Eating up the miles

Portimão Global Ocean Race leaders approaching the latitude of western Australia

Sunday January 4th 2009, Author: Brian Hancock, Location: United Kingdom
It’s been a busy 48 hours aboard the leading yachts in the Portimão Global Ocean Race as they approach the longitude of western Australia.

The two leading double-handers, Beluga Racer and Desafio Cabo de Hornos, are both sailing well above the Ice Gate while Team Mowgli is approaching the waypoint that marks the western end of mandatory gate. All the yachts have to remain north of the Ice Gate, a line of latitude running from 105-120°E, in order to avoid a known area of icebergs and growlers.

The wind has been howling and the average speeds remain well into the teens.

Aboard Desafio Cabo de Hornos, co-skippers Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz are enjoying the fast and furious sailing.

“It has been blowing hard all night and the waves are the size of a 20-story building,” Felipe wrote in his daily blog. “Our beloved boat is more of a submarine than a yacht as we surf down these huge waves and crash into the ones ahead. So as not to give our competition any unnecessary information I will not tell what sails we have up, but the boat is sailing fast and we have managed to close the gap on the German boat by 20 miles."

Desafio Cabo de Hornos is sailing to the north of Beluga Racer and it looks as if Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme on board the German yacht can feel the pressure of the Chilean boat steaming up behind them. They have adjusted their course a little to place themselves between the Chileans and the next waypoint, an old around-the-buoys tactic that ensures that your competition can sail up to you, but not past you, theoretically.

The entire fleet is riding the northern edge of a sizable low pressure system that is passing to the south of them. The result is that they are getting steady westerly winds, perfect conditions for these boats as they eat up the miles to Wellington. It’s very typical Southern Ocean weather as described by Jeremy Salvesen aboard Team Mowgli: “We've had a pretty grey couple of days down here with heavy cloud and quite a lot of rain,” he wrote. “The wind is pretty steady at around 25-30 knots. There was a forecast of snow for yesterday but thankfully it didn't materialise for us at least. Nothing worse than sailing in the snow!! The winds have finally come around a bit further to the north meaning we are able to head further south once more whilst still, hopefully, being able to keep well north of the line between the two Ice Gates without having to gybe back and forth too much.”

At the back of the pack, but by no means out of the race, the leading, and only remaining solo sailor, Michel Kleinjans, on board Roaring Forty is trying to make up miles lost when he turned back to rescue Nico Budel. He reported that after resuming course he did a thorough check of his own keel using a waterproof video camera mounted on the end of a carbon batten. All the boats are carrying the same camera and they are very useful for this very reason. With the camera turned on and plunged under the boat, you can get a very good look at life under your floating home. “My keel looked good,” Michel reported. “Well as good as you can see though the small camera but at least I can see that there are no cracks to worry about.”

The wind will continue to howl for another 36 hours at least before a respite from a ridge of High pressure that will build in behind them. At least two more weeks remain before the verdant hills of New Zealand hit the radar screen.

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