Global Ocean Race - Closing in on Cook Strait

Whiteout in the cockpit - Photo Cessna Citation
The five, double-handed Global Ocean Race (GOR) Class40s are being severely tested as they approach the Leg 2 finish line in Wellington, New Zealand.

After 29 days and 7,000 miles of racing through the high-latitudes of the Indian Ocean, at the head of the fleet, on race leader Cessna Citation, Kiwi yachtsman, Conrad Colman, and his British co-skipper, Sam Goodchild, escaped an area of light airs off the west coast of South Island on Wednesday evening GMT, only to run into strong headwinds and punishing seas along the continental shelf with under 200 miles to the finish. The second Kiwi team, Ross and Campbell Field on BSL, came to within 70 miles of Cessna Citation at 03:00 GMT on Thursday as they chase Colman and Goodchild along the coast.

In mid-fleet, the Franco-British duo of Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron in third on Campagne de France remained trapped in light airs 380 miles west of South Island showing brief bursts of speed before slowing down early evening on Wednesday. While Campagne de France suffered mid-Tasman Sea, the Italian-Spanish duo of Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon in fourth on Financial Crisis continued to poll the best speeds in the fleet, fast reaching in 25-30 knots of breeze despite the batten damage sustained on Wednesday and stealing an impressive haul of miles from Mabire and Merron. Meanwhile, the South African duo of Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire in fifth place on Phesheya-Racing were dropping below 45S, running downwind in strong winds, sustaining batten damage in a crash gybe 120 miles south of Tasmania.

At 03:00 GMT on Thursday, after 20 days at the head of the GOR fleet, the event’s youngest team of 28 year-old Conrad Colman and 22 year-old Artemis Offshore Academy sailor, Sam Goodchild, on their Akilaria RC2, Cessna Citation, were undergoing an upwind pummelling as they beat towards Cape Farewell before turning east into Cook Strait towards the finish line in Wellington Harbour. However, the final 163 miles are looking tough. Shortly after midnight GMT, Sam Goodchild informed the GOR Race Organisation of conditions 50 miles off the coast, just south-west of the appropriately-named, Cape Foulwind: 'We’re slamming upwind again, putting our Class40 through every condition it doesn’t like,' reported Goodchild. 'Firstly drifting in little to no wind where trying to drag the wide rear end of our 40-foot boat is like an ocean plough, and now we’re going upwind in 25 knots and horrible, short and steep waves along the continental shelf where the depth goes from 700 metres to 150 metres deep in the space of a few miles,' he explains.

After 7,000 miles of pushing their new boat to the very limit and setting a new Class40 24-hour distance record, Colman and Goodchild are keeping everything crossed, hoping Cessna Citation doesn’t suffer any major damage or failure. 'The boat is going airborne off every wave only to come crashing back down landing on its flat bottom,' describes Goodchild. 'Inside, it’s almost deafening, like being on the inside of a drum, it makes you cringe, hoping the boat stays in one piece.' However, the sudden proximity of land is a novelty for the duo: 'For the first time in four weeks we started to see signs of life today,' he continues. 'Firstly we got mobile signal, only briefly as we passed 35 miles from the coast. We still couldn’t see New Zealand but as it was Vodafone NZ, I assume New Zealand is there somewhere,' reasons Goodchild. 'Then shortly afterwards, we got caught by surprise by a close visit from a fishing boat…the only human activity we’ve seen since losing sight of the southern tip of Africa at the end of November.' Cessna Citation should round Cape Farewell at midnight (local) for the final, 100-mile passage along Cook Strait to the finish line (current scoring points for the GOR teams and an explanation of the scoring system is included below).

At 03:00 GMT on Thursday, the Kiwi father-and-son team of Ross and Campbell Field on BSL were 70 miles behind Cessna Citation and while the duo clawed back 40 miles from Colman and Goodchild in the past 24 hours, Ross Field was more concerned with an unusual and fascinating sight: 'I have just seen the Green Flash, about 100 miles off the west coast of New Zealand,' he reports. 'Absolutely unbelievable. I’ve witnessed so many sunsets at sea waiting for the Green Flash, and never seen it until today,' he confirms. 'There is so much talk about it, whether it actually happens or not and there was always doubt in my mind,' adds Ross. 'This mystical flash apparently happens with the final tip of the sun dips under the horizon,' he explains. 'This is bigger than Ben Hur!'

