Finally tasting the Trades
On Tuesday night, the northeasterly breeze finally gave the six doublehanded Class40s in the Global Ocean Race a taste of Trade Wind sailing conditions.
While the race leaders, Campagne de France with BSL in second place, were already stretching away from the coast, separated by 29 miles at dawn on Wednesday, with the Cape Verde Islands 190 miles off their bows, four boats were still working down the coast of Africa led by Cessna Citation in third consistently averaging 12-13 knots overnight and taking 49 miles from the leaders between Tuesday afternoon and dawn on Wednesday. In fourth place, Financial Crisis dropped back 26 miles behind Cessna Citation during the same period, trailing the New Zealand-Spanish team by 84 miles on Wednesday morning with Phesheya-Racing and Sec. Hayai trading fifth and sixth place, furthest north and closest to the African coast.
For Colman and Ramon, the night of fast and impressive sailing left feelings of guilt on board Cessna Citation: “I have an addition to make,” wrote Colman the following morning. “It should be eight deadly sins. The list should read: coveting thy neighbour's wife; laziness; easy speed under spinnaker; gluttony etc, etc, etc.” The wickedness began at 15:00 GMT on Tuesday; “Since gybing yesterday off the coast, we have been eating up the miles with an easy relaxed lope that has taken distance out of those ahead - although there is a still a-ways to go - and padded our cushion to those behind.” As night fell, seven hours after the gybe, Colman was in a semi-trance at the helm: “I set into a rhythm of easily surfing the short waves into the silvery path the moon laid out before me. Head up; catch a wave; accelerate; zoom down passed the moonlit path as the instruments tumbled over themselves to catch up; 15 – 16 – 17 and finally 18 knots before the wave exhausted itself and the search was on for another easy ride.” For the former Mini 6.50 sailor, the process felt like cheating. “The procedure on the Mini was much the same, but crossing the ocean on a boat half the length and less than a quarter of the displacement of a Class40 is an altogether more strenuous exercise. Here, I barely got my toes wet!”
Early on Tuesday evening, 250 miles northeast of Cessna Citation, the South African duo of Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire were averaging the best boat speed in the fleet having spent extended periods hampered by lack of wind: “Today we have stayed inshore gybing off Boujdour and changing from the A4 to the our bluQube A6 spinnaker,” Hutton-Squire reported from Phesheya-Racing late on Wednesday.
“We are now surfing down the waves at about 15 to 16 knots in 26 knots of wind,” she continues. “It is great fun, but it gets to your nerves at times.”
With an inshore route the only viable option in a narrow corridor of northeasterly breeze, the duo had been sightseeing: “Over the past 24 hours we have been enjoying some tourism along the West African coast,” explains the 28 year-old co-skipper. “We made landfall late yesterday near Cape Yubi and the small Moroccan town of Tarfaya and with a steady wind and flat sea we decided to head close inshore and had a great view of the southernmost town in Morocco.”
The strip of habitable land along the stretch of coast is under 150 miles wide: “It’s flat and almost featureless with a thick haze of orange Saharan dust obscuring everything,” says Hutton-Squire. “We had to gybe a couple of times to round Cape Yubi and south of the town a huge ferry boat lies stranded on the edge of the desert, a grim reminder to take navigation seriously around here. Having seen the wreck, we gybed offshore again to take advantage of the bend in the wind as it funnelled around the headland.”
Late on Tuesday afternoon, Leggatt and Hutton-Squire repeated the headland-hopping off Boujdor: “Not far offshore a large whale suddenly surfaced about 100 metres from the boat,” Hutton-Squire continues. “It was the first baleen whale we have seen on this voyage and was rather camera shy, but as far as we could figure it appeared to be a lone Sei whale and dolphins swam with us for the whole night as we continued down the coast.” With an increase in wildlife, human activity also escalated off the desolate shore: “Throughout the late afternoon and evening we passed dozens and dozens of fishing boats,” she notes. “There seem to be two main types here; small, high-prowed, open boats with two or three crew, and then larger, wooden or steel trawlers.”
