Low passes through Portimão fleet

As they make their descent towards Cape Horn

Sunday March 15th 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
MRCC Punta Arenas provided a highly accurate weather forecast for the Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet on Saturday morning, predicting that winds would switch to north-west, before swinging round to the south and south-west and building rapidly. This morning, weather models indicate that the starboard reaching conditions have arrived with south-westerly breeze of around 24 knots, building to 30+ knots this afternoon and likely gusts of 45 knots.

This transition was uncomfortable for Jeremy Salvesen and David on Team Mowgli: “After 24 hours of strong headwinds - 25 knots or so - we managed to find ourselves bang slap in the middle of the low pressure system this afternoon with hardly any wind at all,” reported Salvesen earlier this morning. “Once again spinning in circles waiting for it to pass.” Although the centre of the low pressure system is now south of the fleet, The British Class 40 suffered badly, slowing to sub-five knot averages on Saturday evening while Desafio Cabo de Hornos and Beluga Racer, further east in more stable breeze, averaged nine-ten knots.

However, the downtime was not wasted: “We took the opportunity to do some more basic maintenance and checking, so it was valuable time in its way,” says Salvesen. “We brought the bowsprit in and checked the lashings at the end and tightened the deck fittings which were a little loose.” On Leg 2 between Cape Town, South Africa, and Wellington, New Zealand, the yacht’s bowsprit tore free of the foredeck mid-Indian Ocean, prohibiting the use of downwind headsails and drastically affecting performance. “The block on the 2:1 staysail halyard was badly damaged,” he continues. “So we managed to replace that too - although with the confused seas it was a very uncomfortable trip up the mast for David.”

In the 0620 GMT position poll this morning (15/03), the breeze has stabilised and the entire fleet are averaging just under 10 knots with Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz increasing their overall lead by 21 miles overnight. The Chilean duo are now 115 miles ahead of Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme on Beluga Racer with the Salvesen and Thomson dropping back during their entrapment in the centre of the low, now trailing the lead double-handed boat by 192 miles on Team Mowgli. “After an hour or so, the centre passed and quite quickly the winds picked up to between 30 and 40 knots, although thankfully from a more southerly direction, meaning we could come off the wind a bit and increase speed a little,” confirms Salvesen and the harsh, Southern Ocean conditions have resumed: “So, life on board has been a bit uncomfortable,” he admits.

“Moving around down below means holding on with two hands all the time and up on deck is incredibly wet and cold! The sea temperature is now 11.5 degrees and dropping quite quickly - but still nowhere near the 6 degrees we experienced on the last leg when we were about this far south.”

Meanwhile, 124 miles north of Salvesen and Thomson, the fleet’s solo sailor, Michel Kleinjans on Roaring Forty had some company earlier today as the five, 70ft boats in the Volvo Ocean Race closed in. Over the past few days, the Portimão Global Ocean Race organisation and the Volvo Ocean Race have been trading their fleet’s relative positions, hoping to avoid any encounters below 47°S. At 0400 GMT this morning (15/03), Ian Walker, skipper of VO70 Green Dragon was in contact: “By my calculations, we are going to pass within three miles of the Open 40 Roaring Forty in about one hour,” he predicted in an email to both race HQ’s. Lying in fourth place, holding the most northerly position in the Volvo fleet, Walker and his team were flying eastwards averaging 20 knots. “It is a pitch black night,” continued the British skipper. “Is it possible to send a message to him asking him to ensure he has his nav lights on? I think we are aiming right up his exhaust pipe at a million miles an hour! I will try to hail him on the radio.” The latest Volvo Ocean Race position poll at 0700 GMT shows that Green Dragon passed a handful of miles south of Kleinjans. A second Volvo boat, Ken Read’s team on PUMA Ocean Racing, are currently hurtling east below Team Mowgli and Beluga Racer, very close to the British Class 40, and Torben Grael and his crew on Ericsson 4 in second place are heading towards the Portimão race leader, Desafio Cabo de Hornos.

With the Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet spread between 49-47°S, the descent to Cape Horn at 56°S, 900 miles south-east of the lead boat could be fats: “It looks as if we are to have strong winds - 25 knots plus anyway - from here all the way down to Cape Horn,” reports Salvesen from Team Mowgli. “So, it won't be long before once again we can turn and head north to warmer climes!”

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