Field 'n' Son into the lead

As Miranda Merron has to climb aloft in the Global Ocean Race

Saturday October 22nd 2011, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: none selected

After 24 days in the lead, Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron with Campagne de France dropped back to second place in the double-handed, Class40 Global Ocean Race handing pole position to Ross and Campbell Field and BSL at 03:00 GMT on Saturday morning. While the Franco-British duo has been preoccupied with preserving their boat, including a mast climb in rough conditions by Merron, the New Zealand team increased their lead to five miles by 15:00 GMT.

With the exception of Nico Budel and Ruud van Rijsewijk in fifth place with Sec. Hayai, the main pack of Class40s are into southeast headwinds with Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire in sixth place with Phesheya-Racing reporting gusts over 31 knots. Since Conrad Colman and Hugo Ramon in third with Cessna Citation first entered the headwinds on Wednesday, the spread in the second wave of Class40s has compressed by 80 miles as the high-pressure system blocking their route squeezes the four boats together with a 270-mile spread at 15:00 GMT on Saturday.

On Saturday morning, Ross and Campbell Field and BSL were back in the lead for the first time since exiting the Mediterranean on the third day of Leg 1. “It's a great feeling, but the battle will continue to the finishing line,” commented Ross Field at noon on Saturday. “Me old mate, Halvard, is not going to give up, that’s for sure, and the next six days are going to be full of drama, no doubt.” The father-and-son team are in good shape for the remaining 1,300 miles to the finish. “We have heaps of food; haven’t broken anything, touch wood; our wet weather gear is working, but our only complaint is that it's bloody cold,” he comments from 31°S. “You get into the bunk with all your thermals on, boots on and wet weather trousers on - pulled down to the knee because it’s too much hassle to take them off - then cover yourself up with a sleeping bag and nod off to sleep.” Sleeping in soaking wet kit is far from ideal: “When you wake up two hours later, there’s steam rising from the bunk - just like a rugby scrum in the middle of winter and the smell isn't that good.”

While the Fields lead the GOR charge towards Cape Town, 70 miles to leeward of BSL, Mabire and Merron were fully occupied on Campagne de France. The Class40’s spare wind instruments had broken loose from their masthead fitting after days of continuous whiplash and by Friday morning, the carbon wind wand had slipped between the mast and the main halyard. If the duo needed to put in a reef and lower the mainsail, the wand could potentially jam the mainsail, damage the mainsail cars or destroy the masthead electrics.

Someone would have to go aloft: “We waited until nearly sunset when the sea state had improved somewhat, though still bouncing around in waves and difficult to stand without holding on,” reported Miranda Merron on Saturday morning. “You can imagine what the motion at the top of the mast 19 metres above the water was like.” Mabire winched his co-skipper to the top of the mast: “Climbing unassisted was out of the question,” explains Merron. “It required all four limbs to hold on while using one, or both hands, to work on the masthead.” Having retrieved the wand, Merron returned to the deck with only one mishap: “My favourite racing hat got flung off and finished its racing days in the South Atlantic,” she reports. “The view from the top was spectacular though my body is feeling fairly battered today.” Despite the setback, Campagne de France was averaging just under 11 knots at 15:00 GMT on Saturday with BSL averaging slightly under ten knots.

Just over 900 miles to the northwest of Campagne de France, Marco Nannini and Paul Peggs dug into the headwinds at 13:00 GMT on Saturday with Financial Crisis and the Italian-British duo took cover with no trace of shipping in the area and the radar reflector and AIS alarms silent: “We are beating our brains to a mash in the south-easterlies,” Nannini reported late on Friday afternoon. “Not too bad so far, staysail and one reef in a solid 20 knots. Boat slamming and waves crashing across the cockpit,” he explains. “It’s wet out there and I can’t find a strong enough reason to be outside.” Peggs was also sheltering inside the boat. “Even Paul, who is normally in the cockpit unless he is taking a nap or eating, is finding the comforts of the port master cabin to be far more agreeable then the jet wash in the garden.”

Currently, Financial Crisis is 760 miles east of Cape Frio on the Brazilian coast and 2,300 miles off the coast of Namibia: “I think it is safe to say we’re in the middle of freaking nowhere,” Nannini observes. For the group of four boats, one available strategy is to remain on port tack heading SSW away from the route to Cape Town until the centre of the high – currently 700 miles to the SSW of the pack - moves towards the centre of the South Atlantic and the wind backs to the east on Sunday morning. “I don’t want to go too much into our top secret strategy here as it may become rather too obvious that we don’t have one,” admits the Italian co-skipper of Financial Crisis: “We are waiting for the others to reveal their cards before committing to our route as currently there are two radical schools of thought in relation to the approaching high.” At 15:00 GMT on Saturday, Colman and Ramon were the first Class40 to break from port tack, hitching east on starboard.

For the South African duo on Phesheya-Racing, the wind went forward shortly before midnight on Friday. “Conditions are absolutely diabolical on board at the moment,” Nick Leggatt confirmed on Saturday morning. “We seem to be inside some mad monster's washing machine.” At sunset on Friday, Leggatt and Hutton-Squire were under full main and Solent in easterly breeze when the cloud cover increased dramatically: “Initially, it just poured with rain and the wind died away to nothing, but soon it returned in full force,” Leggatt continues. “In pitch darkness and driving rain, we reefed the mainsail and replaced the Solent with the staysail.” The wind quickly increased and a second reef was put in as the outlook deteriorated further after midnight: “In near gale force conditions and rough seas we changed from the staysail to the storm jib and still the boat flew off the backs of the waves and crashed into the troughs with water going every which way.” Leggatt and Hutton-Squire report that spray and spume was blown across the deck, down the companionway and onto the chart table located two metres forward of the hatch.

By dawn on Saturday, Phesheya-Racing had dropped a place to Sec. Hayai as the South Africans were forced west while the Dutch duo of Nico Budel and Ruud van Rijsewijk sailed a better course in more easterly breeze. “Now that the sun has risen we can see the waves...unfortunately!” says Leggatt. “They’re impressive, but I’ve never seen conditions like this in this area before,” he admits. “At least it’s still relatively warm at 21°C, but one is quickly chilled to the bone by the torrential rain and spray, but it’s the rough and confused sea pattern that is really causing all the grief.” In the 15:00 GMT position poll, Sec. Hayai leads Phesheya-Racing by 72 miles as Budel and Van Rijsewijk enter the band of south-easterly headwinds, slowing to under six knots and trailing Financial Crisis by 57 miles. Colman and Ramon with Cessna Citation have slowed on starboard tack making under five knots, 152 miles ahead on Nannini and Peggs.

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