Battle of the Tasman

Chileans continue to close on German duo with Wellington looming in the Portimao Global Ocean Race

Monday January 12th 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
There will be some ecstatic offshore racing fans in Chile this morning as Class 40 Desafio Cabo de Hornos, skippered by Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz, deliver a demonstration of just how quickly fortunes can change at sea. On Saturday, the bright red Chilean yacht sailed beneath Tasmania, 60 miles off the coast and ran directly into light airs, rapidly losing ground to the leading, double-handed team of Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme on Beluga Racer, 80 miles further south in more stable breeze. By 0620GMT on Sunday morning, the Chileans were virtually becalmed 114 miles behind the German boat and Cubillos quickly declared a state of war on Desafio Cabo de Hornos, dubbing the remaining 1,000 miles to the finish line in Wellington, New Zealand, ‘The Battle of the Tasman Sea’. Instantaneously, the tide of war turned in favour of the Chileans as the high pressure system stalling the frontrunners disintegrated after colliding with South Island.

Throughout Sunday and early Monday, Desafio Cabo de Hornos consistently maintained between 11-12 knots, with Cubillos and Muñoz squeezing everything from their Verdier-designed Class 40, holding a boat speed three knots faster than Herrmann and Oehme. This morning, the 0620GMT position poll reveals that the Chileans have reduced the deficit to just 71 miles, a hefty 43 mile gain on Beluga Racer in 24 hours. The German team retain the southerly position, 200 miles off the coast of South Island as the leaders ascend the Tasman Sea with highly unpredictable conditions ahead and a new high pressure forming around Tasmania, expanding and creeping eastwards towards the two lead boats. While the latest postion poll shows that both boats are now averaging 10 knots, the weather analysis is almost impossible to call for the next 24 hours.

After four weeks in the Indian Ocean with a series of intense low pressure systems rolling over the fleet, most of the competing boats have suffered damage and gear failure. Third placed British duo, Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson on Team Mowgli reported near-total electronic failure on Christmas Eve during a storm that ripped out the yacht’s pushpit in the third low pressure system to sweep through the Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet on Leg 2. On New Year’s Day, during the following storm, Salvesen reported that the boom had cracked and they were reducing sail.

Over the weekend, there has been more drama on board with the bowsprit ‘exploding’ from the deck. Salvesen and Thomson were able to rescue the fractional spinnaker they were flying at the time of the breakage and as the bowsprit is fitted externally - mounted on the foredeck and extending forward over the bow - there is no gaping hole in the stem, although the pair are now forced to use the solent headsail with a deck mounted tack fitting and have stowed their spinnakers below for the remaining 1,500 miles to Wellington. Weather models indicate that Team Mowgli are currently broadreaching in around 25-30 knots, averaging a little under 10 knots boat speed and, as yet, any dramatic loss of pace dead downwind through lack of spinnakers is absent.

On board Roaring Forty, 185 miles west of Team Mowgli, solo sailor, Michel Kleinjans, has been racing without the competitive company of Nico Budel since the Dutch sailor was rescued from his damaged Open 40, Hayai, on 30 December. A fortnight racing without Budel has made Kleinjans restless: “I’ve been getting a bit stale being so long out here on my own,” he told the race organisation yesterday. “So, I decided to switch back into race mode and leave the Code 5 up a bit longer than usual.” However, pushing the boat fractionally harder had repercussions: “I went inside the boat to make some coffee and ten minutes later, a loud ‘bang’. The halyard snapshackle had failed and the Code 5 was trawling in the water at ten knots.” Immediately, Kleinjans leapt into action before the sail was damaged, lost, or sheets became tangled around the keel or rudders: “I managed to run a rope from the bow around the sail and when the sail was half onboard, I could hand-pull the whole thing on deck. Luckily, without losing too much time, I hoisted the genoa, tucked a reef in the main and stayed like that throughout the night.”

At first light the following day, Kleinjans set about repair work: “On Sunday morning, it was slightly calmer and I climbed to the top of the mast to retrieve the halyard, only to find it was jammed somewhere,” he reports. “I’m convinced I checked that the tail of the halyard was clear to run before I went up the mast, but I must have kicked the jammer clutch shut near the deck on the way up. S***!” With the exhausting and risky prospect of descending the mast, freeing the halyard and reclimbing aloft, Kleinjans opted for the sensible alternative: “I tied it off, so at least it isn’t flying around up there.”

Once on deck, the Belgian solo sailor was keen to get back up to speed: “I hoisted the unfurled Code 5 again, direct from its heap on the foredeck, using the spare spinnaker halyard and will sort out the jammed halyard when I get to Wellington. It’s only 1,950 miles to the finish, so I hope the second halyard holds. If not…it’s up the mast again for me.”

Launched in 1997, Kleinjans’ Lutra Design Open 40 is the oldest boat in the Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet and suffered worrying shroud failure during the first leg of the race between Portimão, Portugal, and Cape Town: “The rest of the rigging seems in immaculate shape,” he confirms. “This is really comforting after the troubles in Leg 1. It is a sign, though, that I have to permanently watch out with this old lady.” Kleinjans is also optimistic about the remainder of the route to the finish line: “With the present forecast, we should have a quick ride to Wellington,” he predicts. “Tonight and Monday will be a bit more windy than it has been recently, but it should remain manageable weather.” Currently, Roaring Forty is averaging just below 11 knots, 600 miles south-west of Tasmania’s southern tip.

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