Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR) leading trio of Class40s have crossed the leg two Celox Sailing Scoring Gate at 69E, north of Kerguelen Island in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
Conrad Colman and Sam Goodchild crossed the virtual gate in first place taking the maximum six points with their Akilaria RC2, Cessna Citation. Within three hours of Colman and Goodchild crossing the gate, Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron on Campagne de France and Ross and Campbell Field with BSL tore through the gate averaging just under 14 knots and separated by two miles – an exceptionally compressed pack after 11 days and over 2,500 miles of racing from Cape Town.
While the front pack were collecting points 230 miles north of Kerguelen, Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon in fourth with Financial Crisis and Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire on Phesheya-Racing in fifth were 390 miles north-west of the leaders, hammering through a cold front that has been relentlessly stalking the fleet. From the South African Class40, Nick Leggatt described conditions at 42S: 'We’ve really been battling the elements,' he reported early on Sunday morning. 'The long-awaited cold front finally arrived during the mid-afternoon yesterday with rain; a wind shift of 125 degrees; a sudden drop in temperature from 18 degrees to 9 degrees and squally winds to over 30 knots.'
Having spent the previous five days reaching on port tack above the GOR’s leg two Western Indian Ocean Ice Limit at 42S, Phesheya-Racing and Financial Crisis are now on a starboard fetch in a frigid southern wind of around 20 knots. 'In retrospect, we’ve been lucky as it never reached a full gale, but with very rough seas all night, tons of cold spray and rain, and a chill to the wind, it has made life quite tough on board,' says Leggatt with typical understatement. 'I am sure our competitors are using a similar tactic to take on the elements,' he believes. 'Relying heavily on the autopilot to do the steering while we fight from the trenches, going over the top occasionally to check on conditions and tweak the sail trim, before hunkering down again with a warming cup of tea in our bunker.'
Leading Phesheya-Racing by 33 miles at 15:00 GMT on Sunday, Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon have also taken a pasting: 'The front came through, the wind went around from northerly to southerly in a very short space,' confirmed Marco Nannini at noon GMT on Sunday. 'Within an hour we were reaching in 30-35 knots of wind in a very, very confused sea state, absolutely horrible, boat thrown left to right, surfing, then bashing into a wave, then knocked sideways, waves of frozen water crashing over the cockpit making even the shortest trip to trim a sail extremely uncomfortable.'
Seeking sanctuary down below from the maelstrom on deck wasn’t always easy: 'I ran the heater for the first time,' Nannini reports. 'The exhaust pipe had come undone from the unit resulting in all the smoke invading the cabin. Very unpleasant and I couldn’t open any of the hatches due to the waves and just waited a long while for the air to clear.' As fumes from the diesel-fired unit dissipated, the Italian skipper set about repairs: 'Even after reattaching the pipe I'm not sure it's working properly, but I will try later as it's very cold right now - thermometer says 14C, but outside with the wind chill and the 80 per cent humidity, it feels like London in winter.' Despite the conditions, both Financial Crisis and Phesheya-Racing were averaging just under nine knots on Sunday afternoon.
Meanwhile, the warfare at the front of the GOR fleet continues. Conrad Colman and Artemis Offshore Academy sailor, Sam Goodchild, have been maintaining 13-14 knots averages for well over 24 hours, pulling Cessna Citation into a 40-mile lead over the chasing duo at 15:00 GMT on Sunday. 'Now we've got the good stuff,' commented Conrad Colman on Sunday afternoon. 'Grade A Southern Comfort.' Since replacing their chafed, fractional halyard, Colman and Goodchild had been sailing under Solent headsail and mainsail for 36 hours. 'We’d been putting in the miles from the comfort of the interior with just Knut the autopilot stoically standing watch,' Colman continues, but a slight drop in speed set the alarm bells off: 'Having seen over our shoulder that the Fields had clearly put up a gennaker to stay ahead of the front, we couldn't hang around. Up again with the Code 5 and the world turned white!' In the 15:00 GMT position poll, Cessna Citation is averaging over 15 knots. 'The spray we currently have on deck is not one's garden hose, atomizer let’s-water-the-roses-type spray, as we now have the full fat, whiteout-sheets of water with droplets the size of bricks-type spray.'
