Leaders pass scoring gate

Mid-fleet out of the Doldrums in the Global Ocean Race

Friday October 14th 2011, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: none selected

As the two leaders in the double-handed, Class40 Global Ocean Race sailed into the Southern Hemisphere and through the Fastnet Marine Scoring Gate on the western side of the Fernando de Noronha archipelago, the main pack of four boats were gradually working clear of the Doldrums.

The Franco-British duo of Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron were first through the gate at 17:08 GMT on Thursday onboard Campagne de France, celebrating their 16th day at the front of the fleet with the maximum six points. Just under four hours later, Ross and Campbell Field passed through the gate taking five points for BSL.

As the two leaders cleared the gate and headed south 160 miles off the coast of Brazil, Conrad Colman and Hugo Ramon in third with Cessna Citation had found the Doldrums exit ramp and were picking up speed while the Italian-British duo of Marco Nannini and Paul Peggs in fourth on Financial Crisis had to endure headwinds 100 miles north of Cessna Citation until the early hours of Friday morning before finding the southeasterly breeze. The same cycle awaited Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire on Phesheya-Racing in fifth and the Dutch duo of Nico Budel and Ruud van Rijsewijk with Sec. Hayai in sixth.

The Fastnet Marine Insurance Leg 1 Scoring Gate represents around 40% of the total distance from Palma, Mallorca to Cape Town and this fact was not lost on Miranda Merron: “Now that we have more or less crossed the Atlantic to within a relatively short distance of the coast of Brazil, we are embarking on another transatlantic crossing to Cape Town,” she observed shortly after crossing the gate. “There is still a very long way to go!” While the Fields took BSL around Fernando de Noronha in near-darkness, Campagne de France passed close to the island in daylight: “They’re stunning green islands,” says Merron, “and we’d like to come back and visit sometime, since as is often the case when racing, we merely pass beautiful and interesting places and don’t stop.” Since crossing the gate, both Class40s have been picking up speed, regularly trading nine and ten knots in the southeasterly breeze with Campagne de France adding a handful of miles to their lead between dawn and 15:00 GMT on Friday, separated from BSL by 28 miles.

For Halvard Mabire, the sudden proximity to land since passing through the Cape Verde Islands a week earlier was a mixed experience: “It made me think of the Jules Verne books The Mysterious Island and In Search of the Castaways,” says the 54 year-old Frenchman. There is, though, a slight issue with the concept of virtual obstacles on the race course: “I’ve always found it odd that offshore races use these virtual marks, waypoints and gates scattered about the ocean which is, in reality, the last place of true freedom on the planet,” Mabire begins. “Maybe I’m just a bit out of date, but it’s a bit like motorway tolls and all the road signs that litter our countryside and villages,” he continues. “There was a time when the Sailing Instruction would have been merely, ‘leave Fernando to port’, but now we have yet another queue to add to the supermarket checkout, airport security, customs and immigration and so on.” There is also a practical aspect to Mabire’s dislike of the virtual intrusion and the narrow corridor of the scoring gate: “We also fell into the island’s wind shadow which was painful as we had the entire ocean on our doorstep,” he adds. “However, thanks to the GOR Race Organisation for giving us the opportunity to have a look at Fernando.”

Following the frustrating days trapped in the Doldrums, the sensation of finally picking up speed on Thursday was long overdue for Colman and Ramon on Cessna Citation: “It’s still a novelty to be moving consistently and heading the right way!” reported Conrad Colman late on Thursday night. Indeed, the excitement was such that in the rush to get moving, the duo made a slight error. Hugo Ramon explains: “We have four water ballast tanks on the boat, two on each side,” explains the fleet’s youngest co-skipper. “When filled with sea water, the ones in the bow provide stability and inertia when there are big waves and the ones in the stern only provide stability. At most, we only fill two at the same time: bow and stern, or only bow or only stern and we only ever fill one side of the boat at a time.”

Having described the crime scene, the witness for the defence explained the offence: “When I opened the valves to fill the windward tank, I didn’t close the tap that transfers water across the boat to the leeward tank,” admits Ramon. The result was around 400 litres of water in the leeward tank. “I noticed the boat was a bit sluggish and unresponsive,” he recalls. The duo quickly isolated the likely cause: “We had to tack to make the leeward tank the windward tank and drain it with gravity,” says the 26 year-old Spaniard. “It was a bit of an error, but it wasn’t complicated to resolve and it’s now all sorted. Thanks heavens we worked out what the problem was.”

In fourth place, Marco Nannini and Paul Peggs with Financial Crisis broke out of prison in spectacular style on Thursday night around 12 hours after Cessna Citation found the Trade Winds. Since 03:00 GMT, Financial Crisis has been averaging between seven and eight knots. In the 15:00 GMT position poll, Nannini and Peggs trail Cessna Citation by 139 miles.

On Phesheya-Racing and Sec. Hayai, the Doldrums drama is still being played-out. The South African duo have been working through their sail wardrobe as the breeze finally starts to build: “We hoisted the Upwind Zero and had a bit more success,” reports Phillippa Hutton-Squire. “We started to move, matching the wind speed and by the evening we had dropped the Zero and went with the Solent as the wind had increased to over eight knots.” Leggatt and Hutton-Squire have found that the worst Doldrums squalls invariably arrive after dark and they were intent on being prepared for the worst possible conditions: “I filled the forward ballast and we started to watch the clouds build,” explains Hutton-Squire. Both co-skippers remained on watch throughout the night: “Before long they were enormous but not as dark-looking like the previous night,” adds Leggatt. “We spent the night watching the wind shifts in between the light rain and by 04:00 GMT this morning, we were hard on the wind trying to exit the Doldrums and get south,” he says.

In the 15:00 GMT position poll, both Phesheya-Racing and Sec. Hayai are still beating south to the elusive Trade Winds with the South Africans losing the breeze, making just under three knots and Nico Budel and Ruud van Rijsewijk – further west than Leggatt and Hutton-Squire – making six knots, trailing Phesheya-Racing by seven miles.

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