Hurricane force conditions

Going gets brutal for Portimão Global Ocean Race competitors

Monday March 16th 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
The Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet have been hammered by hurricane strength, Force 12, south-westerly breeze as they descend through the Furious Fifties towards Cape Horn. Despite drastically reduced sail, race leaders Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz on Desafio Cabo de Hornos have polled very high speed averages, losing only ten miles to Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme on Beluga Racer in the past 24 hours.

While the Germans trail the race leaders by just over 100 miles in the 0620 GMT position poll this morning (16/03), Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson on Team Mowgli remain furthest west in the double-handed class and this position is reflected in their 213 miles DTL deficit as the two frontrunners keep east, closer to the waypoint at Cape Horn. Meanwhile, the fleet’s solo sailor, Michel Kleinjans, is keeping pace with the double-handed fleet during the brutal weather, dropping back just 19 miles behind the race leader in the past 24 hours and Roaring Forty is currently 122 miles off Salvesen and Thomson’s starboard quarter.

Forced to run eastwards under reduced sail in the south-westerly gale yesterday, Cubillos and Muñoz are currently 300 miles off the coast of their homeland, Chile. “Those following the regatta via the internet will see that we are in an area of very dark arrows,” explained Cubillos last night. “It is certain that we are facing the worse weather by far in this entire race, and possibly the worst we have seen in our lives.” However, he was quick to reassure his enormous, Chilean fan base: “But we’ve got everything under control. In the past few hours, we have stopped receiving winds of 65 knots and this is becoming stabilized at just under 50, which feels surprisingly calm by comparison.”

Despite the harsh conditions, their Class 40, Desafio Cabo de Hornos, is coping with the battering at 51°S. “Nothing is broken on board,” confirms Cubillos, “and although the fuse on one of the rudders broke during a broach and it flicked up, we’ve sorted it out already.” Fortunately for the Portimão teams, MRCC Punta Arenas is continuing to monitor the fleet and feed the skippers with highly accurate and detailed weather forecasts. “With advance warning of the gales, we dropped the main and sailed with the staysail only,” the Chilean skipper explains. “Our average speed has been 13 knots and just with the staysail, we touched 22 knots. In these conditions the autopilot can’t cope and José and I have been helming in two-hour shifts.”

Both Cubillos and Muñoz have been taking every precaution to preserve their boat and prevent injuries as Desafio Cabo de Hornos is thrown around, although the constant torrent of water rolling down the side decks and over the coach house roof is unstoppable: “I can now confirm that a truly impermeable drysuit has not been invented yet,” notes Cubillos. “We bought what we thought was the best gear in the world, but I’m afraid the outfit is rubbish.” As the freezing, Southern Ocean water finds a way through tight cuff and collar seals, the clothes below will have no opportunity to dry until the milder conditions in the South Atlantic. “Drysuit designers would learn a huge amount if they left their desks in Europe and spent some time down here in the Furious Fifties,” Cubillos bluntly advises.

To the west of the race leader, Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson crossed latitude 50°S at around midnight GMT last night. “We have now left the Roaring Forties behind us, reported Salvesen earlier this morning. “We’ve entered the zone commonly known as the Screaming, or the Furious, Fifties as we continue our dive south towards Cape Horn about 900 miles to our south-east.” To mark the occasion, the British skipper quoted a 19th century whaling saying: "Beyond 40 degrees south there is no law. Beyond 50 degrees south, there is no God." However, conditions have begun to moderate for Team Mowgli. “The wind has actually softened a bit over the last 24 hours having gusted up to 53 knots last night and is now blowing a steady 30-35 knots,” he reports. “It should continue to veer towards the north and later tonight, or early tomorrow morning, we will be able to gybe eastwards.”

Current weather models suggest that the north-westerly breeze has arrived, delivering 20-30 knots and is forecast to shift to the west later today. “Apart from the occasional rogue breaking waves slamming into our sides, the seas are being kind to us with a pretty steady 3-4 metre swell.”

For the British duo, the tough conditions they are currently encountering are balanced by forging south towards Cape Horn. “The never ending expanse of this amazing ocean takes our breath away every day and it is amazing how beautiful it is,” enthuses Salvesen. “The seas and the skies are never the same and although it may sound strange, we have the most amazing views. There isn't so much bird life around here at the moment, just the occasional albatross floating by, but I expect we will see far more as we get nearer to land.”

With fast conditions expected for the ride south-east to the cape, the Portimão Global Ocean Race organisation have instituted a Navigators Prize for the first team to cross a line running directly south from Cape Horn. Although on board GPS readings and weather routing software will predict the time to a fraction of a second, it is rarely that simple. All the teams were asked to submit their Cape Horn ETA last night and the individual estimates are listed below:

Cape Horn ETA:
Desafio Cabo de Hornos: Wednesday 18th 1849 GMT
Beluga Racer: Thursday 19th 1200 GMT
Team Mowgli: Friday 20th 0100 GMT
Roaring Forty: Friday 20th 2041 GMT

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