In the Global Ocean Race, the leading double-handed Class40s are preparing to enter the Tasman Sea with some 1200 miles of Leg 2 yet to go. The light conditions are conspiring to shake things up in the ranking table for the remaining miles to the finish line in Wellington, New Zealand.
After leading the fleet for 13 days and over 3,000 miles and having logged phenomenal speeds and broken the GOR’s 24-hour distance record, Conrad Colman and Sam Goodchild on the Akilaria RC2 Cessna Citation have hit the buffers 350 miles below Tasmania at 49S with Ross and Campbell Field, further north in second place with BSL, slowing down, but holding the breeze and closing in. In third place, the Franco-British duo of Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron are polling the highest speed averages with Campagne de France as they drop south taking miles out of the leaders.
Recovering from 60-knot blasts, Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon in fourth on Financial Crisis have cleared the eastern end of the Australian Ice Limit and are drying out in good conditions as they prepare to slip below 45S and in fifth place, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire are 40 miles north of the ice limit in stunning, running conditions with Phesheya-Racing. 'The Roaring Forties is really a place of superlatives,' says Leggatt.
'But to be honest, today is a glorious day, and in the same vein, a glorious day here is truly magnificent!' he adds. At 15:00 GMT on Thursday, the South African’s were on starboard gybe and averaging 8.5 knots with 300 miles of ice limit restriction remaining. 'Blue skies with 25-33 knots of wind, interspersed with the occasional rain shower and squall to 42 knots, long, high, rolling swells with the crests being whipped off by the wind, and a balmy 12 degrees on deck,' reports the South African skipper.
On Thursday afternoon, Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon on Financial Crisis were leading Phesheya-Racing by 350 miles in mild conditions. Marco Nannini could barely believe the temperature: 'After all the nasty weather we had to endure for over a week, today we are blessed with sunshine in what feels like a hot summer day, relatively speaking, but 20C is the most we’ve seen since leaving Cape Town,' says the Italian skipper. Averaging just under ten knots at 15:00 GMT in westerly breeze, the environment was perfect for recuperation: 'We’re gently surfing with our A5 spinnaker and really appreciating the break from heavy weather,' he confirms.
'As we dry our clothes and bones in the sunshine and dream of hot showers steaks and beers, we hope you are all gearing up for Christmas,' says Nannini. 'I’ve never been a fan, but all it takes is a few southern Ocean storms to realise that eating good food surrounded by your family and loved ones is actually a damn nice thing to do… so, I think I’ll really miss this one.'
Sailing without a major sponsor, Nannini and Ramon have survived on personal savings and donations to fund their campaign, but the recent storms have caused breakages on board that will seriously impact their budget. However, help is at hand: 'Christmas has come early on board Financial Crisis and donations to the race funds have come in hard and fast,' Nannini confirms. 'One person in particular donated a staggering £1,000.'
Initially, Nannini was confused by this incredibly generous gesture. 'A brief message added that his wife has MS, multiple sclerosis, and wished we could remind the world of this terrible disease,' he explains. 'So if anyone in Wellington knows people working in this field, perhaps working for a charity either researching MS or assisting people affected by this disease, we’d like to meet them and see how we can generate some informative interest on the subject during the stopover using this race as a loud speaker to the rest of the world.'
Leading Financial Crisis by 649 miles on Thursday afternoon, Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron with Campagne de France were 371 miles behind BSL – a 43-mile gain on the leaders in 24 hours. However, despite the gains, conditions were oppressive 430 miles south-west of Tasmania. 'Grey sea, grey fog, grey drizzle,' described Miranda Merron on Thursday morning.
Halvard Mabire raids the bluQube advent calendar while hunting for chocolate supplies - Campagne de France
'Not a particularly inspiring day here in the South; not very pre-Christmas cheer,' she adds. However, a gift in Cape Town from one of the GOR’s sponsors is providing a distraction. 'Thanks to the bluQube girls, we have an advent calendar, and it contains chocolate,' says Merron.
'We don't open it on a daily basis, partly because we are running on GMT which means that the entire night falls within a GMT day as we travel east - dark at midday and dawn at 19:00, or something like that - so we are never quite sure what day it is, and partly because that way there isn't a fight over one piece of chocolate,' she explains. 'So today, we opened six days-worth of chocolate advent calendar!'
To the south-east of Campagne de France, Ross and Campbell Field continued to keep BSL moving at nine knots on Thursday afternoon as the wind decreased south of Tasmania. For Conrad Colman and Artemis Offshore Academy sailor, Sam Goodchild, sailing 70 miles further south, the breeze vapourised at midday GMT on Thursday and Cessna Citation was averaging just 1.7 knots by mid-afternoon. The net result is a 75-mile gain for the Fields over the past 24 hours.
