Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR) fleet continue on the third leg of racing, from Wellington to Punta del Este.
Following half a day hove-to with autopilot problems at 45S, right in the middle of the South Pacific, the GOR’s South African team of Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire were back on the move with Class40 Phesheya-Racing at 19:30 GMT on Tuesday, but the duo’s fight is only half-won with a tropical cyclone tearing towards them.
Meanwhile, 600 miles to the south-east, race leaders, Conrad Colman and Adrian Kuttel on Cessna Citation and the Italian-Spanish duo of Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon chasing hard in second place with Financial Crisis have finally hooked into southerly breeze after seven days of beating and are making rapid progress towards the southern limit of the bluQube Scoring Gate.
Friends and family of the South African team held their breath throughout Tuesday as Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire hove-to for the second time in two days. Becoming isolated and exposed as Cessna Citation and Financial Crisis disappear into the Pacific to their east and with the nearest land a group of uninhabited, volcanic rocks 900 miles to the north at the southern limit of French Polynesia, Leggatt and Hutton-Squire must sail with boat preservation an immediate priority.
On Sunday, exceptionally confused seas forced the duo to heave-to and ride out a storm, but once underway as the maelstrom subsided, the autopilots on Phesheya-Racing continued to drop out, throwing the Class40 into a succession of crash tacks. The South Africans hove-to a second time and Nick Leggatt retired to the lazarette armed with a tool box and grim determination. 'We spent much of the night hove-to with both pilots in pieces, emailing and phoning NKE and Raymarine to try and find a solution,' Leggatt reported soon after Phesheya-Racing was underway again on Tuesday night GMT. 'With the time difference in Europe it was essential to work non-stop through the night to find a solution while the manufacturers were still at work.'
After trying every fault-finding trick in the manual and some thorough diagnostics, the problems were identified: 'It seems to be that the brushes on the electric motor for the hydraulic pump are worn, so that’s not working at all at the moment,' reveals Leggatt. The second pilot was more of a challenge: 'There’s a problem with the NKE computer not activating the clutch on the ram,' he explains. 'We tried to swap computers, but that didn't work either, so Raymarine finally suggested that we bypass the computer and put a direct 12-volt feed to the clutch to engage it permanently.' The experimentation was a success and the South Africans continued racing under triple-reefed main and storm jib as a grey dawn broke over the Southern Ocean.
However, the hard times aren’t over for Leggatt and Hutton-Squire as Tropical Cyclone Cyril, 1,000 miles NNW of Phesheya-Racing, looks certain to cause further frustration. Nick Leggatt explains: 'Cyril is forecast to move SE at a speed of 30 knots and eventually pass between us and the bluQube Scoring Gate as a deep low pressure gale on Saturday.' The weather system is forecast to sit directly on the track Phesheya-Racing would have chosen to the gate, blasting the South Africans with 30-40-knot headwinds. The southerly route taken by the leading two boats is, consequently, unavailable.
The alternative is to lock into the southerly breeze spinning off the top and back of the system, but timing the rendezvous with Cyril is crucial. 'On the bright side, it does mean that once the system is south of us we will at last have some downwind sailing!' comments Leggatt cheerfully. 'This constant beating has taken a huge toll on both us and the boat and we will need to monitor this weather system closely, but if we play our cards right we could be sailing downwind in three days,' he adds. 'We can only dream...' In the 15:00 GMT position poll on Wednesday, Phesheya-Racing was heading NNE at 7.8 knots for the appointment with Cyclone Cyril.
For the two front runners, a brief visit to the Furious Fifties on Tuesday has been followed by a rapid ascent to the bluQube Scoring Gate’s southern limit at 47S. Since tacking onto starboard at 50S, speed averages rose as the breeze clocked south with Nannini and Ramon clipping over ten-knot averages on Financial Crisis and hunting hard for every fraction of a knot. 'We’re racing round the world with a knife in our teeth and we’re fighting for every mile with Cessna,' reported Hugo Ramon on Wednesday morning. 'However, we lost some miles because we had to lower the mainsail and replace the broken leech line,' he explains.
In the 15:00 GMT position poll on Wednesday, Conrad Colman and Adrian Kuttel had added 20 miles to their lead over Financial Crisis in 24 hours with Nannini and Ramon trailing by 101 miles and 440 miles remaining to the scoring gate for Cessna Citation. On their four year-old, first generation Akilaria, Nannini and Ramon know that Colman and Kuttel’s Akilaria RC2 is a formidable weapon: 'We have to remember that this is a marathon with a lot of miles ahead and not a sprint,' says the Spanish skipper. 'In this hand-to-hand combat, we are waiting for Cessna Citation to make an error, and then we pounce,' he explains. 'On flat out speed, we haven’t a hope as Cessna goes like a bullet,' adds Ramon, mindful of Colman’s outstanding GOR 24-hour run record of 359 miles. 'So, instead of just following them, we’ve established some lateral separation and this might just give us different and better winds.' GOR leaderboard 15:00 GMT 8/2/12:
1. Cessna Citation DTF 4046 9.5kts
2. Financial Crisis DTL 101 8.2kts
3. Phesheya-Racing DTL 666 7.8kts Global Ocean Race website