Tasman Sea high pressure
With the Global Ocean Race Class40s spread over 1,200 miles to the west of New Zealand, there are, naturally, immense differences in the conditions for the five boats. The leading duo of Cessna Citation and BSL were separated by 110 miles at 03:00 GMT on Wednesday and had entered an area of light airs off the western coast of South Island with 253 miles of Leg 2 remaining for Cessna Citation, while Campagne de France in third, 306 miles astern of BSL, was also trapped in a breeze vacuum tantalisingly close the finish line in Wellington. Further west, straddling Tasmania, Financial Crisis in fourth and Phesheya-Racing in fifth were in strong westerly wind and making good progress, despite a batten-breaking crash gybe for the Italian-Spanish team on Financial Crisis.
As Nannini and Ramon sailed northeast, 60 miles off the coast of Tasmania, 40-knot northwesterlies rolled past to the south of Financial Crisis. In the 03:00 GMT position poll on Wednesday, Nannini and Ramon were back on track averaging slightly under ten knots.
West of Financial Crisis and further north, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire on Phesheya-Racing in fifth place saw less breeze than Nannini and Ramon, but had excellent, fast conditions: “Today is probably one of our best days of the leg so far,” reported Hutton-Squire on Tuesday night. “BluQube A6, staysail and one reef in the main, smoothly gliding down every enormous wave at pace.” Racing through steep seas, the South Africans experienced similar conditions as Nannini and Ramon, but without the crash gybes. “The waves were still huge, 5-metre monsters,” she continues. “Every time we got speed up and surfed down the wave, there was a little shift in the wind at the bottom of the wave and this caused the kite to collapse and bang around until you are up on the next wave surfing again.” At 03:00 GMT on Wednesday, Phesheya-Racing was 230 miles southwest of Tasmania making the highest speed average in the fleet at 10.1 knots and trailing Financial Crisis by 445 miles. “In one position report we averaged 12.1 knots,” says Hutton-Squire. “I think this is our fastest average this leg, so let’s see if we can keep it up.”
Meanwhile, mid-evening GMT on Tuesday, the breaks went on for Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron on Campagne de France with speeds rapidly tumbling to sub-four knots by midnight. Miranda Merron sums up the situation: “So near yet so far - there is a Fastnet Race and-a-bit left in terms to distance to finish. This isn’t much in the great scheme of things, but the weather is not making it easy for us to reach Wellington.”
Approximately midway between Tasmania and New Zealand, Campagne de France is currently trapped. “The ridge of high pressure has snared us earlier than expected, making an ETA for New Year 2013 more realistic at this snail’s pace,” says Merron as the Franco-British duo averaged 4.3 knots at 03:00 GMT on Wednesday. “Birds are swimming faster than the boat right know,” she adds. “No wind does not mean no swell and the sails are gently slatting as the boat rolls….good beach weather!”
While Mabire and Merron endure the light airs torture, the three-hourly fleet position polls provide little comfort with Financial Crisis to their west taking 33 miles out of them overnight and BSL adding 30 miles to the distance deficit to the east.
Mabire and Merron are currently 470 miles due west of South Island with 670 miles to the finish line in Wellington Harbour and the forecast for the closing stages of 7,500 mile Leg 2 is not promising. “There is ex-cyclone Fina roaming around threatening to make the last part quite unpleasant,” says Merron of the low pressure system currently centred 680 miles north-west of Wellington and forecast to track south towards the GOR fleet. “The forecast changes, but at times the GRIB files are showing 45 knots for Cook Strait and they are usually on the light side for wind speed,” she concludes.
Early on Tuesday evening GMT, Conrad Colman and Sam Goodchild at the front of the fleet with Cessna Citation dropped speeds to below six knots 106 miles off the coast of South Island. Miraculously, just 100 miles to the southwest, Ross and Campbell Field on BSL in second place, held onto what breeze was available and chewed away at Colman and Goodchild’s lead, gaining 35 miles in 24 hours and closing into 110 miles by 03:00 GMT on Wednesday.
Despite the tension, the proximity of the opposition and the weather predictions for the next 48 hours, Conrad Colman is in high-spirits with his homeland so close: “Ahhh, New Zealand! Finally! Land of the Long White Cloud,” commented the 27 year-old Kiwi early on Wednesday morning. “The Maori legend of the settling of New Zealand is that paddlers in a huge canoe from Polynesia saw on the distant horizon a long white cloud and underneath lay the promised land, a rich bounty of never-before-seen wildlife that were quickly made into dinner, and subsequently extinct,” he explains. “So goes the legend anyway, but on our arrival we’ve had a huge wind hole as a welcoming party with crazy wind shifts and maddening calms,” Colman reports. “Thankfully, we’re not the first to find these islands, otherwise they would be known for all generations to come as ‘land of light and variable, with spotted cumulus’ which isn’t quite so catchy as the original.”
By Wednesday morning, Cessna Citation picked up speed to over seven knots and it was the turn of the Fields to drop the speed averages, but the forecast suggests that Fina will move south and there’s a probability that Colman and his co-skipper, Sam Goodchild, will have over 30 knots on the nose as they reach Cape Farewell at the northern tip of South Island and turn east into Cook Strait for the final 100 miles to the finish line in Wellington. “Despite the setbacks, Sam and I are in fine form, thanking the New Zealand customs and immigration office for giving us an excuse to mow down the snack bags in our remaining stores,” says Colman of his country’s zero tolerance approach to imported food products, fruit, plants, animals, seeds or anything that might imbalance New Zealand’s delicate ecosystem. “‘Anything you’d like to declare, mate?’,” says Colman. “’BURP, nope! She’ll be right!’.”
Leadeboard at 03:00 GMT:
1. Cessna Citation DTF 253 7.4kts
2. BSL DTL 110 6.8kts
3. Campagne de France DTL 416 4.3kts
4. Financial Crisis DTL 790 9.4kts
5. Phesheya-Racing DTL 1235 10.1kts