Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR) - As the main group of double-handed Class40s prepare to confront the 200-mile wide centre of the high-pressure system directly to their south, the fleet leaders, BSL and Campagne de France, have crossed the 1,000 mile barrier to the Leg one finish line in Cape Town.
Over the past 24 hours, the speed averages on both the leading Class40s has fluctuated as the two teams break through an area of squalls and calms: 'The last couple of days have been bloody hard work staying focussed and moving in the right direction,' reports Campbell Field from BSL in pole position. 'These squalls have been unbelievable, at the rate of maybe one every three hours with gusts into the high 20’s from almost nothing, shifts of over 50 degrees, really keeping us on our toes, working like galley slaves.'
Approximately 70 miles to leeward of Ross and Campbell Field, Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron on Campagne de France have encountered similar conditions: 'The past few days have been marked by a procession of clouds and squalls with our names on them,' confirmed Merron on Monday morning. 'They suck away all available wind, leaving small human beings on a 40 foot boat yelling insults at them, which invariably leads to a regeneration of the same cloud overhead,' she explains. 'Not that good for forward progress!' In the past 24 hours, the Fields have added 21 miles to their lead over Mabire and Merron, stretching the distance to 32 miles at 12:00 GMT on Monday.
The Rugby World Cup final on Sunday was a focal point for the New Zealand team on BSL: 'We had a few targets in support of the All Blacks,' continues Campbell. 'We vowed to do whatever we could to take the GOR lead for the game on Sunday - tick, done; I have worn my All Black shorts since the start 29 days ago - tick, done. No point in taking them off now though with five days or less to run.' While the 9-8 victory by the All Blacks is a huge relief for the Fields, some of the on board celebrations are wearing thin: 'Now I need to get Ross to stop singing his cover of Freddy Mercury’s We Are The Champions,' comments Campbell. 'At least it makes a change to the only other song he knows - Sinatra’s New York, New York. Apparently he sings to keep himself awake at night. It works on me too when in my bunk.'
Meanwhile, the technical setbacks on Campagne de France, including the loss of both sets of masthead wind instruments, is something that Mabire and Merron will have to live with: 'It’s all stuff that you can’t repair easily at sea; electronics, data processing and so on,' explains Halvard Mabire. 'This sort of DIY needs time and concentration and it’s hard to get your head around these issues when you have to keep the boat moving fast.' However, spirits have been lifted on board: 'The good news is we’re in Albatross country,' he reports. 'I can watch them for hours gliding over the tops of the waves and there’s also Cape Petrels around the boat; smaller than an Albatross, but equally graceful with black and white markings on their wings looking a little like a chess board. It’s very mysterious seeing these animals so far from land.'
In the main pack of four boats, 1,200 miles north-west of the leaders, the hammering for the Class40s has been extreme: 'The only way to describe the sea is the French word ‘méchante’,' says Hugo Ramon on Cessna Citation in third place. 'It’s more expressive than ‘pretty bad’ or ‘really messy’ as the current sea state is malevolent, vicious and wicked and is giving us hell,' says the 26 year-old Spaniard. 'The boat is flying from the top of waves, throwing us around the boat in every direction and landing with such an impact that it leaves the rigging shaking and vibrating.' On deck, water continuously pours aft over the coach house and along the side decks and the environment below is little better: 'The noise inside the boat is infernal – like living inside a drum – and with each crash off a wave we both end up shouting with frustration and anger.' The Akilaria RC2 has small viewing ports built into the hull either side of the keel: 'We can see the keel through the viewing ports and we watch it carving through each wave.'
At 12:00 GMT on Monday, Colman and Ramon were furthest east in the group heading for the eastern edge of the high-pressure’s centre with Marco Nannini and Paul Peggs with Financial Crisis in fourth taking the middle approach to the system and the South Africans on Phesheya-Racing in sixth furthest west. While Nico Budel and Ruud van Rijsewijk are furthest north of the fleet in fifth place with Sec. Hayai in the strongest, easterly wind in excess of 20 knots, the proximity of the high-pressure is coming into effect for the trio of boats to the south. Although squalls still persist, the overall strength is dropping on Phesheya-Racing: 'We are getting closer to the centre of the high pressure and so there has been a gradual decrease in the wind and the sea state and yesterday afternoon we shook out the reef in the staysail,' reported Nick Leggatt on Monday morning. 'The sky remains generally overcast and sometimes rainy and at night the temperature has started to fall below 20. Nowhere near as cold as the front boats have been experiencing, but a noticeable drop in temperature from the Tropics, especially when you add in the wind chill and the chill from the spray and rain.'
Although Leggatt and Hutton-Squire are at 26 degrees South, they have also spotted the first physical sign that they are dropping deep into the South Atlantic: 'This one was a Black-browed albatross and it is still quite far north to see albatrosses, though this particular species is perhaps the most widespread and is occasionally spotted in the northern hemisphere!' says Leggatt, who has noted more evidence that they are rapidly descending: 'This morning we finally managed to get a good view of the Southern Cross through a break in the clouds. By sunrise it was high enough in the sky that we could clearly see both the Cross and the Pointers. Another sign of the south!'
For BSL and Campagne de France, the final 900 miles should be continued south-westerly breeze, moving further west as the two Class40s approach South Africa: 'Now we hope the road map to the Tavern of the Seas is clear and uncomplicated,' says Campbell Field. 'The distance remaining may seem like a lot, but in the grand scheme of things is just around the corner.' The father-and-son team are already planning on shore activities: 'What are we going to eat when we get in? What is the highest priority - beer, shower, clothes, food?' Even the current hardship has become bearable: 'Cold and wet? Who cares, only three or four nights to go!' With the start line in reach after 29 days at sea, there is still room for thoughts of the four boats to the north-west: 'Feeling for those guys up north getting a pounding up wind and we hope they all get through unscathed,' says Campbell. 'Look forward to hearing some war stories from them in Cape Town!' Global Ocean Race website