Global Ocean Race (GOR) 2011-12 leg one is currently underway. After 38 days and 6,000 miles of racing, the double-handed, Class40 GOR teams are into the final push for the leg one finish line.
While the leg one winners, Ross and Campbell Field with BSL and second placed Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron with Campagne de France work on their boats in The V and A Waterfront Marina in Cape Town, the four Class40s in the fleet’s main pack are hammering across the final 1,000 miles of the South Atlantic, climbing from the high-latitudes to the finish line off the city’s main breakwater.
At 09:00 GMT on Wednesday, the four boats were spread over 240 miles with the pack compressing to 100 miles north-south as the fleet fast reach underneath the swelling St. Helena High-Pressure System. For the past three days, the second wave of the GOR fleet has been led by the Italian-British duo of Marco Nannini and Paul Peggs with their first generation Akilaria, Financial Crisis, building a strong lead of over 100 miles with 750 miles of leg one remaining.
However, the threat to their leadership has now increased on two fronts: the youngest team in the GOR, Conrad Colman and Hugo Ramon in fourth place on their new Akilaria RC2, Cessna Citation, has rejoined the pack from temporary exile in the north and are fighting hard to regain poll position sailing north of Financial Crisis, with the Dutch duo of Nico Budel and Ruud van Rijsewijk in sixth on Sec. Hayai 100 miles astern. Further south, 152 miles off the starboard quarter of Financial Crisis, the South African duo of Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire are shadowing Nannini and Peggs, with both boats simultaneously hardening up at 21:00 GMT on Tuesday night and heading directly for Cape Town.
For Nannini and Peggs, the pressure is really on with a latest-generation, reaching weapon hard on the chase in the shape of Cessna Citation and an Akilaria sistership with Phesheya-Racing threatening from the south. On board Financial Crisis, Marco Nannini is on high alert: 'We’ve managed to keep our distance from Phesheya constant during the reaching conditions and whilst our left eye is firmly on Cessna, our right one is still firmly on the South African duo,' he reports. 'They sail an identical boat to ours where boat speed differentials are minimal.' Nannini and Peggs lifted the speed to 11-knot averages on Tuesday afternoon and stepped up a gear to over 12-knot averages early on Wednesday morning: 'For us, averages over 11 knots are difficult without compromising safety,' warns the Italian skipper whose GOR campaign budget is reliant on preserving his boat and limiting costly repairs. 'I lost control of the boat a few times during the night under walls of spray, masthead reaching kite and two reefs on the main on the constant edge of a broach.'
Constantly pushing to the limit of his three year-old Class40’s capability may be the price of staying at the front: 'I guess we have to accept that a new boat has an edge on us in these sort of conditions,' says Nannini. 'We have to make the most in managing the advantage built whilst Cessna dipped south and we expect nothing less than a full attack from Conrad and Hugo, so we don’t take our lead position for granted by any stretch of the imagination.' Since daybreak on Wednesday, Financial Crisis has continued to average over 12 knots as Phesheya-Racing – hampered by the loss of their large spinnaker and forced to fly headsails from the bow rather than the bowsprit – is averaging slightly under 12 knots, but the South Africans have only conceded seven miles to Nannini and Peggs in the past 24 hours.
Meanwhile, since dropping from the north, and planting themselves 90 miles directly ahead of sixth-placed Budel and Van Rijsewijk on Sec.Hayai at 01:00 GMT, Colman and Ramon have lit the fuse, reaching hard and averaging over 13 knots since early on Wednesday morning: 'The conditions are totally spectacular,' confirmed Colman. 'We’re sailing quite high with the big spinnaker in 20-22 knots of wind.' Following the punishing and endless upwind pummelling the duo received in their aborted trip around the top of the high-pressure system, morale is peaking on board: 'We have the full main and also the small jib hoisted to make sure we’re completely powered up all the time,' he continues. 'We’ve just been ranked as the fastest boat in the fleet for six hours now. The sun is shining, we’re not getting wet at the helm, although the bow buries sometimes, and we end up sitting in a river of clear, cold ocean water.'
With the wind forecast to back further west, then south-westerly over the next 48 hours, the likelihood of a downwind run into Cape Town is strong and timing gybes and judging angles will be paramount for the four Class40s still racing in what is becoming a flat out fight to the finish line. Global Ocean Race website