With the four Global Ocean Race (GOR) Class40s chased across the mid-Atlantic by a deep low pressure system, speeds are remaining high despite drastically reduced sail. Meeting the strongest of the westerly wind on Wednesday afternoon, fleet leaders, Conrad Colman and Scott Cavanough on Cessna Citation, continue to poll 11-12-knot averages, adding 64 miles to the separation with the chasing trio in the past 24 hours and leading by 400 miles at 15:00 GMT on Wednesday as the Kiwi-Australian duo leave Flores – the most westerly island in the Azores group – 150 miles off their starboard beam and climb north-east.
Dropping south overnight, but still northernmost boat in the pursuing pack, Marco Nannini and Sergio Frattaruolo in second with Financial Crisis began climbing back towards the stronger winds on Wednesday morning, hitting just under 11-knot averages as the system rolled east. Trailing Nannini and Frattaruolo by 196 miles on Wednesday afternoon and dropping 40 miles to Financial Crisis over the past day, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire in third on Phesheya-Racing crossed the bluQube Scoring Gate at 04:00 GMT on Wednesday with winds climbing to 40 knots and were averaging slightly under ten knots despite three reefs in the main.
Meanwhile, in fourth place, furthest south, the Dutch duo of Nico and Frans Budel on Sec. Hayai destroyed their A6 gennaker as the wind began building to 35 knots and have gained 30 miles on Phesheya-Racing since Tuesday afternoon, trailing the South African Class40 by 138 miles at 15:00 GMT on Wednesday.
The trouble for the Dutch father-and-son duo started on Tuesday: “We just switched the A2 for the A6 because of the increasing wind,” explains Frans Budel. “It was beginning to blow over 22 knots when we decided to make the change, but a gust of 25-26 knots hit the boat and she was overpowered, turning up into the wind, then the gennaker exploded quickly, only on the second flap in the wind,” he reports. “We took the pieces of it down and are sailing now with the Solent,” he added. “We were sad, but not for long; the race isn't over yet!”
By midnight on Tuesday, the wind had built further and held into the following day: “It’s blowing 30-35 knots and the sea is beginning to get much bigger,” confirmed Frans Budel at midday GMT on Wednesday. “Now we’re sailing with one reef and Solent and making good progress, slowy picking some miles from Phesheya and this afternoon we get our first points in Leg 5!” says Budel as Sec. Hayai draws to within 50 miles of the bluQube Scoring Gate. “So far, 12 days at sea and almost at the halfway point of my first transatlatic! Pretty cool!”
Like Financial Crisis, the South African duo on Phesheya-Racing worked south overnight, but were unable to avoid the big winds: “The storm warning that was in effect for our area has been changed to a gale warning in the latest forecast,” celebrated Nick Leggatt late on Tuesday. “The bad news...the weather is deteriorating very fast now and we are sailing very conservatively under triple reefed main and staysail, but still surfing at speeds in excess of 14 knots!”
Throughout Tuesday, the change in the weather was initially gradual, heralded by drizzle and a drop in temperature and building westerly wind. “At first the wind was uncertain in strength and direction, but it soon settled down and we were able to ease the sheets and fill the aft ballast tank,” Leggatt explains. At 13:00 GMT on Tuesday, the passage of a warm front with dark clouds and strong gusts prompted the first reef as the seas began to build: “Since then the weather has gone steadily downhill,” says Leggatt. “We put in the second reef as the wind built to a steady 24 knots and veered to the north-west and just after sunset we decided to err on the side of caution and tucked a third reef into the mainsail with the wind gusting over 35 knots.”
During Wednesday, Phesheya-Racing was averaging between nine and ten knots, but conditions were deeply uncomfortable onboard. “The seas are still building and are somewhere between 2.5 and 3.5 metres at the moment, but forecast to exceed 4.5 metres according to the GRIB files and even as much as six metres according to the Sat-C forecast,” predicts the South African skipper. “The Sat-C mentions winds to 40 knots in our area and already we are not far from that figure.”
Current weather files suggest that the northern boats, Cessna Citation and Financial Crisis, may stay with the stronger winds of 20-30 knots throughout Wednesday night, while the wind for Phesheya-Racing and Sec. Hayai should moderate to sub-25 to 20 knots shortly as the low pressure spins north, but horrific and confused sea conditions will remain in the system's path.
GOR leaderboard 15:00 GMT 30/5/12:
1. Cessna Citation DTF 1437 11.7kts
2. Financial Crisis DTL 399 10.6kts
3. Phesheya-Racing DTL 595 9.8kts
4. Sec. Hayai DTL 733 8.8kts