Despite the duo’s obsession with speed, their Akilaria RC2 is coping well: 'Cessna Citation is still skipping lightly over the water without any alarming nose dives,' says Colman. In GOR Leg 1, Cessna Citation won the bluQube Award for the fastest 24-hour run averaging 13.55 knots and recording a 325-mile day. Colman and Goodchild have just completed a 343-mile run in 24 hours. 'For most of that we were inside taking tea!' admits Colman.
Second place in the fleet, however, has changed with Ross and Campbell Field and BSL overhauling the Franco-British duo on Campagne de France shortly before midnight GMT on Saturday and building a 21-mile lead by Sunday afternoon. 'It’s daylight, but grey, overcast, blowing 25 knots and freezing cold,' Ross Field reported shortly after daybreak on Sunday, 'but I think we’re doing OK. I’ve got my old French mate up north of us and have the ‘Young Ones’ 40 miles ahead, so we’ve made good progress.' In the past 48 hours, the Fields snatched 23 miles from Mabire and Merron before overtaking and had been matching the speed averages of 14 knots-plus maintained by Cessna Citation since dawn. 'The ‘Young Ones’ are pushing and doing well,' says Field, complimenting 27 year-old Colman and 22 year-old Goodchild.
Trailing Cessna Citation by 81 miles on Sunday afternoon and averaging 12.4 knots, Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron were treading a fine line: 'It’s hard to get the balance between speed and boat preservation right,' admitted Miranda Merron on Sunday morning. 'Sometime during the night, Campagne de France was taking off on surfs of 20 knots, bouncing hard off the tops of waves and occasionally trying to become a fish,' she reports. 'We opted for preservation and even at this much-reduced speed, the boat is still slamming.' Downloading the three-hourly position polls reveals the impact of this boat preservation: 'The competition are going flat out, so as soon as the sea state improves sufficiently, we’ll get back up to speed,' adds Merron.
The GOR leaders are currently sailing over a 300-mile wide underwater canyon between the Southeast Indian Ridge to the north and the Kerguelen Plateau to the south. While the depth drops to around 3,500 metres, there are seamounts ahead of the fleet and the subsurface outcrops of the Kerguelen Plateau are stretching out towards the frontrunners. Halvard Mabire has noted a possible consequence: 'Bizarrely, we’re in open ocean in the middle of nowhere and we keep encountering violent surface currents,' he reports from Campagne de France. 'This is affecting our speed over the ground averages depending on whether the current is adverse or with us.' The currents are also delivering deeply unpleasant conditions: 'The sea state can change very quickly from ‘très agitée à forte’ to complete carnage,' Mabire explains. 'On Saturday night, we sailed through a witch’s cauldron of boiling and churning water with the wind up to 30 knots,' he reports. 'It was a bad place to be and we took our foot off the gas to preserve the boat and this is evident in the position polls.' The dilemma of pushing hard but looking after the boat is never easy: 'Sometimes I think we may be holding back a bit too much, especially when we look at the position schedules and see the speed averages our young friends at the front are making.' GOR cumulative leg one and leg two points following the Celox Sailing Scoring Gate:
1. BSL: 39 (4 points at the Celox Sailing Scoring Gate)
2. Campagne de France: 36 points (5 points at the Celox Sailing Scoring Gate)
3. Cessna Citation: 24 (6 points at the Celox Sailing Scoring Gate)
4. Financial Crisis: 24 (west of the Celox Sailing Scoring Gate)
5. Phesheya-Racing: 12 (west of the Celox Sailing Scoring Gate)
6. Sec. Hayai: 6 (RTD from leg two) GOR leg two leaderboard at 15:00 GMT 11/12/2011:
1. Cessna Citation: DTF 4,176 5.4kts
2. BSL: DTL 40 14.2kts
3. Campagne de France: DTL 81.6 12.4kts
4. Financial Crisis: DTL 533 8.7kts
5. Phesheya-Racing: DTL 566 8.7kts Global Ocean Race website