Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR) fleet are into their second week at sea on the third leg of racing from Wellington to Punta del Este.
On Sunday afternoon GMT, Conrad Colman and Adrian Kuttel on Cessna Citation, leading the GOR Class40s through the Southern Ocean, ran straight into a band of light wind stretching across the Pacific’s high latitudes with speed averages plummeting to below three knots. Further north-west, Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon in second on Financial Crisis have held the breeze as they approach 54S, taking a massive 117 miles from Colman and Kuttel in 24 hours. West of the bluQube Scoring Gate, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire have made solid progress dropping south through the Roaring Forties in remarkable conditions with Phesheya-Racing.
While Colman and Kuttel have been leading the fleet through the currently calm Furious Fifties, Adrian Kuttel took the opportunity to attend to his badly infected fingernails – a problem that arose through diesel spilt in the Class40’s bilge during the upwind pounding west of the scoring gate. 'This was a high priority as it was affecting the sailing,' confirms the 44 year-old South African who was finding handling sheets and tying knots extremely difficult with swollen and tender fingers. Kuttel assembled the appropriate tools for the self-administered procedure: 'In this case, the sharp knife blade in my trusty - if somewhat rusty - Leatherman and, after much deliberation and internal debate, a wet wipe from our ever-dwindling supply,' he explains.
The process is not for the squeamish. 'Works procedure was to scratch around the infected fingernail until a point of entry behind the fingernail could be found and the wound could be lanced,' says Kuttel. 'Next step was to grunt up, clench jaw, and squeeze the infected fingertip until all the gunk had been expunged via the hole created during the earlier surgical procedure with the Leatherman.' This was then repeated a further nine times. 'There was varying degrees of discharge with the amount of discharge being in direct proportion to pain,' he adds. Kuttel is now using antiseptic cream on his damaged hands and his fingers are improving rapidly.
Meanwhile, the Italian-Spanish duo on Financial Crisis were making eight knots in the 15:00 GMT position poll on Monday, trailing Cessna Citation by 141 miles as Colman and Kuttel slowed to below two knots. The remoteness of their current location is getting to Hugo Ramon. 'We are now getting a very long way south,' reports the Spanish yachtsman as they close in on 54S. 'It is now more inhospitable and colder than I’ve ever experienced before,' he continues. 'The closest speck of land is an uninhabited lump of rock about 1,700 miles to the north, which is almost the same distance as we have to Cape Horn in front of us.'
The isolation in the Southern Ocean is total: 'If there was an emergency down here, any quick rescue would be hard to organise,' Ramon advises. 'Rescue helicopters simply don’t have the range to reach us and although planes could reach us and drop supplies and equipment, they couldn’t pick us up.' There is also a total absence of shipping: 'We’re a long way from commercial routes, so there’s no chance of a merchant ship diverting towards us,' he adds.
In reality, there is only one option available: 'Conrad and Adrian would be our only hope and turning Cessna Citation around and beating back to our current position would take around 30 hours,' he calculates. 'So although we are fighting for every mile to the finish, one thing overcomes the competitive racing: offshore solidarity,' states Ramon. 'Philippe Poupon and Raphael Dinelli - to mention only two – will never, ever forget Loïc Peyron and Pete Goss who saved them.' In the inaugural 1989-90 Vendée Globe, Peyron rescued Poupon from his capsized ketch, Fleury Michon X, and Goss turned round and sailed his Open 50 Aqua Corum upwind through gales to rescue Dinelli from his sinking yacht in the Indian Ocean during the 1996-97 Vendée Globe. 'The members of this marine union know that to turn back and suspend racing to rescue a fellow competitor is a moral obligation, not a legal necessity.'
To the north-west of Financial Crisis by 950 miles and 470 miles from the bluQube Scoring Gate at 15:00 GMT on Monday, Leggatt and Hutton-Squire are amazed by the conditions at 46S: 'After a cool night, the sun rose, the cloud cover cleared and blue sky paid us a visit,' reported Phillippa Hutton-Squire on Monday morning. 'The whole day has been sunny with blue sky at times and on top of that, it has been warm and we have not worn our boots at all. I keep asking myself are we in the South Pacific or not?' The South Africans have been averaging between seven and ten knots for the past 24 hours and the following wind is forecast to keep with them as the cross the gate.
Leggatt and Hutton-Squire have used the stable conditions to carry out work on Phesheya-Racing: 'We finished installing the Garmin Chart plotter last night and it worked first time with no hiccups,' Hutton-Squire continues. 'Now we can use the radar on the Garmin plotter from down below to monitor ice as we head south,' she adds. 'Once we have rounded the Horn, we’ll use it to find fishing boats too.' During the early stages of GOR Leg 1 from Palma to Cape Town, poorly-lit fishing boats were a constant hazard off the coast of Africa. 'As they don’t have AIS, we could not see them from down below, but now with our newly installed Garmin plotter, we can monitor things carefully from the chart table.' GOR leaderboard at 15:00 GMT 13/2/12:
1. Cessna Citation DTF 2899 1.9kts
2. Financial Crisis DTL 141 8.2kts
3. Phesheya-Racing DTL 1097 8.4kts Global Ocean Race website