Chileans still closing

Desafio Cabo de Hornos just 28 miles behind German leaders in Portimao Global Ocean Race

Wednesday January 7th 2009, Author: Brian Hancock, Location: United Kingdom
The sailors racing Leg 2 of the Portimão Global Ocean Race are enjoying a respite from a series of intense low pressure systems that have swept across the Southern Ocean over the last few weeks. They are between systems as one moves off to the east while another builds momentum from the west. The problem, however, is that with the respite comes more complicated sailing. When the wind is howling you know what to do; put up minimal sail, batten the hatches and hold on. As the wind eases up it does not do so in a predictable manner. Sure the forecast is for less wind but that’s only words on paper. The reality is quite different and it’s in this reality that sailboat races are won and lost.

On board Beluga Racer, the current leader, skipper Boris Herrmann has been experiencing this very dilemma: “Things started to become more difficult yesterday when I was standing outside after having just furled and packed away the Code 5 and put a second reef in the main,” he wrote in his daily blog.

“I was standing there in the cockpit on a rolling and seriously slowed-down boat. I felt conflicting impulses in my breast. One was saying, you are slow go back and put the Code 5 up again. The other side was saying, look at these clouds and the sea state. Going for the staysail might be a better idea. In the end I went for a compromise: the Genoa.”

The problem is that between weather systems the wind is very hard to predict and while it’s clearly important to have the right sail up at the right time, it’s not always easy especially when your closest competitor is breathing down your neck. It’s also more difficult when you are sailing in a place with a fierce reputation, like the Southern Ocean. There is a certain mystique to the area and as a result you tend to be more cautious. As Boris looks out from the cockpit he sees a grey sky and a grey ocean. It’s not the Bahamas, and the moisture laden wind packs more of a punch than warm tropical air.

Boris is right to be concerned. His blog continues. “We really want to sail this boat undamaged to Wellington after a good leg and hopefully in first place. Right now the bow is digging under water regularly causing the boat to wipe out. I don't know what the conditions are like further north where Cabo de Hornos sails a bit faster than we do. They probably have a better sea state. If they have the same as us it will be about who loses their nerves first and changes down to staysail.”

90 miles to the north on board Desafio Cabo de Hornos Felipe Cubillos is still anxiously awaiting the latest poll to see if they have gained or lost to Beluga Racer. He must be pleased by what he sees. Over the last 24 hours the Chilean boat has closed the gap from 51 miles to just 28 at the latest poll. “To be honest I am a little bit surprised at how much we have closed the gap on Beluga Racer,” Felipe wrote. “We know that in windy conditions on a downwind run we are extremely fast. I don’t think we sailing any different or taking more risks than Beluga. We have a faster boat for these conditions and that obviously helps, but things will change when we get to the Tasman. The wind will drop quite a bit and we will be more evenly matched in speed.”

At the back of the pack the lone solo sailor, Michel Kleinjans aboard Roaring Forty, is experiencing similar conditions as the leading boats. “The wind has turned to the northwest as another front passes and it will likely begin to die off as the system moves further away from us,” he wrote. “The last 10 days have been like a movie. I do not know exactly what I did each day as the days all seem the same to me. Sometimes it’s cloudy, sometimes there is a light drizzle, sometimes the sun comes through. But what, where and when? It’s all the same.”The respite should last another couple of days as high pressure build in south of Australia. If they are lucky they might even see some sunshine but with all the boats still deep in the Roaring Forties, it’s likely that the wind will roar a few more times before they get to New Zealand.

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