Just over 400 miles southwest of Phesheya-Racing on Wednesday morning, the GOR race leaders, Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron on Campagne de France were over 300 miles off the coast making 10 knots on starboard gybe in around 16 knots of northeasterly breeze.
“It’s such a relief to be far out at sea, away from fishing boats and nets,” admitted Merron very early on Wednesday. “The night is clear and full of stars, and incredibly warm and humid,” she reports from 18˚ South. “The moon has set and it is fairly dark and the one advantage of dark nights is the phosphorescence.” The blue-green, luminescent glow supplied an unlikely aid to some unpleasant housework: “I have just bathed the cockpit floor in light with a bucket of water to get rid of the flying fish debris,” Merron explains. “Two nights ago when becalmed, the rivers of current were phosphorescent and at times the surface of the water was sparkling with millions of tiny lights and rain drops created circles of light on the surface.” While the soft light produced by phytoplankton is welcome, the flying fish are not so appealing and the lazybag along the boom – already turned from white to brown by Saharan sand – has become a catchment net: “There are flying fish skidmarks on the sail two metres above the boom,” she notes. “I’ll check the catch at dawn to see if it’s worth eating.”
Throughout Tuesday night, Campagne de France and BSL were on a broad reach in around ten knots of NNE breeze and apart from a burst of speed at around midnight when Ross and Campbell Field were polling averages of a little under 15 knots, Mabire and Merron were fractionally faster, pulling ahead to 30 miles at dawn on Wednesday – the biggest deficit between the two boats since leaving the Mediterranean. At around 11:00 GMT, the wind clocked further to the east and speeds levelled to around eight knots for both boats. On BSL, Campbell Field was beginning to dread the daily routine of charging batteries: “Like most boats in the fleet, we’ve installed a hydrogenerator,” he explains. “The basic idea is you use the boat’s motion through the water to turn a small propeller that generates power to charge the batteries.”
The GOR Class40s have a single unit installed on the transom with two brackets located either side of the yacht’s centreline so the hydrogenerator can be moved to the leeward side of the transom and lowered into the water. “The new ones like we have can output about 40Amps,” he confirms. When not in use, the unit is raised out of the water on a pivot to avoid unnecessary drag. “This saves carrying diesel and the fuel’s extra weight, adds a second charging system to the boat as a backup and is also environmentally friendly.” The hydrogenerator removes the need to run the yacht’s engine in order to charge the batteries that run all electronics on board. There is, however, a price: “They should come with a set of industrial earplugs,” he cautions. “The thing screams like you wouldn’t believe at around ten knots - which is a lot of the time on this bus – and the serenity of sailing is destroyed by the noise which is akin to being stuck in front of a screaming baby on a plane for six hours!” BSL is fitted with an aluminium version of the hydrogenerator while many IMOCA Open 60s are fitted with the more expensive, carbon fibre, racing version. “And they call this one the cruising version,” adds Campbell. “I don’t know a single cruising yachtsman who would put up with that noise!”
In the 15:00 GMT position poll on Wednesday, Campagne de France is 70 miles NNE of Sal in the Cape Verde Islands leading BSL by 33 miles as the two boats run downwind towards the archipelago. Colman and Ramon are making the best speed in the fleet with Cessna Citation at 11 knots on a broad reach, trailing BSL by 110 miles with an 84 mile lead over Financial Crisis. With the GOR fleet spread over 440 miles after ten days at sea, Sec. Hayai holds sixth place, 19 miles behind Phesheya-Racing as the two Class40s race parallel to the coast of Western Sahara.
For the fleet leaders, the breeze should remain north-easterly and increase in strength as they reach the Cape Verde Islands while the boats closer to Africa may have the strongest breeze of around 20 knots on Thursday morning.