Indian Ocean match racing
As the Global Ocean Race 2011-12 boats head east along the Western Indian Ocean Ice Limit at 42°S, the leaderboard ranking continues to change hourly after six days at sea. At the head of the fleet, Cessna Citation and Campagne de France continue swapping pole position, separated by a handful of miles since Friday, while BSL in third is closing down fast on the lead duo with the two trailing Class40s, Financial Crisis and Phesheya-Racing, enjoying a private battle and making gains on the frontrunners.
At 06:00 GMT on Monday, Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon on Financial Crisis exchanged fifth place for fourth, overhauling the South African duo of Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire on Phesheya-Racing. Leggatt and Hutton-Squire opted early to keep some distance between their first generation Akilaria and the ice limit, hoping to keep in stronger breeze spinning off the high pressure system northeast of the fleet, while Nannini and Ramon dropped down south before gybing away from the mandatory southern barrier in westerly wind. With the breeze forecast to clock round to the north as the weather system slips east ahead of the fleet, timing and positioning were critical. Hugo Ramon explains the strategy: “Our meteorological priority is to position ourselves in a narrow corridor between the ice limit and the best winds behind the high pressure.” As the wind shifted north late yesterday, the Italian-Spanish duo gybed onto port: “We gybed several times yesterday with the last one just before nightfall,” reports the Spanish sailor. “We think this gybe will be good for several days.” At 15:00 GMT on Monday, Financial Crisis was leading Phesheya-Racing by just five miles with the two Class40s averaging the best speed in the fleet at slightly under nine knots.
Since dawn on Monday, the pace had been slowing for the two lead boats, Cessna Citation and Campagne de France, as they approach the high-pressure blocking their path and at 13:00 GMT, Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron on Campagne de France re-took the lead as they climbed away from the ice limit to windward of Colman and Goodchild with Cessna Citation. Throughout Sunday, Campagne de France was the southern-most boat in the fleet, bouncing off the ice limit: “We’ve been shaving along the southern limit at 42 degrees South making a lot of gybes to keep from crossing this virtual line,” reported Halvard Mabire early on Monday afternoon. “Our eyes were constantly locked on the GPS to check our position, similar to watching the depth sounder when racing close inshore,” he continues. “We’ve sailed so close to this barrier that I’m certain we’ve got blood on our shoulders from grazing against this invisible wall.”
The catalyst for the GOR Race Committee when implementing the ice limit was the increasing incidence of ice drifting far north from Antarctica, specifically ice logged during the Barcelona World Race earlier this year and, more recently, in mid-October, a report of ‘two very large icebergs’ at 44°S, 49°E in the vicinity of the Crozet Islands logged by a yacht competing in the Clipper Round the World Race. Bespoke, Southern Ocean iceberg information via satellite radar is available, but at a cost – in the region of €29,000 to book a satellite for an image and analysis – which is beyond the budget of the GOR. The result was the prudent ban on sailing below 42S. However, news of the GOR ice limit spread quickly before the Leg 2 start in Cape Town and a European agency currently monitoring Southern Ocean ice soon contacted the GOR’s Race Director, Josh Hall, advising that relaxing the existing limit was acceptable and posed no extreme threat for the GOR’s Class40s.
There are currently 420 miles remaining before the GOR fleet leaders are clear of the Western Indian Ocean Ice Limit and free to drop south as far as Kerguelen Island, 940 miles to the southeast, leaving the remote island to starboard. “It does change the game having this limit,” adds Mabire. “It prevents us from going on the fastest route, but it’s in-keeping with the current culture of Health & Safety and, overwhelmingly, is included with our best interests in mind. Anyway, on our little 40-footer, we’re not that keen to go deep south into a big fight and play Russian roulette with the icebergs.” Mabire is no stranger to this chilling environment: “I was lucky enough to do the first Whitbread Round-the-World Race and we went a long, long way south and – fortunately – really didn’t know what was waiting for us down there. With the exuberance of youth and complete ignorance of weather and the position of icebergs, we just kept going south!” In the 15:00 GMT position poll on Monday, Cessna Citation and Campagne de France were neck-and-neck, jointly leading the GOR fleet with both Class40s averaging six knots.
While Campagne de France and Cessna Citation have been in visual contact, Ross and Campbell Field in third on BSL have been reeling in the leaders, reducing the deficit by 12 miles in 24 hours, staying north of the leading two yachts, holding the breeze longer and trailing the frontrunners by 18 miles at 15:00 GMT. “We’ve been pushing as hard as we can over the last few days,” confirmed Campbell Field on Sunday night. “On a couple of occasions we’ve pushed a little too hard, despite lengthy discussions about which spinnaker to put up, debating the merits of pushing hard versus the conservative approach; the high road versus the low road.” Even with this impressive democratic process on board, it hasn’t always gone smoothly: “A couple of the less conservative decisions have, for want of a better expression, bitten us in the arse,” he reveals. “On Saturday night, we had a sail half in the water whilst charging along in the deep, dark night, which cost us a few miles.”
The following day, a full-on broach put BSL out of commission for two hours: “We were charging along in champagne yachting conditions, big gear up again – I’d lost the argument with Ross - with a solid 25 to 30 knots, big ocean swells and brilliant sunshine.” As the Verdier-design Class40 thundered eastwards, Campbell Field took the boat’s speed record to over 24 knots. “I can’t recall the exact figure as that was about when I closed my eyes and went ‘brace, brace, brace’!” says Campbell. However, the high-speed drama wasn’t over: “Thankfully, we popped up out of that one OK, but a little further down the track it all went pear-shaped. We came out unscathed, but in a bit of a mess, at least the mast is still pointing up and all the appendages are in the right place!”
While the GOR fleet sail above 42°S, Loïck Peyron and his team on the maxi trimaran Banque Populaire V are 420 miles south of the Class40s, averaging just under 32 knots as they rip south of the Prince Edward Islands on their Jules Verne Round-the-World Record attempt. On Campagne de France, Halvard Mabire is slightly envious: “As we battle east, Loïck Peyron and his fantastic team are passing us to the south,” notes Mabire. “They’re too far south to be seen and even if they were in-sight, it would be like cows in a field looking at a high-speed train going by!”
GOR Leg 2 leaderboard at 15:00 GMT :
1. Cessna Citation: DTF 5,829 Av Sp 6.5kts
1. Campagne de France: DTF 5,829 Av Sp 6.9kts
2. BSL: DTL 18 Av Sp 7.4kts
3. Financial Crisis: DTL 205 Av Sp 8.6kts
4. Phesheya-Racing: DTL 209 Av Sp 8.9kts