The Global Ocean Race’s third week of Leg 1 has taken the fleet from Mallorca to Cape Town and began with the fleet leaders, Campagne de France and BSL slowing upon entrance to the Doldrums with the offshore elastic band between the boats now beginning to expand and contract.
Phesheya-Racing and Sec. Hayai in fifth and sixth place left the Cape Verde Islands to port, trying to sail as far west as possible and avoid the worst conditions to the south. By Tuesday, the mid-fleet Class40s, Cessna Citation in third and Financial Crisis in fourth, were snared by the Doldrums as Campagne de France and BSL broke into the South East Trades and escaped south-west with Phesheya-Racing and Sec. Hayai closing in from the north in more stable breeze.
On Thursday, the mid-fleet pack, locked in a cycle of squalls and calms, were compressed to 350 miles in the Doldrums while Campagne de France and BSL extended their lead to just under two days, passing through the Fastnet Marine Insurance Scoring Gate at the Fernando de Noronha archipelago separated by four hours with Campagne de France taking the maximum six points.
Over Thursday and Friday morning, Cessna Citation and Financial Crisis found the Doldrums exit door and entered the Trades, followed late on Friday by Phesheya-Racing and Sec. Hayai. During the weekend, Cessna Citation and Financial Crisis crossed the Equator on Saturday with Cessna Citation taking four points at the Fastnet Marine Insurance Gate shortly after 01:00 GMT on Sunday and Financial Crisis just a few miles north of the gate at 15:00 GMT on Sunday.
Campagne de France and BSL have been picking up speed as they reach south with averages between 11 and 12 knots on Sunday afternoon: 'We’re about 500 miles east from the city of Salvador at the entrance of the beautiful Baia de Todos os Santos,' reported Miranda Merron from Campagne de France on Sunday afternoon. 'Salvador was the finish of the Transat Jacques Vabre race and it was after one such race that Josh Hall outlined his plans over a beer or a caipirinha for what is now the Global Ocean Race,' she continues.
'It was an enticing prospect and now, here we are years later, bouncing and slamming along in a disorderly sea with assorted cumulo beasties crowding the horizon.' As the GOR fleet leaders pick up the pace, conditions on board are deteriorating: 'It is very wet on deck, but the water is warm,' adds Merron. 'There are under 3,000 miles to go to Cape Town, or there would be if the wind allowed us to sail in a straight line!'
Merron’s French co-skipper confirms the levels of discomfort on board: 'The water temperature is OK, but it’s just the salt that begins to get to you,' says Halvard Mabire. 'It gets everywhere; on our clothing, on our skin, on the varnished carbon boom, forming white, crystal pustules that would challenge the most experienced dermatologist,' he continues.
'From time to time, we rinse our faces off with fresh water from the desalinator, but it’s only a momentary pleasure, as when you stick your nose outside the cabin, you get another face full of seawater.' In the 15:00 GMT position poll on Sunday, Mabire and Merron had added an extra 26 miles in 24 hours to their lead over Ross and Campbell Field, bringing the distance deficit over BSL to 52 miles.
Halvard Mabire at the helm in the South-East Trades - Global Ocean Race 2011-12 - Campagne de France
For Marco Nannini and Paul Peggs on Financial Crisis, crossing the Equator on Saturday was a major occasion, but the duo held low-key celebrations: 'Paul has crossed the Equator before in the Mini Transat 2001 and so he was master of ceremonies in paying our tributes to Neptune,' explains Marco Nannini.
'This was no grand, lavish affair, but rather the pouring of the only bottle of beer on board into the blue ocean, brought all the way here just for this occasion and we hope Neptune will close an eye to our cheap offering.' Nannini and Peggs don’t drink alcohol when racing, but the whiff of beer triggered off thoughts of the Leg 1 finish:
'As we smelt the sweet flavour of the beer that we offered Neptune, we started day dreaming of what it will be like to hit land again: a cold beer will feel like heaven and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into a juicy steak,' says Nannini. 'All our fresh food is gone and we live daily on a mixed diet of freeze dried, noodles, tuna wraps and things like this. We’ve also run out of powdered milk and we have a choice of black PG tips tea - frankly quite horrible - or some instant coffee that we believe is produced by pulverising car tyres, as that is the bloody horrible smell of this cheap jar we picked in Palma.'
Despite the hardship, Peggs and Nannini had closed in to within 100 miles of Conrad Colman and Hugo Ramon on Cessna Citation by Sunday afternoon.
In fifth place with Phesheya-Racing, the South African duo of Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire crossed the Equator at 07:13 GMT on Sunday morning, followed by Nico Budel and Ruud van Rijsewijk seven hours later with Sec. Hayai. Leggatt and Hutton-Squire have been averaging between seven and eight knots as they beat south to the Scoring Gate: 'Early this morning we crossed the Equator,' confirms Hutton-Squire.
A custom-built screen protects Nico Budel and Ruud van Rijsewij - Global Ocean Race 2011-12 - Sec. Hayai
'It was still very dark, but as we went across there was a big bump as we fell into the Southern Hemisphere. It was my first time crossing the Equator and Nick's 17th time across. It is always something that as a sailor I have wanted to do and now we have 34 degrees to go and we'll be on the same latitude as Cape Town! We are getting closer to home!'
With the increase in speed and sailing upwind, Phesheya-Racing is punching through the swell: 'The last 24 hours have been getting wetter and wetter,' Hutton-Squire reported on Sunday afternoon. 'The swells have gone from short steep waves to longer swells which now break on the tops, so the cockpit is just like being in a cold salt water bath with a waterfall spraying down over you when you least expect it. It all sounds rather awful, but we are now heading south towards Cape Town in the South East Trades and it’s not so bad.'
Despite the conditions, Leggatt and Hutton-Squire continue to log observations for the Environmental Investigation Agency research programme. 'Yesterday afternoon we saw an amazing display of dolphins jumping right out the water into the air doing somersaults, flips and all sorts not far from the boat,' she says. 'We are not sure if they were Spinner or Stripped Dolphins as they were a bit far away to identify.'
There’s also evidence that they are approaching South America: 'Last night we saw a few aeroplanes flying overhead and a piece of plastic rubbish floating in the sea and this must means there is other life out there and we must be getting close to land.' At 15:00 GMT on Sunday, Phesheya-Racing was 160 miles from the Fastnet Marine Insurance Scoring Gate, 66 miles ahead of Nico Budel and Ruud van Rijsewijk on Sec. Hayai.
Global Ocean Race website