South Atlantic front
It’s all kicking-off for the Class40 leaders in the doublehanded Global Ocean Race as Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron on Campagne de France and Ross and Campbell Field with BSL crash through a front right in the middle of the South Atlantic and hook into the southeastern express route to the Leg 1 finish in Cape Town with Mabire and Merron extending their lead as the Fields fought with headwinds.
Conrad Colman and Hugo Ramon in third with Cessna Citation have also encountered headwinds as they met the southeasterly wind spinning off the top of the increasingly swollen high-pressure system centred 1,500 miles to the south and the duo’s steep descent through the South Atlantic was brought to an abrupt halt. In fourth place, Marco Nannini and Paul Peggs on Financial Crisis and the South African duo of Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire in fifth with Phesheya-Racing and the Dutch team of Nico Budel and Ruud van Rijsewijk on Sec. Hayai remain in the northeasterly breeze, but conditions for the three first generation Akilarias are already beginning to change.
Furthest south in the GOR fleet in second place, Ross and Campbell Field felt the first effects of the front on Tuesday night as the wind built with sharp and unexpected blasts up to 27 knots, causing a knockdown under spinnaker. Read his blog here
However, at 02:00 GMT on Thursday morning, the front hit Campagne de France, but Mabire and Merron had read the signs and prepared: “All afternoon we had watched as the cloud cover increased, as did the wind strength and before sunset the sky looked really menacing,” reports Miranda Merron. “So we took the hint and got the spinnaker down, which is always quite a challenge when it has got just a little windier than planned.” As the moonless night descended, heavy rain arrived ahead of the front: “It’s only to be expected that it would arrive at night time with gusts of 30 knots and Campagne de France flying off invisible waves into the dark at over 15 knots.” As the wind shifted, Mabire and Merron gybed onto starboard – the first time off port tack since passing through the Cape Verde Islands a fortnight ago – and readjusted to the new heel aspect: “Every last item of moveable equipment has been moved to its new home,” says Merron. “There were some sail changes involved and each sail has been repacked.” The duo is also breaking out warmer clothing: “One very noticeable change is the significant drop in temperature as the wind is now blowing from the south - general direction of Antarctica,” she adds.
Since the front went through, BSL has clawed back the miles, trailing Campagne de France by 20 miles at 15:00 GMT averaging over 12 knots throughout the day.
As the Fields were handling the passage of the front on Wednesday afternoon, Colman and Ramon were preparing for headwinds on Cessna Citation: “We have reeled off the last miles under our big spinnaker as the wind has been more lifted than indicated in the GRIB weather files and the easy slide is sure to come to an end,” said Colman on Wednesday. “This evening we’ll get swallowed by a ridge of high pressure and then slapped in the face by 20 knots from the east.” Right on cue, the headwinds arrived at 18:00 GMT, forcing Cessna Citation from port reaching to beating on starboard tack. “We look to have a challenging time ahead of us as we need to try to fast forward over the top of a high-pressure zone that will be pummelled from below by a mother of a low pressure zone that is ready to shoot out between Cape Horn and the Antarctic Peninsula,” Colman predicts.
Colman’s co-skipper, Hugo Ramon describes the weather ahead: “It looks like we could have headwinds of anything up to 20 knots for the next four or five days,” confirms the 26 year-old Spaniard. “Although it’s good to know what’s ahead, it doesn’t make it any more comforting as we are guaranteed to get a kicking.” (A group of Swallows – blown off course into the Atlantic while migrating from Europe to Southern Africa – has recently taken up residence inside Cessna Citation and whether the birds will stick around on board, or fly upwind to their destination is yet to be seen.) Ramon has been busy making preparations ahead of the long beat: “I’ve made sure we’ve got dry clothes ready to change into and I’ve cleaned the inside of the boat and removed all the muck from the bilge,” he explains. “I’ve also cleaned all our plates and cooking gear and selected food for the next few days and we’ve been running the watermaker to fill canteens so we don’t have to mess about with this when it gets unpleasant.” Ramon has taken care of the smallest details: “I’ve replaced the batteries in the computer keyboard and the mouse and charged our cameras and our iPods,” he confirms.
In the 15:00 GMT position poll, Cessna Citation remains on starboard tack, 640 miles northwest of the leading Class40s. “Those in front are continuing to pull away in following wind and I’m thinking of requesting that the GOR Race Organisation split the race into two classes; ‘Mortals’ for those of us with only human sailing skills, and ‘Bosses’ for the teams up at the front!”
At Thursday’s 15:00 GMT GOR position report file, Nannini and Peggs will see that while Financial Crisis has dropped into a windless hole making below five knots, Cessna Citation remains 100 miles out of reach further south making eight knots.
Trailing Financial Crisis by 192 miles, the South Africans are plotting on Phesheya-Racing: “We’ve now been at sea for about 25 days,” says Phillippa Hutton-Squire. “Nick and I have always said, when in doubt, sit and have a cup of tea.” Seeking inspiration, the duo broke out morale-boosting fruit cake made by Hutton-Squire’s mother. “We’ve been sitting in front of the computer studying the weather and coming up with a new game plan,” she continues. “We need to fight back and after all our problems and breakages we’re not giving up. Even if we can’t fly our downwind sails off the end of the bowsprit anymore, we aren’t going to let this destroy our opportunities.” With Nico Budel and Ruud van Rijsewijk 43 miles astern on Sec. Hayai, Leggatt and Hutton-Squire are keeping their strategy secret.