Long beat up the South Atlantic

The latest from the Portimão Global Ocean Race

Monday March 23rd 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
The Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet are currently experiencing classic South Atlantic, round the world race challenges as the four boats encounter mixed and complicated weather north of the Falkland Islands. In the 0620 GMT position poll this morning, the race leaders, Desafio Cabo de Hornos are pinned down by northwesterly breeze and despite making the best speed in the fleet, The Chilean duo of Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz are forced to continue north-east into the South Atlantic. Meanwhile, Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme on Beluga Racer in second place swung northwest at 0300 GMT this morning as the wind moved round to the south, pointing the German team towards the finish line and drastically reducing the distance deficit to the leaders to just 11 miles.

“For two days we have been flying northeast and I’m sorry for not writing more, but actually hitting the right letter on the keyboard is becoming a struggle,” wrote Felipe Cubillos from Desafio Cabo de Hornos late last night. Although Cubillos and Muñoz are hurtling through the Atlantic, currently averaging the highest fleet speed at 10.8 knots and ricocheting across the wave tops, their direction is not favourable. “At the moment, we are committed to a route to Africa and I’m tempted to ask the Race Office to change the finish line for the leg from Ilhabela to Dakar,” he continued. While shifting the Leg 3 stop over to Senegal is unlikely, weather models predict that a front should pass over the Chilean Class 40 in the next few hours, dragging the wind round to the south-west, allowing a more direct route to Brazil. “Until the wind goes round, there’s nothing we can do,” confirms Cubillos. “But that’s life, and that’s yacht racing.”

For Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson on Team Mowgli in third place, the past 48 hours have been a successful gamble. “It was always going to be a bit touch and go whether we would easily make it west of the Falklands,” admits Salvesen this morning. “We were hard on the wind all the way north towards them for 250 miles.” Beating meant lower speeds and their heading offered the temptation of negotiating the uninhabited islands off the coast of West Falkland. “Whilst there are passages through these small islands, there are very strong tides and plenty of shallow rocks,” explains the British skipper. “If it had been daylight, with slightly lighter winds - we had about 25 knots on the nose at the time - then we would perhaps have dared to go through one of the gaps but as it was, in the middle of the night, we had to put in a westward tack for three hours or so to get round them and this cost us dear in terms of miles to the leaders - we lost over 25 miles against the leaders in just two hours.”

However, hitching northwest on a losing tack has delivered an overall gain for the British team. “Being the most westerly boat - some 450 miles west of the Chileans - has some advantages for us,” says Salvesen. “We are likely to get weather systems before them and this enabled us to gain some serious miles back on the leaders as our wind picked up and went aft.” The correct weather analysis has brought significant rewards for Team Mowgli and in the past 24 hours, Salvesen and Thomson have gained 53 miles on Desafio Cabo de Hornos and currently trail the red Chilean Class 40 by 200 miles. “With 35 knots of wind behind us, we really picked up speed and gained those lost miles back,” says Salvesen.

The duo are currently in a frustrating light patch, averaging just 3.8 knots, but stronger, 20 knot NNW breeze should return at around midday today, propelling the boat towards Brazil. As usual, Salvesen and Thomson are quick to report any problems on board: “We have been having some difficulty with our engine,” admits Salvesen. “It has been packing-in on us again despite having bled the system.” With an erratic power supply, charging the batteries to run the on board systems is a setback and the problem is a priority. “I think perhaps there is some sediment, or perhaps water, in the fuel and we may have to change the fuel filter tomorrow if it continues to play up,” Salvesen reports. “Our staysail halyard is stuck fast in the middle of the mast and we are unable to take the sail down,” he continues. “We can't figure out what the problem is and are probably going to have to cut the line and rig an alternative system. In the meantime we are flying an extra sail which doesn't seem to be getting in the way too much!”

On Roaring Forty, the fleet’s solo sailor, Michel Kleinjans, opted to leave the Falkland Islands to port, following the route of Desafio Cabo de Hornos, and passed very close to Port Stanley at 1800 GMT on Sunday (22/03). Fortunately for Kleinjans, he passed the busy fishing port in daylight and may have avoided the drama experienced by Cubillos and Muñoz on Friday night as the Chilean duo met the entire Falkland’s fishing fleet heading into port. Currently 120 miles north-east of the Falklands, the Belgian solo sailor is averaging seven knots, gaining just over 50 miles on the doublehanded leader in the past 24 hours and trails third place Team Mowgli by 55 miles.

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