Felix Oehme

Felix Oehme

Solo sailor into the lead

Breeze returns mid-Pacific for the Portimao Global Ocean Race crews

Thursday March 5th 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
After the dead calm yesterday morning (04/03), the Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet picked up speed towards midday with averages climbing from a frustrating one knot, to between six-seven knots with solo sailor, Michel Kleinjans, on Open 40 Roaring Forty delivering the best pace slightly north of the double-handed trio of Class 40s. Watching the Belgian single-hander’s speed, Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz on Desafio Cabo de Hornos and the German duo of Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme on Beluga Racer climbed north and by 1220 GMT, the fleet had changed formation. Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson on British Class 40, Team Mowgli, took the lead, keeping south, just three miles above the Leg 3 southern limit at 45°S, while Roaring Forty, Desafio Cabo de Hornos and Beluga Racer clustered together, four miles to the north.

With the fleet compressed so dramatically, almost any manoeuvre would register on the leaderboard and as Salvesen and Thomson slipped north to regroup in the afternoon, Team Mowgli dropped to third with Desafio Cabo de Hornos retaking the double-handed lead and Beluga Racer in second place. In the latest 0620 GMT position poll today (05/03), this formation remains the same with - quite incredibly - Michel Kleinjans leading the fleet eastwards on Roaring Forty. Fleet speed averages have dropped to five knots and below in the past few hours with Desafio Cabo de Hornos holding a 2.2 mile lead over Beluga Racer with Team Mowgli a further nine miles astern of the German boat.

The breeze is currently in the south and with weather models predicting a rise in wind speed and a swing to the north later today, the fleet have hitched northwards with the most southerly boat, Team Mowgli, maintaining a 14 mile safety zone away from the southern limit, treating the mandatory exclusion zone as an invisible, lee-shore. While shifting and complex weather is making life complicated for the fleet, the skippers are forbidden from hooking into the 20-30 knots westerly’s, out of reach, 400 miles to the south below the mandatory exclusion zone. Race Director, Josh Hall, explains the situation: “The Portimão sailors will no doubt be looking at the breeze showing to their south and be frustrated that they have to respect a 45 degree South limit for this Leg,” says Hall. “But this limit is there for good reason – their safety.”

Recent ice reports in the Southern Ocean indicate that bergs calving from the Antarctica are drifting further north. “A mere eight years ago, round the world yacht races had no limits or ice gates and the yachts were free to sail as far south as they dared, taking huge risks in order to greatly reduce the distance they needed to sail,” adds Hall. “I can assure anyone who asks that surfing along at 20+ knots through a moonless night with bergs dotting the radar screen is not for the faint-hearted and can have you hiding under the chart table with your distress beacon strapped to your back. Nights like that are long, long nights.”

However, on Desafio Cabo de Hornos there is no sense of frustration: “In the majestic solitude of this immense, calm ocean, I have had time to think,” wrote Felipe Cubillos yesterday, shortly before unsticking from a windless 24 hours. “We are neither frustrated nor bitter about the time spent drifting around,” he confirms, despite hard work on board the Chilean Class 40. “Those that sail know that periods of calm generate much more work than when there is wind,” he explains. “The amount of sail changes that we have done is impressive. So, why are we not frustrated? It could be that we are a little crazy, perhaps. I believe that it’s good to be a little bit insane. Almost a healthy madness.”

While Cubillos and his co-skipper, José Muñoz, were working their boat hard, the 2,000 miles sailed from Wellington, New Zealand, appear to have had a major impact on the Chilean duo. “We’ve achieved an almost monastic sense of calm and inner peace through being at sea,” reports Cubillos. “But there’s also another thing. I’m not a sociologist, but I read an article recently about studying the levels of happiness around the globe, nation by nation.” Warming to the theme, the fleet’s seafaring polymath continued his hypothesis. “It appears that the happiest people are not in the most developed countries - the First World countries - but in some of the poorest states in Africa,” he explains. “In fact, the Scandinavian countries have the highest suicide rate on the planet – due to the lack of sunlight, maybe. Furthermore, in highly-developed countries, there’s always someone with a better car, a bigger house, a flashy mobile phone crammed with pointless functions, while in less economically developed societies, this culture of material envy is nonexistent and money is not a unit of measurement for happiness or success.”

While the levels of contentment with offshore life are clearly high on board the leading double-handed boat, the three Class 40s and single Open 40 are spread by under 12 miles with complex weather ahead and the Leg 3 scoring gate under 500 miles to the east.

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