Chasing the breeze

Portimão Global Ocean Race boats heading for the Grand Banks

Sunday June 7th 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
Over the past 24 hours, the Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet have been chasing a corridor of strong southwesterly breeze squeezed between a high pressure system southeast of the boats and a low pressure system to the north centred over the Grand Banks south of Newfoundland. Leading double-handed Class 40, Desafio Cabo de Hornos, has continued to poll the highest speeds of between 12-14 knots with the German team on Beluga Racer in hot pursuit consistently delivering one knot less than the Chilean team, but losing just 19 miles to Desafio Cabo de Hornos since midday on Saturday.

Weather models suggest that the band of strong wind will move rapidly eastwards as the Grand Banks low-pressure begins to track eastwards across the North Atlantic and in the very early hours of Sunday morning, Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme on Beluga Racer dropped south-east to catch the tail of the breeze as the strong winds roll away from the fleet. “There has been a lot of water coming over the boat,” reported Boris Herrmann on Saturday night. “It strikes, hammers you, withdraws and then rushes at you again just like in the Southern Ocean all those months ago,” he recalls. “Once you get accustomed to it, it is not too bad and we’re going well although our nerves remain strained. So, it is certainly not boring out here and conditions might provide a chance to get the red Chilean boat in our sights again.”

In the latest 0620 UTC position poll (07/06), Cubillos and Muñoz on Desafio Cabo de Hornos have built a 49 mile lead over Herrmann and Oehme on Beluga Racer and are currently averaging just over 13 knots - three knots faster than the German Class 40.

“We don’t really know what has happened, but we tend to think that the meteorological conditions have been very favourable for us,” reports Felipe Cubillos. “It is not that there has been a special wind change or that we have had a tactical success, only that the current conditions with wind of 25 knots and a TWA of 120 degrees is where we can win ground big time.” Handicapped by electrical failure and a complete absence of wind speed and direction data from the masthead instruments, the Chilean duo are aware that constant vigilance is essential. “The conditions and our speed advantage helps, but without instruments it is very difficult to optimize the boat 100 percent, and believe me, to beat the Germans we must give 100 percent.”

Behind the two race leaders, the double-handed team of Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson on Team Mowgli have lost the stronger breeze and are currently averaging 8.5 knots trailing the Chilean race leaders by 159 miles while solo sailor Michel Kleinjans is making a knot faster on Roaring Forty 34 miles off the British Class 40’s port quarter. With the fleet spread over 190 miles after three days racing, the teams are fully back into the rhythm of ocean racing. “We’re back in the old routine,” confirms Boris Herrmann. “By the evening of start day, my hands were already hurting as the calluses from the previous leg had healed during three weeks ashore,” he admits. “A couple of days ago I felt terrible with a headache and nausea, but today everything is fine and I’m feeling fit.”

With the North Atlantic providing challenging conditions with sudden squalls and confused seas, it is essential for all the crews to remain alert. “I often stand in the cockpit studying the grey walls of cloud,” continues Herrmann. “In some clouds there’s proper breeze, in others there is only rain and you can usually tell which just moments before it arrives.” Quick reactions are required to prevent the powerful Class 40s from spinning out of control and sustaining damage. “If there’s a big wind increase, we have to be really quick to roll up the 90 square metre Code 5 and unroll the genoa as 35 knots is our limit with the big headsail,” he explains. “All the time you are doing this, the water is roaring back over the boat. It’s like having 15 fire hoses trained on you and it is vital to hold on.” There is also the uncomfortable addition of a stray wave that refuses to follow the general pattern of the sea state. “The wind shifts in the gusts by 30 degrees and varies between 22-35 knots,” says the German skipper. “So it’s no surprise that the sea is churned-up and just as bad as the Southern Ocean. Occasionally we thump into a transverse wave and it really is like hitting a speed bump in a fast moving car!”

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