Back to the South

Team Mowgli takes the lead after Saturday's restart of the Portimão Global Ocean Race

Monday February 23rd 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
At 1415 local time (0115 GMT) on Saturday, the four boats in the Portimão Global Ocean Race crossed the start line of Leg 3 from Wellington, New Zealand, bound for the finish line in Ilhabela, Brazil. The leadership battle remains tight with pole position changing three times and the Class 40 fleet separated by just five miles after 48 hours of racing. Taking a dramatic southern option soon after the start and splitting from the fleet has proved a good gamble for Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson on Team Mowgli who swept into the lead at 2120 GMT last night.

First to cross the start line on Saturday were the German duo of Boris Hermann and Felix Oehme on Beluga Racer with solo sailor Michel Kleinjans in second on Roaring Forty and the Chilean duo of Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz with Desafio Cabo de Hornos third across and the British pair, Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson, in fourth with Team Mowgli. With 7,500 miles of racing ahead, the crossing order of the start line may seem insignificant, but the morale and media implications are powerful. For the Chilean team, the option to carry the most sail across the start line has lifted spirits on board. “The start in Wellington was really memorable,” reports Felipe Cubillos. “It was blowing 30 knots from the NNW, flat sea and the dock was full of people to see us off: boats, helicopters, just about everything that could float or fly. And, right in the centre of all this, our bright red boat.”

Within metres of the start line, Desafio Cabo de Hornos took the lead: “The first three miles leading from the harbour into Cook Strait were going to be with the wind square on the beam,” recalls Cubillos. “All the fleet opted for two reefs in the main and staysail, but we went with the bigger, Solent headsail as the boat is comfortable in up to 30 knots with Soilent and a couple of reefs.” The gamble paid off for the Chileans and their gains were instantaneous. “We started very fast,” continues Cubillos. “When we shot out into the strait, we’d already built a 1.5 mile advantage.”

In Leg 2 from Cape Town, South Africa, a distinct formation developed as the fleet spread out into the Indian Ocean and a familiar pattern is currently developing in the Pacific. Solo sailor, Michel Kleinjans, on Roaring Forty is keeping north with Salvesen and Thomson taking their traditional southern station, gybing Team Mowgli late on Saturday (GMT), hitching south and holding third place in the double-handed class, north-west of the Chatham Islands sailing over an eastward-pointing finger of South Island’s continental shelf. Just one mile ahead of the British duo, the Chilean and German teams remained locked together, shadowing each other just miles apart, duplicating manoeuvres exactly as the wind shifted and fluctuated.

At 1700 GMT on Saturday, Beluga Racer snatched first place for 19 hours until Desafio Cabo de Hornos regained the lead and held first place despite an unpleasant bump in the night. Felipe Cubillos explains: “José was off-watch, sleeping, although I felt like waking him and sharing the stunning starlight night and stable breeze. Added to which, we had a 2.8 mile lead over the Germans, but with the Brits chasing very fast in the south.” However, Cubillos had a sense of impending drama. “I was listening to some Dire Straits, spinnaker up, 14 knots of breeze, nine knots boats speed and I just felt that when things are this good, it just can’t last.” And so it was, with the bright red Class 40 slamming into an underwater object, coming to an almost complete stop. “I woke José real quick,” continues Cubillos. “My first thought was we’d been caught in fishing gear. Can you imagine the mess? Trying to cut away the net on a moonless night, stuck at sea with the Germans breathing down our necks!”

Cubillos and Muñoz dropped the spinnaker, backed the mainsail and sailed astern freeing Desafio Cabo de Hornos from whatever had entrapped their keel. “As we crept backwards slowly, we saw it. A shark, cut clean in two by our keel fin,” confirms the Chilean skipper. However, the encounter failed to slow the Latin American team and Desafio Cabo de Hornos maintained a 2.6 mile lead over the Germans on Beluga Racer and a little above three miles over third place Team Mowgli with Michel Kleinjans and Roaring Forty keeping to the north at 1520 GMT on Sunday. “I feel really sorry for the shark and it’s really bad luck,” Cubillos admits. “But after 17,000 miles of sailing our boat, you are able to feel if there’s the slightest problem with her and everything seems fine and we’re back up to 90 percent speed.”

Over the weekend, the Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet were riding breeze of around 20 knots on top of a low pressure system that was tracking south-east into the Pacific Ocean, although forecasting is unclear. “The meteorological scene for the next few days is completely uncertain,” commented Cubillos on Sunday. “Right now, we are sailing in breeze that all the weather experts said does not exist, but we will enjoy it while it lasts.” For the Chileans, immediate tactics are simple: “There’s still a long way to race, but our current strategy is simple. Stick close to Beluga Racer and stay ahead of them.” There is, however, a threat hammering along at 10 knots south of the fleet. “The great mystery is Team Mowgli,” confessed Cubillos. “The English boat to the south already has a lateral separation of 65 miles form us and the Germans and, therefore, they are sailing with different winds. My impression is that in the next few hours they’ll take the lead, but it’s not certain.”

The Chilean’s prediction proved correct and Team Mowgli took pole position last night and currently holds a five mile lead over Desafio Cabo de Hornos and Beluga Racer. “Our tactics have been to get a little south of the fleet, but to stay north of the Chatham Islands,” confirmed Jeremy Salvesen yesterday before taking the lead. “This has had a similar result to the Cape Town start and appears to have cost us time against the rest of the fleet. However we are now gaining that ground back.” At 0620 GMT this morning, Team Mowgli was 35 miles north-east of the Chatham Islands, slowing to five knots as the breeze slackens with the Chilean and German teams averaging one knot faster while Michel Kleinjans on Roaring Forty to the north is holding onto slightly stronger breeze and is averaging eight knots. Despite the drop in wind, Salvesen is enjoying the conditions: “The weather has been wonderful with bright sunshine and 15-20 knots of wind over a flat sea. It has been more like trade wind sailing than the Southern Ocean and long may it last!”

Although the Chileans, on Desafio Cabo de Hornos have relinquished the lead, Cubillos and Muñoz believe they have an additional advantage spurring them across the Southern Ocean to Cape Horn: “I know Chile is around 4,500 miles away across the empty Pacific Ocean, but it already feels as though we are racing towards our home,” says Cubillos.

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