Knifing the spinnaker sheet
The Indian Ocean’s Roaring Forties continue to punish the double-handed Global Ocean Race fleet. As the leading pair of Class40s plummet south beyond the eastern extremity of the Australian Ice Limit, led by Conrad Colman and Sam Goodchild on Cessna Citation, there has been drama on BSL in second place as Ross and Campbell Field knifed their spinnaker sheets in a 48-knot squall, managing to save the spinnaker and their carbon fibre mast. In third place, Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron made the hard choice to head north with Campagne de France and avoid 50-knot winds chasing them along the ice limit.
In fifth place, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire recorded speeds of 18 knots as a low pressure system passed over Phesheya-Racing early evening GMT on Sunday, while Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon with Financial Crisis lost control of their Akilaria in a 55-knot gust.
For Ross and Campbell Field, Sunday night was a demanding but relatively average, GOR evening in the Southern Ocean; running under spinnaker in 20-30 knots of breeze at 46°S, reefing periodically in wind increasing by ten knots in as many seconds and rotating helm duty frequently. “It was around midnight, black as the inside of a cow again, but the wind was reasonably stable,” begins Ross Field. With the breeze stabilising, he headed below for some rest. “I was deep asleep and got this scream from on deck,” says Ross, reacting instantly. “I leapt out of bed, put my boots on - wrong feet in each - and came through the hatch like greased lightning.” The scene on deck was alarming with the Class40 on the edge of control in howling wind, rain and hail. “I saw the wake out the back of the boat foaming and Campbell steering, looking straight ahead with his eyes as big as saucers.” Glancing at the cockpit readouts revealed 48 knots of wind speed. “F*** was used a lot whilst we discussed how the f*** we were going to get out of this,” he recalls.
With the Fields’ three year-old, Verdier-designed Class40 fully-loaded, the yacht seemed unstoppable: “There was spray everywhere and it was freezing cold,” continues Ross. “I took over driving and man it was all on!” Campbell Field went forward and attempted to snuff the spinnaker, but with the wind building further, pulling the sock down over the sail was impossible and losing the mast became a very real risk. “The spinnaker ended up flying horizontally from the masthead and the knife was out, cutting sheets so the rig stayed in the boat.” With the spinnaker overboard, BSL towed the sail until the wind eased to 25 knots. “We winched it on board fearing the worst but, unbelievably, it’s still in one piece - bloody amazing!”
Following the incident, BSL slowed with Conrad Colman and Sam Goodchild on Cessna Citation building their lead to 163 miles at 18:00 GMT on Monday – an increase of just 14 miles in 24 hours. “We are working putting things together so we can get up and running again,” reports Ross. “In the meantime we’ve lost miles, but we’ll be back into the ‘Young Ones’ soon,” he predicts. Plans clearly went well and BSL was making the highest average in the fleet at 13.6 knots on Monday evening, reaching east as the strong breeze approached.
While the stronger winds should sweep southeast and find Cessna Citation and BSL between 18:00 and midnight GMT on Monday, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire were first to feel the low pressure on Sunday evening, but positioned at 42°S, Phesheya-Racing avoided the worst of the northwesterly breeze. With the Class40’s autopilot running smoothly following a mid-ocean, email tutorial from fellow competitor, Marco Nannini, the South African duo have been able to enjoy racing again. Phillippa Hutton-Squire sets the scene: “Sitting in the companionway watching the world go by, the boat starts to accelerate, the sun peeps out from behind the cloud, the hum from the hydrogenerator gets louder and louder, the white water around the boat gets more and more - you turn to watch the GPS, 13, 14, 16, 17.5 …. you catch another wave 18…. 18.5 knots of boat speed, the jib bangs and you slowly go down the back of the wave and the process starts again.” Over the past day, Phesheya-Racing has been averaging nine to ten knots. “This is what it has been like for the last 24 hours since we figured out Marco’s pilot settings!” says Hutton-Squire.
However, further south, 316 miles ahead of Phesheya-Racing, Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon weren’t so lucky on Financial Crisis at 43°S and sailing 70 miles above the Australian Ice Limit, the Italian-Spanish duo felt the full force of the gale: “I may sound boring if I reiterate that we're still in 35-40 knots of wind; we have not seen anything less than 25 and there’s been anything up to 55 knots for the past week and, inevitably, we've suffered some level of damage,” reports Marco Nannini. Hugo Ramon takes up the story: “I was plugged into my Ipod, thinking about life with my fingers ready on the autopilot remote control buttons when we were hit by a gust of 55 knots,” says Ramon. In the sudden gust, the masthead wind instruments failed. “We completely thought they’d been blown off the top of the mast, but at first light in the morning we verified that it’s there; though it’s totally dead.”
