Global Ocean Race – Frustrating conditions

The South African team has a wet ride chasing the back of the cold front - Global Ocean Race 2011-12
Phesheya Racing
Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR) fleet continue on leg two, from Cape Town to Wellington.

As the double-handed Class40s entered the most remote sector of the Indian Ocean and crossed the leg two 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.

North-west 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 south-west.

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. For Artemis Offshore Academy sailor, Sam Goodchild, the transition was relatively painless: 'The front that’s been tormenting us for the past four days finally passed over us at daybreak this morning [23:00 GMT Sunday],' he reported on Monday morning. 'Thankfully, it wasn’t too ferocious,' adds Goodchild. 'The wind dropped, turned through 100 degrees and picked back up again.' In the 15:00 GMT position poll on Monday, Cessna Citation was making 13.2 knots with a 41-mile lead over BSL as the frontrunners drop to 47 degrees south. 'We’re now back in high speed reaching conditions heading south with BSL just to our west and, thankfully, we’ve managed to shake off Campagne de France for the time being but, with 4,000 miles still to go to the finish line in Wellington, we expect them to be back.'

On BSL, Ross and Campbell Field dealt with a very upset albatross in the Class40’s cockpit (see below) and sail damage as the front passed through. Campbell Field reports from 47 degrees South: 'It was a pretty benign front in terms of the ones we had on leg one with classic pre-frontal dips in the barometer then a hard squall with the shift,' he says. 'This one just came as a bit of rain and an instant shift without much increase in pressure, however we had a shocker,' he admits. 'Our fractional spinnaker is now out of action for a while sustaining some damage due to the instant shift and confused seas.' 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.

North-west 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 Cessna Citation, Sam Goodchild is adapting to the conditions: 'As the front came over, the temperature dropped from really cold - but bearable - to bloody freezing, so now time on deck is kept to a minimum,' he explains. 'With a constant flow of water still coming across the deck, any bit of skin not covered up pretty quickly becomes painful,' says Goodchild. 'Alternatively, hiding down below with the engine on while the autopilot does our job for us is almost irresistible.' On BSL, Campbell Field’s feet are a priority: 'The temperature has dropped significantly with the passing of the front and we are desperately trying to keep socks and gear dry as the slightest bit of damp just seems to attract the cold - especially socks,' he explains.' Meanwhile, on Campagne de France, Miranda Merron and Halvard Mabire use every opportunity to dry clothes: 'The water temperature is eight degrees and the air temperature seven degrees, so not particularly summer-like at 45 South,' 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 degrees 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.' However, Colman and Goodchild have been running a research programme: 'With the high humidity and low temperature, we’re learning new ways of keeping warm and dry,' Goodchild reveals. 'We haven’t got a lot of diesel on board as our primary source of power is from the hydrogenerator,' he explains. 'But, when we do turn it on, it’s like a godsend.' The experimentation with alternatives to clothes-drying via internal combustion are going well on Cessna Citation: 'We also have a breathable sleeping bag which means, if you tuck a damp bit of clothing in there with you, such as socks or hats, after a couple hours sleeping they dry themselves out.' However, some of the early on board trials have had negative results: 'This was a wonderful discovery until you get a little too enthusiastic and just wake up wetter and colder,' he warns.

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 two, 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. Campbell Field takes up the story: 'The poor beast looked so distressed that getting him back in the air was high priority,' he says. 'It was amazing to see something that is so graceful in the air and so helpless on land; its wings were so big that it didn't seem to be able hold them up, mind you, the relatively confined space of our cockpit is no place for a bird with a two metre wingspan.' With some nimble footwork, injury was avoided: 'I was pretty worried that it was going to try and take chunk out of me with its huge beak as I got close to it,' continues Campbell. 'However, as I picked it up it just gave a bit of a squawk and flopped helplessly back into the water and after a few furious flaps, it took off.' The brief visit left a mess and a lasting memory: 'The cockpit stunk of albatross lunch for a few hours as it had emptied its stomach contents everywhere,' comments Campbell. 'But a once in a lifetime experience, I guess, holding an albatross in your arms in the Southern Ocean.'

Meanwhile, enduring an enforced vegetarian diet on Cessna Citation, Sam Goodchild has been looking for payback: 'On board, my vegetarian ways are becoming a little bit worryingly close to the norm,' he reveals. 'My attempt to convert Conrad has petered out in failure and I just get my little enjoyment from the occasional biltong and rehydrated bit of meat.' Continued taunting from on shore doesn’t help: 'The occasional email from friends mentioning steaks and hamburgers is more like torture than ever before.' However, a distraction has been found: 'Having never met each other before, we’ve been learning a bit about each other,' says Goodchild. 'One of the entertaining traits Conrad has is his ability to sleep talk and I’ve occasionally had conversations with him, of no relevance nor making any sense, where I go about getting him as frustrated as possible,' he explains. 'He swears at me and falls back asleep, then an hour later when he’s fully awake, he’s oblivious to the whole thing! When you’ve been at sea for two weeks, it’s the little things that entertain us.'

GOR cumulative leg one and leg two 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 two)

GOR leg two leaderboard at 15:00 GMT 12/12/2011:
1. Cessna Citation: DTF 3,891 13.2kts
2. BSL: DTL 41 12.4kts
3. Campagne de France: DTL 80 11.2kts
4. Financial Crisis: DTL 635 8kts
5. Phesheya-Racing: DTL 668 7.7kts

Global Ocean Race website