2,000 miles to the Horn

Southern Ocean shows its teeth for the Portimão Global Ocean Race boats

Monday March 9th 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
Over the weekend, the Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet passed the halfway point in their Leg 3 passage across the Pacific Ocean between Wellington, New Zealand, and Cape Horn at the southern tip of Latin America. With over 2,000 miles of racing until the four boats reach the world’s southernmost cape at 56°S and a further 2,500 miles until the finish line in Ilhabela, Brazil, the fleet of 40-footers have felt the full force of the Southern Ocean for the first time since the brutal gales experienced over Christmas and New Year during Leg 2 in the high latitudes of the Indian Ocean.

Under the watchful eye of MRCC (Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre) Punta Arenas in Chile, the Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet have been hooked into a south-westerly band of strong winds spinning from a low pressure system moving eastwards, centred above the northern limit of Antarctica. With MRCC Punta Arenas warning of 90 knot gusts for the fleet yesterday (08/03) and the nearest spec of land – Easter Island – 1,100 miles to the north-east, the teams have been focussed on preserving themselves and their boats, but are still maintaining good pace.

Shortly after taking first place at the Pacific Ocean scoring gate located at 130°W on Saturday morning, Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme on Beluga Racer handed the lead over to Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz on Desafio Cabo de Hornos. On Sunday morning, the German team re-took the lead, holding the northern position in the fleet, and in the latest position poll at 0620 GMT this morning (09/03), Beluga Racer holds a one mile lead over the Chileans on Desafio Cabo de Hornos with the British Class 40, Team Mowgli, in third, eight miles directly astern of Cubillos and Muñoz. Michel Kleinjans – the fleet’s only solo sailor - has kept pace with the double-handed fleet for over a fortnight and his Open 40, Roaring Forty, is currently 60 miles behind Beluga Racer, as the entire fleet average 10 knots, holding a tight formation spread under 20 miles north-south.

Current weather files show the fleet are still experiencing 25-35 knot breeze with violent gusts and the demanding conditions will continue throughout today. “All is well on the good ship Mowgli as we punch our way through the first Southern Ocean storm of this leg,” reported Jeremy Salvesen late on Sunday. “It’s been a beautiful, bright, sunny day with some nasty little squalls thrown in just to keep us on our toes - very heavy rain and hailstones with gusty winds.” MRCC Punta Arenas forecast an 8-10 metre swell for the fleet and the walls of water rolling in from the south-west have added to the discomfort on board the British Class 40. “The seas have built up to a fair degree and while they don't pose any problem for us, we do get side-swiped by a few which knocks things around a bit inside,” explains Salvesen. “I mean, even our bacon and eggs ended up in a cupboard this morning!”

While preparing a ‘Full English Breakfast’ in Force 8-9 is clearly a high-risk undertaking, Salvesen and his co-skipper, David Thomson, have been recuperating after the Southern Ocean sprint through the scoring gate on Saturday. “We have been taking the opportunity to get some much-needed sleep after the race to the scoring gate,” confirms the British skipper. “It is amazing how well you can sleep when being bounced and thrown around inside a little boat. Even when we have quite serious broaches and knocks, it doesn't really disturb whoever is asleep at the time.”

Just 30 minutes before the Leg 3 start gun in New Zealand on 21 February, Salvesen and Thomson took delivery of a new masthead wind instrument unit and hastily installed the vital gear on Team Mowgli before leaving the dock. “I am not convinced, however, that our wind instrument is giving the right readings,” Salvesen believes. “We haven't had the chance to calibrate it properly in stronger winds and now with the original unit not working, we're not going to get the chance!” The result is an under-reading of wind strength that could potentially lead to over-canvassing the boat. “We are reading an average of around 25 knots with gusts up to 35,” he continues. “But it is certainly much more than that.” The experienced gained by the British duo in the first two legs of the Portimão Global Ocean Race and a big, but regular wave pattern should ensure that Salvesen and Thomson do not take any risks. “Still, the sea state is nowhere near what we saw in the Indian Ocean,” reassures Salvesen. “We are sailing smoothly, without being too overpowered for the most part, with much more sail up than we had in steady 40 knots of wind back in Leg 2.”

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