Passing the Caribbean

Beluga Racer holds a 65 mile advantage this morning in the Portimão Global Ocean Race

Saturday May 9th 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
For nearly two weeks at sea in Leg 4, the Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet have sailed parallel to the coast of South America. Over the past day, the two race leaders have now left the continent off their port beam and are sailing in new waters. In the latest 0620 GMT position poll this morning, Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme on Beluga Racer are 450 miles due east of Grenada at the southern end of the Caribbean’s Windward Islands, leading the fleet with a 65 mile margin over Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz on Desafio Cabo de Hornos in second place.

Sailing 300 miles off the coast of Surinam, solo sailor Michel Kleinjans on Roaring Forty has been unable to keep pace with the double-handed teams and currently trails the lead boat by 235 miles and despite picking up speed, the British duo of Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson on Team Mowgli have dropped back to 511 miles behind the race leader.

With Beluga Racer and Desafio Cabo de Hornos in the best of the Trade Winds, speeds overnight have been impressive with both boats peaking at 14.5 knots earlier this morning. However, the boats are evenly matched and the distance between the German and Chilean teams remains locked at just over 60 miles with Cubillos and Muñoz holding the windward station. On board Desafio Cabo de Hornos, the Chilean duo are trying every trick in the book. “The Trade Winds are very stable in direction and intensity and therefore our work - if you can call really call this work – is all about getting the maximum boat speed,” explains Felipe Cubillos. “On average, if you look at the past 48 hours, we have sailed 0.2 knots faster than the Germans, but this isn’t going to get us ahead of them before Charleston.”

In the current conditions, the options are limited. “Basically, we have the following tools: the headsails, the reefs in the mainsail and water ballast,” explains the Chilean skipper. “Our tactical software also helps,” he concedes, “in as much as it records and displays the effectiveness of anything we do in minute detail.” The electronic systems assist in evaluating the success of any fine tuning the Chilean duo attempt: “Whenever we make a change, not just with the sails, but even backstay tension or some small change in heading, this is immediately measured in terms of speed and direction towards our goal at the finish.” To optimise this CMG (Course Made Good), the duo have been constantly experimenting. “On Thursday, in one of the tests, we decided to use a headsail that definitively did not give good results as the Germans, for the first time in several days, sailed much faster than us,” says Cubillos.

Further sail changes failed to produce the desired result and as dusk fell, Cubillos sat at the chart table seeking a solution in the computer software. “However, the answer wasn’t sitting in front of me,” he recalls. “It was directly above my head.” The nav station on Desafio Cabo de Hornos is located centrally beneath the domed coach house roof and as the rain beat down outside, water trickled through a hole made to run cables to the solar panels fitted to the exterior. “It is the only leak in the whole boat,” explains Cubillos, “and the constant dripping onto your head when at the computer is a particularly cruel form of torture and only usually happens when the bow buries and water streams over the boat.”

The usual solution to raise the bow is to transfer ballast aft, or switch to a smaller headsail to raise the bow and prevent the boat from digging in to the waves. However, this discomfort did bring enlightenment: “The dripping on my head was really bothering me and then – like the apple dropping on the head of Sir Isaac Newton – the answer arrived.” Cubillos is cryptic about the eventual solution, but the Chilean duo are clearly happy with the result. “Lifting the bow isn’t as simple as just shifting gear aft – we did this some time ago,” he confirms. “The solution was a little bit more complex, but we found it and since we made this change, we have found an extra 0.5 extra knots.”
In the 0620 GMT position poll this morning, the speed difference between Beluga Racer and Desafio Cabo de Hornos is measured in fractions of a knot with Herrmann and Oehme averaging 14 knots to the Chilean’s 13.9 knots. Over the weekend, it is likely that both teams will continue experimenting to optimise boat speed and gain any advantage through the stable breeze.

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