Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR) fleet continue to face strong conditions during the third leg, from Wellington to Punta del Este.
Throughout Sunday, thoughts of competitive racing were temporarily suspended for one of the Class40s in the Southern Ocean as the South African team on Phesheya-Racing was forced to heave-to in strong headwinds and confused seas.
Furthest south at 48 degrees leading the trio, Conrad Colman and Adrian Kuttel missed the worst of the gale with Cessna Citation while Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon were barrelling south-east away from the storm on Financial Crisis as Phesheya-Racing rode out ferocious conditions and successfully preserved their boat.
By 22:00 GMT on Sunday, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire were in the teeth of the gale with Phesheya-Racing at 44S: 'The wind is not too bad but the risk of hull or rig damage is significant if we attempt to keep to any reasonable course in these seas,' reported Leggatt as the team’s track on the GOR Race Viewer became sporadic and tripped alarm bells at GOR HQ. 'So we figured it is simply more prudent to stop right here and ride it out.' On Sunday evening, Phesheya-Racing was battered by around 30 knots and short, very step seas churning and boiling due to the rapid wind shift from south-easterly to north-easterly and the future prospects looked increasingly grim. 'The wind is currently near gale force, but the forecast from New Zealand is for gale force soon and the GRIB files are showing even more wind,' continued Leggatt.
Coincidentally, Nick Leggatt had been forced to heave-to in precisely the same area during his second circumnavigation on Tony Bullimore’s 105ft catamaran, Daedalus, in the 2005 Oryx Quest Round-The-World Race and he and Hutton-Squire pulled-off a text book manoeuvre under triple-reefed mainsail and staysail, lying at 35-40 degrees to the wind with the helm lashed to leeward, before dispensing with staysail entirely.
By mid-morning on Monday the gale had passed: 'We’re finally underway again,' reported Phillippa Hutton-Squire in a brief email to the GOR Race Organisation. 'Still directly upwind, but the wind suddenly dropped to 15 knots, as forecast, and the sea has moderated very quickly,' she adds. By 15:00 GMT on Monday, Phesheya-Racing was making just over six knots. 'We’re well rested and ready to go again,' confirmed Hutton-Squire. 'It is pitch dark and drizzling still, so we have started off a bit conservatively but at least we are sailing.'
For Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon, conditions were fractionally better, but remained extremely uncomfortable: 'After a little break of lighter conditions when the wind switched from south-easterly to north-easterly, we are again beating our brains to mash in 30-35 knots of wind under triple reefed main and staysail,' reported Nannini as Financial Crisis hammered south-east through the Roaring Forties. 'We’re doing well on board and have adopted a six-hours-on and six-hours-off watch system,' explains the Italian skipper. 'This allows us to eat, trim, email, check the weather and perhaps watch a movie during your watch, followed by a long rest in the bunk.'
However, the word ‘rest’ at 47S on a 40-foot yacht in Force 7 is relative: 'You don’t really get to sleep the entire time as the slamming and banging is so loud and uncomfortable that you just drift in an out a weird state of daydreaming,' Nannini confirms. 'Outside it's so wet that I've even given up on going out for a piss, and when nature calls I piss in a bucket then chuck it into the cockpit through the companion way,' he adds. While personal hygiene standards have clearly suffered on Financial Crisis, Nannini and Ramon were making a little under eight-knot averages on Monday afternoon, trailing Cessna Citation by 75 miles.
Meanwhile, on the leading Class40 Cessna Citation, Conrad Colman’s South African co-skipper, Adrian Kuttel, summed-up the disappointment of two of the fleet heading for New Zealand: 'When we heard that the Fields on Buckley Systems and Campagne de France were bailing out and heading for Auckland, it threw us,' admitted Kuttel on Monday morning. 'The weather down the track is not great, but we have managed to fix all of our problems on the boat,' he confirms. With two highly competitive Class40s removed from leg three, motivation to continue was under threat, but Colman and Kuttel opted to keep racing and fulfil the objective of rounding Cape Horn and finishing leg three: 'So, after a satellite call to the remaining two boats in the race, we decided to stick with what we set out to do and continue the race to Uruguay,' he adds.
The recent communication silence from Cessna Citation was forced by constant work on board since the start: 'We blew the tack on the staysail halyard; developed a diesel leak down below; discovered serious issues with slack rigging in the mast and our hydro-generator that charges the batteries stopped working,' reports Kuttel. 'Conrad had to go up the rig three times while below the diesel turned the boat into an ice rink,' he explains.
In the 15:00 GMT position poll on Monday, Cessna Citation was averaging 8.2 knots and had just dropped below 49S. 'We are back into 25 knots of wind again with lots of bang, bang going into each wave which we suspect will be the case until we reach the first mid-ocean scoring gate,' says the South African skipper. 'Sitting anywhere requires three limbs to stabilise ourselves and we move around the boat like monkeys from hand hold to hand hold.' With the southern limit of the bluQube Scoring Gate 800 miles ENE of Cessna Citation, Colman and Kuttel should be able to reach up to the virtual waypoint as the wind clocks round to the south-west in around 24-36 hours. Until then, there are two options facing Cessna Citation and Financial Crisis: a costly tack north-east, or head further south into an area where ice is a known risk.
Meanwhile, 1,300 miles to the north-west, the Fields on Buckley Systems and Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron on Campagne de France are just 200 miles from New Zealand. Halvard Mabire has immense respect for the three Class40s heading east: 'We are, of course, following with admiration our brave fellow sailors who are continuing their route towards the east, come what may,' says the 55 year-old round-the-world veteran. Withdrawing from leg three was a very tough call for Mabire and Merron: 'Campagne de France has already carried us to the far side of the world and we intend to get home with the boat in one piece and in good condition,' Mabire confirms. 'We will have to get over our huge disappointment to tackle the various problems that have arisen with this unforeseen scenario,' he explains. 'But real life is like that - if everything always went perfectly to plan, the world would be a boring place.'
The GOR’s Race Ambassador, Dee Caffari, has been watching events unfold in the Southern Ocean: 'I felt terrible to hear the news of two boats retiring from this leg of the race, but relieved that both crews had made a seamanship decision,' comments Caffari. 'Injury or illness is every shorthanded sailor’s nightmare and dealing with that in uncomfortable upwind conditions is not ideal, combined with the fact that there is a huge expanse of ocean to cross before another safe haven is available makes seamanship decisions crucial,' she continues. 'At all times when racing you are responsible for both the vessel and the people on board and I am pleased both parties are safe.'
Caffari has completed three circumnavigation races and one single-handed, round-the-world record attempt, so she is entirely familiar with the environment facing the GOR Class40s: 'Each day, weather information is downloaded, routing is planned, a sail plan is decided upon and food and drink provided,' she explains. 'The teams have no let up and on top of these things, the teams also look after the boats, repair the broken parts, charge the batteries and look after each other and try and find time to sleep and rest,' says Caffari. 'All the time this is going on the teams are also making crucial decisions on seamanship and safety, so we must remember this as we follow the leg across the Pacific Ocean and congratulate the remaining three boats racing and keep our fingers crossed that the fleet can return to six boats in Punta del Este for the final legs.' GOR leaderboard 15:00 GMT 06/02/12:
1. Cessna Citation DTF 4401 8.2kts
2. Financial Crisis DTL 75 7.8kts
3. Phesheya-Racing DTL 377 6.8kts Global Ocean Race website