Six of the Global Ocean Race Class40s are now down into the South Atlantic with a new focus: a high pressure system forming off South America that threatens to block the route to Cape Town.
The frustration and fatigue of the Doldrums and the monotony of the South East Trades are becoming a distant memory for the fleet. By 15:00 GMT on Monday, five of the six GOR Class40s were through the Fastnet Marine Scoring Gate off Fernando de Norohna with Marco Nannini and Paul Peggs crossing in fourth place at 16:00 GMT on Sunday, taking three points with Financial Crisis; Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire passing through the gate at 09:01 GMT on Monday morning taking two points on Phesheya-Racing and Nico Budel and Ruud van Rijsewijk in sixth place with Sec. Hayai are just 40 miles from collecting one point.
Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron, leading the fleet with Campagne de France, pushed hard overnight to repel an attack from Ross and Campbell Field with BSL. The wind picked up to 16 knots and moved from east to north-easterly with the New Zealand father-and-son duo hitting averages over 12 knots, capping the distance deficit at 51 miles at dawn on Monday and nibbling away at the lead throughout the day as the speed on both Class40s increased. The two boats were separated by 50 miles at 15:00 GMT.
During the weekend, Conrad Colman and Hugo Ramon in third place with Cessna Citation kept the leaders under 400 miles ahead, but as Campagne de France and BSL picked up speed on Monday morning, the distance began to increase. However, by the afternoon, the youngest team in the fleet were also averaging above 12 knots, stabilising the deficit at 420 miles. Meanwhile, Nannini and Peggs slowed down fractionally at the scoring gate with Financial Crisis as the wind clocked to the south, but the Italian-British duo were back up to speed shortly before dawn on Monday, Trailing Cessna Citation by 92 miles on Monday afternoon.
On Sunday, Phesheya-Racing had a fast approach to Fernando de Noronha: 'We changed from the Solent jib to the downwind Code Zero and managed to clock up some good miles during the course of the night,' reported Nick Leggatt from Phesheya-Racing shortly after crossing the gate.
Sunset and Code 0 - Global Ocean Race 2011-12 - Phesheya Racing
'Just before sunrise the lights of Fernando de Noronha came into view and the wind began to veer again. We just managed to hold on to the Code Zero as far as the Fastnet Marine Scoring Gate, but then replaced it with the Solent again as we came onto a more southerly course.' In the 15:00 GMT position poll on Monday, the South Africans trailed Nannini and Peggs by 138 miles with Nico Budel and Ruud van Rijsewijk 75 miles astern with Sec. Hayai.
By midday on Monday, Nannini and Peggs were 180 miles off the most eastern point of Brazil having already put 160 miles between Financial Crisis and the Fastnet Marine Scoring Gate: 'We came out of the Fernando da Noronha gate and everyone was heading south like the plague had just broke out north of the Equator,' reports Marco Nannini. 'We are sailing along at great speeds, everyone is, and the image I have is that of a track of greyhounds on a race day running and running, tongues out, lots of enthusiasm, but probably little thought process going on.' However, the reason for this haste throughout the fleet lies over 2,000 miles to the south of Financial Crisis, north-east of the Falkland Islands.
'We looked at the forecast and it became clear what those two mad dogs to the south were doing,' says the Italian skipper. 'Running down with foaming mouths to squeeze ahead of the high pressure that is forming somewhere further down in South America and if they squeeze in front, they'll have a straight run home to Cape Town downwind all the way. Beautiful.'
While Campagne de France and BSL are hurtling south, the high pressure system threatens to engulf the remainder of the fleet. On Cessna Citation, around 100 miles further south than Financial Crisis, Conrad Colman and Hugo Ramon were also eyeing the developing weather system: 'Conrad has just opened the food stock market at 21 points,' wrote Ramon on Monday morning. 'This means we have 21 days of food left to Cape Town,' he explains.
'Obviously, we can’t go in a straight line as the high pressure system blocks the route and there’s no direct or quick motorway to the finish line as the route changes every day,' says Ramon. 'You can try and predict what’s going to happen, but it really isn’t simple.' For 26 year-old Ramon, the situation is familiar: 'It’s a bit like playing PacMan Labyrinth Prison, avoiding capture in the high pressure system and light winds, and gobbling up the small gusts and favourable shifts.'
Marco Nannini, however, compares the challenge ahead to a car journey: 'The leaders are going from Oxford to Dover in a Jag at four on a Sunday morning and the only distraction to their perfect run will be the sound of sea water evaporating,' he explains. 'At the back, we left a little later, it's now the Monday morning rush hour and believe me, Oxford do Dover can become one long trip.' There are two alternatives: 'It’ll be like the whole of London at rush hour,' adds Nannini. 'Going around it is an option, but quite a long way; try going through it and you may get stuck till they take you to a nursing home.'
The longer route, to the west of the system, will take Financial Crisis south and predominantly off the wind until they link with stronger breeze in, or just north of, the Roaring Forties that will propel them east towards Cape Town. The alternative is the more direct route with headwinds and the risk of very light conditions.' As yet, there is no consensus on Financial Crisis: 'So we are running south as if they have opened a new casino where you don't pay for your chips,' adds Nannini. 'But in reality, I'm not sure we know where we are going and I am really puzzled this time: are we taking the M25 around London, or trying the shorter but, perhaps, slower route?'
Global Ocean Race website