A tough Christmas Day for the westerly Class40s in the double-handed Global Ocean Race (GOR) was followed by a headwind hammering for the two leading boats to the east on Boxing Day in the Tasman Sea. With the fleet’s distance accordion beginning to squeeze in a tune-up to the Wellington arrival overture, boats are closing up as diverse weather effect the fleet after 7,000 miles and 27 days in Leg 2 from Cape Town. After a very tough and demanding crossing of the Indian Ocean, Cessna Citation in first place and BSL in second face an area of light winds on their final approach to Cook Strait and the finish while Campagne de France in third will carry the breeze longer. Below Tasmania, Financial Crisis in fourth and fifth placed Phesheya-Racing will keep in strong, following winds as they transfer into the Tasman Sea.
Christmas Day marked the 16th day at the front of the fleet for Conrad Colman and Sam Goodchild on their Akilaria RC2 Class40, Cessna Citation: “We had thick fog the whole day with visibility to a couple hundred metres at the best of times,” reports Sam Goodchild. “However, the bright side was our three-day wait for wind finally came to an end as we started covering some decent miles again and by the evening we were slamming upwind in 20-25 knots.”
The new breeze was welcome, but northerly and Cessna Citation was beating north-east to the finish line. “I spent 15 minutes on the bow doing a sail change with every other wave drenching me from head to toe,” recalls Goodchild. “The only thing I could think of was it was mid-afternoon in the UK and there were millions of people stuffing their faces on copious amounts of good food that I could only dream about,” he admits. “Jealousy reached an all-time high.”
Colman and Goodchild celebrated Christmas with headwinds as the duo closed into just under 800 miles of the finish line and Colman’s hometown, Wellington, at the southern tip of New Zealand’s North Island. By Boxing Day morning GMT, however, the wind strength had increased to 30 knots with huge waves in the Tasman Sea. “Boxing day we spent slamming upwind and pushing hard, spending most of the time hand steering and keeping activities to the minimum….eating, sleeping, sailing and a bit of navigating,” Goodchild continues.
By 03:00 GMT on Tuesday, Cessna Citation was sailing parallel to South Island’s western coast, 100 miles off Jackson Head: “The wind is now decreasing and the slamming has almost stopped,” reported Goodchild late on Boxing Day evening. “We’re under 350 miles from Cook Strait where we finally get to turn right for the 100 miles home straight,” he confirms. Having worked up the western coast of South Island, Cessna Citation will head east around Cape Farewell, clear Farewell Spit and into the strait, but weather predictions suggest the final days at sea will be absolutely crucial for the leading three boats. “There’s the potential of the wind disappearing again which could see our lead cut dramatically like last week,” says Goodchild. “We’ve done everything but relaxed and will keep pushing to the finish as it’s definitely not over till we have crossed the finish line.”
In the 03:00 GMT position poll, Colman and Goodchild were leading Ross and Campbell Field in second place on BSL by 145 miles as they nosed into an area of light winds that could trap the two leading boats for the next 24 hours.
For the Franco-British duo of Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron on Campagne de France in third place, Christmas Day had been a light winds nightmare 140 miles south of Tasmania and Mabire wasn’t happy with the conditions: “Misled by false reviews, we had decided to spend the festival of Christmas at the restaurant called ‘South of Tasmania’ and we were extremely disappointed,” says the French skipper. “The restaurant’s décor was pretty terrible,” he continues. “A lot of grey that really wasn’t very festive, but – worst of all – the service was extremely slow,” reports Mabire. “By the time the food arrived at our table the dish was cold and there was usually half of what was promised on the menu while the house speciality, ‘Files of the Weather’, was disappointing and failed to live up to its reputation.” There may be a reason behind the shoddy service at the Tasman Sea’s offshore brasserie: “I strongly suspect that the last couple of customers to pass through the restaurant failed to pay their bill and did a runner eastwards off to New Zealand,” says Mabire.
