Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR) fleet continue on the twenty second day of racing of leg two to Wellington.
It has been another high-octane 24 hours for the double-handed, Class40s. Down below 47 degrees South, Cessna Citation and BSL have been breaking and resetting the GOR’s 24-hour distance records as the two boats fast-reached east in sustained 30-35-knot winds while above the Australian Ice Limit at 45S, Financial Crisis in fourth place was hurled towards this virtual safety barrier in 60-knot, northerly gusts. In 25-30 knots of NNW wind, Campagne de France in third picked up the pace descending south and Phesheya-Racing are up to speed, running east above the ice limit and making up ground.
On Tuesday afternoon, the highest sustained speeds in the GOR were recorded by the fleet leaders, Conrad Colman and Artemis Offshore Academy sailor, Sam Goodchild on their Akilaria RC2 Class40, Cessna Citation, and the New Zealand, father-and-son duo of Ross and Campbell Field in second place on their Verdier-designed Class40, BSL, as the two boats hooked into strong north-westerly wind. Geovoile tracking data reveals that at 14:00 GMT, having polled averages of over 14 knots, the Fields clocked a 24-hour run of 355.6nm and two hours later – after polling averages of 16 knots – Colman and Goodchild set the 24-hour barrier at 359.1nm – phenomenal distances for a Class40.
On Cessna Citation, Colman and Goodchild judged the frontal system’s approach immaculately: 'Sam and I decided to go for broke to consolidate our lead over the Fields,' reports Conrad Colman. 'We ran deep through puffy 45+ knot squalls and positioned ourselves in the path of the beast,' he explains. 'It might not be evident that sustained 35 knots was an opportunity to attack, but we figured that if we could keep our foot on the loud pedal and stay ahead of the worst of it, then we could play the edge of the front and skim off as much wind as we wanted.'
The New Zealand-British duo prepared for the ride of a lifetime: 'The sky stayed blue and the white caps sparkled before being blown into the air as the wind built and stayed at 35 knots,' recalls 28 year-old Colman. 'We were fully pressed, but still able to maintain control at 120-130 True Wind Angle and played the waves to surf for extra speed - Sam and I both saw 26 knots of boat speed on the dial.' With Cessna Citation flying south-east at 49S, it was everyman for himself on deck with both the co-skippers flung around the cockpit: 'After one altercation with a wave I was bodily picked up and deposited, spread eagled on my back on top of the life raft, two meters from where I had been helming,' reports Colman. 'I was able to regain control but it was an eye opening experience and a warning taken to heart,' he admits. 'As proof that sometimes the great lessons in life need to be learned twice, Sam was later pushed off the helm and thrown into the sail stack on the back of the boat.'
Shortly before midnight on Tuesday, the breeze began to drop and averages decreased to ten knots on Cessna Citation: 'Given the water play, I wasn’t too sad that we eventually out ran the stronger pressure and the wind dropped to a more sedate mid-20s,' Colman admits. As the breeze dropped for Colman and Goodchild, the Fields on BSL – 100 miles north of Cessna Citation – held the breeze longer as the two boats approached a high pressure system blocking the route south of Tasmania. By 15:00 GMT on Wednesday, Cessna Citation was averaging just under nine knots, while the Fields maintained 11 knots in a stronger band of breeze on BSL, 192 miles off the port quarter of Cessna Citation having netted a total of 38 miles from Colman and Goodchild in 24 hours.
Following the spinnaker incident on board BSL, alarm bells were ringing on shore for the friends and family of the Fields: 'After my last blog, a few people have raised concerns for safety in these conditions, rightly so, and we take our safety very seriously,' assures Campbell Field. 'There are pretty stringent rules on what we must carry on board, some argue that a lot of this gear is unnecessary as it is impractical and will not get used under any circumstances,' he adds. 'We have a couple of devices that would be invaluable in case of a Man Over Board situation, both carried at all times on our person,' Campbell explains. 'A Kannad safelink solo personal 406 EPIRB to let the world know you are in strife and a Kannad Safelink R10 AIS transmitter to let anyone in the near vicinity know your exact location - both are very small units and fit in pockets and you don’t even know they are there.'
