Final two home

Kleinjans and Salveson/Thomson three hours apart into Wellington in the Portimão Global Ocean Race

Wednesday January 21st 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
Single-handed, round the world sailor, Michel Kleinjans (above), crossed the finish line of Leg 2 in the Portimão Global Ocean Race off Wellington, New Zealand, late yesterday at 21:28:55GMT 20/01 (10:28:55 local 21/01). The Belgian yachtsman completed the 6,900 mile voyage through the Southern Ocean from Cape Town, South Africa, to New Zealand in 37 days, 10 hours, 58 minutes and 55 seconds (subject to redress for redirection to the rescue of Nico Budel) on board his Open 40, Roaring Forty.

Just four hours after Kleinjans reached the finish, the British double-handed team followed at 01:30:35 GMT (14:30:35 local) this morning on Class 40, Team Mowgli. Jeremy Salvesen and co-skipper, David Thomson, completed the course in 37 days, 15 hours, 00 minutes and 35 seconds to take third place in the double-handed division behind Leg 2 winners, Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme on Beluga Racer and the Chilean duo of Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz on Desafio Cabo de Hornos.

“We were quite ecstatic to see the finish line,” admitted Salvesen from Queens Wharf, shortly after docking and clearing Customs. “It has been a long, long journey. It has been a longer leg for us in many ways as we had a pretty rough time out there.” The early stages of the race all belonged to Team Mowgli. On the fifth day after starting Leg 2 in Cape Town, Salvesen and Thomson took the lead, recording the best speed in the fleet and were the furthest south in the double-handed division as the first low pressure system rolled eastwards towards the yachts. On 23 December as the second, big low pressure hit the fleet, Team Mowgli was holding a 62 mile lead over the Chileans on Desafio Cabo de Hornos as the British continued to dive south into the Southern Ocean, plunging to within 90 miles of the Portimão Global Ocean Race latitude limit at 50°S.

“On the next leg, we’re going to go with whatever weather systems we see,” continued Salvesen. “But we’ll be more wary, I think. We really don’t want to get caught in another hurricane, especially one that hasn’t been forecast!” On Christmas Eve, a 60 knot gust and an enormous wave washed over Team Mowgli, destroying most of the satellite communications gear on board and removing the pushpit. Despite this experience, the British duo has no fear of the Southern Ocean: “So, I don’t have a problem with going south,” Salvesen confirms. “I don’t have a problem with being cold, but I do have a problem with hurricanes.”

Salvesen’s co-skipper, David Thomson, agrees: “I’m looking forward to getting back into the Southern Ocean,” he comments. “But not going back into 80 knots like we had in the last leg. We’ve both learnt a great deal and know we don’t want to get ourselves in that position again. No matter how good it looks at the time.”

For Salvesen, the storm was painful, but invaluable: “It has given us a better understanding and confidence in the boat,” he believes. “Now, 50 knots doesn’t hold so much fear for us. When it relaxed down to 50 knots, we cheered to the rafters and thought it was bloody lovely!” Four days after the hurricane, Salvesen and Thomson were overhauled by Beluga Racer and Desafio Cabo de Hornos and on New Year’s Day, a cracked boom further affected performance and the duo became increasingly isolated from the fleet’s front runners. Finally, on 11 January, the bowsprit on Team Mowgli was ripped from the foredeck, leaving the yachtsmen totally unable to sail competitively and the route to Wellington and the finish line became a hard slog to nurse the boat to safety.

A further lesson learnt in the brutal conditions of the high latitudes has also been invaluable for the British duo who only met for the first time within a few weeks of the start of Leg 1. “When you are going through a thing like the hurricane, with the enormous pressures you are under in a very confined space for a very long time, it’s a difficult thing to manage,” explains Salvesen. “For all of us in the race, a big part of it is the human challenge. The challenge of personal relationships and keeping the team spirit going through the tough times. Obviously, you have a flare up of temper, sometimes, but you just leave it on the last wave and get on with the job.”

The final day at sea for Michel Kleinjans was excruciating to watch as the wind died with the finish line almost in sight. Roaring Forty averaged sub-five knot speeds as her Belgian skipper struggled to negotiate the 14 mile wide stretch of Cook Strait between Cape Terawhiti on North Island and Perano Head to the south on Arapawa Island in Marlborough Sounds. “In the beginning, I was frustrated,” he admitted shortly after docking at Queens Wharf. “But then you think, ‘What‘s the difference of another day?’ You go back to your freeze dried food and just accept that tonight is not the night for steak au poivre!” The conditions Kleinjans experienced in Cook Strait were virtually impossible to predict. “The wind was going everywhere and I was becalmed 30 miles after rounding Cape Farewell, which wasn’t forecast. So, I waited around and when the wind comes back, it’s on the nose! I had no idea what the weather was doing and didn’t have the local area forecast and there was also a lot of current which I had no information about. But it really wasn’t a drama.”

Kleinjans was racing one of two single-handed yachts sailing in this round the world event, competing against his friend and fellow solo sailor, Dutchman, Nico Budel, until Budel’s Open 40, Hayai, developed critical keel problems on 28th December. The MRCC (Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre) requested that Kleinjans turn Roaring Forty westwards and retrace his route 600 miles towards the stricken yacht positioned approximately 900 miles south of Madagascar, deep in the Southern Ocean. “When I was first asked to turn back, I thought, ‘****!’” he recalls, laughing. With Budel able to make around 6 knots towards Roaring Forty, the rendezvous distance was reduced to around 350 miles. “When I turned back, there wasn’t much wind, but it looked as though it was going to get messy,” continues Kleinjans. The following day, Roaring Forty was ‘stood down’ by the MRCC and continued racing as the 170,000 tonne bulk carrier, CSK Radiance, neared Budel and Hayai for the rescue. “Fortunately, the message that a cargo ship was going to rescue Nico arrived just in time before the bad weather and it was a real relief,” he confirms.

For the remainder of the Portimão Global Ocean Race circumnavigation, Kleinjans will be the only solo sailor in the race, but this is of little, personal concern: “I entered this race because I wanted to sail a solo race around the world,” he explains. “Some people have suggested that I take somebody with me to keep up with the double-handed boats, but I want to be on my own. You know, the chance of doing this a second time is possible, but not truly a reality for me. I would regret it if I took a co-skipper onboard now, I just want to do it on my own.” Fortunately, there is a relatively short job list on Roaring Forty after 37 days in the Southern Ocean: “There’s not really much to do on the boat,” continues Kleinjans. “I have to fit a new sail drive, have the bottom re-sprayed and check the rudder stocks as there’s a little bit of play in the autopilot linkage, but that’s about it.” In Leg 3, there is already a clearly defined strategy for the Belgian: “This leg, I’ve been sailing very cautiously as I didn’t want to break anything more on the boat,” he admits. “If you break something on your own in the Southern Ocean, it’s really big trouble. On the next leg, I’ll do the same until Cape Horn, then I can start pushing!”

Kleinjans is currently nominated for an award by the Federation Royale du Yachting Belge/Kominklijke Belgish Yachting Verbond, in recognition of his WSSRC (World Sailing Speed Record Council) record for the fastest single-handed monohull from Marseille to Carthage on Roaring Forty in March last year taking 1 day 21 hours and 24 minutes to sail the 458 mile route from France to Tunisia. Residents of Belgian can vote for Kleinjans via text on 3378, text ‘MALE 3’ (making a nomination will cost 0.50€/message) until 6th February. The winner will be announced at the Belgian Boat Show held in Ghent between 9-17th February.

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