Global Ocean Race a game of chance in the Doldrums

Phillippa Hutton-Squire finds the only available shade on Phesheya-Racing - Global Ocean Race 2011-12
Phesheya Racing
The Global Ocean Race fleet at the start of week two in Leg 1, were pinned close inshore just off the coast of West Africa with a narrow band of light and variable breeze forcing them down a corridor east of the Canary Islands and spreading them over 400 miles.

Sailing close to the sparsely populated coast, the fleet inevitably encountered fishing boats and fishing pots with both the race leader, Campagne de France, BSL in second place and Cessna Citation in third tangling with lines early in the week. On Monday evening, Nico Budel and Ruud van Rijsewijk rendezvoused with a RIB off Gran Canaria and took delivery of a replacement A6 asymmetric for Sec. Hayai in time to catch some more stable north-easterly breeze on Tuesday as the race leaders left the coast for the 400-mile stretch of North Atlantic separating Africa from the Cape Verde Islands.

By Wednesday, the North-East Trade Winds began to arrive as the leading two Class40s reached the Cape Verde Islands shortly before midnight on Wednesday. Opting to head straight through the middle of the archipelago was a calculated risk and while Campagne de France slowed dramatically, BSL came to virtual standstill, drifting in a two-knot current on Thursday.

North-east of the Cape Verde Islands, the remained of the GOR fleet were considering the options and the general trend was to keep west of the archipelago: Cessna Citation gybed around the north-western island of the group on Friday, while Financial Crisis cut the corner through the Cape Verdes making valuable gains with Phesheya-Racing and Sec. Hayai following the longer western route on Saturday.

As the fleet dropped south towards the Doldrums over the weekend, the invisible elastic band connecting the boats was highly active. At 03:00 GMT on Sunday, Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron on Campagne de France hit a wall of light airs with speed averages dropping to below five knots and by 15:00 GMT, Ross and Campbell Field with BSL had made up the distance lost while drifting through the Cape Verde Islands, gaining 41 miles in 24 hours, shadowing Campagne de France 21 miles astern and often quadrupling the speed of the lead boat despite the proximity of the two Class40s.

Throughout the second half of Saturday and into Sunday, Phesheya-Racing in fifth and Sec. Hayai in sixth kept heading south-west having passed the Cape Verde Islands with the Dutch duo of Nico Budel and Ruud van Rijsewijk taking 12 miles from the South African team in 24 hours and trailing Phesheya-Racing by 42 miles on Sunday afternoon. Approximately 180 miles due west of the archipelago in NNE breeze with speeds averaging seven or eight knots, the South African team continued to head south-west:

'We’re moving along slowly to the west to try and stay with the breeze for as long as possible,' confirmed Phillippa Hutton-Squire from Phesheya-Racing on Sunday. 'We’ve had some brilliant sailing over the last 24 hours,' she reports. 'The swells have been getting more steady and longer, with the wind being between 11 and 15 knots.'

With over 4,500 miles and almost 70 per cent of Leg 1 remaining, the South Africans remain upbeat and determined to make up the deficit to the leaders: 'We’ve been looking at the weather files with the help of Xtra-Link satellite communications very carefully so as to make our crossing through the Doldrums as painless and quick as possible,' says Hutton-Squire.

'We are watching our competitors very closely too.' At 15:00 GMT, Financial Crisis was 155 miles south of Phesheya-Racing with the race leader, Campagne de France, a further 256 miles ahead. The only complaint on board is the aggressive wildlife:

'It has been very pleasant until flying fish come out at night time and start to attack!' she adds. 'Nick and I were having dinner last night in the cockpit and suddenly a flying fish hits the back of my arm and continues to fly into Nick who is sitting opposite me. The flying fish then landed on the deck next to me flipping and flopping about the place helplessly. I was definitely not about to help the stupid fish that had flown into me at full force!'

While the biggest gains over the weekend were made by BSL, Marco Nannini and Paul Peggs were working hard to close the gap separating Financial Crisis from Conrad Colman and Hugo Ramon with Cessna Citation:

'Progress has been good and we caught up a few more miles on Cessna,' says Nannini as the 15:00 GMT position poll placed them 69 miles behind Colman and Ramon, taking 15 miles from the New Zealand-Spanish team in 48 hours. 'We've managed to greatly diminish separation so that it should be less likely that we'll sail in totally different weather systems and let them slip ahead beyond reach,' he continues.

Conrad Coleman steering - Global Ocean Race 2011-12
Cessna Citation

'We’re are simply stalking them from a distance and hoping at some stage they'll hit a slow patch like Campagne de France did today.' In the mid-afternoon poll, Colman and Ramon’s speed dropped to below five knots while Financial Crisis maintained six knots and the opportunity may have arrived for the Italian-British duo.

However, as the breeze falters, Nannini has been replaced at the helm by the team mascot: 'Paul says Clubby with a blindfold steers a straighter line in these conditions, so we left Clubby concentrating really hard and doing a great job - he doesn't even need feeding as he catches the flying fish as they jump out of the water and swallows them alive never leaving the helm.' With time on his hands, the Italian skipper has become lethargic:

'Today it's clearly Sunday as it's three in the afternoon and I've been in my pants all day,' Nannini reveals. 'Slouching around most of the morning and when it came to lunch, Paul and I had to poke each other with sticks to find the energy to open a tin of sardines served on stale bread.'

Current weather models suggest that both the two leading Class40s may pick up some breeze on Monday morning and with the area of light wind spreading eastwards, the western option for the chasing pack is favourable.

Global Ocean Race website