The amazing Kleinjans

The sole remaining solo sailor in the Portimão Global Ocean Race reaches Ilhabela only hours after the doublehanders

Friday April 3rd 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
Despite his status as the only remaining solo sailor in the Portimão Global Ocean Race, Michel Kleinjans has stunned the double-handed teams with his ability to keep pace with the Class 40 fleet. At 04:05:30 GMT this morning, Kleinjans sailed his Open 40, Roaring Forty, across the Leg 3 finish line 15 hours behind the leading double-handed boat, Desafio Cabo de Hornos, after 41 days 2 hours 50 minutes and 30 seconds at sea.

Since late December when fellow single-hander Nico Budel was forced to abandon his Open 40 Hayai in the early stages of leg 2 from Cape Town to Wellington, Kleinjans has continued racing to fulfil the dream of sailing around the world solo, adding to his existing circumnavigation in the Whitbread Round The World Race. In Leg 3, the Belgian yachtsman stayed linked with the double-handed teams throughout the 7,500 mile leg. After two weeks of racing, on 7 March, Kleinjans crossed the mid-Pacific Ocean scoring gate less than five hours behind the double-handed fleet. A week later - as the fleet reached the eastern limit of the Pacific Ocean Ice Gate at 45°S - Roaring Forty was just 74 miles behind the double-handed boats. On 20th March, Kleinjans rounded Cape Horn in 50-60 knot gusts suffering a knock-down during a period he admitted was deeply frightening.

“I haven’t got a clue,” replied Kleinjans when asked how he kept pace with the double-handed fleet. “In the light wind I keep up with them and it’s not so difficult. Above 20 knots of wind I have to watch out, especially with spinnakers.” The biggest tactical error the Belgian sailor admits to was judgement of a low pressure in the eastern Pacific. “Racing to the end of the ice gate I got caught by the low while the others escaped,” he explains. “I tried to get over the top of the low, then I backed out and ended up going too far south. That’s when I made the biggest losses.” Trailing the double-handed leader, Desafio Cabo de Hornos, by 291 miles when Roaring Forty rounded Cape Horn on 20th March, Kleinjans made up ground after passing east of Isla de Los Estados and leaving the Falkland Islands to port. “It was all light most of the time,” he recalls and the eastward movement of the high pressure system troubling the fleet leaders played to his advantage.

In the last few days of the leg, the gains made by Kleinjans were supreme, moving into 31 miles of Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson on Team Mowgli on 31 March and then catching the cold front that swept north, rocketing the British team north towards the finish. While Salvesen and Thomson had the ride of their life, averaging 14 knots, the Belgian solo skipper chose to back off: “In the last 24 hours, I thought I’d just follow Mowgli and then, I thought I’d just forget it as I would most probably break a spinnaker or damage something badly.” This wise decision to preserve his boat makes the arrival of Michel Kleinjans and Roaring Forty an epic moment in the Portimão Global Ocean Race with the four boats safely in the Yacht Club de Ilhabela marina after 41 days with hectic arrivals spread over less than one day after 7,500 miles of racing.

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