Beluga Racer first to scoring gate

As 90 knot gusts forecast for Portimão Global Ocean race

Sunday March 8th 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
On Saturday morning, the Portimão Global Ocean race fleet scorched through the Pacific Ocean scoring gate at 130°W. First across at 1013 GMT, Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme on Beluga Racer made the Leg 3 scoring gate a hat trick having clinched maximum points at the Atlantic and Indian Ocean scoring gates in Leg 1 and Leg 2. Under half an hour later, the British duo of Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson on Team Mowgli crossed in second place at 1040 GMT, closely followed one hour and 12 minutes later by the Chilean team of Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz on Desafio Cabo de Hornos at 1152 GMT. Just over four hours later, the fleet’s solo sailor, Michel Kleinjans on Roaring Forty, traversed the gate at 1603 GMT.

After 14 days and with over 2,000 miles of ocean racing completed since the start of Leg 3 in Wellington, New Zealand, the six hour spread is a remarkable achievement. Equally striking are the current conditions facing the 40ft fleet. MRCC Punta Arenas, Chile, are monitoring the fleet and issued a weather warning this morning (08/03) of southwesterly winds between 40-50 knots and gusts reaching 90 knots with a mighty 8-10 metre swell. Despite this fierce, Antarctic blast, the four boats are averaging slightly above ten knots with Beluga Racer taking the lead from Desafio Cabo de Hornos in the latest, 0620 GMT position poll. Currently, the German team hold a one mile lead over the Chileans with Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson on Team Mowgli in third, eight miles behind Desafio Cabo de Hornos, and solo sailor, Michel Kleinjans, is trailing the double-handed fleet by 60 miles on Open 40, Roaring Forty.

So far, the conditions are providing adrenaline sailing. “We have rough sea and exciting, spectacular surfing on the back of the waves,” reported Boris Herrmann, skipper of the current race leader, Beluga Racer, shortly after crossing the scoring gate. “Some of the waves pile up on top of each other to an extraordinary height,” he continues. “This is not a place for anyone with vertigo. If you time the crest of a wave badly, the bow goes into a nose dive right into the trough between these mountains of water. It’s like driving an overpowered, out of control sports car.”

The Chilean duo of Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz took the southern option, slipping through the scoring gate under 60 miles north of the southern exclusion zone at 45°S. At 1820 GMT on Saturday, their strategy delivered and the bright red Class 40 took over pole position, slipping back to second place at 0620 GMT this morning. “The boat has transformed from a yacht into a submarine,” reported Cubillos late on Saturday. “Sailing in 50 knots is acceptable,” he continues. “But 70 knot gusts are a totally different game. In the Southern Ocean, the waves are simply enormous and they submerge the boat completely. They engulf you when you’re helming, bursting over the stern, blocking out the sun.”

Studying the soft green glow of the digital, cockpit instruments is forgotten and the ominous, grey, wave train has become hypnotic for Cubillos and his co-skipper, José Muñoz. “You are always hunting for the next surf, totally absorbed by the wave in front and, as the wind picks up the top of the wave, the whole area around the boat begins to boil and crackle. It’s a daunting scene.” There is, however, a sharp spur digging in the flanks of Desafio Cabo de Hornos: “Our aim is clear,” Cubillos explains. “We are determined to hoist our national flag as we round Cape Horn in first place.” The Chilean skipper estimates that he will round his country’s southernmost outpost in 11 days time. “Although the weather is brutal, we are holding out and the team of guardian angels sitting up in the spreaders are keeping an eye on us.”

Meanwhile, Michel Kleinjans on Roaring Forty shot through the scoring gate at 1603 GMT yesterday (07/03) averaging ten knots, reporting 30-35 knots with hefty squalls and was preparing to tuck in a third reef. “The double-handers have still got both feet on the accelerator instead of slowing down like me,” comments the fleet’s only solo sailor. “Personally, the priority is preserving the boat.” Kleinjans admits that he was grabbing some vital sleep while Roaring Forty passed through the scoring gate and the Belgian solo sailor is pacing himself perfectly while remaining in contact with the double-handed boats. “Everything is going to plan,” he confirms. “Although the first two weeks of Leg 3 were light wind sailing, the boat is in excellent shape with no problems and can cope with the current conditions.”

Double-handed class overall points after the Leg 3 scoring gate:
Beluga Racer 26
Desafio Cabo de Hornos 19.5
Team Mowgli 16

Single-handed class overall points after the Leg 3 scoring gate:
Roaring Forty 26

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