Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR) fleet are on the third leg of racing and fortunes for the three Class40s still racing have shifted sideways in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Fleet leaders, Conrad Colman and Adrian Kuttel on Cessna Citation out ran a light-winds high pressure ridge and are likely to attach to the back of low pressure system as they head south-east towards Cape Horn in remarkably benign conditions. Meanwhile, Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon holding second place with Financial Crisis ran straight into the light conditions at 50S as they squeezed round the southern waypoint of the bluQube Scoring Gate and to the north-west, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire have finally found the long-awaited offwind sailing following an horrific night in boat breaking seas with Phesheya-Racing.
At 52S, the Kiwi-South African duo of Colman and Kuttel have been making steady progress on Cessna Citation having cleared the bluQube Scoring Gate: 'For all the talk of the Roaring Forties and Furious Fifties, we are currently tootling along at eight knots in light breeze and sunshine and the remaining miles to Cape Horn are forecast to be reasonably pleasant,' Colman confirmed early on Saturday morning. However, the team’s approach to the virtual gate had been a hard slog: 'Adrian and I were finally able to crack off from the tight angles we had been sailing and make tracks under spinnaker,' he explains. 'As the wind built we shifted from the big ‘Citation’ spinnaker to the smaller, tougher ‘Caravan’ high-wind spinnaker,' adds the 28 year-old Kiwi skipper. 'Hunkered down in truck mode, it was fantastic to have Cessna back up to speed if only for a few position reports and as I saw that we would have a few more hours of favourable wind than Marco and Hugo on Financial Crisis, so with coffee in hand I pulled some long hours on the helm to help push home our advantage.'
In the 15:00 GMT position poll on Saturday, Cessna Citation had extended their lead to 247 miles. 'For that invested effort we have now got our interest back as Financial Crisis has now been caught by the chasing ridge, so the elastic that connects us continues to stretch,' observes Colman. Currently sailing close to Point Nemo – the most geographically remote piece of water on the planet - Colman is feeling the physical isolation. 'We are so far away from land right now that flight commander Dan Burbank and his five crew on the International Space Station are closer to solid ground right now than we are!' Indeed, as Burbank and his crew looped through the Pacific en route to Chile and onto the station’s north-easterly arc through the South Atlantic and into the Northern Hemisphere, they passed overhead of Cessna Citation at around 14:00 GMT and at an altitude of 218nm, the space ship was fractionally closer to Colman and Kuttel than Nannini and Ramon on Financial Crisis.
Meanwhile, as the Italian-Spanish team on Financial Crisis crossed the bluQube Scoring Gate in the middle of the Southern Ocean night, collecting five hard-earned points and sailing close to 50S at 07:00 GMT on Saturday, Hugo Ramon was on high alert for ice: 'We spent the night glued to the radar screen monitoring any strange movements or objects,' says the GOR’s youngest competitor. 'The water temperature had just dropped sharply and this is never a good sign for safety!'
As dawn broke and the unseen horrors of the night receded, Ramon and Nannini had to watch Cessna Citation heading off into the distance as speed averages on their first generation Akilaria Class40 remained between four to six knots. 'Unfortunately, Adrian Kuttel and Conrad Colman are getting away from us for many reasons,' confirms the Spanish skipper as Cessna Citation added 68 miles to their lead in 24 hours. 'First is because they are sailing very well; secondly because we’ve got zero wind and they have some good breeze and, thirdly, they might carry these conditions all the way to Cape Horn.' The duo is also handicapped by the recent loss of their masthead asymmetric spinnaker through severe damage: 'Our poor A2,' mourns Ramon. 'It’s now in a heap in the forepeak and on my next round-the-world race I’m taking a sewing machine Volvo Ocean Race-style!'
In third place, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire had a final pasting on Phesheya-Racing in the north before the wind freed-off: 'We hove-to early this morning in probably the worst sea conditions we have seen yet,' reported Phillippa Hutton-Squire early on Saturday. 'The boat was jumping from wave to wave, slamming down on every single one. I really thought we were going to lose the rig at one point as it shuddered when we crashed down from each wave.' At dawn, conditions began to moderate slightly. 'We woke up to sunshine, the wind had started to ease and swing round, but the sea state was still awful,' she continues.
By the afternoon, Phesheya-Racing was in the dead zone right in the eye of Tropical Cyclone Cyril: 'We were completely becalmed and not really going anywhere,' says Hutton-Squire. 'It was grey and miserable with a bit of misty rain.' The barometer dropped fast, then began to rise quickly: 'Since then, the wind has increased and the sea has begun to sort itself out.' Phesheya-Racing began picking up speed at 09:00 GMT on Saturday and the South Africans were averaging just over eight knots at 15:00 GMT. 'The waves are about 3.4 metres, which for the Southern Ocean is not big at all,' she notes. 'After ten days of upwind sailing our bones, body and mind have a chance to catch up and it’s a wonderful feeling drinking a cup of tea without having to worry about catching your tea in the cup as you slam down on a wave!' GOR leaderboard at 15:00 GMT 11/2/12:
1. Cessna Citation DTF 3185 10.2kts
2. Financial Crisis 247 8.4kts
3. Phesheya-Racing DTL 1189 8.1kts Global Ocean Race website