New leader

Boris Hermann and Felix Oehme's Beluga Racer claim poll in the Portimão Global Ocean Race

Wednesday March 25th 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
After 14 days at the head of the Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet, Desafio Cabo de Hornos relinquished pole position to Beluga Racer at 1600 GMT yesterday. Furthest east in the fleet, the yacht’s two Chilean crew, Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz, were trapped in an area of light breeze, barely averaging two knots as the German team of Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme grabbed the lead, coaxing five knot averages from Beluga Racer. Eventually, the breeze finally arrived for Desafio Cabo de Hornos mid-evening GMT and the Chileans are making just under seven knots – one knot slower than the Germans - and trail Herrmann and Oehme by 44 miles in the 0620 GMT position poll this morning).

As Beluga Racer headed to the front of the fleet, the westerly position held by Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson on Team Mowgli in third place, 390 miles off the coast of Argentina, has produced monumental gains and the British duo have taken 66 miles from the leaders in the past 24 hours. This morning, Team Mowgli is 87 miles off the German Class 40’s port quarter and 43 miles behind Desafio Cabo de Hornos. Currently due south of the race leader, the fleet’s solo sailor, Michel Kleinjans, has also had a stunning 24 hours, taking 50 miles from the race leader and Roaring Forty now trails Beluga Racer by 174 miles.

However, prior to taking the lead, Beluga Racer had a windless period and slowed to below two knots: “The boat just swings around, unpowered and without a defined heading,” Boris Herrmann described early yesterday. “Waves occasionally pick up the stern and we lurch forwards and the sails pull with a jerk and slap about, but without any apparent reason,” he continues. “Time stands still and there is no suitable time unit available as speed, course, and a stable heading are ideas from another world, a world of speed that we left behind last night.” Totally unaccustomed to this environment, Herrmann and Oehme were forced to wait, sit out the light patch and reflect on the race: “Now, Beluga yawns sleepily in the first sunset we’ve seen for a very long time, exhausted after four weeks in the grey south,” says Herrmann. Beluga Racer is still far south of the latitude of the event’s Leg 1, Cape Town stop over, but the German skipper already feels he is in home waters: “Although we’re relieved that we’re in familiar territory once more, we’re also a little sad that our adventures in the huge, empty and dangerous Southern Ocean are at an end.”

After two weeks in the lead, Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz realise they have a fight on their hands and the Chilean duo are taking a drastic approach: “The next 48 hours are going to be sad for us,” admitted Cubillos last night. “So, José and I have decided that we will delete every position report that arrives in our inbox. We just don’t want to know the gains and losses of the other boats.” Desafio Cabo de Hornos has an enormous fan base in Chile and messages of support and encouragement flood onto the yacht each day, but Cubillos is determined to sail without knowledge of the fleet’s positions.

“Please, when you send us emails, don’t include boat speed figures or how many miles boats have gained on us,” pleads the Chilean skipper. “This is a very psychological sport and having fought for more than 30 days in the worst seas of the world and being in the lead for so long, it is not easy for us to face this reality.”

For Herrmann and Oehme, taking Beluga Racer into the lead is a breakthrough, but for the German duo, the competition is everything. “An incredibly close game for the four of us,” wrote Herrmann in an email to the rest of the fleet this morning. “Are you as desperate to step ashore as I am?” he asked his fellow skippers. After 32 days at sea, the German team are in a parallel, offshore universe, devoid of any influences other than the weather and the constant desire to sail to their maximum potential. “I’ve lost all sense of time and space,” continues Herrmann. “But I’m sure that once we see land, we won’t want to step ashore. That’s why I liked Cape Horn so much: it was like arriving somewhere, but we could carry on racing, which is even better.” With the finish line 1,100 miles to the north and approximately six days away, the double-handed fleet are spread by only 87 miles this morning with Michel Kleinjans on Roaring Forty only 86 miles behind third placed Team Mowgli. Whether the boats cross the finish line in Ilhabela and continue racing after 7,500 miles of sailing is unlikely, but the Leg 3 finish promises to be a very tight conclusion to an incredible voyage across the Pacific and South Atlantic Oceans.

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