Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR) third leg from Wellington to Punta del Este continues with the three remaining Class40s heading deeper into the Pacific.
Conditions have been improving significantly at the front of the fleet in the Southern Ocean since two of the Class40s turned back to New Zealand on Thursday. Leg three has already packed a significant punch with headwinds reaching up to Force 9 pounding the double-handed fleet and forcing the two lead boats, Buckley Systems and Campagne de France, to head west. However, within 48 hours the environment in the Roaring Forties has begun to moderate.
Indeed, leading the fleet and furthest east, Conrad Colman and his South African co-skipper, Adrian Kuttel, ran into light airs during Friday evening GMT with their Akilaria RC2 Cessna Citation and while Colman reports clear skies and sunshine at 47S, allowing the duo to dry clothes and gear in the cockpit of their Class40, Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon on Financial Crisis in second and Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire on Phesheya-Racing in third have closed down the gap to the leaders as they remain in Force 6 headwinds.
For all the GOR teams the news of Ross and Campbell Fields’ decision to turn west followed by the same call made by Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron has been a severe blow after racing together around half the planet. On Financial Crisis, the scenario still seems unreal: 'If this was a movie, the last two days would have made for some nice drama on the high seas,' believes Marco Nannini. 'Imagine the context: a fleet of racing boats headed for Cape Horn; a South Pacific gale battering the fleet; huge waves crashing against the boat through the night; the constant noise of halyards hitting the mast; leech lines flapping; autopilot ram overloaded; water sloshing in the bilges; the smell of your own boots turning your stomach inside out; wet, cold, miserable,' says Nannini, graphically constructing the storyboard for his forthcoming, big screen, offshore epic. 'Then the satellite phone rings… no one has ever called us on the satellite phone!'
At the time, Financial Crisis was in 35-45 knots with gusts up to 50 knots carrying triple-reefed main and staysail, so a social call seemed unlikely. 'There was another GOR competitor on the end of the blurred satellite line, sounding emotional and quickly summed up the reality of the situation by telling me they were considering retiring,' says Nannini. 'This is always tricky,' adds the Italian skipper. 'The decision to sail or retire lies with the skipper of the boat and you are divided between the desire to convince them to carry on racing and the thought that if they carry on and something happens, you may have added unnecessary pressure on them to carry on.' Caught in a dilemma, the Italian supplied some family wisdom: 'I suggested what my grandmother always told me as a child - go to sleep and decide tomorrow.'
Within hours of the satellite phone conversation, the GOR Race Director, Josh Hall, sent an email confirming the decision made by Buckley Systems and Campagne de France. 'I only then realise it’s for real,' admits Nannini. 'I stop watching the latest Jennifer Aniston film on the computer - a masterpiece of great acting and intense storyline that surely deserves my undivided attention - and wake up Hugo.' The two skippers discussed this new development. 'It is sad to see two boats doing a U-turn and the fear of damage is always strong, so I hope that we’ll carry on sailing in safety with no surprises all the way to the finish line,' he adds. 'This storm is over and we are again under full mainsail and headsail, heading in the right direction,' reported Nannini on Saturday morning. 'Who knows what the future of the race will bring, but I hope to find a movie to watch that does not require external drama to thicken the plot!'
In the 15:00 GMT position poll on Saturday, Nannini and Ramon were 72 miles behind Cessna Citation – a gain for Financial Crisis of 32 miles in 24 hours as Colman and Kuttel remain trapped in light airs averaging under three knots.
While Nannini and Ramon digested the bad news, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire were in action on the foredeck of Phesheya-Racing as the tack shackle on their staysail broke in the relentless upwind pounding. They bore away, clipped on and went to investigate: 'We got out the hack-saw and cut most of it off,' says Hutton-Squire. 'It was very cold out there, but running down wind was so peaceful and relaxing compared to being beaten up all the time.' The South Africans replaced the shackle swiftly. 'It was blowing well over 30 knots by this time so we took the opportunity to reef the stay sail.'
Although life on the foredeck upwind is hellish and risky, conditions are far from ideal down below on Phesheya-Racing: 'It has been difficult getting any sleep as part of the time you are airborne,' continues Hutton-Squire. 'Yesterday I was standing to get my gear on and fell over as we went bashing over another wave,' she adds. 'So you have to be very careful where you position yourself and I have been cooking and eating as close to the floor as possible, while going to the loo is another hard chore as you have to balance to get you gear off and on again!'
The South Africans reported 25-30 knots on Saturday morning with huge seas and as the three boats approach the most remote area of the Pacific with the nearest inhabited land 1,000 miles to the north in French Polynesia, the teams have been in regular contact. 'I spoke to Conrad last night and he said that the weather is looking up for them,' says Hutton-Squire as Phesheya-Racing trails Cessna Citation by just over 200 miles and Financial Crisis by 146 miles. 'Marco has been sending us emails on a regular basis to let us know about his weather and motivate us forward,' she continues. 'The guys in front of us have been very kind and we have all agreed to stick together.'
As the three teams come to terms with the changes in the fleet for the remainder of leg three, the Dutch skipper of GOR entry, Sec. Hayai, Nico Budel, has replaced the mast he lost shortly after the start of leg two in Cape Town and will soon leave South Africa to re-join the GOR fleet in Uruguay. GOR leaderboard at 15:00 GMT 04/02/2012
1. Cessna Citation DTF 4708 2.4kts
2. Financial Crisis DTL 72 7.8kts
3. Phesheya-Racing DTL 218 6.5kts Global Ocean Race website