Global Ocean Race (GOR) 2011-12 leg one started on Sunday 25 September 2011 from Palma, Mallorca.
As the winners of leg one, BSL and second place Campagne de France, recovered in Cape Town from 7,000 miles of racing and adapt to life on land after 32 days at sea, the four boats in the fleet’s main pack were working round a high pressure system centred 1,300 miles west of the finish line.
In third place, leading the group, Conrad Colman and Hugo Ramon on the Akilaria RC2, Cessna Citation, were committed to their northern option 500 miles north of the high-pressure sailing in isolation and forced to tack away from the finish on starboard by the south-easterly breeze spinning off the top of the system, losing miles to Sec. Hayai, Financial Crisis and Phesheya-Racing positioned west of the system and further south.
On Saturday afternoon, the Dutch duo of Nico Budel and Ruud van Rijsewijk on Sec. Hayai were first to dig into the stronger breeze on the back edge of the system, picking up to 10 knots, but dropping back to sixth place behind the South African team of Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire furthest south on Phesheya-Racing. By Saturday evening, Cessna Citation tacked back onto port and the New Zealand-Spanish team could finally point their bows at Cape Town while the chasing three boats were in reaching conditions as they slid south of the high and speed averages began to embed at 10 knots.
Meanwhile, Colman and Ramon were still hammered by headwinds: 'It’s getting bouncy again!' confirmed Conrad Colman on Saturday as the duo celebrated their eighth day of upwind sailing since opting to head east. 'I think we’ll take the prize, if there could ever be one, for the longest upwind beat in the history of Class40s!' At 06:00 GMT on Sunday, Cessna Citation was in around 14 knots of breeze making just under eight-knot averages as the trio to the south continued fast reaching. 'I’m currently looking worriedly and somewhat enviously at our cousins to the south who have to surf for their lives if they are going get around the other side of this system before us.'
Colman is unable to predict if his decision to leave the high-pressure to the south will pay: 'What we can say definitively is that the wind is blowing and that we’re in the middle of the South Atlantic, all else is up for grabs,' he reports. 'We appear to be the lone rangers on the upwind route as everyone else is taking pains to go south as fast as possible to catch the favourable winds coming.' The 20 knots plus of northerly breeze predicted south-west of the high is the target for the southerly group, however Colman and Ramon aren’t convinced that the plan is sound: 'We feel that this routing is a step too far,' says 27 year-old Colman. 'It adds so significantly to the distance to the finish that they’ll have to go warp speed the entire time and not have any problems in order to justify the mileage.'
In fourth place with Financial Crisis, Marco Nannini and Paul Peggs were trailing Cessna Citation by 155 miles at 06:00 GMT on Sunday and their decision to leave Colman and Ramon in the north wasn’t easy: 'We had to choose whether to follow Cessna and try to catch up, or cover our fourth position from an attack by Phesheya,' says Nannini. The second option had extra appeal: 'It had the added advantage of taking us to the downwind route as opposed to the long beat that awaits Cessna which still needs to be proven as the faster overall option.' As the following breeze arrived on Saturday, there was immense relief for the Italian-British team: 'We’ve turned the corner, I feel, in this endless leg to Cape Town and our sails are finally free,' he continues. 'We’re heading towards Tristan da Cunha which we intend to leave well to port before progressively curving in towards Cape Town.' Nannini and Peggs currently have Phesheya-Racing 132 miles off their starboard quarter making 10.4 knots as both boats hunt for the strongest breeze below 37 degrees south.
While Nico Budel and Ruud van Rijsewijk with Sec. Hayai in sixth are making 9.5 knots and trailing the Phesheya-Racing by just 17 miles, 290 miles further south at 38 degrees, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire have been preparing for the strong breeze: 'It was a case of stacking everything, ballasting the boat and trimming the sails,' reports Hutton-Squire. 'Under normal racing or IRC racing you are not allowed to stack, but in Class 40 it’s essential.' Repositioning the permitted, movable ballast is an arduous task in most conditions, even if the loose gear is packed cleverly, but there is a distinct bonus: 'We don’t have 14 crew sitting on the rail hiking over the side,' she continues. 'We have 750 litres of water plus all of our sails, spares, tools, food and clothes that we move from side to side depending on our tack or wind angle. At times we put everything in the stern of the boat to get the bow out of the water or visa-versa. It works very well and is much easier than crew politics.'
Positioned furthest south, it is now around 14 degrees on deck for the South Africans: 'It was time to find more Gore-Tex mid layers and my boots,' says Hutton-Squire.' Once I was all layered up it was rather pleasant on deck for shortish periods and at times there were wonderful stars lighting up the ocean, but most of the time it was dark and overcast making helming very difficult in a choppy sea.'
The leading Class40, Cessna Citation has 1,400 miles of leg one remaining and the punishing, upwind gamble Colman and Ramon have taken to the north of the system is now in the balance as the trio further south have the possibility of hard, but fast, reaching conditions that could rearrange the GOR leaderboard in the next 48 hours. Global Ocean Race website