Stuck in the wind hole

An update on the Class40 progress in the RORC Caribbean 600

Thursday February 25th 2010, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: Antigua and Barbuda

With the RORC Caribbean 600 halfway mark reached just before midday on Wednesday, the three Class40s continued heading south between Antigua and Montserrat towards Guadeloupe. Daylight on the fourth day at sea showed a dramatic change in fortunes for the trio with 40 Degrees and Tradition Guadeloupe stalled off the southern tip of Guadeloupe and Ocean Warrior withdrawn from racing and moored in Falmouth Harbour, Antigua.

The long leg south from the northern turning mark off the coast of St. Maarten to the island of Les Saintes off the southern tip of Guadeloupe was an upwind surprise for the fleet with the breeze from the south, turning southwest early on Wednesday morning. Michael Boyd, Niall Dowling, John Patrick Cunningham and Miranda Merron led the Class40s south on 40 Degrees reaching the Îles Kahouanne off the north-western tip of Guadeloupe at 17:00 GMT yesterday, just as Joe Harris and his team on Ocean Warrior turned northeast and headed downwind back to Antigua, joining two other yachts retired from the race; the Open 30 Overproof and the MacGregor 65, 1700 Somewhere.

Arriving at the tip of Guadeloupe three hours after 40 Degrees, Willy Bissainte on the double-handed Class40, Tradition Guadeloupe, sighted home territory in crowded waters filled with IRC 1, IRC 0 and CSA hardware, including two First 40.7s Coyote and Lancelot; the Farr 65 Spirit of Juno and the Mumm 36 Café Americano. Meanwhile, Boyd and the crew of 40 Degrees were in close contact with the IRC 1 fleet leader, Mark Glimcher’s J/122 Catapult, off Pointe Noir on the coast of Basse-Terre – the western part of Guadeloupe.

As 40 Degrees worked south along the coast passing Pigeon Island, the wind began to disappear and just before midnight GMT as the Class40 drew level with Vieux-Fort on the southern tip of Basse-Terre and entered the channel between Guadeloupe and the port rounding mark of the Les Saintes islands, the boat speed had dropped just 1.5 knots. While the boats astern of 40 Degrees held the breeze slightly longer, the large wind hole south of the French island swallowed all the boats yet to turn round the southern point in the RORC Caribbean 600 course and begin the final 220 miles back towards Antigua.

At 04:00 GMT this morning as Karl Kwok’s 80 footer Beau Geste took monohull line honours after two days and 11 hours of racing, 40 Degrees was still inching south to Les Saintes with Tradition Guadeloupe trailing by 10 miles.

“We have just completed the long 160 mile beat to the island of Les Saintes,” reported Michael Boyd later in the morning. Sunset yesterday had marked a total loss of breeze for the team on 40 Degrees. “At one stage, we did four 360s when trapped in a strong eddy,” continues the Irish skipper. This scenario has already caused one yacht in the group south of Guadeloupe to retire from racing and the Farr 65, Spirit of Juno, fired up her engine earlier today and set off for Falmouth Harbour.

These conditions are far from ideal for the crew on 40 Degrees: “Sailors don't enjoy these light conditions - they are frustrating and enervating,” confirms a frustrated Boyd. “We are discombobulated by the long nights and our two hours on/two hours off rolling watch system. We are exhausted after the exhilaration and hard work of the first two days and disappointed that it cannot be sustained.” However, the team are still in good spirits. “We know that offshore races are won and lost in these trying night-time conditions,” he adds. “We are preserving our good humour and patience until stronger breezes return.”

The immediate forecast remains light with models suggesting southerly breeze and the possibility of 5 knot headwinds early on Friday morning. In the 15:00 GMT RORC Caribbean 600 position poll, 40 Degrees is due west of Marie-Galante island with a lead of four miles over Tradition Guadeloupe and just over 200 miles of racing remaining.

One indication that manmade power may be the answer in these circumstances is the sighting by the crew of Swan 56 Noonmark VI of 47 year-old, solo rower Charlie Pitcher in JJ (Insure & Go), the leading oarsman in the Atlantic Rowing Race, heading for the finish line Antigua after an incredible 52 days crossing the North Atlantic from the Canary Islands.

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