800 miles to go

Leaders press on in the Portimão Global Ocean Race

Wednesday May 13th 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
In the latest 0620 GMT position poll this morning (13/05), the Portimão Global Ocean Race leaders have left the Trade Winds. Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme on Beluga Racer maintain pole position, but speeds have dropped for the German duo and their blue Class 40 is currently averaging nine knots, 180 miles north-east of the Turks and Caicos Islands with 800 miles to the finish line in Charleston, South Carolina. In second place, Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz have been attempting to find a solution to their damaged rudder reported on board stricken Class 40 Desafio Cabo de Hornos early yesterday and the Chilean duo have held onto the stronger breeze slightly longer averaging similar speeds as the German team and currently trail the race leaders by 147 miles.

On third place double-handed Class 40 Team Mowgli, Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson are averaging the highest speed in the fleet furthest south with an impressive 12.9 knots, 90 miles east of Antigua, and the British duo are making gains as Beluga Racer and Desafio Cabo de Hornos slowdown 608 mile to the north. Meanwhile, the fleet’s solo sailor Michel Kleinjans has maintained consistently high speeds of between 10-11 knots over the past 24 hours on board Roaring Forty and currently trails the double-handed leader by 400 miles and leads the British double-handed team by 200 miles.

Since early yesterday (12/05) the focus for the fleet has been the damage sustained by the Chilean team. Within minutes of the rudder damage on board Desafio Cabo de Hornos, Cubillos and Muñoz sent an email to the Race Organisation and the rest of the fleet advising as to their status. Instantly, messages flew back from Beluga Racer, Team Mowgli and Roaring Forty. Despite the intense rivalry between the Chilean and German teams, the message from Beluga Racer was characteristically selfless. “This is very bad luck,” wrote Boris Herrmann to the Chilean duo. “Get safely to Charleston and let's have a new race as nice as this on the final leg.” For the German team, the lack of the competition from Cubillos and Muñoz will be a great loss. “Thanks for this incredible race,” continued Herrmann. “You have put so much pressure on us. Only 70 miles - with the light winds ahead we are very frightened the same happens as on the last leg.”

In the final stages of Leg 3 from New Zealand to Ilhabela, Brazil, the Chilean team overhauled the Germans on the final morning before reaching the finish line after 7,500 miles and 40 days of racing, supplying a gripping conclusion to an incredible leg. “We are very sorry and will miss the race with you and a close finish,” adds the German skipper. “This leg could be the first time we arrive more than three hours apart from each other.” On a practical basis, Herrmann and Oehme are also keen to assist their adversaries. “If you need help don't hesitate to let us know,” volunteers Herrmann. “We can turn around anytime and also give you our spare rudder, which of course would be very difficult to use for you.” The twin rudders on Beluga Racer are mounted through the hull, not transom-slung as is the case with Desafio Cabo de Hornos and although the two types are incompatible, the offer was genuine. “We have some carbon, resin and some tubes as well just in case you need them,” he offers. “But with reduced sail, sailing on one rudder should be possible. Let us know how it is going,” adds Herrmann. “See you soon in Charleston.”

Meanwhile, throughout Tuesday, Cubillos and Muñoz strove to find a solution to their damaged rudder that might return them to some level of competitive sailing. The duo steadied the boat by sailing under Solent headsail only and removed the leeward, port rudder. Once the appendage was on deck, the blade was found to be intact and the cause of the problem is structural failure, not a collision. Both the stock and the rudder’s lower bearing are damaged. With the strong likelihood of Desafio Cabo de Hornos remaining on starboard tack for the remainder of the race to Charleston, the duo were keen to swap the windward, starboard rudder over to port. However, the bearing location and angles between port and starboard make this option impossible and the rudders cannot be transferred. “In summary, we can only continue sailing with the Solent at seven knots of speed and we are trying to stop the boat heeling so we don’t lose the control,” explained Cubillos late yesterday.

Morale, though, is high on board Desafio Cabo de Hornos. “In spite of everything, I am the type of person that doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘impossible’,” reassures the Chilean skipper who has been studying the weather ahead. “It looks as though there are around 50 to 60 hours of stable wind to go,” he predicts. “This means that the Germans can keep going at two or three knots faster than us during that period.” For the Chilean team, the weather pattern of light following winds nearer Charleston could work in their favour. “When the wind is on the stern and furthermore if it is soft, the boat does not list ..... and one rudder is enough!”

Cubillos has been frantically doing the numbers: “They would arrive at the light patch with more or less an advantage of 250 to 280 miles,” he calculates. “And still there would be 500 miles remaining to the finish line. You might think that I am crazy, and I am not going to refute the point, but I will just say that this pair of obstinate Chilean sailors aren’t dead or buried yet!”

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