The prospect of falling off the boat or being washed over, or through, the guardrails is chilling: 'Of course, you could simply not have a MOB situation,' reasons Campbell. 'But shit happens and there is risk in everything we do and both Ross and I are aware of that,' he confirms. 'If you want to completely avoid this risk, then the only solution is to go and sit under a tree. But then there will be some safety executive that will insist that you wear a hard hat and safety goggles in case an apple falls out and hits you on the head and you may want to sue the person who planted the tree; or the person who didn’t put the sign up saying this apple tree may contain apples; or Newton for not letting you know that the laws of gravity apply to you too.'
Meanwhile, Health and Safety executives would have been alarmed by conditions on Financial Crisis. North of the ice limit by 80 miles and with Australia 580 miles off their port quarter on Tuesday afternoon GMT, Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon were tearing south in winds up to Force 10. 'Not far away in Australia, I imagine it is all sun, surf, beaches and bikinis,' wondered Hugo Ramon. 'For us, it has rained solidly as the front approached and then we spent a couple of hours with 60 knots and apocalyptic waves of about eight to ten metres in height.' Running south on port gybe, neither Nannini or Ramon wanted to harden-up and overload their boat or put Financial Crisis beam-to the huge seas: 'The only option we had was to run with the gale at the risk of crossing the ice limit,' explains Ramon.
Conditions were truly grim on board as the front passed through: 'In the dark I saw an actual mountain of water against the sky - black, monstrous and cruel,' continues the Spanish skipper. 'Everything was totally confused; the wind shifted through 130 degrees, varying from 25-50 knots, with the pilot totally losing the plot forcing us to hand steer and prevent a crash gybe.' Nannini and Ramon eventually gybed 60 miles above the ice limit and on Wednesday afternoon, Financial Crisis was averaging just under ten knots on port gybe in around 20 knots of breeze with the eastern extremity of the ice limit 193 miles ahead.
While Nannini and Ramon clung onto Financial Crisis as the front passed through, 550 miles to the east, Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron had found northerly breeze and began to descend through the Roaring Forties with speed averages between 11-13 knots on board Campagne de France. 'We’re reaching and the fire hose on deck has started up again,' reported Halvard Mabire on Wednesday morning. 'But since we are a little towards the north, the water is actually quite warm and has reached the fabulous temperature of 9.6C, which is totally acceptable!' By 15:00 GMT on Wednesday, Campagne de France was averaging the best speed in the fleet at just over 13 knots and had taken 35 miles out of the lead held by BSL and Cessna Citation in the past 24 hours. 'The sea state is manageable at the moment, although it is obviously extremely rough, which is normal in 25 to 30 knots of wind, but by Indian Ocean standards, it’s relatively peaceful,' he explains. 'The sky is low and grey and we are are around 750 miles off Tasmania,' confirms Mabire. 'At the moment, the weather is so complex that it is too early to tell how close to Tasmania we’ll go,' he adds. Currently, weather files suggest that the high pressure system around Tasmania could produce a large windless area south of the island on Thursday and Friday.
At 15:00 GMT on Wednesday, the South African duo of Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire on Phesheya-Racing were averaging over ten knots, trailing Financial Crisis by 312 miles and taking 45 miles from Nannini and Ramon’s lead in 24 hours. Unlike Financial Crisis, Leggatt and Hutton-Squire avoided the strong winds in the cold front: 'It didn’t last all that long as the front came and the wind shifted round and we had to do some quick sail changes and gybe,' reported Phillippa Hutton-Squire on Wednesday. 'It still amazes me as to how quick the fronts pass over you,' she adds. 'One moment they are there, the next they are gone and you have had 30 plus knots and the wind had shifted so quickly.'
Sailing 120 miles north of the Australian Ice Limit, the duo have passed the 3,000-mile DTF milestone after 22 days of racing: 'That put a big smile on my face,' Hutton-Squire continues. 'It’s kind of like we have one transatlantic to go!' she calculates. 'Well, I know I can do that and I’ll take it in my stride.' The South Africans have also taken time during the good conditions to monitor the wildlife at 44S: 'Last night we thought we might have seen our first Royal Albatross for this trip,' says Hutton-Squire. 'Wandering and Royal Albatrosses fall under the same group, Great Albatrosses,' she explains. 'Have now sailed into the waters where the Royal Albatross fly, so we must keep our eyes peeled!' GOR leg two leaderboard at 15:00 GMT 21/12/2011:
1. Cessna Citation: DTF 1344 8.8kts
2. BSL: DTL 192 11kts
3. Campagne de France: DTL 606 13.1kts
4. Financial Crisis: DTL 1232 9.6kts
5. Phesheya-Racing: DTL 1544 10.1kts Global Ocean Race website