Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR) fleet have started their second week at sea on the third leg of racing from Wellington to Punta del Este.
The three Class40s still racing east began with continued strong headwinds in the Roaring Forties on Sunday 5th February. Today marked the fifth consecutive day of headwinds and furthest north, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire in third with Phesheya-Racing hove-to in short steep seas as the leaders, Conrad Colman and Adrian Kuttel on Cessna Citation dropped south to 48S chased hard by Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon with Financial Crisis.
On Tuesday, Phesheya-Racing hove-to a second time to fix problems with their primary and secondary autopilots and while conditions moderated slightly for the two boats further south, more strong headwinds were forecast as the fleet approached the mid-Pacific, bluQube Scoring Gate. Having monitored the weather forecasts closely, the GOR Race Committee made the decision to extend the southern limit of the scoring gate by 180 miles early on Thursday morning, shifting the waypoint from 47S to 50S having evaluated that the boats were passed an area of ice south-west of the gate and the threat of beating into a gale in the most remote section of leg three represented an unacceptable risk to the teams.
With the freedom of movement increased and the first taste of off-wind sailing for ten days, Cessna Citation pushed hard, recording averages of over 14 knots and rocketed through the bluQube Scoring Gate taking the maximum six points on Friday, followed through the virtual door by Nannini and Ramon on Saturday with Financial Crisis, handicapped by the destruction of their A2 spinnaker in a pilot error-enforced knockdown.
As Nannini and Ramon reached the gate, an area of high pressure put the brakes on hard with Cessna Citation pulling away through the Furious Fifties. As the leading duo dropped south-east towards Cape Horn, the South Africans on Phesheya-Racing finally escaped the clutches of headwinds and steep seas and picked up the pace towards the scoring gate.
By 15:00 GMT on Sunday, Leggatt and Hutton-Squire were averaging just under seven knots. 'We still have the same ingredients of warm tropical air rotating around a low pressure system, bringing wind and rain, but it’s no longer the same menacing beast that was threatening tropical islands just a few days ago,' reported Nick Leggatt from 44S early on Sunday morning. 'The warm, moist air has also caused patches of fog interspersed with rain squalls and gusty, shifty winds, so we are still sailing somewhat conservatively while we wait for things to settle.'
With around 640 miles remaining to the bluQube Scoring Gate, the wind should clock round to the north briefly over the next 24 hours, but the South Africans are currently running dead downwind: 'We have already put in a couple of gybes today to try and stick to the best course possible,' confirms Leggatt as Phesheya-Racing works south through the Roaring Forties. 'We’ve had the A4 spinnaker up and down as the wind has gusted quite strongly at times and with menacing rain clouds all about, we’re taking it easy for the moment,' he adds.
Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon broke free from the worst of the light airs over Saturday night GMT, slowing the rapid growth in distance deficit to Cessna Citation caused by the unavoidable area of high pressure. By 15:00 GMT on Sunday, Cessna Citation had fallen into a band of light breeze and speed averages dropped below six knots for Colman and Kuttel while Financial Crisis began to take back some miles, trailing the leaders by 258 miles on Sunday afternoon.
The brief lull in activity at the scoring gate provided Nannini with a chance to reflect on the endless upwind hammering to the scoring gate: 'These were hard-earned miles, certainly some of the hardest sailing conditions I ever met,' admits the Italian skipper. 'When I saw we had some 1,400 miles to the gate, all upwind, I thought back to the OSTAR 2009, my first transatlantic race,' recalls Nannini. 'That was certainly the mother of all upwind races and it gave me some extra confidence,' he explains. 'Sometimes when you sail upwind for several days, the morale sinks low and you start thinking that you'll never make it; that the boat cannot survive the battering; progress is slow and the prospects look bleak,' continues Nannini.
The bluQube Scoring Gate marked a turning point for Nannini and Ramon: 'Then, after nearly two weeks of hard core sailing, the best part of which was spent beating upwind in very tough conditions, including an early Force 9 storm that prompted two boats to retire, we are finally through the scoring gate taking second place,' says Nannini. While the gate’s points system provides added incentive to push hard throughout the leg, there is a second purpose for the virtual line: 'It forces the fleet to take a more northerly route from New Zealand to Cape Horn avoiding the worst of an area of known icebergs,' he comments.
With Financial Crisis reporting a sharp drop in seawater temperature on Saturday, Hugo Ramon is remaining extremely alert as the leading two boats approach a second zone of reported ice. 'We’ve had some enormous waves which are stopping us making a good course and any real speed,' reported the Spanish sailor shortly before they picked up speed on Saturday night. 'So, if there are icebergs out there, rather than crashing straight into one, it’s more likely a berg will drift right into us!' he believes. 'I suppose, in a worst-case scenario, we could climb onto the iceberg, build an igloo and wait to be rescued!' GOR leaderboard 15:00 GMT 12/2/12:
1. Cessna Citation DTF 2976 5.4kts
2. Financial Crisis 258 8.2kts
3. Phesheya-Racing 1225 6.9kts Global Ocean Race website