While Ramon will climb the mast and fit a backup unit when the sea state improves, the duo have been hand steering as the pilot is unable to function properly in shifty and strong conditions without data from the masthead unit. “For hours we have been gybing and trying to use the pilot again, but it just tries to gybe on its own.” With the loss of use of the hydrogenerator due to a failed mounting bracket, Nannini and Ramon have been cutting back on using electrical power: “We continue with our fuel saving,” reports Ramon. “I’m writing this blog first with paper and pencil and then I’ll transcribe it quickly to the computer,” he explains.
Racing without a title sponsor for his campaign, there has also been some budget planning by Marco Nannini: “Of course, a famous advert would say being here is priceless, watching the tips of the albatrosses wings gently caress the crests of the waves, enormous waves rolling one after the other, the boat surfing down valleys of water...” says the Italian skipper. “I have, however, to admit to struggling with the continuous bloodshed of bills which add up so quickly,” he explains. “Cape Town cost around 5k in repairs, most of which were very kindly donated by you, the reading public,” Nannini confirms. Hugo Ramon describes the repercussions for the campaign: “We’re also having to cut back on communication costs and the daily transmission of photos is now off limits,” says the Spanish skipper. “We’ve got a bit of a panic about repair costs in Wellington and, at the moment, we can’t afford to buy freeze dried food for Leg 3,” he adds. Donations to support Marco Nannini’s GOR campaign can be made here.
Meanwhile, having already endured blasts of 50 knots in the previous 48 hours, Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron on Campagne de France in third place chose to avoid the front and gybed northeast at midday GMT on Sunday. “We eventually decided that we had had enough of survival sailing and that it was time to head for more attractive racing conditions,” confirms Miranda Merron. “When sailing in big seas and flying sails suitable for 40+ knots, the boat speed is quite low except when being propelled by one of these squall monsters,” she explains. “This causes the boat speed to exceed targets for a few minutes of white-knuckle ploughing down, through and over waves, on the edge, never allowing yourself to think about what could happen if you lost control.” A recent incident remains firmly embedded in the Franco-British duo’s memory: “The boat traversed at 20 knots down the face of one particularly large wave, top to bottom, windward side against the wall of water,” recalls Merron.
As the low pressure passed south of Campagne de France on Monday afternoon, Halvard Mabire had no doubt that the northerly route was correct, despite the extra miles incurred. “We don’t regret our decision because Man is never going to win in hand to hand combat with the sea,” he maintains. “An imbecile who claims that he ‘overcame the power of the oceans’ is living a fantasy,” Mabire believes. “It’s more of the case that the sea just let him go…this time.” The French skipper has been doing some calculations: “It should be remembered that a cubic metre of water – just a small block of freezing sea measuring 1 metre X 1 metre X 1 metre – weighs over one ton,” he points out. “Add to this a wave 15-or-so metres high going at full speed and there’s nothing that can stop this sort of power – especially not a small Class40 weighing just five tons.” The argument is compelling. “The holder of the World Feather Weight Boxing title wouldn’t be crazy enough to take on the World Heavy Weight champion!” In the 18:00 GMT position poll on Monday, Mabire and Merron remained at 42S making 13 knots.
After 20 days at sea and the recent, very hard conditions, all the GOR teams are looking forward to some normality ashore, but in fifth place with over 3,000 miles remaining, this feeling is particularly acute on Phesheya-Racing: “Our hygiene has gone out the window in terms of showering!” admits Phillippa Hutton-Squire. “On Leg 1 from Europe to Cape Town we showered once a week as it was warm and sunny,” she explains. “Today is the warmest day we have had since leaving home I think - about 15°C and partly cloudy. It would be great for a shower but the spray and waves coming over the deck just won’t allow for it,” laments the South African skipper. “So yes, I have not showered in three weeks much like some of my fellow competitors and I think a lot of us have been wearing some of the same clothes as it has been too cold to take them off,” she states. “So when you are standing in the shower at home tonight, think of us!”
Leaderboard at 18:00 GMT:
1. Cessna Citation: DTF 1,889 11.3kts
2. BSL: DTL 163 13.6kts
3. Campagne de France: DTL 566 13kts
4. Financial Crisis: DTL 1092 10.7kts
5. Phesheya-Racing: DTL 1408 9.4kts