While the Fields eat into the lead held by Cessna Citation, there are food issues on board BSL. The father and son duo operate a system – organised by Ross Field – with bags of food supplies lasting five days and containing everything from paper towel to coffee and sugar. Once the bag is empty, the next five-day pack is opened….in theory. 'Something went wrong,' confesses Campbell Field.
'We now have all the coffee and sugar stowed in one part of the boat, all the condiments in a plastic bin that also contains WD40, watermaker pickling agent, winch spares and spare electrical tape to name a few random items,' he explains. 'The paper towels were stored in the bow until we lost a few to water, so are now all wedged against the deck head above the nav station and the contents of one week of food is dumped on the leeward bunk, so you can go and make your selection, much like your average buffet.' The freedom to pick preferred food from the spread is irresistible: 'Kind of works, but the last week of any leg is painful as the only meals left are the ones we don’t like,' adds Campbell.
Conrad Colman: Southern Ocean Santa - Cessna Citation
While the food situation is confusing, sailing with his father is becoming complicated for Campbell Field: 'We both have thermal beanies with ear flaps, waterproof and fleece lined,' he says. 'Ross got up this morning and got dressed and couldn’t find his and went around cursing and swearing and bashing and crashing for three hours looking for the bloody thing.' Tension and hat-envy began to build: 'He wanted to take mine; wanted me to get out of my bunk and help him look and I could see the near-accusation in his eyes that I had taken it,' recalls Campbell. Eventually, it was Campbell’s turn on watch and Ross headed for the bunk:
'He takes off his dry top and - hey presto - there is the hat, on a piece of string around his neck under the dry top!' The psychology on BSL is clearly complex: 'If I had 50 days, and 50 chocolates, I would have one per day,' says Campbell. 'Ross would sit down and eat the lot, complain about feeling sick, then pester me for the next 50 days for a chocolate because I have lots left, and come up with a million reasons why I should give him half of them,' he believes. 'I guess all this is good training for when my son gets to the age of about six…'
The weather ahead of the leaders is nearly as complicated as life on board BSL. Weather forecasts suggest that the area of light airs south of Tasmania could expand over the next 24 hours and trap Cessna Citation and BSL while Campagne de France may carry the available breeze on the descent south.
The GOR’s Race Ambassador, Dee Caffari, has a busy schedule in her new role as skipper of Oman Sail’s all-female team for the 2012 Sailing Arabia – The Tour (SATT), but she has been monitoring the teams throughout the Indian Ocean. 'The young guns on board Cessna Citation are not letting off challenging the seasoned, experience of BSL and Campagne de France,' says Dee. 'They are working hard and pushing hard and sailing an excellent race,' she comments. 'They have surprised and impressed a number of followers of this race and I am sure Conrad Colman is driven by the thought he could arrive first in to his home country, but I am also sure that the Fields have different plans for that!'
Caffari has completed four circumnavigations fully-crewed, single-handed and double-handed and is very familiar with the potential stress of high-latitude sailing: 'Those apprehensive of the South are doing a great job of keeping going in the depths of the Southern Ocean,' says Dee. 'Spanish sailor, Hugo Ramon, has been awarded a prestigious sailing award during a satellite call with Real Club Nautico de Palma Mallorca, so his spirits will have been lifted despite the chilly temperatures and ferocious waves they have experienced.'
The GOR’s Australian Ice Limit at 45S, 600 miles south of south-western Australia, may have been a factor in reducing stress levels on board the competing Class40s: 'Being below Australia is a huge milestone and psychologically it makes you feel better because rescue is closer and New Zealand is just around the corner,' Caffari believes. 'The teams need to beware though because the Southern Ocean tests everyone to the limit and passing Tasmania and crossing the Tasman Sea can be a challenge,' she advises. 'Even when they think the hard part is done, never under estimate Cook Strait,' warns Dee. 'This last test will use the last ounces of energy the crew can find to get to the fabulous hospitality of Wellington,' she predicts. 'After all, the nickname ‘Windy Wellington’ came about for a reason!' GOR Leg 2 leaderboard at 18:00 GMT 22/12/2011:
1. Cessna Citation: DTF 1189 1.7kts
2. BSL: DTL 117 9kts
3. Campagne de France: DTL 488 10.5kts
4. Financial Crisis: DTL 1139 9.9kts
5. Phesheya-Racing: DTL 1489 8.5kts
Global Ocean Race website