Chileans lead past icegate

An update from the Portimão Global Ocean Race

Friday March 13th 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
After 14 days pinned north of the Leg 3 southern limit, the Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet are now descending southeast through the Southern Ocean towards Cape Horn. First to pass the eastern end of the exclusion zone at 1700 GMT yesterday (12/03), Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz on race leader Desafio Cabo de Hornos cleared the end of the limit by 15 miles on a starboard reach, followed approximately four hours later by Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme on Beluga Racer.

In the latest 0620 GMT (13/03) position poll, Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson are a matter of minutes from passing very close to the eastern waypoint on Team Mowgli and the fleet’s solo sailor, Michel Kleinjans, has a further 50 miles before Roaring Forty can dive towards the south. Although the Pacific Ocean southern limit at 45°S has required that the fleet of 40-footers negotiate high pressure systems to the north, squeezing the boats against the exclusion zone’s boundary, the Portimão Global Ocean Race are vindicated through the presence of icebergs reported on Wednesday by Volvo Ocean Race entry Green Dragon 300 miles south of the Portimão fleet’s track. A truly chilling sight, whether viewed from a 70ft VOR yacht, or a 40ft Portimão boat.

Over the past 24 hours, Desafio Cabo de Hornos has extended her lead over the German team by 36 miles. Skipper, Felipe Cubillos, explains the reason: “Our boat is really fast in these conditions,” he confirms. “José and I know that after 21,000 miles and with the current sail plan, on average, we sail at over 20% of the boat’s design speed.” While this news will excite any sailors who have purchased, or ordered, a Guillaume Verdier-designed Class 40, the Chilean skipper realises that his bright red yacht is not untouchable. “It’s not always this way and it depends on the wind angle and strength,” he admits. “But these are the same conditions that we faced in the Tasman Sea on our route to Wellington, during which we sailed, on average, almost two knots faster than the fleet.” In the closing stages of Leg 2, Cubillos and Muñoz destroyed a huge lead held by Herrmann and Oehme on Beluga Racer, finishing just three and a half hours behind the German duo after 6,500 miles of racing across the Indian Ocean. Having consistently polled the highest speed averages over the past day, the Chilean team now lead the fleet by a margin of 87 miles, averaging 8.5 knots – precisely two knots faster than Herrmann and Oehme.

Currently reaching in southwesterly breeze, the conditions for the fleet could change dramatically later today as a low pressure system to the north of the boats tracks south with potential easterly breeze forecast. “Nothing lasts forever and we won’t have this bonanza period for the rest of the leg,” predicts Cubillos. “And that’s okay. That’s the way it is with yacht racing, that’s the way it is with life. It is a precious cycle of successes and failures, dawns and dusks, calms and storms.” It is impossible for Cubillos to transmit a daily log without contemplation and the grey, empty, unpopulated expanse of the Southern Ocean triggered a theory: “I have always thought that the prettiest colours, the most beautiful shapes, the most perfect proportions and the most pleasing sounds are all found in nature and they’re free to study, free to watch and free to listen to,” wrote the Chilean polymath late last night.

“Perhaps the success of the great designers, architects and artists has to do with a sensitivity to discover the original, natural forms and colours,” continues Cubillos. “Anyone familiar with the work and inventions of Leonardo da Vinci will know what I’m talking about. There are other great inventions of man, discoveries that come from observing nature. I’m not going to log onto Wikipedia, but Velcro is a perfect example. I’ve never had the story confirmed, but as a child, I was told that the material assimilates the form of how flies fold their wings. This may be nonsense, but it’s a nice explanation.” However, the authentic story of a Swiss engineer returning from a mountain walk with his dog, removing prickly seed pods from his trousers and studying them under a microscope (while his faithful hound sat nearby, its ears filled with cockleburs), is no less appealing.

The double-handed class in the Portimão Global Ocean Race are now spread over 122 miles with Salvesen and Thomson on Team Mowgli in third place trailing Beluga Racer by 35 miles with Michel Kleinjans and Roaring Forty 73 miles behind the British duo. This current separation could expand or contract depending on the path of the low pressure system today. If the leading two boats gain enough ground south, they may avoid the possibility of headwinds that could hamper Team Mowgli and Roaring Forty. While the teams will be looking over their shoulders at the weather system to the north as they race south, they will shoot an occasional glance to starboard as the five, Volvo Ocean Race boats race eastwards, 600 miles WSW of the Portimão fleet. Both race organisations are currently trading their fleet’s position updates which are transmitted to all the teams. As Portimão Race Director, Josh Hall, warned his fleet last night: “Please look out for those Volvo trucks rolling towards you!”

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