Storm abates

The worst is over for the Portimão Global Ocean Race competitors - for the time being

Wednesday December 24th 2008, Author: Brian Hancock, Location: United Kingdom
The worst is over for the five remaining yachts racing Leg 2 of the Portimão Global Ocean Race. The severe front which passed over the fleet during Monday night is now to the east of all the boats and the wind is moderating down from 50-plus knots to a more manageable 15 to 20 knots. It’s the lull before the second part of the pre-Christmas one-two punch that the wind gods promised. It’s been a baptism by fire, but the good news is that all the sailors are through unscathed and they are now preparing for the second front due to arrive in the early hours of Christmas eve.

Aboard race leader Team Mowgli things are “almost” back to normal. During the height of the storm a particularly large wave came over the transom and took out all their communications gear. This has left them with no means of receiving or transmitting messages including getting the ever important weather forecasts, and with Christmas just around the corner, sending the equally important messages to friends and family.

Despite this setback the British team of Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson are sailing a superb race and continue to extend their lead over the rest of the fleet. At the 17:20 UTC poll they had opened up a lead of 110 miles over the new second place boat, the Chilean entry Desafio Cabo de Hornos.

During the height of the gale the Chileans moved past the Germans on Beluga Racer to take second place and it’s turning into a mid-ocean match race as both boats track within a few miles of each other on a distance-to-go basis. At the same 17:20 UTC poll there was less than a mile separating them. Clearly the Chilean team of Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz are pushing hard as Felipe explained in his daily blog. “Yesterday afternoon we sailed very fast with an average speed of about 15 knots,” he wrote. “We were sailing with the Code 5 spinnaker in about 40 knots of wind and that allowed us to catch Beluga Racer, but once it got dark the boat became completely uncontrollable and we had to reduce sail down to the Solent.”

They continued to push hard and finally edged past Beluga Racer, but only by a few hundred metres. Cubillos continued, “At dawn I said to José that I didn’t think we had seen the full brunt of the storm and as I was talking to him the wind rose to 48 knots. The boat was going 19 knots at the time so the true wind speed must have been closer to 60 knots.”

On board Beluga Racer, Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme were experiencing similar conditions. Both sailors had donned their survival suits, lifejackets and life harnesses, and were on deck changing sails until they were sailing with three reefs in the mainsail and a tiny storm jib out front. Boris reported on the conditions in his daily blog. “As I sit and write this the wind is blowing a steady 48 knots with constant gusts as high as 54 knots. We are sailing between 13 and 19 knots under storm sails. The boat is doing very well despite the seas which are very big and quite confused. We have just rolled away the headsail and replaced it with the storm jib and the boat is sailing much better now.”

Getting rid of the headsail was not without incident as Boris explained. “I let my guard down a little as the wind seemed to moderate and I did not see a huge wall of flying water coming my way. It hit the boat and we rounded up while I started to roll the jib away winding like a madman. Unfortunately it took an eternity and the bottom of the sail got ripped but I don’t think it’s too bad.”

The good news for the fleet, especially for the two southern boats, Team Mowgli and Hayai, is that the second area of low pressure is now tracking more to the south meaning that it’s likely that the centre of the front will pass below all of the yachts. The fear was that the front would track above one of the boats dishing them up galeforce headwinds rather than strong winds from astern. While the Southern Ocean low pressure systems are fairly predictable and quite easy to track, weather is weather and anything can, and indeed, does happen.

The best Christmas present of all for the Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet is that once this second system is through there should be a few days of relatively moderate sailing and all of the sailors will be starting to position themselves for the Kerguelen Island gate now less than a thousand miles to the east.

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