160 miles from the Horn

Approaching their own coastline, the Chileans hold a 89 mile lead in the Portimão Global Ocean Race

Wednesday March 18th 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
The two leaders in the Portimão Global Ocean Race are in a duel 70 miles off the coast of Chilean Tierra del Fuego. Over the past 24 hours, the leading, double-handed Class 40, Desafio Cabo de Hornos, and Beluga Racer in second place have been running almost dead downwind in their descent to Cape Horn with the chasing German duo of Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme gaining a handful of miles from the Chilean team of Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz. At 0620 GMT this morning (18/03), Desafio Cabo de Hornos holds an 89 mile lead over Beluga Racer with just 160 miles remaining until the Chileans reach Cape Horn.

After 25 days at sea since the start of Leg 3 in Wellington, New Zealand, the spread between the entire fleet is 400 miles, but the gap between the leading two boats is remarkable. Currently, Desafio Cabo de Hornos and Beluga Racer are averaging the highest speeds in stronger, 20 knot breeze near the coast, with the boats trading 11-12 knot averages, finding better pace as they harden up and broad reach eastwards. Further west, Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson on Team Mowgli, 282 miles behind the lead boat, and solo sailor, Michel Kleinjans, on Roaring Forty are polling nine knots in around 15 knots of breeze.

Throughout today, the wind is forecast to clock to the north and build as the deep low pressure system centred approximately 1,000 miles due west of the fleet rumbles eastwards, colliding with the coast of South America. For the race leaders this should mean fast reaching, but with Desafio Cabo de Hornos and Beluga Racer sailing over a sheer, submerged cliff face as the 4,000 metre deep Chile Trench rises to just 200 metres at the continental shelf, the sea state is likely to be fierce. For Team Mowgli and Roaring Forty, the prospects look equally tough, with weather models predicting a further rise in wind strength late on Thursday as the two boats close in on Cape Horn.
For Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz, leading the fleet around the southernmost outpost of their homeland has been a priority since the start of the Portimão Global Ocean Race in October last year. “We must not fail, all Chile is watching to us,” said Cubillos late yesterday. “I really think I risk dying from laughter as this race is becoming really unforgettable!” Having sailed over halfway around the world, the proximity of Chilean territory is intoxicating. “It is really exciting that we are approaching Tierra del Fuego, the area once inhabited by the Selk’nam people and shared with the Yaganes,” he continued.

The entire hull, decks and hatches of Desafio Cabo de Hornos are covered with Selk’nam tribal artwork and the sails feature the figure of Kotaik, an important figure in Selk’nam society. “The Selk’nam were hunter gatherers, while the Yaganes were fishing people,” explains Cubillos. “With the arrival of settlers from the north and from Europe, both tribes were exterminated or wiped out by disease.” In the late 19th century, the border between Argentina and Chile was carved straight through unexplored Tierra del Fuego and along the Beagle Channel: a treaty that has rarely suited either country. “Our entire sailing campaign is a tribute to these indigenous people that once populated Tierra del Fuego and who were as much Argentine as Chilean,” he points out. “It makes me very emotional to be arriving at this part of the world where – for 30 years – the two nations have been on the brink of war. Thankfully, this terrible war never took place and now we share a friendship and common future with Argentina.”

Despite being a very, very long way from home, an extraordinary mid-Southern Ocean coincidence turned Michel Kleinjans’ thoughts towards Europe with the arrival of Bouwe Bekking and his ten crew on Volvo Ocean Race entry, Telefonica Blue. “The Spanish Volvo boat passed a bit too much north for any photographs,” reported Kleinjans from Roaring Forty earlier today. “But I chatted to Bouwe on the satellite phone.” Bekking and his team are hamstrung by damage on board their 70ft boat, including a jury-rigged forestay, a cracked mast and a delaminating mainsail and Telefonica Blue is trailing the Volvo fleet. “We both did our first Whitbread Race the same year and Bouwe can’t remember how many times he has rounded Cape Horn since then,” continues Kleinjans. “It’s strange how lives reconnect and we end up in precisely the same place 23 years later. It felt really odd chatting away in Dutch out here, but very nice.”

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