Route to the finish blocked

An update on the final throws of leg two of the Portimão Global Ocean Race

Wednesday January 14th 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
The two leading boats in the Portimão Global Ocean Race are gripped by light airs with the route to the finish line in Wellington blocked by a stationary high pressure system to the northwest of frontrunner Beluga Racer and second place Desafio Cabo de Hornos. Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme covered only 129 miles in the past 24 hours as they coax Beluga Racer northeast off the coast of South Island in variable and unstable breeze. At 06:20GMT this morning, the German duo are 90 miles southwest of Cape Farewell, the northern tip of South Island and gateway to Cook Strait, with 219 miles to the finish line. The Germans hold a 40 mile Distance to Finish lead over Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz on Desafio Cabo de Hornos with the Chileans around 30 miles west and further offshore than Beluga Racer.

Current weather models indicate that both boats are in 10-12 knots of south-westerly breeze averaging 6 knots each over the past few hours and this speed is unlikely to change throughout today. Although a Wellington ETA for the boats will be more defined in 12 hours time, it is possible that the finish line will get busy late on Thursday afternoon local time (early Thursday morning European time).

Since Tuesday morning, Cubillos and Muñoz have hacked 31 miles from the lead held by Beluga Racer through sticking with a tactical game plan: “We made a conscious decision to stay offshore and resisted the temptation to follow the Germans inshore,” explained the skipper of Desafio Cabo de Hornos, late on Tuesday.”

At midday GMT yesterday, Herrmann and Oehme abruptly stopped their course towards the coast: “Finally, the wind went round and they gybed away from land,” Cubillos continued. “For two hours, they were carving directly towards us, reducing their lead to 47 miles as they converged on us.”

In the final stages of the first leg of the Portimão Global Ocean Race between Portimão, Portugal, and Cape Town, South Africa, Cubillos and Muñoz made major gains on Beluga Racer in the last few days at sea, delivering a finish line scramble between the two boats that was hard to call until the gun fired for the victorious German team. “It is unique in this race that after 30 days at sea, the first two boats are spearated by a matter of hours,” notes Cubillos. “At the Cape Town finish, we were three hours behind the Germans, and now, we’re around four and a half hours behind them.”

On Tuesday morning, Desafio Cabo de Hornos was 115 miles off the coast of South Island: the closest the Chileans had been to land since sailing 150 miles north of the barren and uninhabited Southern Ocean outcrop of rocks, the Crozet Islands, on Christmas Eve and the prospect of landfall and the proximity of human contact is tangible for the two crew: “Monday night was just one of those nights,” recalls Cubillos. “It reminded us why we do this. We went with the medium spinnaker in 20 knots of breeze, the full moon rising to port, Venus directly in our wake, the Southern Cross square off the starboard beam and New Zealand - the ultimate goal of this harsh leg - dead ahead off the bow. A truly unforgettable scene.”

However, closing in on a landmass after weeks at sea can be a nervewracking period for offshore yachtsmen with the increased chances of encountering commercial shipping, fishing boats, fishing pots or floating debris and Cubillos was not immune to an understandable case of the jitters: “As the sun rose, I spotted a splash of water on the flat sea,” he explains. “My first thought was that it’s a reef – an outside chance, I know, but rocks can shoot up from the seabed in the middle of nowhere. I rushed to look at the chart, but there was nothing marked,” continues Cubillos. “A shoal of fish, perhaps, or dolphins? It was in fact an enormous whale, quite motionless, just shooting out spouts of water. Perhaps the animal didn’t know quite how close we passed, but any closer, and I can assure you I wouldn’t be telling this story now…”

While the race leaders continue with a light airs scrap off South Island, Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson on Team Mowgli in third place 920 miles to the west, passed south of Tasmania yesterday and plunged south to 47°S and the lower reaches and high latitudes of the Roaring Forties. Salvesen and Thomson are running downwind in around 15 knots of breeze, but the inability to use spinnakers due to the bowspirt damage sustained four days ago means the British duo are currently averaging 6 knots. In similar breeze, approximately 115 miles northwest of Team Mowgli, Belgian solo sailor, Michel Kleinjans, on Roaring Forty is polling a 9.9 knot average: the highest speed in the fleet.

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