Miranda Merron clarifies the situation: “We never did make it through the trough to the wind the other side which is propelling Cessna and BSL towards Cook Strait,” she says. “Instead, we have westerly breeze and are gybing on the shifts in the general direction of New Zealand.” On Boxing Day, Campagne de France was averaging over ten knots and by 03:00 GMT on 27th December, these averages remained, with the Fields and BSL 275 miles ahead. “We are perfectly happy to have wind again, even if it’s not straight line sailing towards the finish and there’s sunshine, though there is a dark line of cloud chasing us.” Also on the chase were Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon on Financial Crisis who had averaged 11-12 knots while Campagne de France languished South of Tasmania, gaining 127 miles on Mabire and Merron over Christmas Day and Boxing Day. “We are also watching out behind us, as Financial Crisis has caught up a lot of miles,” Merron confirms.
On Boxing Day, Financial Crisis passed 70 miles south of Tasmania – the closest to the island in the GOR fleet – flying downwind, consistently averaging over 12 knots and peaking at 12.7 knots at 21:00 GMT on their three year-old Akilaria. Hugo Ramon describes the scene at 44S. “It is almost impossible to catch up with the leaders, but it’s satisfying that we’ve squeezed the accordion, closing in on those in front and increasing the distance over Phesheya behind us,” says the Spanish sailor. At 03:00 GMT on Tuesday, Nannini and Ramon continued to gnaw away at Mabire and Merron’s lead with Financial Crisis trailing Campagne de France by 390 miles and leading Leggatt and Hutton-Squire on Phesheya-Racing by 468 miles, gybing away from Tasmania and dropping speed to under ten knots. “We’ve been sailing with Code 5 being and have polled the highest speeds in the fleet, but gusts of 40 knots started coming in and we had to lower our lethal weapon and unroll the Solent,” Ramon explains.
Due west of Financial Crisis, the South Africans on Phesheya-Racing have been juggling their sail plan constantly too keep their Class40 sailing fast, but preserving the boat for the remaining 1,280 miles to the finish: “The past 24 hours have been quite busy aboard Phesheya-Racing with a quick succession of changes in the weather necessitating several sail changes,” reports Nick Leggatt. “After the ‘Great Gale of Christmas 2011,’ the wind eased quickly, as forecast, and by nightfall we were under full mainsail and Solent jib for the first time in ages,” he continues. With the Christmas cold front passing through, the constant, Southern Ocean cloud ceiling disappeared: “There’s no moon about at the moment, but it was a real treat to see the stars again - something that has been decidedly lacking on this leg of the Global Ocean Race!”
However, the picturesque scenery was not matched by stable conditions and as the next low pressure system rolled in from the east, a spinnaker was flown briefly. “Once again, the sky began to cloud over and we soon dropped the spinnaker in pouring rain and continued to run on with the staysail,” explains Phillippa Hutton-Squire. “No sooner were we settled into that combination than the wind changed again, so we were back on deck hoisting the bluQube A6 spinnaker,” she reports. “Finally, Phesheya-Racing was ready to take off and we had some awesome sailing under reefed main, staysail and A6, until the tackline lashing broke on the A6…”
While repairs were being made to the asymetric’s tack line, another squall rumbled through. “This squall came with another sudden wind shift and so once again we have put in a gybe to stay on course,” says Leggatt. At 03:00 GMT on Tuesday, Phesheya-Racing was 418 miles WSW of Tasmania averaging ten knots, running deep in 20-25 knots of breeze. “We anticipate one more big frontal system before we reach Tasmania, and then the forecast for the Tasman Sea still looks quite complicated, so our strategy there is still under review!” adds Leggatt.
GOR leadeboard at 03:00 GMT 27 December:
1. Cessna Citation DTF 421 8.7kts
2. BSL DTL 145 10.3kts
3. Campagne de France DTL 421 10.3kts
4. Financial Crisis DTL 811 9.5kts
5. Phesheya-Racing DTL 1280 10kts