Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR) first week of the third leg, from Wellington to Punta del Este, so far has been the most demanding of the entire circumnavigation.
The five double handed Class40s have faced strong conditions from within hours of the start in Wellington, New Zealand, on Sunday 29 January.
Conrad Colman and Adrian Kuttel led the fleet in to Cook Strait from the shelter of Wellington Harbour with Cessna Citation right into 30-knot headwinds and big seas forcing the fleet to reef for the first night at sea. As light faded, Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron took pole position with Campagne de France as Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon split from the fleet and took Financial Crisis on a flyer south parallel to the coast of South Island.
As the main pack of the fleet dropped south-east leaving Chatham Island to port, the leadership changed constantly and the speeds increased with Ross and Campbell Field on Buckley Systems delivering the highest average of 14 knots with Campagne de France, Cessna Citation and the South African duo of Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire on Phesheya-Racing all polling averages of 13+ knots.
By Wednesday, Financial Crisis had re-joined the group as the fleet prepared for strong south-easterly headwinds with Buckley Systems leading and 20 miles separating the front three boats with Campagne de France furthest south a 49 degrees. Beating into a Force 8-9 gale with the boats hurled through immense seas took its toll and 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, 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 in Auckland, 1,000 miles to the west, with Mabire and Merron making the same call.
As the reality of two boats heading for New Zealand sank in for the remaining three GOR Class40s, Cessna Citation, Financial Crisis and Phesheya-Racing were in constant contact as they weathered the gale and pushed deeper into the high latitudes of the Southern Ocean. On Saturday, with a lead of 80 miles over Financial Crisis, Colman and Kuttel fell into light airs with Cessna Citation while Nannini and Ramon and the South Africans on Phesheya-Racing continued plugging upwind closing down the gap.
Late on Saturday, however, Cessna Citation was back up to speed and by 15:00 GMT on Sunday, the trio were all on port tack in the Roaring Forties with Nannini and Ramon on Financial Crisis taking the deficit to Colman and Kuttel down to 63 miles with Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire trailing Financial Crisis by 167 miles and locked into the weather system keeping pace with them to the north of Phesheya-Racing.
At 45 degrees South, Leggatt was confused by barometric mixed messages: 'If the barometer is perfectly steady for 48 hours and it is neither high nor low, but pegged at Standard Atmospheric Pressure of 1013mb, what weather would you expect?' he asks. 'Well, aboard Phesheya-Racing in the Southern Ocean I can tell you that we are not experiencing the pleasant, settled conditions you might expect,' he reports. 'Even with the above scenario, the near-gale force headwinds have continued to blow for yet another day while a cold drizzle envelopes the boat,' says the 44 year-old South Afrcan. 'Obviously, we are staying in much the same position relative to the pressure systems at the moment, so as the song goes: ‘You always take the weather with you’!'
For the near future, there is no sign of a break in the strong headwinds with a forecast for 30+ knots over the next 12 hours marking the fleet’s fifth consecutive day of hammering upwind. GOR Leaderboard at 15:00 GMT 05/02/2012:
1. Cessna Citation DTF 4551 6.4kts
2. Financial Crisis DTL 63 6kts
3. Phesheya-Racing DTL 230 6.8kts Global Ocean Race website