by Oliver Dewar
Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR) fleet are on the third leg of racing from Wellington to Punta del Este.
Marco Nannini enjoys time at the front of the GOR fleet - Global Ocean Race 2011-12
The third week of racing (12th to 19th February) began with a taste of downwind sailing for the trio of Class40s in the Pacific. For the fleet leaders, Conrad Colman and Adrian Kuttel on the Akilaria RC2 Cessna Citation, swift progress was brief as the Kiwi-South African duo ran straight into a high pressure ridge with speeds dropping to sub-three knots.
While the calm conditions allowed Adrian Kuttel to carry out some excruciating home-surgery on his badly infected finger nails, Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon holding second place were piling in from the north-west with Financial Crisis and by Wednesday, both Class40s were elbow-to-elbow at 56S, as the South African duo of Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire crossed the bluQube Scoring Gate in third on Phesheya-Racing.
As the South Africans dropped south, hammered by a vicious cold front, Colman and Kuttel on Cessna Citation reported sighting two icebergs at 55S and vigilance was increased throughout the three boats as the leaders descended deeper into the Southern Ocean. By Friday, with just over 1,000 miles to Cape Horn, Cessna Citation and Financial Crisis were at 59S in light, frigid headwinds as Leggatt and Hutton-Squire continued to reel in the leaders. Early on Saturday GMT, Nannini and Ramon’s southerly option – dropping down to 60S – paid-off and Financial Crisis took the lead. Over Saturday night and Sunday morning the wind moved south and a fast reach to the Felipe Cubillos Cape Horn Gate for the two leaders was underway.
For the front runners, speeds rose over Saturday night, peaking at an average of 11.5 knots for Financial Crisis at 09:00 GMT on Sunday as Nannini and Ramon climbed away from 60S with their course converging with Colman and Kuttel on Cessna Citation. Taking the lead after 20 days of racing through the Pacific was a milestone for Marco Nannini: 'Finally, our dive to penguin latitudes paid its dividends and, for now, this is a day I'll never forget and I guess my grandchildren will eventually get sick of hearing the story told a million times over!' he reported on Sunday morning. 'We’re obviously incredibly happy as six months ago I would have never even entertain the possibility of leading the race on the approach to Cape Horn,' adds the Italian skipper. 'We’re savouring the moment like a rare whiskey, but we’re under no illusion that we will be able to maintain our lead,' he warns.
In the 15:00 GMT position poll on Sunday, Cessna Citation had gained 24 miles over 24 hours. 'We’ll certainly fight hard, but over the next two days we will have strong-wind reaching conditions, probably Cessna's strongest point of sail,' Nannini predicts. His co-skipper, Hugo Ramon has raced on Cessna Citation and is fully aware of the boat’s potential: 'Pessimistic? No, just a realist,' comments the 26 year-old skipper. 'We know clearly what cards are on the table and there’s not much we can do about it,' he adds. 'Now it’s all down to speed and Adrian and Conrad know how to get the best from their very fast boat,' Ramon confirms. 'Still, there are many unknowns before we reach Cape Horn,' he concludes mysteriously.
On Cessna Citation, Conrad Colman was happy that the north-south separation with Financial Crisis was reduced to 14 miles on Sunday afternoon: 'Thankfully, we have been able to maintain quite a high reaching angle with the boat’s favourite sail and as Marco and Hugo have come north on the new breeze, their north-south leverage has been decreasing along with their lead,' he believes. 'Being closer together reduces the risks that they will find a favourable shift and leave us for dead.'
By Sunday afternoon, Cessna Citation was trailing Financial Crisis by just six miles and Colman was supressing the urge to push too hard. 'We must sail prudently in these cold and unforgiving conditions,' he explains. 'The wind blows harder here for a given wind speed, so sail settings that worked in the warmer Atlantic climes need to be adjusted to avoid wipe outs.' Currently, the two lead boats have an ETA of Wednesday at the Felipe Cubillos Cape Horn Gate, marking an exit from the Southern Ocean. 'However, the race doesn’t stop at this mythical landmark, especially as a low pressure system also has the same forecasted arrival time!' warns Colman.
While the two southern Class40s scrap for the leadership at 57S, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire continue broad reaching south in third place with Phesheya-Racing as they edge closer to the location of icebergs spotted by Cessna Citation late last week. 'After a night of thick, cold fog brought on by moist northerly air moving in over colder seawater, we are now enjoying some remarkable smooth water and steady northerly winds with a layer of high, broken cloud above us,' Nick Leggatt described late on Saturday night GMT.
Averaging 8.6 knots on Sunday afternoon, the huge gains made by the South Africans have ended as Financial Crisis and Cessna Citation accelerate towards Cape Horn 740 miles to the south-east, but the trio of Class40s share a common fixation with the cold. For Leggatt and Hutton-Squire, riding on the back of a high pressure system, conditions are bearable at 55S: 'The temperature has warmed up to over ten degrees now and it is amazing how our spirits are lifted by just a couple of degrees of warmth in the air!' says Leggatt. 'It is also remarkable that just a few days ago we were complaining that ten degrees is really cold!'
Furthest south, Nannini and Ramon are feeling the bitter Antarctic cold: 'We’re still on full time radar watch for icebergs, although the risk of finding one in our way should be progressively decreasing, but water temperature is at the lowest we've seen at just 6C, air temperature is 4C and with the wind chill we had the dubious pleasure of fine snow earlier today,' reports Nannini. On Cessna Citation, Colman and Kuttel have exclusively used their hydrogenerator for power generation and without the heat from the engine during battery charging, there is no source of warmth on board. 'As we only have a tiny camping stove for boiling cup-fuls at a time, our bodies are the primary source of heat on board,' explains Colman. 'In an effort to conserve our meagre supply of heat, we keep the companion way doors closed except when one has to rush out to ease the sheets in a gust.' Sealed in their 40ft ice locker, there is a drawback to this method of heat conservation. 'In a small, closed environment our breath condenses on the inner surface of the hull and deck, leaving them constantly dripping until pools form in the crevices in the structure of the boat,' he explains. 'At least we’re not sinking, but the rate of accumulation is staggering!'
The GOR’s Race Ambassador, Dee Caffari, has raced around Cape Horn four times and each occasion has been memorable for a number of different reasons. In her latest video, Dee discusses the emotional, physical and tactical implications of rounding the world’s most notorious cape.
GOR leaderboard 15:00 GMT 19/2/12:
1. Financial Crisis DTF 2051 9.7kts
2. Cessna Citation DTL 6 11kts
3. Phesheya-Racing DTL 745 8.6kts
Global Ocean Race website