Global Ocean Race: Into the Furious 50s

Cessna Citation leads the charge across the Pacific

Tuesday February 7th 2012, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: none selected

Shortly after midnight Monday/Tuesday, Global Ocean Race leaders, Conrad Colman and Adrian Kuttel took their Akilaria RC2 Cessna Citation below 50°S, collected their Furious Fifties Visitors’ Visa for future use in the descent to Cape Horn and tacked northeast through fog towards the southern limit of the bluQube Scoring Gate at 47°S. Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon followed suit six hours later with Financial Crisis and to the northwest, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire experienced a series of crash tacks with Phesheya-Racing and hove-to for repairs to their autopilot.

Since tacking onto starboard, Cessna Citation has been picking up speed despite some early doubts: “We may have tacked too early as the shifting winds still swing like a metronome instead of the steady breeze promised by the forecasts,” reported Colman on Tuesday morning. “Trimmed on hard for sailing upwind, our boat searches the correct course through the gathering fog like a snuffling greyhound, never tiring or complaining of condensing fog droplets the way a real helmsman would.”

Colman and Kuttel marked their ninth day at sea in Leg 3 with Colman’s fourth mast climb since leaving Wellington. “I went aloft this time to re-tie a humble elastic cord that pulls the lazy backstay against the mast and stops it from swinging perilously around the front side of the spreaders,” explains the 28 year-old Kiwi. With the backstay free to hook itself forward of the mast, the risk of winding the runner on at night, or in a hurried manoeuvre, and dismasting the Class40 was too great. “In the same way that a $100m space shuttle was scuttled by a 50 cent rubber washer, the loss of a humble bungee could cut our ambitions short,” says Colman.

An earlier mast climb to run a new staysail halyard had not gone so smoothly. With Buckley Systems and Campagne de France nearby, Colman and Kuttel decided not to reduce sail, but bore-away in 30 knots of wind to keep on the pace. “With my arms looped around the top spreaders while waiting for Adrian, the bow slammed into a wave, sending me flying with only my forearm against the spreader to stop me from being lost in space like a moonwalking astronaut,” Colman recalls. “Several similar incidents left me grateful that I regained the deck with all bones intact, but the bruises have now flowered into a multi-coloured array from blue to ochre red.”

Colman admits that undertaking the mast climb with Cessna Citation at full-pace wasn’t the wisest move: “Such actions smack of foolhardiness rather than the heroics of the moment,” he concedes. “But it’s all part of racing a boat in big conditions when each mile won or lost is breathlessly measured at each position report.” Despite Financial Crisis chasing hard 85 miles off his starboard quarter, Colman is missing the thrill of racing against Buckley Systems and Campagne de France: “It’s for this that I'm disappointed to have lost two of our competitors,” he explains. “I sadly understand that the Fields were hurt and needed to receive medical attention, but conditions were not such that a solid boat with healthy crew could not have carried on.”

In the 15:00 GMT position poll on Tuesday, Financial Crisis in second place was pacing Cessna Citation at 7.5 knots. On board the first generation Akilaria, Marco Nannini’s co-skipper, Hugo Ramon, the youngest competitor in the GOR, had already had enough of beating: “I really, really hate climate change and global warming,” comments the 26 year-old Spaniard. “It’s because of the hated climate change that we are forced to race upwind and it’s not good for the health,” he believes. “The boat is full of water; our clothes never dry; trying to sleep becomes torture and injuries are multiplying – it should be banned!” says Ramon of his sixth consecutive day on the wind. “I’m no expert, but I know that climate change has altered the world’s well-known and established weather systems and increasing temperatures at the poles have caused glaciers to calve more icebergs,” he explains. “These icebergs then drift around the oceans in the high latitudes fragmenting into smaller bergs called growlers which can’t be spotted by a boat’s radar or infrared satellite imagery.”

Despite their reduced proportions, the grand piano-sized growlers are still a threat: “They may be smaller pieces of ice measured in a few metres, but they can still break a boat in two,” confirms Ramon. “In order to prevent this catastrophe happening, round-the-world race organisations like the GOR establish safety gates to stop us going too far south into areas where more and more ice has been recorded over recent years.” In the GOR, the southern waypoint of the bluQube Scoring Gate pulls the Class40s away from known ice fields located via satellite over the past few months. “This wise decision has consequences,” continues Ramon. “Firstly, we can’t drop south and make a great circle route that is shorter and, secondly, we’ve less space tactically and as a result we are currently trapped in headwinds that are driving us insane,” he concludes. “However, even if going south and making like Schakleton was an option available to us, we’d need to charter an ice breaker!”

For Cessna Citation and Financial Crisis, an end to the painful period of beating may be in sight with weather files predicting the wind will clock from southeast to south early evening of Tuesday GMT, then further southwest until the scoring gate currently 660 miles ahead of Cessna Citation.

Meanwhile, around 500 miles northwest of the leaders, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire had opted to hove-to for a second time with Phesheya-Racing. Having survived the gale on Monday, Leggatt and Hutton-Squire were moving again in confused seas with under 20 knots of wind when the pilot failed and threw Phesheya-Racing into a tack. Phillippa Hutton-Squire takes up the story: “At first I thought we had too much sail area up as the wind was increasing, so we put a third reef in the main,” she reported early on Tuesday morning. “Nick and I went down below to shelter from the big seas that were crashing over the boat and not even half an hour later we crash tacked.” Hutton-Squire leapt into the cockpit and tacked the Class40 back again. “Nick pressed auto from down below, but nothing happened!”

Hutton-Squire remained at the helm in deeply unpleasant conditions: “Grey, low mist that had a constant drizzle in your face with the wind increasing to high 20s and a short and sharp sea…not the easiest conditions!” The choice was made to heave-to while the pilot problem was identified. “We checked cables and double checked them and voltage doesn’t seem to be a problem,” she confirms. “Now Nick has the pilot in pieces as he thinks the clutch is not working!” On Tuesday afternoon, Leggatt and Hutton-Squire were in direct contact with the pilot’s manufacturer to find a solution.

While the South Africans continue work on their autopilots, Buckley Systems and Campagne de France are closing in on New Zealand having turned west on Friday, splitting from the GOR fleet. At 15:00 on Tuesday, Ross and Campbell Field on Buckley Systems were around 160 miles from their destination. Campbell Field sent an update early on Tuesday: “Ross is well, however he’s drugged to the eyeballs,” he reports. “So it makes for some interesting conversations, mainly when he is asleep!” Initially, Buckley Systems was heading to Auckland, but there has been a change of plan: “We are diverting to Tauranga to get Ross off the boat and to specialists as soon as possible,” Campbell continues. “We had him booked in Auckland for Friday, but the forecast is getting lighter and lighter, so we may not make it there in time,” he explains. “Should surgery be needed, then he will get it done as soon as physically possible to be back up and running in the very near future.”

GOR leaderboard 15:00 GMT 7/2/12:
1. Cessna Citation DTF 4273 7.3kts
2. Financial Crisis DTL 81 7.5kts
3. Phesheya-Racing DTL 452 3kts

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