Limping to Wellington

An update from the Portimão Global Ocean Race

Monday January 19th 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
From late Friday to early Monday morning GMT, solo sailor, Michel Kleinjans on Roaring Forty, and the British duo of Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson on Class 40, Team Mowgli, made swift progress in their ascent of the Southern Ocean, ripping northeast through the Tasman Sea in a consistent Force 8-9. “I think we have had our final Southern Ocean blow for this leg to New Zealand and it has been a pretty rough night,” admitted Salvesen in an email to the Portimão Global Ocean Race HQ at midnight GMT on Saturday. “The winds weren't so strong - up to about 45 knots, but the seas were large, angry and confused,” he continued. “Short, sharp and steep breaking waves seemingly from every direction . We were warned to look out for squalls, but hadn't realised they would be along every five minutes!”

Roaring Forty and Team Mowgli are just 90 miles from Cape Farewell at the northern tip of South Island - the final turning point for the Wellington finish line - having sailed through over 6,000 miles of Southern Ocean and the high-latitudes were still refusing to release their grip over the weekend: “There is no way our back-up pilot can deal with this,” says Salvesen. “So we have been constantly on the helm - and even then you are frequently picked up and spun into an involuntary broach - particularly in the dead of night when you can't see the waves pattern in front.” Over Christmas and New Year, Team Mowgli suffered severe storm damage, splitting the boom and forcing Salvesen and Thomson to permanently reduced the mainsail, followed by the loss of their bowsprit which completely removed the option of flying spannakers, drastically limiting the racing performance. “One of the most frustrating things about the last couple of weeks of this leg has been the fact that to all intents and purposes, we have been out of the race,” Salvesen explains. In the early stages of Leg 2, Team Mowgli led the double-handed division for a fortnight, plunging the furthest south in the fleet to 48deg S and holding pole position until 28 December, 150 miles north-west of the Kerguelan Islands. "It's not because we can't sail fast or don't have the right tactics - the first couple of weeks showed that - but with the damages sustained, we just don't have the right sails to put up for the conditions."

Isolated from the race leaders, Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme on Beluga Racer, Salvesen and Thomson succeeded in a new goal of keeping the German boat’s lead to the finish line under 1,000 miles, but the lack of real action left a hollow sensation: “In the absence of racing, it just becomes sailing to New Zealand on your own - just a question of getting there - and that's not what we are here for,” admits the skipper of Team Mowgli. “It just doesn't pump the adrenaline in quite the same way.”

At the 0620GMT position poll this morning, Kleinjans and Roaring Forty are 173 miles from the finish line, 28 miles ahead of Team Mowgli as the two boats close in on the New Zealand coast. For the British duo, the proximity of the Belgian solo sailor is an exciting perk: “It has been wonderful to have Michel so close for the last few days to give us somebody to effectively race against,” wrote Salvesen. “It gives you the urge every three hours to rush down below for the latest position reports and report back how much we have gained or lost and what our relatives speeds and courses are. We have been fortunate, of course, that the conditions for the last day or so have been pretty ideally suited to our remaining sail plan - we would have had this combination up anyway and I suspect Roaring Forty had something similar. So, thank you Michel - it was worth our while waiting for you!!”

On Saturday, the skipper of Team Mowgli accurately assessed the weather ahead: “Of course, as soon as the breeze slackens off over the next few hours, Michel will put up more sail and maintain or increase speed whilst our won't,” Salvesen predicted. “We look forward to him waiting for us just by the finish line and perhaps we can go across together!?” Weather Models suggest that the wind could drop further throughout today, but if Kleinjans can stick with the breeze, Roaring Forty should round Cape Farewell at 1500GMT this afternoon (0400 local time 20/01), leaving around 80 miles of sailing and the unpredictable Cook Strait before reaching the finish line off Wellington

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