Finish line in sight
Both Beluga Racer and Desafio Cabo de Hornos are sailing downwind in between 10-20 knots of northwesterly breeze, although local forecasters predict that 40 knots of breeze will begin hammering through Cook Strait later today. It is essential that after 6,900 miles of racing through the Southern Ocean, both boats make the one hour trip from the finish line to Queens Wharf, Wellington, before Cook Strait delivers boat breaking conditions. The current finish line ETA for Beluga Racer is between 1100-1200GMT today (0000-0100 16/01 local time).
The past few days have been an intense period during which the Chileans came very close to removing Beluga Racer from the lead spot. On Tuesday, the Chilean option to stay offshore and hang on to any available westerly breeze paid handsomely with a major part of the German team’s lead evaporating to just 40 miles the following morning. “We gybed 19 times with the wind constantly shifting through 30-40 degrees,” explained Cubillos. "If you look at our course, it resembles a staircase heading up towards Cape Farewell. But, step-by-step, we ate into the deficit behind the German boat.” Four days ago, Desafio Cabo de Hornos trailed Beluga Racer by 113 miles as the Chileans passed south of Tasmania and with Beluga Racer pulling away to the east, Cubillos mobilised for the ‘Battle of the Tasman Sea’: “When we set about catching up with them, my plan was to take 24 miles each day from their lead. So far, the figures have worked and we still hope to win this leg,” he reported late on Tuesday.
Throughout Wednesday, the bright red, Chilean Class 40 continued to make gains on Herrmann and Oehme, averaging seven knots at midday GMT in light, following breeze. Maintaining one knot faster than the Germans enabled Cubillos and Muñoz to close in to 33 miles, slipstreaming Beluga Racer 30 miles off the coast of South Island as the two boats bunched south of Cape Farewell with just 31 miles seperating the pair. However, Cubillos knew that the next 24 hours would be crucial: “Our main problem is that Boris and Felix are exceptional navigators and tacticians,” he admitted early on Wednesday. “It’s extraordinary, but we are the same distance from the Germans that we were in the approach to Cape Town. Can we take them? The truth is that we really don’t know.” The relentless gybing and the pressure of extracting every knot from their Class 40 after four weeks at sea was beginning to accumulate as the two race leaders bunched for the turning point at Cape Farewell. “We really haven’t slept much in the last few days, but there’ll be time for sleep when we get to Wellington,” said the Chilean skipper, although the final hours of sailing will revitalise Cubillos and Nuñoz: “On Thursday, when the sun goes down, we will be thinking of Chiloe on the coast of Chile as the Cook Strait is very like home. José tells me he is looking forward to seeing the coast of New Zealand and some land, finally. He was a little disappointed as we didn’t get much of an impression of Australia as we passed 400 miles to the south!”