Slow going

Portimão Global Ocean Race boats creeping up the South Atlantic

Monday March 30th 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
At midnight on Saturday, the Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet ran straight into a wall of light breeze with speeds plummeting from seven knots to three and four knot averages with Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson on Team Mowgli hanging on to the breeze longest to the west of the double-handed race leaders. Over the past 24 hours, the fleet have compressed with both second placed Desafio Cabo de Hornos and Team Mowgli in third taking distance from the lead held by Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme on Beluga Racer with the Chilean duo of Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz reducing the deficit by 11 miles and Salvesen and Thomson taking 14 miles from the Germans since light airs trapped the fleet on Saturday.

In the 2120 GMT position poll on Sunday evening, Desafio Cabo de Hornos trail Beluga Racer by 61 miles with the British duo 102 miles astern of the bright red Chilean Class 40 and trailing Herrmann and Oehme by 163 miles. While the three doublehanded boats are heading north in line-astern formation with the teams either unwilling or unable to take a flier and search for stronger breeze, the fleet’s solo sailor Michel Kleinjans has tacked away from the coast and is stalking the Class 40s with his lightweight, carbon Open 40, Roaring Forty, frequently delivering the highest speeds in the fleet taking 17 miles from the German race leader in the past 24 hours and trailing Team Mowgli by just 33 miles after 36 days of racing. With weather models forecasting light, five or six knot headwinds until very early on Tuesday morning, the remaining 500 miles to the finish line in Ilhabela, Brazil, after 7,000 miles of racing in the Pacific and South Atlantic Oceans is set to be a gruelling match of nerves.

“As you may have deduced from our tracks, we have had a frustrating couple of days with light winds mostly from about due north,” reported Jeremy Salvesen from Team Mowgli on Sunday morning. “So, not only has our boatspeed been low, but we have also been sailing at about 45 degrees to our target - meaning for every two miles we sail we only actually gain one mile towards Ilhabela!” With 600 miles remaining to the finish line, Salvesen and Thomson are currently averaging just 3.6 knots. “However, overnight things have improved sharply with the wind going round to the west and picking up a little and we have been able to steer a course of pretty much due north.” Having lost ground on the race leaders after running into the adverse flow of the Brazilian Current, the British duo are relieved that progress is now being made. “Our boat speeds have improved at the same time as we are off the wind a little - and we finally have some current going with us!”

While the close racing and minimal spread within the fleet is exciting for spectators, the extended time at sea is draining for the competitors. “The forecast for the next two or three days looks wonderful if you are already sitting on the beach in Brazil,” says Salvesen. “But it’s pretty shocking if you are still trying to get there! Light variable winds from the north once more.” After five weeks at sea, the current delay is potentially demoralising: “The last part of every leg seems to last forever and when you are beset by light winds sometimes it just doesn't seem fair,” states the British skipper. “It is only in these last few days, perhaps with less than 1,000 miles to go, that you actually start paying any attention to the number of miles left. When we are in the middle of the ocean these numbers are meaningless and thoughts of good food, wine and comfortable beds are far, far away. Not so when you can almost smell them!” Fortunately, there are no signs yet of Team Mowgli throwing in the towel. “However, the race is still very much on,” says Salvesen. “We have Michel breathing down our necks - his boat is always going to be better than the Class 40's in light upwind conditions - and we are still in touch with the Chileans. So, trim, trim, trim and keep that focus!”

Having reported that Desafio Cabo de Hornos is running very low on fuel due to a damaged alternator, Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz are strictly rationing the remaining diesel and have cut back all electrical systems on board. “We are handsteering the whole time,” confirmed Cubillos over the weekend. “We are running an eight-hours-on, eight-hours-off system,” he explains. “José likes to steer during daylight and I helm at night.” The Chilean duo have also turned off all navigation instruments and are avoiding the use of power-hungry computer screens, checking the positions and downloading weather data very quickly. “We have a pair of handheld, battery powered GPS units, we’ve attached some thread to the shrouds for wind direction and we have a magnetic compass, so everything is fine.” Although the three solar panels on Desafio Cabo de Hornos can provide power, the Chilean duo plan to avoid using the autopliot.

“Handsteering is proving good for us and we are gaining on the Germans,” says Cubillos. “Soon I hope we will be in the same patch of water as the lead boat and then overtake them,” he predicts. “The good news is that these two obstinate Chileans are actually enjoying the problems!”

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