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Crippled Chilean Class 40 completes leg four of the Portimão Global Ocean Race

Monday May 18th 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
Early in the evening of Sunday 17th May, the Chilean double-handed team of Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz on Desafio Cabo de Hornos crossed the finish line of the Portimão Global Ocean Race Leg 4 from Ilhabela, Brazil, to Charleston, South Carolina at 17:55:03 GMT (12:55:03 local) after 22 days, 01 hours, 55 minutes and 03 seconds. In 15-16 knots of breeze, the bright red Chilean Class 40 crossed the line at approximately 12-13 knots of boatspeed under full main and Solent headsail with the cassette of the damaged port rudder raised and empty.

The Chilean team led the fleet for the early stages, but were overtaken by Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme on Beluga Racer after passing Rio de Janeiro and were unable to regain pole position although the deficit between the two leading boats was never large. After reaching the North-East Trade Winds having exited the Doldrums, Cubillos and Muñoz hoped that their design of boat would be favourable, but the loss of their medium spinnaker and their port rudder proved a major handicap as the German duo found extra reserves of speed and maintained the lead. “ Beluga did a nice race and although we lost a rudder, they were really fast,” said Cubillos minutes after crossing the line just over 17 hours behind the German team. “To be really honest, they are the real winners,” he added.

On 12 May - after 17 days of racing - disaster struck Desafio Cabo de Hornos as the port rudder sustained damage. Originally, this was thought to be from a collision with a floating object, but when Cubillos and Muñoz removed the transom-slung, kick-up rudder, the blade was found to be intact and structural damage to the rudder’s bearings was the cause. “It was a really tough week without the rudder,” admits Cubillos. “If we had run into a big storm it could have got very complicated.” Unable to swap the starboard, windward rudder over to leeward, the Chileans were forced to sail soft with reduced sail until the wind turned southerly and the boat could be sailed flat. “Seeing the Germans going away from us was hard,” continues the highly competitive Chilean skipper. “But we’re happy we survived and at least we have proved that you can race a a Class 40 with just one rudder! Also, we’re still good friends with the Germans!” he adds as the victorious duo from Beluga Racer boarded Desafio Cabo de Hornos as soon as they crossed the line and helped Cubillos and Muñoz sail into City Marina, Charleston.

Finally, when the wind did move into the south, the Chileans picked up speed and thundered towards the finish line in typical style despite howling 40 knot gusts during the final night at sea and lightning strikes blasting all around the boat. As the wind moved further south, Cubillos and Muñoz could achieve a port gybe, sailing with the undamaged starboard rudder at 100 percent and the familiar Chilean pace returned. Cubillos and Muñoz are awaiting a new rudder system for the final, full-on sprint to Portimão in Leg 5 and Desafio Cabo de Hornos is already entered in the Rolex Fastnet Race at the end of Cowes Week and the Mondial Class 40 in Hamble on the English South Coast in mid-August, but Cubillos is looking at the bigger picture. “I’m interested in the idea of building a Chilean team of young sailors for the Volvo Ocean Race,” he states during the final few miles to the marina in Charleston. “I think in Chile we have a competitive advantage as the waters around our country are always rough and I think it is essential to help the young sailors develop into future Volvo racers.”

In the 2120 GMT position poll this evening (17/05), the remaining double-handed boat, Team Mowgli, skippered by the British duo Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson have 289 miles remaining having recently recovered from a spinnaker wrap in a strong squall, while solo sailor Michel Kleinjans on collision-damaged Open 40 Roaring Forty has 195 miles.

The dilemma for the two remaining boats at sea is a cold front due to move from Charleston heading eastwards offshore and into the Gulf Stream on Monday. “This is likely to give us 35-45 knots of northerly winds,” explained Salvesen early on Sunday. Currently, Team Mowgli is 360 miles due east of Daytona Beach, Florida, with Roaring Forty 94 miles further north. “Now this in itself would be fine, but it will be blowing over and counter to the Gulf Stream which is running northerly at about two to three knots,” he continues. “This sort of wind over this sort of current is likely to lead to the worst sea conditions we will have experienced this entire circumnavigation - worse possibly than the 80 knot storm in the Southern Ocean.”

For stricken yacht Roaring Forty, the prospect of such conditions is bleak and both Team Mowgli and Kleinjans are slipping eastwards away from the Gulf Stream with the British boat on permanent standby to assist the Belgian yachstaman in the unlikely event that Kleinjans needs help with his damaged Open 40.

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