Shaving the coast of Africa
Conditions off the coast of Africa for the six Class40s in the Global Ocean Race fleet continue to vary dramatically as the teams hunt for the elusive North East Trade Winds.
The South African duo of Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire in sixth place on Phesheya-Racing finally dug into some breeze shortly before midnight on Sunday, releasing them from imprisonment in a wind vacuum 90 miles northeast of the Canaries.
As Nico Budel and Ruud van Rijsewijk, in fifth place, maintained their course for a rendezvous with a replacement A6 for Sec. Hayai on Gran Canaria, Leggatt and Hutton-Squire kept 60 miles off the coast of Morocco with a gap of 180 miles to fourth place Financial Crisis.
While the race leaders, Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron on Campagne de France and Ross and Campbell Field with BSL ran into a light airs early on Monday morning as the two boats crossed into the Tropic of Cancer 60 miles off the coast of Western Sahara, Marco Nannini and Paul Peggs on Financial Crisis and Conrad Colman and Hugo Ramon with Cessna Citation in third held the breeze fractionally longer than the leaders with Colman and Ramon collecting 29 miles from the front pair’s lead between midday Sunday and midday Monday and Nannini and Peggs holding onto Cessna Citation after dropping behind at the Canary Islands.
Following the incident with a rusting, highly-inquisitive fishing boat over the weekend, Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron have had restless nights on Campagne de France: “Obviously, the following night we didn’t sleep too much and paranoia set in,” confirms Mabire. “Any similar ship coming anywhere near immediately becomes suspect and a potential threat.”
Since the encounter, the duo has sailed between 60 -70 miles off the coast: “We continue our descent towards the south, always going along this cursed coast – but not too close - moving through air that’s like dirty, yellow, cotton wool with minimal visibility.” The warm water coming up from the south along the coast meeting colder water from the southerly-flowing Canary Current has produced thick fog and gyres delivering uncomfortable conditions. “We’re fighting the adverse current and it’s quite violent making a sea filled with potholes because of the many peaks and cliffs underwater that rise several hundred metres from the seabed to a couple of dozen metres below the surface,” he reports. “For the moment, this isn’t a very pleasant place to be, but the race goes on.”
In the 15:00 GMT Monday position schedule, Financial Crisis was 67 miles behind Cessna Citation with Nannini and Peggs averaging just over seven knots; two knots faster than Colman and Ramon.
As the New Zealand-Spanish team’s Akilaria RC2 ran into light headwinds and slowed to just over two knots at midday on Monday, the yacht’s 26 year-old, Spanish co-skipper took the opportunity to run a personal hygiene check: “Personally speaking, I haven’t changed my T-shirt, socks or just about anything since the wonderful afternoon at the start in Palma one week ago,” admits Hugo Ramon, the youngest skipper in the GOR fleet. “To be honest, I’ve only got four changes of underclothes and I can’t afford to waste them!” The clean clothing budget for the 6,800 miles of Leg 1 to Cape Town is tight: “Each set must last ten days approximately, to be able to arrive at day 40 without problems,” he explains. “As we use baby wipes to keep clean and we have a limited supply, we’ve rationed the towels very carefully,” Ramon continues.
To avoid any toxic outbreaks on board, Colman and Ramon have achieved a relatively sterile environment: “We use an alcohol-based gel to constantly disinfect our hands and nails to limit any infections and so that we don’t contaminate anything we touch.” The prospect of saltwater, bucket-showers is not appealing for Ramon: “I’m really looking forward to the Doldrums with fresh water rain showers,” he says. “Cessna is also getting a little grubby and Conrad has thrown a few buckets of sea water about to smarten her up.”
Trailing the leaders by 380 miles in sixth place, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire were just six miles off Cape Juby near the Moroccan-Western Sahara border due east of the Canary Islands at 15:00 GMT, cutting the corner with Phesheya-Racing and pushing hard to make up lost ground: “We had the big A2 up and were humming along,” says Hutton-Squire. “It did not last long as the wind increased and we had to get it down and we struggled and battled with the shoot,” she explains. “Eventually, we landed up with two pieces in the cockpit and two very unhappy crew! We are drying it out now and hope to try to fix it and today we have been sailing along with the A4 up.”
Hutton-Squire’s background as a safari camp manager and chef in Kenya and Zambia has given her a keen interest in all wildlife and despite the disappointment of dropping behind the fleet, this pastime endures aboard Phesheya-Racing: “We have been very lucky to see so much marine life,” she says. “Yesterday we were joined by a small brown bird that looked a bit like a sparrow which stayed with us for hours. Every now and again the little bird flew away to catch moths and would bring them back to the boat and eat them up in in one or two mouthfulls. Today, we have been joined by Gannets, Terns and many other birds.” The marine wildlife sightings are also numerous: “We’ve seen Common Dolphins and big and small dolphins that come and surf our bow wave. At night it is very spectacular as they look like shooting torpedoes through the water with the phosphorescence around them.”
With the distractions of fishing boats; commercial traffic and wildlife, the unspoken question for the GOR fleet is the location of the Trade Winds.
Round-the-world sailor and the GOR’s Race Ambassador, Dee Caffari, has been following progress closely and broaches the topic: “In theory, they should be in stable conditions enjoying some fast downwind sailing catching up on eating and sleeping,” Caffari explains. “In reality, they have been faced with light, shifty zephyrs of breeze and have struggled to keep moving. These conditions are often more difficult to deal with than a strong breeze.” The choices for the fleet have been limited: “The weather forecasts have left hugging the African coast as the only sensible option as they head south in search of any Trade Winds this early in the season,” Dee continues. “With no established, central, high pressure in the North Atlantic, those Trade Winds will not show up until the fleet are further south than they may have expected.” Weather models suggest that the GOR fleet may have to wait until Wednesday before they encounter any stable north-easterly breeze to take them through the Cape Verde Islands and across the Doldrums.