4 miles separate leaders

Fields gunning for the lead in the Global Ocean Race

Friday October 21st 2011, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: none selected

After 23 days leading Leg 1 of the double-handed, Class40 Global Ocean Race, the Franco-British duo of Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron on Campagne de France are under serious threat from BSL of the New Zealand duo, Ross and Campbell Field, with the two boats separated by just under four miles after 5,000 miles and 26 days of racing at 15:00 GMT on Friday.

As Campagne de France and BSL continue to average between 11-12 knots, the two Class40s are pulling away from the main pack as they lock into following, southwesterly wind while headwinds have already started to stall the remaining four boats, 800 miles to the northwest of the leaders.

Throughout Thursday night and into Friday morning, Ross and Campbell Field kept a solid 12-knot average with BSL: “We have the wind out of the south of between 18-27 knots and we’re beam reaching in a big sea,” Ross reported early on Friday morning. “Wet is the understatement - this Verdier design loves reaching, but is wet, with spray flying everywhere, all the time, 24/7.” By daybreak on Friday, the deficit between BSL and Mabire and Merron on Campagne de France had been reduced by 26 miles. “Not complaining as we are taking good miles out of The French who are directly to leeward.”

Dee Caffari, GOR Race Ambassador and highly-experienced round-the-world sailor, has been monitoring the fleet throughout Leg 1: “Excitement all round for the fleet,” says Dee. “The front runners have experienced some big winds and a manoeuvre for the first time in weeks. They had been happily sat on a port tack since the Cape Verde Islands and now after sailing through an active front they are set on a starboard tack with winds blowing from the South,” she continues. “This wind may be on the north-western side of a big depression, but it is coming from the cold, polar regions, so thermal layers may have been found in the last few days to avoid the chill.”

Ross Field confirms the environment on BSL: “Life on board is just sleeping, eating, bailing the bilges, steering and trimming and trying to dry clothes on the engine after it has been running to charge the batteries,” he says. The two leading boats will shortly cross 30°S directly over the Mid-Atlantic Ridge: “Both Campbell and I have every bit of thermal gear on that we brought with us,” he explains. “It’s 10 degrees outside and the water is cold - how we’re going to survive the next leg I don’t know!”

Meanwhile, on Campagne de France, conditions are becoming increasingly tough. Earlier in the week, the communications systems temporarily failed, robbing Mabire and Merron of position reports and weather information for 24 hours and since then, the duo’s hydrogenerator has failed, the pilot is playing-up and, most recently, the masthead wind instruments have broken. With no data from the instruments to instruct ‘Nestor’ the pilot, there is only one option: “We’re helming for 24 hours round the clock,” confirmed Mabire on Friday afternoon. “Under the present conditions, this really isn’t funny,” he adds. “With an icy Antarctic wind blowing from the south, we are making good speed reaching, but the fire hose spraying across the deck is becoming colder and colder.”

The nights are also pitch black and moonless. “We can’t see the waves or the sails and have to drive by feel,” reports Mabire. “With the electrical problems, the only light on board is the tiny glow of the traditional magnetic compass, which has now become an invaluable component on the boat.” With 1,600 miles of Leg 1 remaining, the task ahead is daunting, but Mabire is pragmatic: “We’re ‘only’ going to have to keep this up for the equivalent of two-and-a-bit Fastnet Races, or four legs of a Figaro – without the stopovers!” With BSL poised to take the lead, there is no animosity: “It’s not the miles that the Kiwis have taken from us that is irritating, as they richly deserve them, but it’s the miles we’ve given away after all the immense effort we made to put some distance between us.” Mabire also has a message for Marco Nannini on Financial Crisis who has confirmed that he is backing BSL for a Leg 1 win: “I’m very impressed with Marco’s skills at Voodoo as we’re certain this is the root of all our problems,” says the French skipper. “So, I’d really ask him to put the clay model of Campagne de France down, stop sticking pins in it and concentrate on sailing his boat in the right direction!”

The forecast for the leading boats is following breeze until they close in on the coast of Africa and the competition to maximise speed will be intense. Currently, Mabire and Merron’s new Finot-Conq Design Pogo 40S² is 80 miles to leeward of BSL and potentially in slightly weaker breeze as the duo battle with technical issues, averaging just under one knot less than the Fields’ 2008 Verdier-design Class40. “They are now set perfectly for a final week of hard sailing to reach their destination,” Caffari continues. “There is little between the two leaders who are attempting to re-enact the Rugby World Cup on the water: Les Bleus of Campagne de France meeting the All Blacks of BSL. We shall see if it is the same result as the rugby when they arrive in Cape Town.”

Leading the second wave of Class40s, Conrad Colman and Hugo Ramon with Cessna Citation in third are keeping 148 miles ahead of Marco Nannini and Paul Peggs on Financial Crisis as the two boats begin tacking through south-easterly headwinds spinning off the high-pressure system to their south. Caffari explains the outlook: “On the tails of these two leading boats is a complex weather pattern and it looks like a huge high-pressure will block the remaining fleet of boats.”

At 15:00 GMT on Friday, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire on Phesheya-Racing in fifth and the Dutch duo of Nico Budel and Ruud van Rijsewijk in sixth on Sec. Hayai were separated by 29 miles and closing in on Financial Crisis and Cessna Citation as they clung onto the final few hours of the northeasterly breeze. On Phesheya-Racing, Leggatt and Hutton-Squire were preparing for headwinds: “The forecast is for some strong winds ahead, so we are busy making sure that everything is secured properly,” explains Phillippa Hutton-Squire. “The first physical sign of the forecast winds has been the fact that we have spent the past 24 hours running headlong into a long and heavy swell from the south-west, even though the wind is from the north-east,” she remarks. “This has made for some quite bumpy sailing at times!”

With four circumnavigations to her credit – fully-crewed, single-handed and double-handed – Caffari has immense experience in every ocean on the planet and the Atlantic has her vote for one of the biggest challenges: “Progress for these four boats behind the leaders will be tougher and need some patience and lateral thinking,” she predicts. “The South Atlantic is often the toughest time in a round the world race,” adds Dee. “The weather is often difficult to predict and variable conditions can be quite brutal to both teams and boat.”

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