Trailing BSL by 303 miles at 03:00 on Thursday, Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron on Campagne de France were 300 miles west of South Island. Halvard Mabire, like his old friend, Ross Field, has been admiring the scenery as civilisation approaches. 'It has been a beautiful night,' he reports. 'There’s no moon, just a very small crescent that rises early and then quickly sets and as there isn’t a cloud about, the sky is just a kingdom of stars,' explains Mabire. 'They’re beyond number and it’s a struggle, intellectually, to grasp the idea that many of the stars are already extinct and dead, although we can still see them as their light is still travelling towards Earth.' The night sky is almost enough to counterbalance the unpleasant and frustrating conditions. 'We’re moving along in a gentle, extremely variable breeze in an enormous swell,' says Mabire. 'When we are at the top of one of these watery hills, the boat makes a little dash forward, but as we drop into the sheltered valley between two hills, the sails empty, so we advance in little skips and jumps which has been producing our ridiculous recent speed averages.' However, by Thursday morning, new south-westerly breeze arrived and Campagne de France was back up to 7.2 knots.

While Mabire and Merron long for some stable wind, Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon have been consistently averaging the best speeds in the fleet as they continue east, levelling out of their reaching descent at 44S as the breeze rolled from west to SW late on Wednesday evening. The good progress by Financial Crisis has seen the duo take 119 miles from Campagne de France in the past 24 hours and add 55 miles to their lead over Phesheya-Racing.

Total foam-up in the Roaring Forties - Photo Phesheya-Racing
Meanwhile, 112 miles south of Tasmania at 03:00 GMT on Thursday and trailing Financial Crisis by 500 miles, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire were full-on with Phesheya-Racing: 'We were merrily surfing down the waves when all of a sudden the boat crash gybed in 27 knots of wind,' reported Nick Leggatt. 'It was quite dramatic and unexpected since the pilot had been performing flawlessly,' he adds. 'First order of the day was to get things back under control and get back on course and once that was done we reset the pilot...and it immediately shot off course with the alarm screeching at us,' he adds. 'Phillippa grabbed the helm and I set to work trying to figure out what the problem was.' A process of elimination suggested that there might be a fault with the hydraulic ram, so Leggatt crawled back into the steering compartment: 'Sure enough...the pilot mounting had been torn clean off the hull!' he reveals.

With the main autopilot out of commission, there was only one option: 'For the moment we are back to hand steering and only using the spare pilot when we need an extra set of hands,' says Leggatt. With the pilot problems contained, the South Africans checked for any other damage sustained during the crash gybe: 'The most obvious thing was that we had broken a batten near the top of the mainsail,' the South African skipper confirms. 'So the next thing to do was drop the mainsail down to the fourth reef, remove the broken batten, replace it and re-hoist the sail and that kept us busy for a while, but eventually we got back on track again and are now heading eastwards as fast as we can once again.' On Thursday morning Phesheya-Racing was averaging just over seven knots. 'There were a few other little items to attend to after the gybe, but we are more or less in shape again,' reassures Leggatt. With over 1,000 miles of Leg 2 remaining for Leggatt and Hutton-Squire and a back-up pilot promoted to the primary system, all their skill and stamina will now be required.

GOR leadeboard at 03:00 GMT 29 December:
1. Cessna Citation DTF 163 6.4kts
2. BSL DTL 70 6.1kts
3. Campagne de France DTL 373 7.2kts
4. Financial Crisis DTL 638 11.7kts
5. Phesheya-Racing DTL 1138 7.1kts

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: 14 (2 points at the Celox Sailing Scoring Gate)
6. Sec. Hayai: 6 (RTD from Leg 2)

Drying out gear - Photo Cessna Citation

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