Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR) leading double-handed Class40s, Cessna Citation and BSL, have ground to a halt south of Tasmania.
Campagne de France are swooping down from the north as Financial Crisis and Phesheya-Racing exit the Australian Ice Limit.
Since midday on Thursday, the speeds have tumbled at the front of the fleet as the leading Class40s ran into a large, windless zone 300 miles below Tasmania. Conrad Colman and Sam Goodchild, leading the fleet on Cessna Citation, were first into the Roaring Forties breeze vacuum and watched Ross and Campbell Field closing in. 'Sadly, our prize for being in the lead has been to have it halved,' confirms Conrad Colman. 'We were the first into the light winds but there’s no guarantee that we’ll be the first out,' he adds. Colman’s co-skipper is disappointed, but pragmatic: 'For the first time in two weeks we’ve seen our average speed drop below ten knots,' reports Sam Goodchild. Polling sub-six knot speed averages for 24 hours, the high pressure system blocking the GOR fleet’s path has at least brought fine weather after the succession of low pressure systems and cold fronts that have hammered the five boats. 'The sun has been great,' comments Goodchild. 'We now have the privilege of wearing dry clothing all the time as well as having a dry boat. On the other hand, we are now unfortunately learning, the hard way, the disadvantage of being at the front of the fleet.'
Without a boat in front to hint at the severity of the windless conditions, Cessna Citation piled into the high pressure dropping 40 miles in 24 hours to the Fields. 'The weather situation is pretty complicated and we pick up a new file at least every 12 hours,' continues Goodchild. 'We are struggling to see much consistency with our arrival date changing by days with each GRIB.' The weather forecasts arriving on Cessna Citation are not helpful. 'I‘m starting to think that the files are coming from an art class somewhere and not a weather centre,' he says. 'Every 12 hours there is a drawing competition for the Tasman Sea, a few pretty lines for isobars, scattered arrows, a splash of colour and bingo…a weather file.' Current weather predictions suggest the light airs may stalk the fleet for the next two days. 'After getting the 24-hour speed record we’re now aiming for the 24-hour slow record,' adds Goodchild as Cessna Citation polls just four knots at 15:00 GMT on Friday. 'We debated not picking up the position report but we did, and it was painful…'
Meanwhile, Conrad Colman has been studying the weather files hard: 'Our only hope is that the wedge shaped ridge extending down from Tasmania holds in place and allows us to pass through the narrow part while leaving the thick end for the boys on BSL,' he believes. 'For the moment, however, they appear to be Teflon Kiwis, carrying on through forecasted calms as if they’ve got an open tab at the Wind Bar.'
At 22:00 GMT on Thursday night, Ross and Campbell Field piled into the windless zone and the constant eight-knot speed averages on BSL abruptly ceased: 'We had been making miles on Cessna and then we parked too,' confirms Ross Field. 'There is this huge parking lot south of Tasmania and there are two Class 40s parked, ready to pay their tickets and exit and Halvard and Miranda are charging into the parking lot, too, just to make it interesting,' he reports. 'Talk about stress! Give me a good 30 knots downwind anytime.'
In the 15:00 GMT position poll on Friday, BSL was averaging just under six knots and closing into 107 miles behind Cessna Citation. 'From blowing dogs off chains, policemen out of doughnut shops, Poms out of pubs, to a flat calm - does your head in a bit,' admits Ross who has been attempting to keep himself occupied: 'I tried to service a winch this afternoon and I spat the dummy, threw parts of the winch into a bucket and said - ‘f*** you’,' he admits. 'I might, just might, try and assemble it later on today - the winch was very lucky it wasn’t committed to the deep!' Any weather evaluation only adds to the frustration on BSL: 'The constant banging of sails, wind coming and wind going just does one’s head in,' says Ross. 'Campbell said we could have two days of this - f*#*@~*!' There is, however, a possible up-side to the situation: 'I do have to admit that this isn’t as stressful as trying to buy your wife an Xmas present, on Xmas Eve, in a shopping centre full of thousands of people,' he confirms.
In the 15:00 GMT position poll, Campagne de France was making the best speed in the fleet at 11 knots, trailing BSL by 219 miles. Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron have removed 152 miles from the Fields in 24 hours, but conditions 260 miles south-west of Tasmania aren’t appealing. 'We have been travelling with the same band of cloud for a couple of days now - even the birds have had enough of the grey drizzle and have gone away!' observes Miranda Merron. 'It’s the Friday before Christmas, and it would be lovely to drop into a pub for a pint of beer and catch up with friends,' dreams Merron.
Meanwhile, Halvard Mabire – possibly guilt-ridden by raiding the on board advent calendar early – has put out a personal appeal to Father Christmas: 'I don’t know if I’ve been a good boy this year, or even very clever,' admits Mabire. 'I’ve dropped everything to do this round-the-world race, leaving behind my friends, family and my home,' he writes. 'So I don’t know if I really deserve a visit as you pass between Tasmania and Antarctica, but, dear Father Christmas, I love you a lot, and even if the other skippers make fun of me, I can say that I’ve always believed in you,' assures Mabire. 'I’m certain that it’s through this belief that all the GOR teams will arrive safely in Wellington at the end of this leg.'
At 15:00 GMT on Friday, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire were just 90 miles from the eastern end of the Australian Ice Limit with Phesheya-Racing, trailing Financial Crisis by 340 miles. 'One thing has occurred to me over the last few days about being in the Southern Ocean: Everything is Massive or Huge,' says Phillippa Hutton-Squire. 'I‘m not sure which one is bigger, ‘Huge’ or ‘Massive’, but those are good words down here,' she adds. 'You don’t really realise it after a while and it becomes normal to have huge waves and not ripples on the sea. The waves are deep blue with white rolling tops just like the table cloth that comes over the top of Table Mountain and they are not much different in size either.'
While the leaders struggle to the south-east, the South Africans are having a perfect sail and averaging ten knots: 'The sun is shining and we have less than 20 knots of wind for a change,' Hutton-Squire reports. 'We are watching out for big squalls but the sky is almost clear and we have a white-capped Albatross following the boat.' Averaging just over seven knots to the south-east of Phesheya-Racing and dropping down through the Roaring Forties on Friday afternoon, Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon on Financial Crisis were also in good conditions as they head south: 'In the unlikely setting of a sunny, Southern Ocean day, flying the biggest spinnaker under a blue sky, we dream of home, of friends, family and loved ones…and beer and steak,' says Nannini. GOR leg two leaderboard at 18:00 GMT 23/12/2011:
1. Cessna Citation: DTF 1093 4kts
2. BSL: DTL 107 5.7kts
3. Campagne de France: DTL 326 11.1kts
4. Financial Crisis: DTL 1026 7.3kts
5. Phesheya-Racing: DTL 1366 10.1kts Global Ocean Race website