel Kleinjans. During the 2008-09 GOR, Kleinjans and Nico Budel raced against each other in the Open 40, single-handed division and when Budel’s yacht developed serious keel problems in Leg 2 in the high latitudes of the Indian Ocean, Kleinjans was tasked to assist Budel until MRCC Reunion diverted a bulk carrier to the Dutch solo sailor’s position and Budel was taken off his stricken yacht. Late last year, Kleinjans bought a new Farr Yacht Design Kiwi 40FC Class40, Roaring Forty 2, and had planned to enter the current race until financial restraints forced him to withdraw his entry. 'Michel immediately understood the problem and the time constraints and now we have his boat’s A6,' says Frans. Working against the clock, Nico Budel’s wife, Myrna, drove to the Kleinjans family home in Belgium; picked up the sail; returned to Holland; packed the A6 for air freight and sent it to the Canary Islands and Nico Budel’s daughter, Marga, is currently en route to Las Palmas on Gran Canaria. 'The plan is that Marga will charter a small boat and deliver the new sail at sea,' explains Frans Budel. 'If she can rendezvous with Nico and Ruud and avoid Sec. Hayai coming into a harbour, it’ll save them many hours and they can get back into the race and try and catch the other boats with their new sail.' The Budel ‘back office’ estimates that the headsail handover will take place on Monday.
In the 15:00 GMT position poll on Saturday, Campagne de France and BSL are separated by nine miles with the two of Class40s making below five knots. Cessna Citation remains in third, trailing the lead boat by just over 100 miles, while Financial Crisis is locked in a wind hole north-west of Lanzarote, 19 miles behind Colman and Ramon. North of the fleet, Phesheya-Racing in fifth has a seven mile lead over Sec. Hayai as both boats head in towards the African coast to hunt for wind. Weather models suggest that the boats south-east of the Canary Islands may pick up light north-easterly breeze early on Sunday morning, although predictions for Financial Crisis, Phesheya-Racing and Sec. Hayai are less encouraging. Global Ocean Race website