The five Class40s in the Global Ocean Race 2011-12 are approaching the most remote part of the Indian Ocean. Currently 1,800 miles from the Cape of Good Hope, Africa, and 2,600 miles from Cape Leeuwin at the south-western tip of Australia after ten days of racing, the fleet are reaching east on port in the Roaring Forties with the Leg 2 Celox Sailing Scoring Gate at 69 degrees East as their next virtual target. In fourth and fifth place, Financial Crisis and Phesheya-Racing remain 90 miles north of the leading trio with Cessna Citation at the head of the fleet pushing up the speed averages to over 14 knots, hunted by Campagne de France, with BSL in third dropping back behind the leading two boats overnight and into Friday.
As a deep low pressure system rolls eastwards 700 miles south of the fleet, the GOR Class40s are chasing a high pressure system across the high latitudes, locked into the northerly breeze spinning off the system’s trailing edge. The humidity is now becoming intense at 43 degrees South: “We’re completely cloaked in fog and can’t even see the sky,” reported Halvard Mabire from Campagne de France on Friday morning. “The temperature is bearable as the wind is coming from the north, but it’s exceptionally humid and damp and this soaks into everything, right into your bone marrow. It’s almost like it’s raining,” says Mabire.
With NNW breeze increasing to over 20 knots, conditions were becoming lively: “The sea state is building, so the boat is starting to slam and spray is flying back down the deck from the bow,” he continues. “It’s hard to tell if the overall dampness on board is from sea water going upwards, or airborne moisture coming down – all I know is that it gets into everything and nothing is dry anymore.” Miranda Merron confirms the conditions: “We spent the night enveloped in thick fog, radar on, even if there is probably not much out here other than a few Class40s,” she reports. “The boat is on rinse cycle on deck, water pouring into the cockpit,” Merron continues. “There were a few hours of sunshine earlier, but we’re being chased by a front, and the cloud has swallowed up the sun for the time being.”
With the constant damp becoming extreme, Mabire and Merron use the heat generated by the engine when charging the batteries: “We’ve put the Lombardini engine to good use and hang wet socks and gloves in the engine compartment,” explains Mabire. “This gives us a very happy ten minutes of warmth when we put them back on.” This comfort comes with risks: “It is, however, very important to remember to take any drying gear off the engine before we fire it up for the next charging cycle – getting a sock caught in the alternator belt just doesn’t bare thinking about!”
Campagne de France and Cessna Citation traded first place throughout Friday and in the 15:00 GMT position poll, Conrad Colman and Sam Goodchild had taken the lead with Cessna Citation, averaging an impressive 14.5 knots and pulling out a 7-mile lead over Campagne de France. Averaging just under 13 knots, Mabire and Merron weren’t dawdling in the leader’s wake. “At the moment it’s vital to push as hard as possible before the sea state starts to deteriorate and we have to lift our foot of the pedal to preserve the boat,” says Mabire. “If the weather files are correct, it looks like we’re going to be reaching on port until the end of time, although conditions are going to become increasingly severe.”
The leaders are currently 350 miles from the Celox Sailing Scoring Gate and the maximum of six valuable points are up for grabs: “The leadership battle is still raging, but there’s now the addition of the scoring gate,” he adds. “There’s now a curious situation where the boat at the top of the leaderboard ranking may not be the first across the gate, as - in terms of Distance to Finish calculations which govern the rankings – a boat further south has fewer miles to the finish line, but may not cross the scoring gate’s meridian first.” The conundrum presents a fresh set of problems. “We’ve got to find a good compromise soon between putting our heads down and charging at the gate and looking after the boat for the remainder of this leg,” reasons the French skipper. “We’re not in a good place to suffer serious damage out here in the middle of nowhere, so, once again, it’s the complicated balance of racing and good seamanship.”
West of Campagne de France by 30 miles at 15:00 GMT on Friday, the air was turning blue around BSL: “We're being dumped at the moment,” reports Ross Field as BSL slips behind the leaders. “Each position schedule is painful and there’s a lot of bad language echoing out of the Southern Ocean every three hours - no wonder the birds have gone - we've scared them off!” Between 06:00 GMT on Thursday and 06:00 GMT on Friday, the Fields dropped eight miles to the leading duo and the losses continued early on Friday. While the gap isn’t huge, with the high level of competition in the GOR, any separation is dangerous and has to be limited. “It’s not a nice feeling seeing the two boats ahead pulling away,” he admits. “We think we have an explanation in the frontal system behind us,” says Ross of the cold front chasing the fleet. “Campbell has been looking at weather maps for so long that his eyes are going square, but we have a cunning plan which hopefully might stop the rot.” Currently the southernmost boat in the fleet and averaging 13.4 knots, the conditions are really tough: “It’s misty, cold, miserable, the sleeping bag is wet, the plastic squab is wet, the boat stinks, my feet are cold the whole time, but the competition is fantastic - best in the world,” says Ross. “The competition goes on day after day, week after week like no other sport in the world!”
In fifth place, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire with Phesheya-Racing were trailing Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon on Financial Crisis by 19 miles at 15:00 GMT. “Conditions have become quite variable during the past 24 hours as we are approached by the axis of a deep trough of low pressure,” Phillippa Hutton-Squire reported at noon GMT on Friday. “To the west of this trough lies a band of very strong southerly winds which will bring cold and gales to us quite soon,” she predicts. “Right now we’re reaching at about nine knots through thick fog with the bow of the boat barely visible less than 40 feet away!” Sailing into occasional and brief bursts of sunshine, the wind is variable in strength and direction. “The sea is surprisingly flat with a bit of a cross sea beginning to make itself felt as the winds of the cold front get nearer and the temperature is quite tolerable,” notes Hutton-Squire. However, conditions alter frequently: "Last night felt cool because of the dampness of the fog and low cloud and once one is cold it’s very difficult to warm up again,” she explains. “So when we are off watch, we quickly snuggle into a warm, three-layer sleeping bag - an inner fleece bag to keep us comfortable, the main sleeping bag and an outer bivvy bag to keep the dampness out of the system.”
Leaderboard at 15:00 GMT:
1. Cessna Citation: DTF 4,850 14.5kts
2. Campagne de France: DTL 7.4 12.9kts
3. BSL: DTL 30 13.4kts
4. Financial Crisis: DTL 283 8kts
5. Phesheya-Racing: DTL 302 8.3kts