Doing the maths

Cubillos keeps the little grey cells warm in the Portimao Global Ocean Race

Friday May 8th 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
With the front runners in the Portimão Global Ocean Race locked into the stable North-Easterly Trade Winds, the drag race north to Charleston, South Carolina, is well underway. Over the past 24 hours, speeds between the two double-handed class leaders have been evenly matched with Beluga Racer and Desafio Cabo de Hornos averaging between 11-12 knots. Furthest west, solo sailor Michel Kleinjans on Roaring Forty has been regularly polling just a knot less than the double-handers and to the south, Team Mowgli have been building pace as they shake-off the Doldrums.

In the latest 0620 GMT position poll today (08/05), Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz are sailing at 12 knots on board Desafio Cabo de Hornos in second place: a fraction faster than Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme on race leader Beluga Racer although the distance between the two rivals has remained locked at 57 miles for the past 24 hours. The speed deficit between the double-handed teams and single-hander Michel Kleinjans means Roaring Forty has dropped 45 miles behind Beluga Racer since dawn on Thursday and the Belgian solo sailor now trails the German team by 166 miles. For Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson on Team Mowgli the additional, Trade Wind-pace of the leaders to the north has increased the distance to Beluga Racer to 465 miles as the British duo patiently wait for stronger breeze.

With the Trade Winds stretching out for around 1,000 miles ahead of the fleet leaders, tactical options are minimal; the choice of sails remains static and racing becomes a matter of fine trimming, eating and sleeping – and avoiding any unforced errors or mistakes. With many aspects of competitive racing on hold as the boats head north at best speed, the teams have time for reflection. Running the ‘night watch’ on Desafio Cabo de Hornos in the stable conditions has given Felipe Cubillos food for thought: “Sailing, with all its sophistication and software and its prediction precision about the behaviour of the boat in each particular wind condition with VPP (Velocity Prediction Programs) calculated before the yacht is even built, may make you think that the whole business is based on mathematics,” he wonders. “This is a valid point and also uses geometry and trigonometry,” continues the Chilean skipper.

“So, as I work the nightshift on board, apart from contemplating the stars and the solar system and the chances of being abducted by an extraterrestrial ship, I dedicate myself to work out the complex trigonometrically calculations to determine precisely the moment we are going to overtake the German boat.” With the two leading Class 40s currently evenly matched in speed, the Equation is complex. “By the way, this nocturnal mathematician is furthermore a lawyer,” adds Cubillos. “A rare mixture and the downside is that I look at everything from all angles, despite being an incorrigible optimist. Therefore, it is highly probable that an engineer who reads this and crunches the data of how the boat behaves in different wind angles might determine the best heading and tactics to overtake the Germans.” Sitting in the cockpit of Desafio Cabo de Hornos under the stars, Cubillos has been busy working the numbers. “These results will show that it is not necessary that we must sail right across the North American continent and into Alaska to overtake them and we can do it before the finish line in Charleston,” he concludes. “It is important to recognize that the Germans are going very quickly,” concedes Cubillos. “Fortunately, empirical calculations aside, sailing is still more of an art than a science.

For solo sailor Michel Kleinjans, the routine of Trade Wind sailing is more acute without the companionship of a co-skipper and the Belgian yachtsman has attacked his small, on board library. “I’m reading a book on the history of the last century,” reported Kleinjans last night. “Well, it is really more of a catalogue of the millions and millions of people who have been slaughtered in the First World War or by Hitler, Franco and Stalin,” he continued. “It doesn’t supply much hope for humanity and I haven’t even reached the chapters on Asia, Africa or Yugoslavia. From out here – a tiny ant in the middle of a large ocean - history continues to repeat itself and isn’t a subject for those with a high hopes for mankind.” Kleinjans avoids carrying blockbusting, airport novels, although this maybe an oversight. “Maybe I should read something else,” he admits. “This would avoid confronting how unnatural the times we have grown up in were and how fragile the future can be.”

Holding third place in the double-handed fleet, Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson haven’t had the opportunity to look at the bigger picture and are entirely focussed on reaching the Trade Winds. “Well, it looks as if we have FINALLY escaped the clutches of the Doldrums and have sharply increased our speeds over the last 12 hours or so,” confirmed Salvesen yesterday. “Wind has been a pretty steady 16-20 knots overnight and is forecast to increase further as we move northwards and speeds should increase further as they have for the leaders of the fleet.” Since the British skipper’s report, the speed averages on Team Mowgli have increased to 10 knots in the latest position poll. “Frustratingly, as our speeds have increased so have theirs, so the gap continues to grow!”

However, the relief at exiting the Doldrums is immense for the British duo. “Wednesday was another agonising day for us,” recalls Salvesen. “The wind dipped below two knots and was swinging around the compass for much of the day making headway extremely difficult at times.” With any forward motion virtually impossible and the sails failing to fill, the frustration is tangible. “Wind spinning one way and the current pushing you the other,” he continues. “Now you can see why people can go mad in the Doldrums!”

at 06:20 UTC Friday, 8th May 2009

Double-handed class:
1. Beluga Racer - DTL 0.0nm Spd 11.4kts
2. Cabo de Hornos - DTL 57nm Spd 12.3kts
3. Team Mowgli - DTL 465nm Spd 10.2kts

Single-handed class:
1. Roaring Forty - DTL 0.0nm Spd 10.2kts

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