Battening down hatches

Rough conditions forecast for Portimao Global Ocean Race boats as South African duo throw in the towel

Tuesday December 23rd 2008, Author: Brian Hancock, Location: United Kingdom
As people the world over scurry around preparing for the Christmas season, buying, baking and enjoying some festive cheer, the sailors racing in the Portimão Global Ocean Race are doing their own kind of scurrying.

A massive storm is bearing down on them and it’s not promising any kind of cheer. In fact it’s going to be rough and miserable for the next 48 hours as two back-to-back systems march over the top of them. All of the skippers, from Nico Budel in the south to Michel Kleinjans in the north, are readying their boats and scrambling to position themselves as best they can to deal with the weather.

On board Roaring Forty Michel Kleinjans sent an email with his emotions. The email was entitled Waiting in the Trenches.

“I have been preparing since last night for the weather to come,” he wrote. “I know it’s far too early but I have been sailing underpowered all night. Perhaps my imagination is getting the best of me when I look at the weather forecast, but I think it’s better to be safe and prepared and even a little slow, but I want to emerge after Christmas unscathed so that we can fight again. Right now I am sitting having a coffee like a soldier in the trenches just waiting to get out there.”

On board Team Mowgli, the current race leader, Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson are licking their wounds from the weekend storm and preparing for the next one. “The wind on Saturday night increased to over 50 knots with the boat speed climbing to just below 21 knots while the sea became angrier and angrier,” Jeremy wrote. “Finally by Sunday morning our first Southern Ocean cold frontal system had passed us by and we were able to catch up on some well earned sleep. We will have a bit of time to sort the boat and our personal gear out and prepare for the next one!”

Despite the rough conditions Salvesen and Thomson have been able to extend their lead over second place Beluga Racer and at the most recent (17:20 UTC) poll they were 63 miles ahead of the German team.

On the backside of the weekend system the wind turned light allowing all the sailors time to prepare for the next storm which will hit later this evening. It’s a tightly packed low pressure cell packing a solid 50 to 55 knots of wind with higher gusts. The good news is that it’s a fast moving system and will pass by relatively quickly. The bad news is that it’s being followed almost immediately by a second system, this one tracking further to the north. The track of the storm brings it’s own set of issues for all the boats. Michel Kleinjans is well situated to take advantage of both systems but he is concerned about Nico Budel sailing 240 miles to his south.

“Honestly I wouldn't like to be in the place where Nico is right now,” Kleinjans wrote. “He is the oldest man in the fleet and is going to sit in the most wind. It should be the opposite. It feels like he sits in my place, but being north as I was, I thought it better to stay in the north mainly for the second depression.”

The problem with the second depression is that should the centre of the low track to the north of any one of the boats, they will get gale force headwinds rather than tailwinds, and that could be a much worse scenario. The seas will be very confused and the apparent wind speed will be greatly increased, two grim scenarios for any sailor deep in southern waters.

While the sailors on the racecourse wait for the pre-Christmas one-two punch, the South African team of Lenjohn and Peter van der Wel have been weathering storms of their own, theirs of the emotional kind. “We have been beset with issues since we first arrived in Cape Town,” Lenjohn said. “It did not help that we were late arriving from Portugal, but as a result of it there was not enough time to properly prepare the boat for the Southern Ocean. This was illustrated by the mast problems we had. We now have everything properly sorted and the boat is ready but I have had to make a very difficult decision and withdraw from the race. The problem is that we will be heading out into some of the roughest waters on the planet and we will be without the safety net of the rest of the fleet. It feels very exposed and I think based simply on good seamanship it will be best if we withdraw from this race and regroup for the 2010 race.”

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