There are mixed fortunes for the Global Ocean Race (GOR) Class40 trio in the South Atlantic and the Southern Ocean. Leading the fleet towards the Leg 3 finish line in Punta del Este, Uruguay, Conrad Colman – who has just been made Seahorse Magazine’s Sailor of the Month – and his South African co-skipper, Adrian Kuttel, stayed in strong winds, but punishing seas, as they chased the low pressure eastwards into the South Atlantic with Cessna Citation, hanging onto the strong south-westerlies and attempting to avoid the light airs lurking in the system’s path.
West of the Falkland Islands by 150 miles in second place, Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon with Financial Crisis have sailed straight into strong headwinds west of the Falklands encountering hellish conditions and frustratingly slow progress. South-west of Cape Horn, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire finally broke free of un-readable weather conditions on Phesheya-Racing, passing the Diego Ramirez Islands at the western entrance to Drake Passage and crossing the Felipe Cubillos Cape Horn Gate at 18:01:54 GMT, passing 13 miles south of the notorious cape.
For the South Africans on Phesheya-Racing, the confusing weather forecasts continued to bare no relation to reality throughout the weekend, but on Sunday night, progress began for Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire 100 miles south-west of Cape Horn and, by Monday morning, they passed the Diego Ramirez Islands, a remote Chilean territory marking the southern end of the submerged Andes mountain range at the western entrance to Drake Passage.
With their first sighting of land for 29 days, birdlife increased dramatically: “There were three or four types of Albatross being spotted in the last hour, along with Cape petrels, Storm-petrels and several other species,” says Leggatt of their passage passed the rocky outcrop. For Hutton-Squire, the sudden proximity of land following a month in the watery desert of the Southern Ocean was a revelation: “This is very exciting and a wonderful comfort-feeling that is hard to describe,” she says. “Being out in the middle of nowhere for so many days where you know that only a plane can drop supplies to you, but you can't be rescued is a strange feeling,” reveals Hutton-Squire. “It is fantastic to know that land and help are now close by.”
Later the same day, Phesheya-Racing crossed the Felipe Cubillos Cape Horn Gate winning the GOR’s Cape Horn Navigation Award instituted by GOR Race Committee member, Alan Green, for submitting their predicted Cape Horn ETA to within an astonishing one minute and 54 seconds when 1,000 miles west of the longitude of the Horn. In a brief email to the GOR Race Organisation, Phillippa Hutton-Squire described the scene: “We've done it!” she wrote just minutes after rounding the cape. “Beautiful day! Temperature almost ten degrees, partly cloudy but with squalls laden with hail. Accompanied by Hourglass dolphins and Albatrosses. Cape Horn clearly visible 13 miles away.”
Following the rounding, Phesheya-Racing remained on port gybe and was heading north to take a closer look at the cape: “Should be great around sunset with the Horn behind us!” wrote Hutton-Squire before signing-off. With their incredibly accurate Cape Horn ETA prediction, Leggatt and Hutton-Squire have won free membership to the Royal Institute of Navigation in Kensington, London, and trophies awarded by Alan Green.
Meanwhile, for Nannini and Ramon, 500 miles NNE of Cape Horn, escaping the Southern Ocean and entering the South Atlantic was far from the experience they had expected: “I guess we all assumed that once we turned the corner from the Horn, everything was going to be easy,” suggests Marco Nannini. “I certainly did, so I was a little surprised when last night the wind piped up to a fierce 35-40 knots dead on the nose in a nasty chop and a mysterious two knots adverse current,” he reported late on Sunday. “The net result was 12 hours of very nasty sailing and very little progress.”
Hugo Ramon describes the atmosphere and conditions on Financial Crisis: “This has to be the most horrific period so far in the race,” says the 26 year-old Spaniard. “I’m in a really bad mood, I’m discouraged and I see no point and no end to this sadistic torture,” he adds. “I want to scream and shout, kick something and tear my hair out as I just can’t make sense of it.” Sailing parallel to Patagonia, 120 miles off the coast, the sea is relatively shallow and this has a dramatic effect on the wave pattern and shape in the recent 45-knots headwinds. “The distance between waves is minimal and they’re very steep, so crashing into these walls of water is horrendous,” Ramon continues. “So far, I’ve counted three seconds of free fall off a wave and when the boat lands with a smash, the rigging stretches and the keel vibrates.”
Nannini can see no improvement in the short term: “We totally missed the train with the weather,” he admits. “Cessna ahead of us hooked into very strong following winds propelling them at furious speeds towards the finish line and here we struggle to make much progress at all covering just about 100 miles per day in endless headwinds…. all rather disappointing.” At 18:00 GMT on Monday, Financial Crisis was averaging just over seven knots in continued headwinds. For Ramon, however, there has been one highlight in the past 24 hours: “It’s incredible that in these conditions the very smallest thing can bring immense pleasure,” he reports. “Going through our food supplies, I’ve just found a bag of Cheetos we bought in New Zealand,” confirms Ramon. “I tell you, this made me so happy that I nearly cried!”
Meanwhile at the front of the fleet, Conrad Colman and Adrian Kuttel have 337 miles remaining to the finish line in Punta del Este with Cessna Citation, although the high speeds of the past 48 hours have ended as the low pressure system travels east into the Atlantic. “It feels a little like walking on solid ground again after marching on the moving carpet transporters in an airport,” reported Conrad Colman on Monday afternoon. “You stagger a little and then settle in to the slower pace of life,” he continues. “With 48 hours where the wind didn't drop below 30 knots and a solid 40 was a constant fact of life, having to trim to accelerate the boat rather than slow it down is a novel feeling.”
By Monday evening, Cessna Citation had slowed to below four-knot averages, but the ravages of the miles won in strong conditions were still fresh in the minds of the two crew. “We ended up in quite shallow water off the Argentine coast and this created massive waves very shortly after the gale began,” Colman recalls. “Sliding down these endless inclines with 45 knots at your back and a hole in the ocean ahead for hour after hour was exhilarating, up until the point where we had to dodge a fishing fleet with their nets down.”
With a good lead over Financial Crisis, Colman and Kuttel chose a sensible sail combination of two reefs and staysail as the storm built, however even this proved excessive: “We were still almost blown out of the water by a 50-knot gust that provided the motivation to put in yet another reef,” admits Colman. “Even so, we hit 24 knots of boatspeed coming down a wave and it would have been stupid to push harder with an established lead already in our pockets.”
Despite the dramatic reduction in speed, there are no complaints from Cessna Citation: “After such a manic rounding of the Horn and then working hard to catch, and then survive, the low pressure system, it’s nice to have a tranquil moment to reflect on the leg and the race to date while tootling along up the coast with the Code 0 up,” adds Colman. “I'll breathe out my sigh of relief in 300 miles, but for now it’s just a nice day to be on the water.”
GOR leaderboard 18:00 GMT 27/2/12:
1. Cessna Citation DTF 337 3.5kts
2. Financial Crisis DTL 510 7.3kts
3. Phesheya-Racing DTL 1041 7kts