Chileans regain lead

As Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet tick off Recife

Sunday May 3rd 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
Having rounded the easternmost tip of South America, the Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet are heading north-west along the continental shelf between the Brazilian mainland and the Fernando de Noronha Archipelago with the German duo of Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme holding first place on Beluga Racer with a ten mile lead over Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz on Desafio Cabo de Hornos. As the four boats approach the equator and the Doldrums, weather forecasting is already becoming unreliable and virtually meaningless.

“We’ve just been through one of the most unforgettable nights of the entire race,” reports Felipe Cubillos. “Torrential rain; thunder; gusts of wind up to 35 knots; total calm; black, very black clouds… and in the middle of all this during a massive gust, all the electronic instruments packed-up.” The Chilean Class 40 is now sailing without the vital information required for competitive racing. “We’ve got nothing,” continues Cubillos. “No data, no heading, no wind strength or direction - zero.”

Despite this major handicap, Cubillos and Muñoz have been delivering the highest speeds in the fleet and Desafio Cabo de Hornos has made big gains on the German team overnight. “It is certain that we are mortally wounded,” admits The Chilean skipper. “We don’t have a medium spinnaker and this limits our options dramatically,” he explains. “It is going to be hard to reach the Doldrums ahead of the Germans, so we are trying to stick as close as possible to them and then get into the Trade Winds early and show our full potential.” In the latest 0920 GMT position poll this morning, Desafio Cabo de Hornos is averaging just under nine knots – over double the speed of Herrmann and Oehme on Beluga Racer. “One thing I have learnt from this race is that everything has its time,” says Cubillos. “And the time for Desafio Cabo de Hornos is yet to arrive.”

For Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson in third place on Team Mowgli, 154 miles behind the Chilean duo, meteorological guesswork has now ceased. “We have had almost continual squally conditions for the last 24 hours giving us good wind speeds but plenty more rain!” reported Salvesen late yesterday. “Our weather forecast data is all but useless in these conditions as reality is always so far away - right now we are meant to have about nine knots of wind and it should be dropping further overnight,” continues the British skipper. Team Mowgli is currently averaging just over seven knots and the weather forecast is clearly flawed. “However, if the speeds of the boats in front are anything to go by, we can expect the current conditions to keep us going for a good while longer before the grip of the Doldrums eventually takes over.”

In mid-evening on Saturday, the British duo crossed the Leg 4 scoring gate south of Recife and celebrations were required. “We passed a major milestone last night in going through the scoring gate,” explains Salvesen. “Of course, this was the same scoring gate as was used in the first leg from Portimão to Cape Town. Although we passed through it slightly westward of our tracks on the first leg and thus haven't actually crossed our original path, I think it is fair to say that we are both now CIRCUMNAVIGATORS! If only the champagne was cold enough to drink... Might have to wait until Charleston!”

Meanwhile, the fleet’s solo sailor, Michel Kleinjans is furthest inshore on Roaring Forty, 60 miles due east of Fortaleza. “Last night I gybed inshore to see if there was a bit more favourable current closer to the coast,” reported the Belgian single-hander yesterday. “After the gybe I tried to sleep a bit and was woken two hours later by the sound of water rushing passed the hull and we were heading straight into a broach.” Kleinjans immediately sprang into action. “I got on deck quickly and took the helm and put things back in order,” he continues. “The wind had veered to the west of south, so this was clearly the favourable tack and the breeze had increased to around 20 knots with dark clouds all over the place.” In the latest position poll, Roaring Forty is only 47 miles behind the double-handed class leader, although the inshore option has come with a price. “There were also fishing boats everywhere: one to port, one to starboard plus a big cargo ship,” explains Kleinjans. “I had to luff to avoid one of the fishing boats and after a while, he eventually put his lights on, which appears to be common practice out here. Once they see that you are no longer a threat, they just switch them off again!” This stressful scenario is a nightmare for a solo sailor. “It really isn’t much comfort as if you ran into one of these boats you would really know about it: the boats are not that small and I’m sure they would make a real fuss about a collision,” says Kleinjans.

“It is really a bit stupid of them,” he continues. “Navigation lights are not expensive and are available to everyone. Perhaps someone could send some European charity money over here so they could buy the proper gear and we would all have less worrying nights sailing up the Brazilian coast!” Apart from the danger of commercial shipping, Kleinjans is fully in solo sailing mode after one week at sea. “For the rest of the night I just rode from cloud to cloud averaging ten knots with full main and the big kite,” he reports. “I’ve moved a load of gear to windward and am trying to catch up with some sleep, although this isn’t going to well as I’m constantly having to trim sheets.” Similar to the double-handed fleet, Roaring Forty is experiencing highly variable conditions. “Just before sunset a rainsquall hit us – like something Noah might have experienced,” says the Belgian yachtsman. “The autopilot took it beautifully and I put on my oilskins and sat in the cockpit cuddy ‘enjoying’ the landscape as we tore ahead at full speed in the pitch blackness….”

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