100 miles to go

Beluga Racer closes on the Charleston finish line of the Portimão Global Ocean Race's fourth leg

Saturday May 16th 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
After 20 days of racing from Ilhabela, Brazil, the Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet leader is just hours from the finish line in Charleston, South Carolina. In the latest 0820 GMT position poll this morning (16/05), the race leaders, Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme on Beluga Racer are 102 miles from the finish line with average speeds dropping slightly to 7.6 knots in the final approach to the American coast. Currently trailing the German team by 188 miles, Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz on the Chilean Class 40 Desafio Cabo de Hornos finally found the southerly breeze and have been averaging eight to nine knots overnight with just under 300 miles of racing remaining.

Trailing the leaders by 457 miles, the British double-handed duo of Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson on Team Mowgli continued to deliver the highest speeds in their class averaging an amazing 13.8 knots at midnight last night and have dropped the pace slightly to 9.3 knots as they leave the Bahamas to port with 559 miles to the finish line. Meanwhile, the fleet’s solo sailor Michel Kleinjans has been putting in some very high averages polling between 11-12 knots on board Open 40 Roaring Forty and is currently making the best speed in the fleet at 10.6 knots, holding a 114 mile lead over Salvesen and Thomson with 445 miles to the finish line.

For Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme, victory in Leg 4 is close enough to touch, although the German duo are quick to praise their greatest rivals. “In our Chilean competitors we have won friends for a lifetime,” says Herrmann. “The central lesson I learned during this race I learned from them,” he continues. “Passing the Falklands during Leg 3 we quickly gained 150 Miles advantage on them. They ran out of fuel which meant no weather data, no autopilot, no routing, no water. Realistically, a hopeless position.” However, the tables turned dramatically shortly before the finish line. “But two weeks later and 50 minutes before the 3rd leg finish in Ilhabela they took the lead despite these disadvantages - giving true sense to their saying: ‘Never Surrender!’ This incredible achievement could serve as a source of inspiration to everyone who is in a difficult situation in life.”

The German duo were eager to learn from the Chilean’s resilience: “For us it was a lesson,” confesses Herrmann. “And that’s why I didn’t try to guess the result of this leg. Did you see their speed on the race tracker? They are sometimes faster than us although their boat is only left with the windward rudder after they broke the leeward rudder.” In addition to the sailing skills on display, the morale and mettle on board Desafio Cabo de Hornos made an impact. “Guess what they write?” asks Herrmann. “Hopeless situation? Surrender? Not possible to win? No way!! They speculate about us being stuck in the light air high pressure ridge lying ahead, wind turning south-west so they can attack on the other gybe.”

The drive shown by Cubillos and Muñoz kept the German team highly focused. “I kept my mouth shut,” admits Herrmann. “We will have won this leg when we finish first in Charleston and until then, I look back with huge respect for these two guys. You may guess it was a relief for us to see them breaking their rudder? I assure you we would rather arrive second in Charleston than lose our match partner.”

For Cubillos and Muñoz, the current goal is to take advantage of the following winds and reach Charleston before the wind turns northerly towards the end of the weekend. “For us, our first priority is to cross the line before Sunday afternoon or Sunday night as headwinds are forecast on Monday and this isn’t great with just one rudder.” The loss of the leeward rudder has also required that the Chilean duo hand steer constantly. “As you can imagine, the automatic pilot does not work well and we are always on the helm,” confirms Cubillos. “This is now becoming a tradition for us at the finish line. “Sometimes because we have no power to run the pilot, sometimes because there is no rudder!” with 290 miles currently remaining for the Chilean team, the end of Leg 4 is clearly in sight. “When we cross the finish line - hopefully on Sunday before the weather changes - you will all be enjoying a great weekend,” comments the Chilean skipper. “But we will inform all our supporters when we finish and – once again – a thousand thanks to the thousands of followers who have kept us going and ensured that we never surrender!”

The high speeds on board Team Mowgli have seen the British duo of Salvesen and Thomson make significant gains on the rest of the fleet. “We have now been averaging over 12 knots for the past two days or more and have been chewing up the miles,” reported Salvesen yesterday. “At this rate we are going to arrive in Charleston before our friends and family and shore support. Should we slow down a little? I don't think so...” Earlier in the week, the British duo spotted large numbers of an unknown sea animal and asked for input and identification. Salvesen now has a second brainteaser. “Thank you for all the responses to the question of the little floating purple 'Cornish Pasty' which all those cleverer than us advise is a Portuguese Man of War,” he says. “Don't want to go near one of those little fellas! Now here's another one for those general knowledge buffs and Wikipedia fans,” Salvesen continues. “Where exactly is the Sargasso Sea and are we in it?” he enquires. “The reason I ask is that we suddenly have large quantities of floating weed all around us and I know this is the primary feature of the aforementioned sea. Light yellowish brown stringy weed in small clumps maybe up to a foot across that seem to float along in unconnected strings.”

However, the duo have recently been preoccupied with other seaborne objects. “Much more scary floating things have passed us this morning,” he reports. “Including a large fishing net complete with floats and a tall lobster pot marker which may have had long ropes attached to it.” This debris is always a threat to a fast moving racing yacht. “Getting something like this snagged around our keel our rudders at this stage would be disastrous although we do have a full dive kit on board for just such an emergency,” explains Salvesen. “During daylight hours we can try and spot these things and do our best to avoid them. What happens at night I hear you ask. Well, we have to just have the mindset that these things don't exist and charge on regardless! You can only control what you can control.”

Meanwhile, with the finish line just hours away, Boris Herrmann has had time to reflect on the race and shared his personal experience surrounding the event. “We have nearly reached the final stop-over of our round the world race,” wrote Herrmann yesterday. “We are so used to spending weeks out here on our Class 40. For me it's more than a year and 36,000 miles that I lived and worked on this boat now. May 28th last year I arrived in Marblehead near Boston with a podium finish in the singlehanded Artemis Transat. May 28th this year we will celebrate the Leg 4 prize giving in Charleston. A circle then closes: Beluga Racer has raced around the world from the US to the US.”

While Herrmann and Oehme and the other Portimão skippers have been locked into racing around the planet, the sailors are almost separated from world affairs, but are deeply aware of the current environment. “Things ashore could not have changed more dramatically while we were accomplishing this circle,” continues the German skipper. “A new political era, a new US President, a crisis and rough, Southern Ocean-like storms blowing millions out their homes and jobs. Especially with this going on in the background, I have to realize what a privilege this endeavor means: discovering the Southern Ocean and Cape Horn in a race around the world on this incredible boat, backed and sponsored by an innovative and successful shipping company. The best thing is that they kept us in business and prolonged the sponsorship regardless the economic downturn,” explains Herrmann. “Allowing us to fully concentrate on getting better and hopefully winning more races in the future.”

For the two Germans, the Portimão Global Ocean Race has been a milestone. “We have realized the big dream of racing around the world short-handed,” adds Herrmann. “We sailed pass Cape Horn in dusty morning light,” he recalls. “We feel now confident at sea on a Class 40 with a great passion to steer her downwind, to glide down waves and carefully search for the best route through the next couple of waves... this passion keeps you alive!”

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