Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR) fleet started leg two from Cape Town last Tuesday.
The double-handed, Class40s have since hammered through headwinds around Cape Agulhas at the southern tip of Africa and dropped south sharply towards the GOR’s 2,000-mile long, Western Indian Ocean ice limit at 42 degrees South.
With the fleet reduced to five Class40s following the dismasting of Nico and Frans Budels’ Class40 Sec. Hayai, the leading trio of boats – Cessna Citation, BSL and Campagne de France - have kept close formation, trading pole position consistently, with separation building between the front pack and the two first generation Akilarias, Phesheya-Racing and Financial Crisis.
On Thursday night, the entire fleet crossed a windless patch, slowing dramatically, but the worst casualties were Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon with Financial Crisis who were forced to head west briefly, developing a 117-mile deficit to the lead boat, but recovering and keeping pace with Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire on Phesheya-Racing in fourth. By Friday afternoon, the GOR fleet was fast reaching 135 miles north of the ice limit in powerful breeze of 25-30 knots with gusts of 45 knots, hurling the Class40s east at pace in punishing sea conditions.
Throughout Friday afternoon, Conrad Colman and the Artemis Offshore Academy sailor, Sam Goodchild, led the fleet with Cessna Citation, celebrating Colman’s 28th birthday with averages of over 14 knots and a lead of ten miles over Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron in second on Campagne de France. Colman and Goodchild handed over the lead to Mabire and Merron early the following morning with the New Zealand father-and-son duo of Ross and Campbell Field snatching the lead with BSL at 08:00 GMT on Saturday as the breeze swung to the west and the Field’s gybed deeper south. Later on Saturday, Colman and Goodchild once again regained pole position on Cessna Citation with the front trio separated by less than 13 miles after four days of racing.
By dawn on Sunday, the Fields were furthest south with BSL, skating along the southern limit in third place. Currently on his sixth circumnavigation race, any familiarity Ross Field may have with the Indian Ocean is relatively meaningless: 'While bashing upwind in 25-30 knots of wind, big confused seas, cold, bashing and crashing so much one would wonder when the boat will break, every bone and muscle aching from being thrown around - we both said 'why the f*** do we do this?’,' he reports. 'I do question my sanity sometimes when it’s like this. Why do we do it? I look at this bad part as a bad day at the office - I would rather be out here having a bad day than in an office. Does it make sense?' At 15:00 GMT on Sunday BSL was in third place, traling Campagne de France second place by 32 miles with 650 miles remaining until the end of the southern limit: 'We are at 41 South and heading for the gate at 42 South and then we are off down into the Southern Ocean proper,' he adds.
At the head of the fleet, Colman and Goodchild with Cessna Citation had maintained a lead of under two miles over Campagne de France overnight on Saturday: 'With their starboard masthead light clearly visible less than four miles away, we had a constant companion as the black clouds rolled over us and the gusts built,' explained Conrad Colman on Sunday morning. 'Having a competitor so close after four days at sea is thrilling and adds a distinct sense of urgency to our actions,' he adds. At 15:00 GMT on Sunday, the New Zealand-British duo was holding third place, polling the highest speed average in the fleet at 13.2 knots, under three miles north of the ice limit.
'We’re now all converging on our southerly border for a gybing workout until we are free to go south again by the end of the ice gate,' reports the former Mini 6.50 sailor. 'On the whole, conditions are moderate with winds rarely above 30 knots and - for the moment - the temperature is tolerable, although a brief respite that today's sun has brought from our habitual chill is certainly welcome,' he notes. 'There was a bit of a fuss initially by the skippers about the introduction of such a conservative ice gate, but having just suffered through two of the coldest and wettest nights of my life, I can appreciate this gift from the GOR Race Organisation!'
In fifth place, Financial Crisis was making ten knots, gybing on port away from the ice limit, trailing the lead Class40 by 200 miles. Nannini and Ramon are seasoned Atlantic sailors, both single-handed and double-handed, but the Indian Ocean’s high-latitudes are unknown territory: 'If you’re looking at a non-surgical equivalent to a gastric band, look no further,' comments the Italian skipper. 'Come to the Great South where we'll make you feel a constant knot around your stomach to lose weight.' However, this non-invasive dietary regime on Financial Crisis comes with a hefty price: 'In the past few days it's been either windy, or freaking windy, and as far as I understand it, this is still absolutely nothing compared to what we might get.'
With no title sponsor for his GOR campaign and a very restrictive budget, Nannini must prevent any major damage to the boat or sails and being caught with a spinnaker up as a front came through on Friday night, delivering a 45-knot blast, is far from ideal: 'We had to wrestle the thing down and we had just discussed the strategy for the night and we really have to balance speed with safety and gear preservation,' he adds. 'It’s still a long, long way to Wellington and with no land in sight and any major breakages would mean a very, very long limp to the finish.'
At 15:00 GMT on Sunday, Financial Crisis was 20 miles behind Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire in fourth on Phesheya-Racing and an improvement in the conditions was welcomed by the Italian-Spanish team: 'After days of being punished and thrown around, things have definitely turned for the better,' Nannini reported on Sunday morning. 'We have emerged from our dry suits stinking like dead rats and are enjoying a lovely spinnaker run in hot sunshine and gentle 20-25 knots of wind,' he adds. 'I guess conditions like this will be exceptional, but who says we can’t enjoy them while they last.'
Meanwhile, on Phesheya-Racing, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire have also been dealing with spinnaker issues, dropping their bluQube A6 in the water. 'Thankfully we specified that we wanted an indestructible sail when we ordered this sail from Quantum,' said Hutton-Squire on Sunday morning. 'After a long battle we managed to recover it intact, but looking as if it had been through a washing machine!' The South African duo dropped the mainsail and hove-to to recover the asymmetric. 'The rest of the night and early morning was spent sorting out the twists and tangles in the spinnaker and the rigging and by late morning I was ready to go up the mast to replace the halyard,' she continues. 'With 20 knots of wind and a heavy swell running it was like rock climbing during an earthquake! Not for the feint hearted and, luckily, when I reached the top of the mast I had a job to keep me occupied so that I could take my mind off the awkwardness of the situation.' Lashed to the masthead, Hutton-Squire ran a new halyard. 'I was able to have both hands free to attach the new halyard, but with the 19-metre high mast whipping about like a demented pendulum, I felt quite pleased when I got back to deck level with my arms and head intact!'
Despite the remoteness of the GOR fleet’s current location, away from the shipping lanes and the fishing boats and nets that caused problems in Leg 1, the ten double-handed sailors don’t have exclusive rights on racing in the Roaring Forties as, 600 miles WSW of the five Class40s, Loïck Peyron and his crew on the maxi trimaran Banque Populaire V are charging east at 30 knots. GOR leg two leaderboard at 15:00 GMT 04/12/2011:
1. Cessna Citation: DTF 6,018 Av Sp 13.2kts
2. Campagne de France: DTL 4 Av Sp 12.5kts
3. BSL: DTL 36 Av Sp 10.9kts
4. Phesheya-Racing: DTL 183 Av Sp 8kts
5. Financial Crisis: DTL 203 Av Sp 10.1kts Global Ocean Race website