Into the trades
Holding second place in the double-handed class, Chilean duo Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz with Desafio Cabo de Hornos are the windward boat with a deficit of 57 miles to race leaders Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme on Beluga Racer. Solo sailor Michel Kleinjans on board Roaring Forty remains the leeward boat furthest west - just under 400 miles off the coast of northern Brazil - and is still keeping pace with the double-handed leaders, trailing the Chilean team by 63 miles in terms of Distance To Finish. Meanwhile, furthest south holding third place in the double-handed class, Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson on Team Mowgli are currently 419 miles behind the fleet leader.
For the British duo of Salvesen and Thomson, the Doldrums gamble failed to deliver. “The wind is now being a little kinder to us as we slowly managed to extricate ourselves from the grip of the Doldrums,” reported Salvesen late yesterday. “As we remember from the first leg of the race, the Doldrums is a fickle and difficult place and not one to let its secrets up easily,” he continues. “Forecast data is largely unreliable and always proved to be a bit of a lottery.” The duo’s decision to break east before crossing the Equator was a brave call. “We had a choice,” recalls Salvesen. “Either follow the leaders, or make our own route through the Doldrums. We all know, however, that in sailing – as in so much in life – you can never win by following.” With just under 3,000 miles of race track remaining and the Trade Winds the dominant feature, Salvesen and Thomson will have to wait for any tactical manoeuvring. “Only when we start getting closer to Charleston do the options start opening up again,” explains the British skipper. “Anyway, so we rolled the tactical dice and looks as if we lost. No regrets.”
For Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz, the long term strategy to keep east through the Doldrums is falling into place. “So, the heading to Charleston is 312° and the True Wind Angle is between 108° and 110° - that is the exact position where our boat is fastest,” said Cubillos yesterday. “For that reason, the strategy of how and where to cross the Doldrums wasn’t based on however many miles we dropped to the Germans, but where we were going to be five or six days later.”
In the latest position poll, Desafio Cabo de Hornos is making 12 knots - one knot faster than the German duo on Beluga Racer. “We said that we were not heading in the direction of Charleston,” continues the Chilean skipper, “but to an imaginary buoy in the north; then, those 50 miles of lateral separation towards windward that we have at the moment are worth their weight in gold.” As the German and Chilean teams settle into a long power reach north-west, conditions on Desafio Cabo de Hornos are good. “The electronics are working again and the watermaker is functioning although we have enough water stowed for 12 days,” explains Cubillos. “Our regime is that José sails during daylight and I sail at night: so I must pass on my respects to all those around the world who work the nightshift!”
For Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme on Beluga Racer, thoughts are already turning towards landfall in South Carolina. “The scoring gate and the Equator lie in our wake and Charleston is still 2,500 nautical miles away,” reported Oehme yesterday. “We are thus in the penultimate week and although we have not yet covered half the distance of Leg 4, the USA is already strongly in our minds,” he admits. “When will we arrive? How many days will we have until the re-start? Do we have to order more spare parts? Is there a suitable crane in order to lift the boat? And as always, improvisation and creativity are required in order to prepare the boat with minimum time and cost.”
With a possible ETA in Charleston of 18-19 May, there is potentially a further two weeks at sea. “But this is all in the future,” admits Oehme. “Now we’re sailing in a straight line in very constant Trade Winds. The wind angle is around 100° and we always wanted to avoid this as it is the favourite angle of the Chileans, but so far there’s no trace of a speed advantage for them.” With the German team currently averaging 11 knots to the Chileans 12 knots, Oehme confesses to a surprise tactic employed during the Ilhabela stop over: “Our speed maybe due to our radical weight loss in the last stop over and we must thank our friends Julien and Nina for dragging all the surplus kit back from Brazil to Germany.” As Beluga Racer sails into the Northern Hemisphere summer, the heat on board is becoming an issue. “It is difficult with this heat to get any sleep,” comments Oehme. “First, I read a book concerning an Antarctic expedition and now I’m trying to escape the heat with a book concerning an expedition to Spitzbergen.” However, devouring books on polar exploration has a limited appeal: “When I read about ships frozen in the icepack, I am very glad to be where I am right now,” adds the German yachtsman.