Team Mowgli past scoring gate
As Team Mowgli climbed northwards, conditions changed rapidly on board: “As we fell out of the main current of the Gulf Stream, the water temperature dropped sharply,” says Salvesen. “Falling more than 10 degrees in 12 hours and for the first time since not very far north from Cape Horn, we are now digging out our thermal tops once more. I think we have been softened by the tropics for too long!”
Since mid-evening on Saturday, the entire fleet has picked up speed and in the 0620 UTC position poll on Sunday, Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz on Desafio Cabo de Hornos are polling the highest average at 11.4 knots. As the Chilean team climbed north to avoid the clutches of the Azores High, Cubillos and Muñoz converged with the German duo of Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme on Beluga Racer with the distance between the two boats shrinking to 26 miles early on Sunday morning. Since then, the extra pace of the Chilean duo has seen the gap widen to 45 miles with the Germans currently averaging nine knots.
While the two fleet leaders are now clear of the ice limit at 41° N, Salvesen and Thomson are pinned down below this barrier although speeds have remained high on board Team Mowgli with the distance deficit to the leaders continuing to fall and the British duo are currently making just under 11 knots, 214 miles west of Desafio Cabo de Hornos. Despite being separated from the double-handed fleet, solo sailor Michel Kleinjans and Roaring Forty have kept pace with the Class 40s and the distance to the leading double-handed boat has remained at 500 miles for the past 24 hours with the Belgian yachtsman averaging between 8-10 knots as he climbs north with approximately 180 miles remaining to the scoring gate.
Chasing hard in second place on Beluga Racer, the battle with the Chilean team has been the focal point for Herrmann and Oehme for the past eight months. “There is a land on the other side of the world,” wrote Herrmann early on Sunday. “And on that land there is a country, and in that country there is a rock, and on that rock there stands a man with a striped shirt holding a flag. This country on the opposite side of the world includes Cape Horn and is filled with keen sailors and these sailors have an attitude,” continued Herrmann referring to Chile and the distinctive red and white banded crew gear of Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz.
“Without this country and this man we would not be who we are today,” admits the German skipper. “Today, as always, we are hunting through the night, bouncing over the sea and leaving a white tail behind us. We are hunting an opponent that we will probably never catch.” With just over 1,300 miles remaining until the Portimão finish line, the competition at the front of the fleet will be intense. “Is this an infinite duel?” wonders Herrmann. “What are we going to do in one week when this race is over?” he asks. “This race has become the very meaning for our existence and when it finishes, will we just disappear? Will we continue to hunt in our dreams? Will we climb rocks and hold flags?”
Although Beluga Racer have now secured overall winning points in the Portimão Global Ocean Race by crossing the Leg 5 Scoring Gate in second place, the chase is far from over and for Herrmann and Oehme the ultimate score total has become insignificant. “No, there is no end, no mercy,” confirms Herrmann. “We will hunt each other to the north, then to the west and later to the south. We can both win or lose points in this game and with these points we profit. But we do not play for a living. That’s not the point and we have this attitude as well,” he explains. “We did not start this race to find the grail in the Southern Ocean, or to round the Horn, or to just sail around the world. We have an attitude and approach that is both very complicated and very simple. The simple part is that we never surrender no matter how complicated our mission will be and that's what we’ve learnt from the man with the flag,” admits Herrmann. “Man with the flag, you are fantastic! Your attitude has become our inspiration.”
With around a week of racing remaining in the circumnavigation, it is certain that the intense level of competition will leave an indelible mark on both the Chilean and German teams. “In my dreams I look over the sea and I see a man with stripes and we hunt him forever,” says Herrmann. “We cannot catch him, but we get more points. He is fantastic but we just cannot catch him. But we need him. To become a beautiful winner, we need that fantastic opponent with stripes and flags.”
For the Chilean duo, the aim of winning the final leg and arriving first in Portimão has been a priority and the recent decrease in the lead held by Desafio Cabo de Hornos has been tough for Cubillos and Muñoz as their bright red Class 40 ran into light airs on Friday night. “The night wasn’t easy for us with the total lack of breeze,” reported Cubillos on Saturday. However, the Chilean skipper is always able to find a positive component in any situation: “This was fully compensated as the moon climbed over the horizon,” he described. “I have never seen it looking like this: it wasn’t orange, it wasn’t yellow, it was red, red like an intense fire, like a flaming torch that has risen from the dark depths to illuminate everything.”
As speeds dropped to single figures for the Chilean duo, the moon brought relief. “Last night we sailed with little wind but with this vision of the horizon,” says Cubillos. “This whole circumnavigation would have been worth it just for a night like that.” With the breeze forecast to pick up, the Chileans are now ready for action. “We have just dedicated ourselves to prepare and sharpen the boat for the final combat,” he explains. “We are now in the same wind as the Germans, and sailing faster although the transition from the Azores High to the breeze closer to the European continent is going to be very complex.” Currently 330 miles north-west of Flores in the Azores Archipelago, Cubillos and Muñoz have hooked into SSW breeze that is forecast to swing further to the south-west and build to around 17 knots by late Sunday night providing fast, off wind conditions. With the sprint to the finish about to begin, Cubillos and Muñoz sent a message to the German team. “We have sent an email to our great rivals congratulating them for their tremendous come back and wishing them great success in this final battle,” says Cubillos.
Leaderboard 0620 UTC Sunday 14 June:
1. Desafio Cabo de Hornos – DTL 0.0nm Spd 11.4 kts
2. Beluga Racer – DTL 45nm Spd 9 kts
3. Team Mowgli – DTL 214nm Spd 10.9 kts
1. Roaring Forty – DTL 0.0nm Spd 9.5 kts