24 hours from the Horn

Portimão Global Ocean Race boats into the Furious Fifties

Tuesday March 17th 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
Over the past 24 hours, the Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet have been riding northwesterly breeze of around 20 knots in their descent through the Furious Fifties towards Cape Horn. Furthest east, leading the fleet 180 miles off the Chilean coast, Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz on Desafio Cabo de Hornos have dropped a handful of miles to Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme on Beluga Racer since yesterday morning, with the two boats trading the highest speed average of 12 knots frequently throughout Monday. In the 0620 GMT poll this morning (17/03), the Chilean team maintain a 97 mile lead over the German duo with the yachts averaging identical speeds at 11 knots.

While the entire fleet have been on starboard gybe, heading south-east, furthest west in the doublehanded fleet, Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson opted to hitch eastwards on Monday afternoon, gybing Team Mowgli onto port and flat lining towards the coast for six hours at 51°S: a vital move that will pay handsomely in the long term, but a manoeuvre that has cost the British duo in distance to Desafio Cabo de Hornos and Beluga Racer and the British Class 40 now trails the race leader by 248 miles. Meanwhile, solo sailor, Michel Kleinjans remains west of the double-handed fleet, resisting the temptation to gybe his Open 40, Roaring Forty, towards the east and the Belgian yachtsman is shadowing Salvesen and Thomson 124 miles astern of Team Mowgli.

Current weather models predict that the wind will build and turn towards the west throughout today and into Wednesday morning, providing the fleet with a off wind sprint south-east to Cape Horn. "Over the next few hours, we will have a great many gybes as the wind shifts,” explained Felipe Cubillos from Desafio Cabo de Hornos earlier today. “In addition, the best wind pressure is coming from the north and this has favoured the Germans.” Herrmann and Oehme are west of the Chilean boat, but at almost the same latitude - just five miles separate the boats north-south - and as the wind works west, a gybing duel and fast run or reach south to the cape is looking likely.

As yet, however, Cubillos and Muñoz are leading the race in isolation: “The Volvo boats passed close to us with Green Dragon only 40 miles away, but we have not seen them,” reports Cubillos. “Here, the only thing that it is seen, besides water, are the albatrosses that always fascinate me. They make flying look so effortless, but when they are trying to initiate flight….my God that costs them!” Watching the large birds heave themselves off the surface of the water, launching with giant wing beats, skimming the surface of the sea, legs paddling furiously in mid-air as they lumber skywards has initiated a Southern Ocean wildlife protocol on Desafio Cabo de Hornos: “It’s exhausting watching them take-off, so whenever we see one sitting in the sea off the bow, we bare away and duck beneath them,” explains the Chilean skipper. “This is their neighbourhood, so it’s the least we can do.”

With a projected Cape Horn ETA of 1800 GMT tomorrow (18/03), Cubillos and Muñoz are already primed for the rounding and a glimpse of their homeland. “It fills us with great emotion to know that our beloved Chilean Navy might rendezvous with us at the most mystical place on the planet,” says Cubillos. However, there are other pressing concerns: “The rounding will be a personal Everest for us, but we have the additional problem of the Germans on our back,” he confirms. “They’re tremendous sailors and I know they are not going to give up the chase until their last breath.”

Currently 372 miles behind the Chilean race leader, Michel Kleinjans is enjoying the solitude: “It’s grey and drizzly weather and the sea is coming from all angles,” he reported last night. “I’ve got a few leaks in the ballast system, more than I was expecting, but it’s OK. We’re averaging a good 10 knots, but if the wind does not decrease - and the forecast ahead looks nasty - then I must exit my cocoon in the cabin and reduce sail.” After 24 days at sea, the Belgian solo sailor is totally in tune with the environment. “I’m just about to prepare food and I think the packet of chilli con carne will go well with a small amount of wine,” he continues. “Every time I light the cooker, I hope the burner doesn’t suck all the air from the cabin as carbon dioxide poisoning in the vast, open space of the Southern Ocean would make a very poor joke!”
Without the benefit of a co-skipper, Kleinjans must make his own entertainment. “I’ve set up a bit of music; Cesaria Evora, perhaps, or maybe some Norah Jones, and while the freeze dried feast is cooking, I’ll try some wine.” After such a long period of abstinence, the effect of alcohol is instantaneous. “It is astonishing how quickly it gets into my system and how relaxing it is,” admits the Belgian yachtsman. “I’ll have to be a bit careful otherwise a terrible Bacchanal will develop! It is a great feeling, though, to be secure in the warm cabin, heated by the cooker, with the boat tearing along and the storm blowing outside. It’s great to have a bit of genuine downtime, just concentrating on singing along with foolish songs before grabbing a couple of hours sleep.” The image of Roaring Forty blasting through the Southern Ocean night, masthead lights twinkling, a soft glow seeping from the cabin windows, with the faintest whiff of rehydrated beef and the haunting strains of a curious, ‘Besame Mucho’ duet is deeply compelling…

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