Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR) third leg, from Wellington to Punta del Este, is currently underway.
There has been intense drama as two of the Class40s, Buckley Systems and Campagne de France, have turned west and are currently heading for Auckland, New Zealand, while the three remaining boats, Cessna Citation, Financial Crisis and Phesheya-Racing continue into strong, Pacific Ocean headwinds in the Roaring Forties.
On Thursday evening at 48S, Ross and Campbell Field – leading the fleet on Buckley Systems – and Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron on the Franco-British entry, Campagne de France in second place, trailing the Fields by 20 miles, abruptly turned north. Initially this was thought to be a move to avoid 40-50-knot headwinds, but injury and gear damage on Buckley Systems had forced the Fields to head for port with Mabire and Merron making the same call.
Meanwhile, Conrad Colman and Adrian Kuttel have taken over pole position with Cessna Citation; Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon are up to second place with Financial Crisis and the South African duo of Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire are now in third with Phesheya-Racing.
For the Fields who are currently leading the GOR overall on points, the decision to turn Buckley Systems towards New Zealand was indescribably hard: 'A tough way to have a year of blood, sweat and tears collapse in front of you,' reports Campbell Field. Equipment failure, including part of the mainsheet system, has contributed to the father-and-son team turning west, but injury to Ross Field is a major factor. 'On Leg 2, Ross took a couple of tumbles that would have stretchered-off any mere mortal with a bruise on one hip that looked like someone had taken to him with a baseball bat,' Campbell Field explains. 'Coupled with a severe blow to the abdomen a few days later which was only acknowledged with a mere ‘that hurts a bit’ and ‘hope we have some more of those anti-inflammatories’,' Campbell Field recalls. 'He’s a tough old bugger my old man,' he adds. 'So, to see him now in so much pain meant we had an issue with facing the next 6,000 miles with one of us in agony and the loss of all wind instruments and, consequently, an effective pilot, seriously compromising our performance and safety.'
Currently, Buckley Systems is running downwind with triple reefed main and jib. 'To all our friends, fans, family and supporters, thank you for your support and messages we have received,' says Campbell. 'We’ll keep you posted on progress and the future as it unfolds.' On Campagne de France, Mabire and Merron had successfully preserved their Class40 and each other through the worst of the strong conditions, but a tough call was necessary: 'Given the weather and sea conditions we have encountered and given the forecast weather along the northerly route which we have to take because of ice to the south, we felt that there was a strong possibility of boat breakage on this leg if we were to continue,' explained Halvard Mabire on Friday afternoon. 'Apart from the fact that sailing into the wind and seas is rather uncomfortable – and we certainly aren't competing in the GOR for comfort - it is much tougher on the boat than sailing downwind,' he adds. 'Based on the weather information available to us, with upwind conditions for much of the course to the scoring gate, we felt that the risk of breakage was too high in this remote part of the world.'
For Miranda Merron the decision is a matter of personal judgement: 'It is the responsibility of each skipper to assess the risks involved and to decide to race or continue racing based on conditions experienced or expected,' she explains. 'Our decision to head back is the result of this assessment.' Nonetheless, it has been a painful choice to make: 'It has been an incredibly difficult decision to take, and one not taken lightly,' Merron confirms. 'We have spent almost two years focussed on this project and there are a considerable number of people who are supporting this campaign.'
In the 15:00 GMT position poll on Friday, Colman and Kuttel on the new race leader, Cessna Citation, are making just under ten knots with a lead of 104 miles over Nannini and Ramon on Financial Crisis with Leggatt and Hutton-Squire a further 100 miles west. On Phesheya-Racing, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire are weathering the storm that has pummelled the fleet: 'The rough weather of yesterday has continued into today and in fact has deteriorated even further' reported Phillippa Hutton-Squire on Friday morning. 'We’re making slow progress under triple reefed main and staysail and the exceptionally steep head seas are making things very difficult for the autopilot,' she adds. 'Aboard Phesheya-Racing life has been reduced to the bare minimum of holding on, eating and sleeping,' explains Hutton-Squire. 'Brief forays onto the deck to trim sails or check on things result in one being instantly soaked and frozen to the bone and life down below decks is a constant exercise in bracing oneself to avoid being thrown through the air to the other side of the boat,' she says. 'Other than that, life is great!'
The GOR’s Race Director, Josh Hall, was airborne returning to the UK from New Zealand as the drama on Buckley Systems and Campagne de France unfolded with 24-hour cover for the fleet provided by Alan Green of the GOR Race Committee while Hall was temporarily out of contact: 'This is a sad day for these two projects and for the race itself,' confirmed Hall shortly after hearing the news as he landed at Heathrow Airport, London. 'Both teams have dedicated well over a year of energy, emotion and resources to competing at the highest level possible in the GOR and to be forced out of Leg 3 is devastating for them and everyone involved,' he adds. 'We are waiting to hear whether they will rejoin the race later on or not, but the first priority is for them to reach safe haven. In the meantime the three other teams in Leg 3 are plugging into some very tough conditions,' he points out. 'It is disappointing that the weather pattern is not currently providing the downwind sleigh-ride normally expected, but this is one of many reasons that racing around the world is a formidable challenge to boats and sailors.' Global Ocean Race website