Volvo rendezvous on the cards

Portimão fleet looking likely to be joined in the Southern Ocean soon

Tuesday March 10th 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
Over the past 24 hours, The Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet have been on a continuous starboard gybe in south-westerly breeze, holding formation with the leaderboard order stable as the evenly-matched boats surf eastwards. As MRCC Punta Arenas predicted yesterday, the wind has dropped to around 20-25 knots and the swell has decreased to between six and four metres.

Currently spread over 25 miles north-south, the four boats appear to be experiencing precisely the same conditions in a Southern Ocean corridor of south-westerly wind and, earlier this morning (10/03), the fleet all hitched fractionally south-east in unison as the breeze moved a few degrees further to the west. In the latest 0620 GMT position poll, Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme continue to lead the fleet, holding the northern position on Beluga Racer with the Chilean team on Desafio Cabo de Hornos and the British duo of Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson on Team Mowgli south of the German boat. The fleet’s solo sailor, Michel Kleinjans, has mirrored the manoeuvres of the double-handed Class 40s and is matching their speed averages, although his Open 40, Roaring Forty, is trailing the fleet leader by just 96 miles after 17 days at sea.

Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz are pushing their bright red boat as hard as the conditions allow and Desafio Cabo de Hornos is currently off the starboard beam of Beluga Racer with Team Mowgli dead astern. “In the most recent position report [0620 GMT], the difference between the German boat and us is five miles and we are ahead of the English boat by 24 miles,” Cubillos has just confirmed. “The differences are extremely small for an offshore race like this.” Although the fleet are limited strategically by the mandatory, southern limit exclusion zone, this will soon change. “In the next three days, the restriction of not going south of latitude 45°S will be lifted and we can work on tactics,” continues the Chilean skipper.

However, the fleet have 500 miles to sail before reaching the eastern limit of the exclusion zone and the forecast is complicated. “The next three days are very complex from a strategic and tactical point of view,” Cubillos admits. “There’s a strong possibility of at least three separate fronts before we reach the waypoint at the end of the southern limit and the wind direction and strength will vary substantially.” Reaching the waypoint first and diving south-east for the 1,300 miles descent towards Cape Horn is a priority: “We already have a defined strategy,” he explains, “but there is an additional complication: the zone in which we are sailing is thick with enormous, towering, grey clouds that almost touch the surface of the sea and bring rain, hail and a lot of wind. If you’re not quick about reducing or changing sails before a squall arrives, the result is a knock-down and damaged sails.”

With one spinnaker already destroyed earlier in Leg 3, the Chilean duo has become experts at squall scouting: “Last night I spotted a squall of 60 knots just in time and we shot through it,” reports Cubillos. “But that’s the way it goes down here and we know that the English and the Germans are also undergoing these conditions.” The constantly shifting breeze is demanding for the entire fleet and with 20-25 knots forecast for the next 24 hours, the workload continues: “I have the feeling that today is going to be a tough one also,” he predicts. Sailing on the same latitude as the stunning, Chilean sailing area around Chiloé Island, Cubillos and Muñoz can already smell their homeland: “However, we are to less than 1,800 miles from our dear Chile,” says Cubillos, “and any effort is worth the pain.”

For 17 days, the Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet have had exclusive occupation of the 4,000 miles of Southern Ocean between New Zealand and South America, but the area will shortly undergo a population explosion as the five boats racing in Leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) drop down from the north and join the high latitude action in the Eastern Pacific. Currently, the VOR race leader, Ericsson 3, skippered by Magnus Olsson, is a little over 1,000 miles west of the Portimão fleet. However, the fully-crewed, 70ft, VOR boats consistently poll twice the average speed of the four 40-footers and with both fleets heading for Cape Horn, there is a potential for close encounters between the two fleets in around three days.

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