BSL into the lead

Cold and wet in the Global Ocean Race

Monday December 12th 2011, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: none selected

As the Class40s in the Global Ocean Race 2011-12 entered the most remote sector of the Indian Ocean and crossed the Leg 2 Celox Sailing Scoring Gate north of Kerguelen Island, a cold front swept through the fleet bringing the long period of reaching on port tack to an abrupt end.

Northwest of the leading trio of Class40s, Financial Crisis and Phesheya-Racing were first to feel the front on Saturday with the wind switching round to an icy, southerly blast as the system rolled east through the Roaring Forties. By late Sunday, the extraordinary, sustained speeds of the leading trio hurtling east ahead of the front began to moderate as the breeze went aft and settled in the southwest.

Fleet leaders, Conrad Colman and Sam Goodchild on Cessna Citation, were averaging 15 knots as the front approached, throttling back to 11 knots on Monday morning, but pushed the pedal down, dropped south and built speeds up to over 13 knots. Read Artemis Offshore Academy sailor, Sam Goodchild's full account here.

On BSL, Ross and Campbell Field dealt with a very upset albatross in the Class40’s cockpit and sail damage as the front passed through. Campbell Field's report is here

Trailing the Fields by 39 miles at 15:00 GMT and tracking east 120 miles to the north of Cessna Citation and BSL, Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron in third on Campagne de France took the front in their stride: “It started with a few hours of glacial drizzle and rain and then a very rapid wind shift to the southwest just before dawn,” reported Miranda Merron on Monday morning. “The barometer is now rising and there may even be some blue sky soon,” she adds, hoping for a break in the bleak, Southern Ocean cloud canopy.

Northwest of Campagne de France by 560 miles on Monday afternoon, Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon were having a tough time on Financial Crisis as they clung onto the back of the cold front. Ramon describes the scene on Monday morning: “Today is one of those times when you want to stay inside and not even poke your nose out of the hatch,” explains the 26 year-old Spaniard. “The sea is incredibly confused with crossing waves everywhere of all sizes, all colours and I’m certain they’re getting wetter and wetter.” The wind strength and direction is as unpredictable as the sea state: “There’s absolutely no sense or pattern to the wind direction,” Ramon continues. “I stand in the cockpit shouting ‘What’s wrong with you!’ at the sky as the wind flicks through 40 degrees in under three minutes and goes from 15 to 33 knots in a couple of seconds.” Despite the hardship, Financial Crisis averaging eight knots, passed through the Celox Sailing Scoring gate at 09:00 GMT, although the conditions continued to be both exhausting and frustrating. “Even with two of us on deck it’s impossible to react with efficient trimming or sail choice in this stuff,” adds Ramon.

On Phesheya-Racing, 33 miles behind Financial Crisis on Monday afternoon, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire have similar conditions and are battling with mid-ocean currents: “Nick and I have been fighting the current or tide to try and get east,” explains Hutton-Squire. “It seems to me there’s a tide running as every six hours it changes direction and we get pushed the other way,” she reports. With a messy sea in the wake of the front and wind strength varying between ten and 22 knots, it is deeply uncomfortable: “We’ve been slamming, bouncing and banging up and down trying to make way and this makes life rather unpleasant on board,” says Hutton-Squire. “Trying to negotiate between having the right sails up or the right trim or sailing at the right wind angle to make the best boat speed over the waves has been frustrating.” At 15:00 GMT on Monday, the South Africans were averaging seven knots within miles of crossing the Celox Sailing Scoring Gate.

For the entire GOR fleet, the recurring theme is the bitter cold and the grim, debilitating dampness. On Campagne de France, Miranda Merron and Halvard Mabire use every opportunity to dry clothes: “The water temperature is 8°C and the air temperature 7°C, so not particularly summer-like at 45°S,” says Merron. “It’s wet on deck from spray and damp below deck from wet foulies and condensation,” she explains. “We sometimes use the engine to charge the batteries and as it retains heat for a while, this is a much coveted clothes-drying location.”

Phillippa Hutton-Squire’s approach to the cold, damp and wind chill is preventative: “At sun rise this morning it was 8°C,” she reported from Phesheya-Racing early on Monday. “The only answer to this is make sure you stay curled up in your sleeping bag for as long as you can,” she advises. “Once out of it, put on layers and layers of clothing, but you mustn’t wear too many and you have to be able to move to keep your circulation going.”

Volunteering for long term exposure to these conditions is not normal. Sailing a high-powered, 40ft racing yacht across the high latitudes with just one other person for company is not standard behaviour or a normal, sporting environment and – by association – the GOR co-skippers are far from average human beings. Consequently, after 13 days and around 3,000 miles at sea in Leg 2, there is some unusual activity materialising on a few of the Class40s. On BSL, Campbell Field spent Sunday morning in a semi-inflated survival suit. His father explains: “It has a small hose so you can blow air into it and you blow up like the Michelin Man,” says Ross Field. “He posed for various photos and then went and lay on the bunk to sleep with his yellow suit on, fully inflated – we’re sleeping in our full gear at the moment because it is bloody windy and you may need to come on deck urgently,” he adds. “I was on deck steering and trimming sails and was about to put a reef in the main and I felt a bang in my ribs,” Ross recalls. “I looked around and there is an albatross sitting on the cockpit floor looking at me like a stunned mullet – he wasn’t fully grown, but was still a monster and I got a hell of a fright.”

Rapid assistance was required in the cockpit: “I yelled for Campbell at the top of my voice and he, still fully inflated, tries to leap out of bed and I hear this yell and scream and then he arrives at the hatch and sees the albatross - ‘Oh ****!’ he yells….still fully inflated.” With the bird vomiting in the cockpit and Campbell Field attempting fast deflation to fit through one of the yacht’s narrow cockpit hatches, chaos reigned momentarily.

GOR cumulative Leg 1 and Leg 2 points following the Celox Sailing Scoring Gate:

1. BSL: 39 (4 points at the Celox Sailing Scoring Gate)
2. Campagne de France: 36 points (5 points at the Celox Sailing Scoring Gate)
3. Financial Crisis: 27 (3 points at the Celox Sailing Scoring Gate)
4. Cessna Citation: 24 (6 points at the Celox Sailing Scoring Gate)
5. Phesheya-Racing: 12 (west of the Celox Sailing Scoring Gate)
6. Sec. Hayai: 6 (RTD from Leg 2)

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