Pushing south in confusing conditions
As the northerly breeze arrived on Wednesday afternoon, the doublehanded, Class40 fleet in the Global Ocean Race 2011-12 were on the move again following a period stuck in light airs northwest of Rabat on the Moroccan coast.
Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron with Campagne de France held the lead by four miles, running along the West African continental shelf chased by Ross and Campbell with BSL, both Class40s averaging around nine knots.
In third place, Conrad Colman and Hugo Ramon on Cessna Citation had been reeled in by Marco Nannini and Paul Peggs with Financial Crisis and the South African duo of Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire on board Phesheya-Racing with just 15 miles separating the three boats. Hampered by the loss of any effective offwind headsails on Sec. Hayai, Nico Budel and Ruud van Rijsewijk trailed the lead boat by 157 miles on Thursday morning in a completely different wind pattern north of the main group.
Having kept communications to a minimum on BSL since shortly after the start, Ross and Campbell Field broke cover on Thursday morning.
“We’ve been spending all our time either sailing or sleeping,” explained Campbell Field. “We are hand steering almost 100% of the time, although the pilots are very good and have been very well set up, after reviewing data they are slightly slower than driving, so for the most part, one of us is driving, the other sleeping or making coffee,” he reports.
Off Tarifa on Monday night, the father-and-son duo shot out of the Mediterranean leading the GOR fleet in 40 knots of breeze and the comparatively soft sailing along the coast of Morocco has provided some time for reflection: “The Med is an interesting place of contrasts; stunning sunsets, teeming with dolphins, but - at the same time - littered with monstrous feats of engineering freighting our daily essentials all over the world,” recalls the 41 year-old Kiwi. “Initially, they can be admired for their sheer size, then you sit back and observe the mountains and mountains of unnecessary rubbish that is moved from one place to the other,” he notes. “Easy to say, I guess, from our little 12 metre space where we can’t just whip up the road and buy a steak from Argentina or cheese from Italy or a car from Korea. The Med isn’t only littered with ships, but with masses of plastic that we see daily out here with bottles floating about.”
At mid-morning on Thursday, BSL and Campagne de France ceased their course parallel to the coast of Morocco, putting 60 miles between the two boats and the African continent, heading south-west with the Canary Islands 370 off their bows. Clearing the coast was a relief for the Fields: “We had a few interesting encounters off the Moroccan coast,” continued Campbell Field. “A lone fisherman in his 30-odd foot traditional wooden fishing boat, 30 nautical miles from the coast…maybe just trying to feed his family?” he wonders. “Then a much larger and ominous looking fishing boat that could have just been curious and wanted a closer look.”
In a briefing shortly before the start of Leg 1, the head Palma’s Salvamento Marítimo (Search & Rescue) advised the GOR teams of the piracy threat off the western coast of Africa in the corridor bordering the Spanish Sahara and south of the Canary Islands in an area closely monitored by the Spanish authorities. While the risk is far less than in the Gulf of Aden or off Somalia, in the Arabian Sea and across the Indian Ocean and methods are more opportunistic involving theft, rather than hijack and ransom, there is a risk with recorded incidents off Guinea, Togo and in the Bight of Benin. Although these areas are far to the south of the fleet, the GOR teams were advised to be alert. Fortunately for the Fields, the threat receded: “It did give us a couple of anxious moments as he seemed to be determined to get close to us,” concludes Campbell.
Throughout the morning and into Thursday afternoon, Campagne de France set the pace, managing to force one or two knots of extra speed from their Pogo 40S² in the light, fluctuating northerly breeze and increasing their lead over the Fields and BSL.
In third and fourth place, Marco Nannini and Paul Peggs on Financial Crisis were racing down the rhumb line 18 miles ahead of Colman and Ramon with the New Zealand–Spanish partnership sailing Cessna Citation east of the direct route to the Fastnet Marine Scoring Gate off Brazil.
Meanwhile, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire were suffocated by a personal wind hole on Phesheya-Racing, losing seven hours and around 40 miles to the four boats further south.
“We have been becalmed since early this morning and we seem to be going nowhere,” confirmed Phillippa Hutton-Squire on Thursday afternoon. “So, for those of you who are worried about us, we are okay, but going mad very quickly! The gap between us and the front boats just seems to grow and grow.”
Following a fast run from Mallorca to the Strait of Gibraltar and hurtling into the North Atlantic, the dead calm off Morocco is deeply frustrating for the South African duo: “It has become very hard to sit behind the computer and think about what to do next as all you can see is how far ahead the leaders are,” she continues.
To prevent brooding over the three-hourly position schedule, Hutton-Squire and Leggatt have concentrated on collecting wildlife data and observations for the Environmental Investigation Agency research programme running throughout the GOR. “Mid-morning we were very lucky to be joined briefly by a small pod of Pilot Whales,” notes Hutton-Squire. “They did not stay long but swam around the boat and were off. We had not seen much sea life at all since leaving the Med so this was very exciting. This afternoon we have seen a few more birds such as terns, gulls and a gannet.”
For the South Africans on Phesheya-Racing, the lack of breeze may well last into the evening while the leading duo should have the best of the northerly breeze at around 10-15 knots with Sec. Hayai taking the far longer, solitary route around the outside of the windless zone in approximately 13 knots of breeze. In the 15:00 GMT position poll, Campagne de France maintain a lead of five miles over BSL with both Class40s averaging ten knots. Trailing the lead boat by 50 miles, Financial Crisis is making nine knots in third with Cessna Citation in fourth remaining east of the rhumb line while Phesheya-Racing is still stuck in zero wind with the gap to Cessna Citation opened up to 40 miles.