Fight to the finish

For the leaders as Team Mowgli experience carnage in the Portimao Global Ocean Race

Sunday January 11th 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
In third place, four days behind the race leader, Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson have undergone a deeply unpleasant, Southern Ocean crisis at 46°S, 660 miles south-west of Tasmania.

“Hardly a day seems to go by without some drama and yesterday was no exception,” reported Salvesen late on Saturday night. “In the middle of the night with about 25 knots of wind with two reefs in the main and the fractional spinnaker up, we went into another broach. The fitting that holds the bowsprit onto the foredeck of the boat exploded. This is NOT meant to happen!!”

With the bowsprit flailing around the bow of Team Mowgli, the two British yachtsmen leapt to the foredeck in pitch darkness and dropped the spinnaker before the carnage escalated. “We eventually managed to get the spinnaker down, but not without some damage and the sheets getting caught around the rudders,” confirmed Salvesen.

With the immediate drama over, the duo have taken stock of their remaining sail wardrobe: “So, we are now unable to use any of our larger headsails - without a bowsprit we have nothing to fly them from and are stuck with our trusty genoa/solent,” reasons Salvesen. With the breeze forecast to turn from westerly to NNW today (Sunday) with the potential of 25-30 knots NW tonight, the solent headsail with a tack fitting secured to the foredeck is the sail of choice and their pace should remain unaffected: “As luck would hav e it however, for today at least, this is just the sail we have needed and we have been making great progress averaging well over 10 knots,” he confirms. On Tuesday, weak westerlies are predicted requiring Team Mowgli to run dead downwind where the lack of spinnaker capability will begin to bite: “When we hit lighter winds, however, in a few days time, we will suffer from further reduced speeds,” warns Salvesen. Eternally optimistic, the British team remain undaunted: “Looking on the bright side, as always, there isn't much left to go wrong anymore, so fingers crossed for the final 2,000 miles,” he writes, before adding a culinary post script: “Freeze dried cod and potato casserole for dinner tonight - actually quite nice!”

At the head of the Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet, Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme on Beluga Racer maintain a 114 mile lead over the Chileans on Desafio Cabo de Hornos as the leading Class 40s transit the Tasman Sea with just under 1,000 miles to the finish line in Wellington, New Zealand.

On Saturday, Felipe Cubillos and co-skipper, José Muñoz, were gunning hard to reach 150° and connect with fresh breeze: “Unfortunately for us, we arrived a little late for the appointment,” admits Cubillos. “More or less 12 hours late; it’s a Chilean thing, I admit, and there’s no excuse. We definitely lack punctuality and the Germans don’t.” Desafio Cabo de Hornos crossed the desired longitude at 1800GMT on Saturday and Cubillos is now back in the game. “Welcome to the Battle of the Tasman Sea,” he wrote in an email late on Saturday night. “This leg of the race is 6,900 miles long, we’ve been at sea for four weeks already and it’s all going to be down to the final 1,000 miles,” he continues. “Unfortunately, and please excuse my ignorance as I do not have access to Wikipedia, but if history hasn’t already recorded a Battle of the Tasman Sea, there’s one going on right now.”

The Chileans are well aware that catching Beluga Racer is a monumental task. “I know what you’re thinking,” writes Cubillos. “ ‘Felipe, you’re way behind the lead boat, there are only five days racing remaining…it’s impossible!’ OK, I agree with you, it’s going to be difficult, almost unachievable, and I sincerely wish we could be the 23 miles behind the Germans that we held three days ago, but fate has decided a different outcome and in the past two days we’ve been virtually becalmed in less than ten knots of wind.” Nonetheless, the Chilean skipper is upbeat: “When confronted with a harsh reality, some people say: ‘Well that’s the way it’s going to be.’ For me, I prefer to control my own destiny.”

Since late on Saturday night, Desafio Cabo de Hornos has consistently logged higher speed averages than Beluga Racer and the latest position poll records the Chileans making 12 knots, three knots faster than the German duo and Cubillos has been crunching the numbers: “We have to average one knot faster than the Germans for the next five days,” he calculates. “We are also going through a highly complex and unstable meteorological area,” he predicts. The final stages of Leg 2 are shaping up for a similar cliff-hanger to the close-quarters combat in the final days of Leg 1 in the approach to Cape Town.

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