300 to the scoring gate

Portimão Global Ocean Race forge out into the Atlantic

Wednesday June 10th 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
As the Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet continue to climb northeast towards the scoring gate and ice limit, the two leading double-handed Class 40s continue to remain locked together. Over the past 24 hours the distance between race leader Desafio Cabo de Hornos and second place Beluga Racer expanded by 20 miles and in the latest 0620 UTC position poll this morning (10/06), the deficit between the Chilean duo of Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz and the German team of Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme is 71 miles with approximately 300 miles remaining to the scoring gate at 45°W. In around 14 knots of north-westerly breeze, Desafio Cabo de Hornos is currently averaging 10 knots – one knot faster than Beluga Racer.

West of the fleet leaders and in less stable conditions, the British duo of Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson on Team Mowgli and solo sailor Michel Kleinjans on Roaring Forty have been picking up speed with Salvesen and Thomson currently averaging 7.2 knots 288 miles behind the lead boat. Kleinjans, 135 miles astern of the British double-handed Class 40, has picked up speed since yesterday evening and is averaging just under eight knots.

For the British duo on Team Mowgli, the conditions have been baffling. “The weather continues to frustrate and never really settles down into a pattern for long,” observes Jeremy Salvesen. “Every forecast we receive seems to be quite different from the previous one and gives us a different route towards the scoring gate, still around 600 miles away,” he continues. “It looks as if we will have this variable weather until then and after the gate it should settle down as we negotiate our way between the Azores High and the low pressure systems to the north.”

The present conditions are made more demanding by the mysterious behaviour of the Gulf Stream. “You would have thought that the Gulf Stream was like a wide, slow moving, smooth river running from Florida all the way up to the north coast of Scotland and that its path and speed were well known,” argues Salvesen. “The reality, however, is incredibly different and it behaves more like a faster moving river tumbling over rocks, through narrow gullies and round corners. There are back eddies and mini vortexes all over the place and we might have three knots of current going with us for a while and then a few hours later have two knots of current going against us.”

To make matters worse, precise information on the Gulf Stream is scarce. “There are detailed forecast Grib files we can get hold of and plug into our computer charting system,” admits the British skipper, “but they don't appear to chart these variable flows terribly well. So as soon as we are out of the main stream of the current - which is now some way to our north - we just have to take the variable current as it comes and either love or curse it as it helps or hinders our progress! I guess it is the same for all of us though.”

Other than an ongoing battle with the weather and the Gulf Stream, conditions on board Team Mowgli have been stable since Salvesen and Thomson made repairs to the autopilot and the sails, although the dramatic damage to the German team’s mast yesterday is a reminder that the boats have almost completed a gruelling circumnavigation. “As we have seen from Beluga Racer, however, there are any number of things that can go wrong,” warns the British skipper. “We all just have to deal with them as they arise. We have put these boats through the ultimate test with over 32,000 miles of sailing since we left Portugal last year, through some of the roughest seas on the planet.” All four of the 40ft boats in the fleet have sustained a variety of damage and gear failure, but the robust yachts have survived. “Yes, we have all had some problems,” concedes Salvesen. “But I don't think any more than could have been expected - and compared to the damage suffered by the Open 60's and the Volvo boats, these little Class 40's have done amazingly well.”

With 2,000 miles of the Portimão Global Ocean Race remaining, all the boats are feeling the strain from the pressure of relentless racing around the planet. “Little things are always there to go wrong though,” cautions Salvesen. “Yesterday, as we were sailing along with the big spinnaker up in about 18 knots of wind, the metal shackle that holds the tack of the sail at the end of the bowsprit suddenly snapped leaving the sail flying from the top of the mast.” Both the British yachtsmen are accustomed to reacting quickly and it was only a minor drama. “It wasn't a problem to get the sail down,” reports Salvesen. “Although we then had to spend some time sorting it out properly before it was ready to hoist again. It was also a simple matter to replace the broken shackle with a spare carried on board. Of course, these shackles aren't meant to break, but I guess 30,000 miles is about their limit of endurance!”

Leaderboard 0620 UTC Wednesday 10 June

Double-handed class
1. Desafio Cabo de Hornos – DTL 0.0nm Spd 10 kts
2. Beluga Racer – DTL 71nm Spd 9.1 kts
3. Team Mowgli – DTL 288nm Spd 7.2 kts

Single-handed class
1. Roaring Forty – DTL 0.0nm Spd 7.8 kts

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