The race to Kerguelen

Tight battle to reach the scoring gate in the Portimão Global Ocean Race

Friday December 26th 2008, Author: Brian Hancock, Location: United Kingdom
With Christmas behind them the sailors racing Leg 2 of the Portimão Global Ocean Race have now turned their sights to the first gate of the course, the Kerguelen Gate now less than 400 miles to their east.

The Kerguelen Gate is a line of longitude running due north from the remote Kerguelen Island and is a scoring gate where points are accumulated in the order each competitor passes through the gate. The points are not as weighty as Leg points, but they can make a big difference to the overall scoring and are therefore coveted.

While current race leaders, Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson aboard Team Mowgli have their eyes firmly on the prize, they are being seriously challenged by the Chileans aboard Desafio Cabo de Hornos. To complicate matters, Team Mowgli may well be the on-the-water leaders, but not receive the most points at the Kerguelen Gate. Let me explain.

The Leaderboard is calculated using a set of waypoints between the current positions of the yachts and the end of each leg. Because the world is round the further south you go, the less distance you have to sail. This is called the Great Circle route and is calculated into the distance-to-go figure. Team Mowgli is leading Leg 2 on a distance-to-go basis although Desafio Cabo de Hornos is actually further to the east than the British yacht. The Chileans are actually closer to the Kerguelen Gate by about 10 miles, however being 240 miles further north, on a distance-to-go basis they are behind Team Mowgli.

The Kerguelen gate runs due north from Kerguelen island and it’s the first boat that passes this line of longitude that garners the most points. In fact to further complicate matters, Team Mowgli is only 7 miles closer to the gate than Beluga Racer and at the last poll they were sailing 3 knots slower than the Germans. It could be that Team Mowgli is the lead boat on the water, but passes through the gate in third place. All interesting stuff with a race this close.

As if sniffing the points, Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz aboard Desafio Cabo de Hornos finally put the foot firmly on the gas overnight and set some record speeds. Their Guillaume Verdier-designed Class 40 is perfectly suited to the strong westerly winds they are now experiencing and is relishing the conditions. Felipe Cubillos was exultant in his daily blog: “Today at 22:30 UTC José set a new record speed for the boat of 25 knots,” he wrote. “We were sailing in 47 knots of wind. In the last three hours we had been averaging 15.02 knots (1.73 knots faster than the Germans) and understand that this is the fastest average speed since the start of the race. For strategic reasons I will not say what sails we had up but it was pitch dark in the middle of the night. I was down below trying to sleep when suddenly there was a deafening noise. The boat was a submarine and there was water everywhere. I asked José if he has seen the speedo but he replied, ‘No. I had my eyes closed because there was so much water coming over the boat but I held the rudder firmly and knew that we had set a new top speed.’”

The next 24 hours are going to be interesting. A now weakened low pressure system is sliding below the fleet bringing with it some perfect downwind sailing conditions.

Unfortunately for Team Mowgli there are in less breeze but this may be a good thing as they patch things up after a severe pounding received at the height of Monday’s storm.

Their average speed is quite a bit less than that currently being enjoyed by Beluga Racer and Desafio Cabo de Hornos, but they still lead Leg 2 and for obvious reasons cannot be counted out. Salvesen and Thomson have sailed a masterful leg so far and it will be no surprise if they are first through the gate. As usual, time will tell.

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