Approaching the Equator

As Chileans head east in the Portimao Global Ocean Race

Monday May 4th 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
By midday GMT on Sunday, Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz had sailed Desafio Cabo de Hornos to within seven miles of race leader Beluga Racer, slipstreaming Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme 90 miles off the Brazilian coast. Three hours later, the two boats separated with the German team finding nine knots of boatspeed - double the Chilean’s average. Throughout the day the gap grew as Cubillos and Muñoz took the offshore option while Herrmann and Oehme remained on the more direct route to the finish line. In the latest 0620 GMT position poll this morning, Beluga Racer are just 35 miles south of the equator holding a lead of 45 miles over the Chilean team while the British duo of Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson have made the decision to head offshore on Team Mowgli and currently trail the race leader by 224 miles.

As the fleet climb into the North Atlantic, the formidable barrier of the Doldrums now blocks their path. Boris Herrmann explains the scene: “Here it is a meteorological No Man’s Land between the Trade Wind zones of the northern and southern hemispheres,” he wrote late yesterday. “Damp air ascends rapidly forming heavy clouds. These deliver strong squalls, then suddenly stop, dump huge amounts of rain before sending the breeze from every point of the compass.” Overnight the German team maintained the highest speeds in the fleet although at dawn their pace had dropped to just over nine knots with Desafio Cabo de Hornos chasing hard at 10.8 knots. “We just have to hope our patience holds out and we will have to sit here in the pouring rain with flapping sails waiting for the Chileans to catch us.”

“So, dear friends, welcome to the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone,” continues the German skipper. “A routing black hole. The standard strategy is to head north through the area via the shortest route and hook into the Trade winds on the other side and hopefully this tactic will pay-off for us.” Despite the solid tactics, both Herrmann and Oehme know that there are other, external forces involved. “There is always the element of luck,” admits Herrmann. “Whoever controls luck the best will exit the Doldrums first. As long as the President of Chile doesn’t call the Chilean boat as he did just before Cape Horn and remind them that the pride of the nation is at stake, we should be OK!” For the meantime, the German duo are remaining on high alert. “We are going to keep the hammer down until we have a 50 mile lead over them,” explains Herrmann. “After that, maybe we can relax a bit.”

On Sunday, solo sailor Michel Kleinjans took the option to head towards the coast of Brazil and slowed dramatically in the morning to just three knots. “At around 0200 the wind suddenly veered from south to west just giving me enough time to drop the spinnaker,” reported the Belgian yachtsman late yesterday. “There was already thunder and lightning in front of me, but I seemed to be overtaking the thunderstorm, or perhaps it had stopped moving – I can never predict or work out which in this sort of case.” Working fast, Kleinjans changed the sail plan. “The wind veered further until it was almost right on the nose, so I put up the jib thinking this was a short intermission, but the wind mounted quickly to 20 knots. Suddenly, I was badly overpowered with three spinnakers lying on deck.” Quickly, Kleinjans dragged the spinnakers into the cockpit before they disappeared over board.

However, the drama had only just begun on Roaring Forty. “While this was all going on, a small zoo landed on board,” continues Kleinjans. “Some moths – slightly larger than the ones I’m used to – a dragonfly, a nice brown bird I couldn’t identify and they all took shelter under the dodger as the rain squall continued.” Kleinjans held a course that was most comfortable for the boat. “I steered dead north and thought that after maybe ten minutes it would all be over. But not so. For two hours with two reefs in the main I continued north with the wind blowing directly from the finish line in Charleston – as is usually the case in sailing!” Finally, the turbulent breeze dropped. “Then the breeze died to four or five knots and shifted 90 degrees so I could tack a few times and make some sort of progress in the right direction.” Although the wind stabilised, the rain still pounded Roaring Forty. “Meanwhile, I took shelter under the dodger being careful not to crush the bird or the dragonfly – the moths had destroyed themselves by this stage,” he explains. “So not much sleep and – for the moment – not much progress, but that’s all part of the game.”

Kleinjans and Roaring Forty are currently back up to speed averaging 7.9 knots, trailing the double-handed fleet leader by 43 miles. “By dawn, finally some westerly breeze arrived,” he reports. “Veering through to southerly and then - to round off a perfect Sunday morning - the spinnaker wrapped around the forestay while I was down below sponging out the bilges…you win some, you lose some!”

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