Mowgli dives south

As Chilean and German doublehanders match race in the Portimão Global Ocean Race

Tuesday February 24th 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
On the third day of racing, pole position in the Portimão Global Ocean Race doublehanded fleet continues to change. While Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz on Desafio Cabo de Hornos and the German duo of Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme on Beluga Racer continue a display of offshore match racing and are consistently under one mile apart, the British duo of Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson on Team Mowgli played the wild card and took a southern flyer early in the race.

“Our tactics have been to get a little south of the fleet but to stay north of the Chatham Islands,” reported Salvesen late on Sunday. “This tactic has had a similar result to the Cape Town start and appears to have cost us time against the rest of the fleet,” he continued. “However we are now gaining that ground back.” The gamble proved highly effective and while the Chileans and Germans fought it out at the front, Team Mowgli slipped into first place on Sunday night and held the lead until shortly after their Class 40 passed 35 miles to the north-east of the remote Chatham Islands on Monday morning.

The latest position poll at 0620 GMT this morning reveals that Salvesen and Thomson are still looking for stronger breeze, north of the leaders, resisting the option of simply slip streaming the German and Chilean teams and Team Mowgli is heading northeast in third place, having crossed the tracks of Beluga Racer and the current race leader Desafio Cabo de Hornos yesterday. Currently, the British Class 40 is trailing the Chileans by 32 miles. “What has made this doubly frustrating for us, however, is the fact that our new boom has already suffered from serious damage,” reported Salvesen on Monday night. “I guess as a result of a design flaw. The lashing for the vang system strung under the boom has ended up actually cutting through the carbon fibre at the inboard end of the boom itself after the metal eye containing it came free.” This damage means the vang and boom preventer are inoperable. “That this was caused in such light conditions where nothing is under very much pressure is annoying to say the least!” he continues. “We have already glued everything back into place and will do quite a lot of sanding and additional glass work on Tuesday morning,” says Salvesen. “The manufacturers will hopefully get a technician down to Brazil to do complete repairs once we are there.”

Meanwhile, Boris Herrman and Felix Oehme on Beluga Racer and Cubillos and Muñoz on board Desafio Cabo de Hornos are constantly swapping first and second positions as they stream south-east. “The British boat is sailing a brilliant race,” admits Cubillos. “They made the decision to go south and went into the lead. Good work, Team Mowgli.” However, the luxury of wild card tactics is not available to the Chileans. “Our race is a very different matter, though,” he continues. “We made the decision well before the start that we would stick close to the Germans, covering Boris and Felix on Beluga Racer, ignoring any tempting weather or tactical options that may appear. I spoke with Boris before the start and I know that this is his strategy also. So here we are, the two boats separated by around 100 metres, match racing through the Southern Ocean.”

On Leg 1 and Leg 2, Beluga Racer and Desafio Cabo de Hornos finished each leg separated by under four hours after around 6,500 miles of racing with the German team taking first place. Consequently, Cubillos realises that the time to attack or break away from Beluga Racer may be thousands of miles in the future. “It’s like being a bird of prey or an animal hunting its quarry,” says the Chilean skipper. “Knowing when to strike is vital.” However, the temptation to split from formation proved iressistible and – having built a 3.4 mile lead over the Germans shortly after midnight last night – Desafio Cabo de Hornos made their move, gybed north-east and pulled a 28 mile lead over Beluga Racer in a handful of hours as the Germans remain trapped in failing breeze averaging 3.6 knots to the Chilean’s 6.2 knots.

Until this breakaway, sailing within clear sight of each other allowed the teams to monitor the opposition’s sail changes and both boats have been swapping from Code 5 to spinnaker in an attempt to gain an extra knot of boat speed with a total of six headsail changes in six hours. The close proximity also provides scope for entertainment between the Class 40 skippers. “Over the radio we invited the Chileans to lunch,” reports Boris Herrmann from Beluga Racer. “However, we insisted that they contribute their national drink, Pisco, to the party and we promised to rustle up an apple strudel. Sadly, I don’t think the race rules permit luncheon parties and the rendezvous is postponed.”

The singlehanded status of Michel Kleinjans on Roaring Forty allows the Belgian skipper spectator rights as he watches the three Class 40s fight it out to the south. “The Chileans had a flying start,” he observed this morning. “They’re really intent on winning this leg of the race as the route takes them passed their home country on the way to Brazil. They are really, really determined to reach Cape Horn first, although if this doesn’t provide extra motivation for Beluga Racer and Team Mowgli, I don’t know what will!”

Meanwhile, Kleinjans is concentrating on getting back into solo ocean racing after the New Zealand stop over. “After the start, I opted to head east, in fact even slightly north of east, while the others dived south-east,” he explains. “My evaluation of the weather files showed less wind to the south, so I stuck north, but the wind evaporated for me and I dropped back quickly to 50 miles behind the double-handed fleet.”

This lack of wind meant constant sail changes to keep the Open 40 moving, robbing sleep from Kleinjans and preventing the Belgian skipper from achieving any offshore rhythm and rest pattern that is vital to a solo sailor. “It was hours before the next batch of weather files arrived and when I downloaded them, they showed more wind in the south!” Early on Sunday morning, Kleinjans gave up the northern option and turned Roaring Forty south-east: “Since then, I’ve been trying to get south and it now appears the others now have less wind than me.” The latest position report shows that Roaring Forty is now 23 miles behind Team Mowgli and maintaining contact with the doublehanded fleet.

With the exception of Desafio Cabo de Hornos, the four yachts are experiencing exceptionally light winds and the outlook for the fleet is still uncertain, but light, benign conditions in the near future are probable. “Apart from the boom issue, we have been basking in glorious sunshine and enjoying the wildlife of the south Pacific Ocean,” comments Salvesen, who remains upbeat despite the frustration on board Team Mowgli and averaging 2.8 knots at dawn this morning. “There were more albatross around today than we have ever seen and at one point there must have been nearly twenty of them either flying around us or sitting on the water close by….I didn't know that albatross ever stopped flying! We also saw our first shark only about two or three metres from the boat. Not sure what it was, but I guess it was about five feet long and hunting for sitting albatross!”

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