Full throttle north

Portimao Global Ocean Race leaders at the latitude of Martinique

Sunday May 10th 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
Throughout Saturday and into Sunday, speeds have remained high for the Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet as the Trade Wind sailing continues with less than 2,000 miles to the finish line in Charleston, South Carolina. In the 0620 GMT position poll this morning, Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme on Beluga Racer lead the fleet 180 miles due east of Martinique in the middle of the Windward and Leeward Caribbean island chain. Currently trailing the German team by 67 miles, Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz on Desafio Cabo de Hornos are still hunting hard with both boats recording average speeds of 14 knots last night with 12 knot averages this morning.

Meanwhile, solo sailor Michel Kleinjans, 245 miles behind the double-handed leader on Roaring Forty, is producing consistent nine-ten knot averages for the past 24 hours and the British duo of Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson on Team Mowgli are pushing their Class 40 hard averaging 10-11 knots and trailing the race leader by 547 miles.
Despite the intense battle at the front of the double-handed fleet, there is still room for sportsmanship: a powerful feature in the Portimão fleet and within Class 40 demonstrated clearly last night as the tracker beacon on board Beluga Racer began transmitting misinformation. The small, battery powered beacons – usually fitted to a yacht’s pushpit or wind vane support – transmit the boat’s precise position every three hours (this can be tweaked remotely to increase frequency in emergencies or close to the finish line) and a land-based terminal shunts the data to the Race Organisation, the shore teams and the competitors while the statistics are uploaded to the event’s website Race Tracker. Occasionally, a yacht’s beacon will lock onto a different satellite than the remainder of the fleet and will send data out of synchronisation giving false and misleading positions and speeds.

This was the case between 1820 GMT last night and 0320 GMT this morning as the tracker on Beluga Racer transmitted to an independent satellite, leaving Cubillos and Muñoz on Desafio Cabo de Hornos without information as to the German boat’s speed and position. Although the tactical options in the North-East Trade Winds are small, the psychological advantage held by the German team was potent. However, Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme elected to send the correct, real-time data via email direct to their rivals on Desafio Cabo de Hornos: an unsolicited gift that was not lost on Felipe Cubillos. “What Boris - the German skipper – has done speaks of pure sportsmanship, a characteristic sometimes forgotten in worldwide sport these days,” commented the Chilean skipper earlier this morning. ‘Nice fight up to Charleston and then to the bar!’ wrote Cubillos in an email to the German boat. ‘What you have done in sending the positions when nobody requested you do so says a lot about the quality of sportsmanship on board Beluga….It is an honour sailing with you.’

While the double-handed leaders battle it out, Salvesen and Thomson are hurtling north in strong conditions on Team Mowgli. “For the last couple of days we have been reaching along in 16-20 knots of wind with occasional bursts above that with gusts reaching up to nearly 30 knots,” reported Jeremy Salvesen late on Saturday. “For the most part, the sun has been shining brightly and it has been incredibly hot with only a couple of light showers thrown in. We have a full moon, so night time sailing is blissful!” Although the British duo are determined to catch the race leaders, Salvesen and Thomson are playing it straight. “For a while yesterday the wind veered sufficiently for us to get our small spinnaker up and boat speeds improved sharply,” continues Salvesen. “But it then backed again meaning we either had to take it down or run off course - we could do this but it would mean coming up onto the wind hard later on and losing even more speed. It is just too much of a risk to take in hoping the wind will veer sufficiently to enable us to be too far off course at this stage!”

Currently, Team Mowgli is 360 miles off the coast of French Guyana heading for the Caribbean islands. “As it is, we will be running close to, but probably not inside, the Leeward Islands of Barbuda, Anguilla and Antigua,” predicts the British skipper. “They are still a few days away, but it would be nice to see land again after a break for a few days!” With a daunting distance of 547 miles to the fleet leaders, the British yachtsmen are still looking for any advantage to catch Beluga Racer and Desafio Cabo de Hornos. “There is a ridge of high pressure in front of us all and the leaders in the fleet will run into this well before us,” notes Salvesen. “Hopefully, this will give us a chance to catch up a little before we hit it too!” For the meantime, the duo can only watch the battle in the north with envy. “They are having an incredible race up front and, with better wind angles than us, are delivering some fantastic boat speeds,” says Salvesen. “Don't give up on us yet - we should get the same wind in a few days time too!”

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