Beluga Racer

Beluga Racer

Chileans move into the lead

Action in the Portimao Global Ocean race as the fleet gybe

Wednesday March 11th 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
At 1200 GMT yesterday (10/03), both the race leader, Beluga Racer and second place Desafio Cabo de Hornos gybed north-east on a wind shift while Team Mowgli in third and the fleet’s single-handed entry, Roaring Forty, continued south-east. By the early evening, the British duo of Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson on Team Mowgli and solo sailor, Michel Kleinjans, on Roaring Forty were skimming along the Leg 3 southern limit at 45°S while to their north-east, the Chilean team of Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz had grabbed the lead from Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme after patiently stalking the German duo for four days, taking Desafio Cabo de Hornos to the front of the fleet, just five miles ahead of Beluga Racer.

This morning at 0620 GMT (11/03), Desafio Cabo de Hornos has pulled further ahead of Beluga Racer and leads the double-handed fleet by 13 miles with Team Mowgli in third, 59 miles behind the German Class 40 and Michel Kleinjans on Roaring Forty - the southernmost boat 40 miles above the southern exclusion limit at 45°S – is currently trailing the British yacht by 74 miles. Speeds have dropped as a front approaches the fleet with Desafio Cabo de Hornos and Beluga Racer averaging 8-9 knots while Team Mowgli and Roaring Forty are polling around five knots as the recent separation within the fleet begins to affect the leaderboard.

Current weather models suggest that the leading two boats are in 18 knot north-westerly breeze, but as the front passes through at around midday GMT today, the wind may switch dramatically to the south-west and possibly further to the south giving the boats an opportunity to gybe back towards the exclusion zone and line up for the southern limit’s eastern end at 100°W.

Having taken the lead yesterday for the first time in four days, Felipe Cubillos described the recent tactics late last night: “After consulting at length with José, we decided to ignore our strict sail crossover regime, throw the boat’s polars out of the window and just kept the canvas up, which made us go fast, sailing big angles, but we were still able to resist the squalls.” The strategy proved safe and successful with the Chileans making the best speed in the fleet at 11 knots on Tuesday (10/03) morning. “Then, we waited for the wind shift our team of meteorologists had predicted and stood-by to gybe,” he explains. When the moment came - shortly after 1200 GMT yesterday in the middle of the Pacific night - conditions were typically unhelpful: “As the wind went round to 280°, the breeze immediately picked-up to 30 knots as we passed under a huge black cloud which completely blocked out the full moon,” recalls the Chilean skipper.
With Desafio Cabo de Hornos charging through the night on the limit of control, Cubillos and Muñoz prepared to manoeuvre: “The batteries on my headlamp had failed and neither of us could see anything: it was like a scene from the horror soap opera, ‘Dark Shadows’!” Fortunately, the boat remained free of vampires, werewolves or the flesh-eating undead that traumatised a generation of children in North and South America during the late 60s and the gybe was surprisingly smooth. “We both know the boat so well now that we can locate a rope automatically, even blindfolded, by touch alone.”

Despite his lead, Cubillos is cautious. “The British boat has dropped a little back, but they have run a superb race and they are very good navigators, so we must be on our guard with them. However, our major concern now is the Germans and the fight to arrive first at Cape Horn is going to be really fierce.” Before the start of Leg 3 in Wellington, New Zealand, the Chilean skipper was already determined to reach Cape Horn at the front of the fleet and a local reception committee at the world’s southernmost cape appears to be in place. “We have just received an email from the DGTM [Derección General de Territorio Marítimo] informing us that we are already in Chilean territorial waters,” reports Cubillos with satisfaction. While MRCC Punta Arenas and the Chilean Navy are closely monitoring the Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet and the five boats in the Volvo Ocean Race a little over 600 miles further west into the Pacific, the partisan encouragement in Chile is tangible.

As each mile on the GPS counts down in the approach to Cape Horn, the patriotic passion on the bright red Chilean Class 40 intensifies. “I don’t imagine that people in Chile can grasp how we feel in this solitude with the immense sea and a wind that never stops howling,” ponders Cubillos. Having sailed over halfway around the world, Cubillos and Muñoz are now 1,500 miles from the treeless, barren cape at the bottom of the world on the southern tip of Horn Island. “The knowledge that finally we are in the hands of our beloved Chilean Navy is profound,” he continues. “I am a son, a grandson and a great-grandchild of sailors and was brought up in the strict naval tradition, so this moment is truly very special.”

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