Merron and Mabire into the lead
Close competition has always been a basis of the Class40 Association, but after one week and over 1,300 miles of racing through the Indian Ocean, the five, double-handed Class40s in the Global Ocean Race 2011-12 are taking this characteristic to extremes. The Franco-British duo of Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron took the lead on Monday night with their Pogo40S² Class40, Campagne de France, before Conrad Colman and Sam Goodchild regained pole position at 05:00 GMT on Tuesday with the New Zealand-British team’s Akilaria RC2, Cessna Citation, but relinquished the lead to Mabire and Merron just four hours later.
West of the leading pack by 200 miles, the two first generation Akilarias – Phesheya-Racing of South Africans, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire, and Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon’s Financial Crisis are racing through the high latitudes within sight of each other at 41°S. Meanwhile, the New Zealand father-and-son team of Ross and Campbell Field in third on BSL continue to stalk the leaders, chiselling away at the distance deficit and shadowing Campagne de France and Cessna Citation.
At 15:00 GMT on Tuesday, Campagne de France was leading the fleet by a margin of four miles over Cessna Citation. For Conrad Colman’s co-skipper on Cessna Citation, the Artemis Offshore Academy sailor and Figaro specialist, Sam Goodchild, the first stage of GOR Leg 2 from Cape Town to Wellington, New Zealand, has been a tough introduction to the Southern Ocean: “We've been at sea for a week now and it seems a long time ago we were smashing our way south away from South Africa and towards the Roaring Forties,” says the 22 year-old, British yachtsman. As the fleet chase a high-pressure system across the Indian Ocean there has been a brief period of relatively soft, reaching conditions. “We’ve now had two days of peace and quiet following our three days 'going through a car wash in a convertible' sleigh ride,” he reported early on Tuesday morning. “The progress is still good and the intensity is high as always with Campagne de France, who we have been insight of for days now, just to the north of us. As the wind goes up and down and we change sails accordingly, the two of us, with two different sail plans, exchange the lead,” says Goodchild. “We had a close call when we crossed within 50 metres of them on Sunday and at worst we were four miles behind last night, but are now back alongside again.”
Current weather models suggest the breeze may go forward and slightly east of north over the next 24 hours as the fleet continue towards the eastern extremity of the ice limit, 190 miles ahead of the leaders. On Cessna Citation, the current conditions have provided an opportunity to regroup: “With a full day of sunshine on Monday, we were able to dry out ourselves, the boat and all the sails and are now using the 'down-time' to catch up on as much sleep as possible,” says Goodchild. “As, no doubt, it will be back to the car-wash soon and it’s encouraging hearing the updates from the far more experienced BSL that the slamming upwind is equally un-enjoyed and is considered a bad day in the office and just something we'll have to get used to....phew!”
For Conrad Colman, the obsession in all conditions is sail trimming: “With our days an ever-revolving cycle of sleeping, eating and sailing and very little else, each takes on outsized importance in the absence of other stimuli,” he explains. “With Campagne de France just a couple of miles to leeward, trimming is exact and we're hoping to stop yo-yoing with them and try to extend as strategic options open up towards the end of the ice gate.”
Averaging the highest speed in the fleet at 10.8 knots on Tuesday afternoon with Campagne de France, Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron are not easing-up: “These sort of reaching conditions could be considered as a bit of a cushy time for a relaxing cruise, but for us it’s a ceaseless round of adjustments and it’s really demanding,” explains Mabire. “It’s not just sail trim, as we have to constantly adjust the water ballast and the movable ballast to balance the boat just right,” he continues. “On the other hand, at this pace, Nestor [the autopilot] doesn’t steer too badly and we can concentrate thoroughly on the ropes and gear.” However, the proximity of the opposition is an additional spur. “It’s becoming a very visual race out here,” Mabire observes. “Especially when we’re in the middle of nowhere – a match race and speed test in the middle of the Indian Ocean!”
While the battle with Cessna Citation continues, Mabire and Merron are looking over the starboard quarter of Campagne de France: “As usual, the Kiwis have loaded coal in their boiler and are coming back to annoy us,” says Mabire. “How very selfish!” At 15:00 GMT, the Fields on BSL were trailing Mabire and Merron by 23 miles and averaging 9.6 knots. “I imagine that Ross or Campbell throw themselves at the chart table every three hours to download the latest positions,” adds the French skipper. “If it’s Campbell at the computer while Ross is on the helm, Ross will ask: ‘How fast were we compared to the ****ing French?’ If they have been faster, Ross will say: ‘Well, that was a bloody good watch!’ If we were faster, Ross will bellow down the companionway: ‘They’re ****ing fast, Campbell, get over the side and see if we need to cut something away from the ****ing keel!’ They’re not far away at the moment,” adds Mabire, “so we’re keeping a good eye on our rear view mirrors.”
With the leading trio of Class40s tightly packed, Financial Crisis and Phesheya-Racing continued to trade fourth and fifth position throughout Monday and were separated by four miles at 15:00 GMT with both boats averaging ten knots. “On Monday afternoon, the VHF radio suddenly burst into life for the first time in days,” recalls Nick Leggatt on Phesheya-Racing. “It was Marco calling from Financial Crisis,” he explains. “They were just over the horizon to the lee of us but on a converging course and although our conversation was broken up and disjointed as we were only barely within radio range, we promised to speak again later as we continued to converge.” Since the radio chat on Monday, hand signals are now an effective method of communication. Marco Nannini takes up the story: “We are sailing with Phesheya-Racing in sight just behind our stern now,” reported Nannini on Tuesday afternoon. “We chatted on VHF a few times exchanging jokes and banter, which is really nice and sharing the adventure with your competitors, I think, is part of this great race.” While keeping Phesheya-Racing astern is a priority, Nannini and Ramon are preparing for the demanding weather ahead. “Both Hugo and I are trying to bank as much sleep as possible,” he reports. “It’s an investment for when things will get tougher and being alert could make the difference between breaking and breaking through,” adds Nannini wisely. “The ice limit means we cannot go further south than 42S for a while and this means sailing in nicer and hotter weather and I’m sure that no one is complaining about this restriction,” he believes. “After 49E we’ll be able to go further south and I don’t think anyone is specifically looking forward to getting cold!”
GOR Leg 2 leaderboard at 15:00 GMT 06/12/2011:
1. Campagne de France: DTF 5596 10.8kts
2. Cessna Citation: DTL 3.8 9.9kts
3. BSL: DTL 23 9.6kts
4. Financial Crisis: DTL 207 10.3kts
5. Phesheya-Racing: DTL 211 10.1kts