Out of the Mediterranean and into light winds off Morocco

28 09 2011

BSL remain in second position, four miles shy of Campagne de France making just over seven knots.

Over Tuesday night, five of the six double-handed, Class40 teams in the Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR) passed south of Gibraltar and into the North Atlantic in strong breeze and demanding conditions. Squeezing north of the Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) bisecting the Strait of Gibraltar, Ross and Campbell Field were first through at 20:00 GMT with BSL, passing close to the lighthouse at Tarifa one hour ahead of Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron on Campagne de France with Conrad Colman and Hugo Ramon on Cessna Citation in third, six miles behind the Franco-British duo.

Just three hours later, the South African team of Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire on Phesheya-Racing passed Gibraltar just under 50 miles behind the race leader and two miles ahead of Marco Nannini and Paul Peggs on Financial Crisis in fifth place.

All the GOR teams were keen to leave the Mediterranean, particularly on board Campagne de France: “The sea state was short and steep and easy miles were gained surfing,” wrote Miranda Merron in the final approach to the Strait of Gibraltar. “However, it was imperative not to get it wrong – easy enough in daylight perhaps, but then it got dark, and there is no moon at the moment, so just sailing by feel and hoping for the best in the confused sea state, occasionally shipping a breaking wave over the side and listening to waves breaking nearby and taking off at 17 knot in surfs.” In addition to the total blackout enveloping Mabire and Merron, their Class40 seemed invisible to commercial traffic: “Plus we nearly got run over by a ship in the middle of the night which didn’t notice us until they were about 200 metres from our transom, despite AIS carried by ships and us,” she adds.

While Campagne de France avoided any breakages, Colman and Ramon had an eventful exit through the Strait: “The Mediterranean was keen to be rid of us, but not without earning our respect one last time,” recalled Colman the following morning. “As we approached the famous Strait, the wind built from 15 to 25 and then to 35 knots by Tarifa just as we struggled to get our spinnaker down.” Preparing for the manoeuvre, the crew of Cessna Citation sought divine intervention: “Having called upon our guardian angel with the spinnaker drop, we then spent further credits with her as the Code 5 halyard pulled through the clutch and we ran over the sail.” As is often the case, problems began to cascade on board: “We managed to re-hoist it and then the cover on the tack line broke, sending the lower corner of the sail skyward,” explained the 27 year-old Kiwi. “The only thing that saved us was that the furling line caught on the mast and we were able to slowly grind down the unruly sail to continue blasting out of the Strait and down the coast of Morocco.”

Trailing Cessna Citation by 26 miles at Gibraltar, Leggatt and Hutton-Squire were on high alert: “We sailed through the Strait missing the Traffic Separation Scheme and the breakwater off Tarifa by the skin of our teeth,” explains Phillippa Hutton-Squire. “It was a fast and exciting ride with our eyes skinned for shipping and other obstacles.” Sailing with full-main and A4 spinnaker, the South Africans were also keeping a keen watch for Financial Crisis: “We could see Nannini and Peggs just behind us, slowly catching us up,” she continues. “We gybed off Gibraltar and put one reef in before gybing back to sail parallel to the TSS. The wind was increasing slowly and then – all of a sudden – we went from flat water to large overfalls and winds gusting to 30 knots.” With Phesheya-Racing close inshore and the wind building, the duo put in a second reef: “We soon reached Tarifa and the wind was now over 30 knots and my eyes were getting bigger and bigger as we approached the lighthouse off the reakwater.” The duo swiftly dropped their spinnaker in record time. “We did a granny tack round to avoid the breakwater, got the A4 off the deck and sailed bareheaded for a while.”

Remaining in the Mediterranean, Nico Budel and Ruud van Rijsewijk are experiencing further problems on Sec. Hayai. Having severely damaged their A2 gennaker on Monday, the Dutch duo’s brand new A6 disintegrated on Tuesday afternoon: “It’s completely unreal!” commented Van Rijsewijk on Wednesday morning. “The sail’s range is up to 35 knots and we were in no more than 18-23 knots of breeze,” he explains. “There are two rips of three metres and four metres…this isn’t what you expect from a new sail,” adds the 56 year-old yachtsman. The duo has now reverted to an old sail made for the boat’s previous crew of Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme, double-handed winners of the 2008-09 GOR. “This will get us to the Strait of Gibraltar and we’re working to repair the A2, but the A6 is destroyed,” says van Rijsewijk. With their Trade Wind sail inventory depleted, Leg 1 is potentially looking very long for the Dutch duo.

Meanwhile, the lead pack were reaching down the coast of Morocco early on Wednesday morning in easterly breeze with BSL and Cessna Citation around 18 miles offshore and Campagne de France in second place opting for a more westerly route, forcing the Fields to run downwind, head west, cover Mabire and Merron and avoid a windless bubble on the coast blocking their path as dawn broke. At 06:00 GMT Campagne de France took the lead and in third place Colman and Ramon were snared by the light winds with the speed dropping to below three knots for Cessna Citation. “We’re a little disappointed by today’s option,” admits Ramon. “We’re almost becalmed as the weather files underestimated the size of the area of no wind. If there was a strong adverse current, we’d really be in trouble.” However, the New Zealand – Spanish team has made good use of the conditions. “Conrad has been up the mast to check the mainsail cars and I’ve been swimming to sort out some issues with the hull decals,” Ramon reports. “Everything is good with the boat and we’re really happy, although I admit I still get very emotional remembering all the ‘goodbyes’ we said on Sunday,” he adds.

Although Phesheya-Racing and Financial Crisis held onto the breeze further north along the Moroccan coast, almost doubling the speed of the leading trio, by 11:00 GMT the North Atlantic fleet was parked-up with Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire managing to squeeze the best speed of just under five knots from Phesheya-Racing in fourth place, closing down to 34 miles behind the lead boat. For Marco Nannini and Paul Peggs, the atmosphere on board Financial Crisis was already intense as the calm conditions arrived: “I swore plenty of times I would give up smoking and finally the Global Ocean Race has given me the context and final push,” reports Nannini. “It was something I wanted to do for a long time, tried and failed, plus we have no money, so it made perfect sense to leave the dock cold-turkey with no cigarettes and 40-45 days at sea should be the perfect rehab.” Photographs sent from the boat reveal Nannini’s torso is a now a patchwork: “I have managed perfectly with just some nicotine replacement patches and I have not let my sudden irritability and feelings of frustration become an issue on board,” he comments reassuringly, despite wielding a hammer at a defenceless, soft toy seal. “I am a strong confident person, breathe,” chants the Italian skipper. “I am a strong confident person…”

The 15:00 GMT position poll on Wednesday reveals that fresh, northerly breeze has finally arrived unsticking the five Class40s from the parking lot off the coast of Morocco and while weather models suggest that the more stable flow is further west, Campagne de France remains at the head of the fleet making just over seven knots with a four mile lead over Ross and Campbell Field on BSL. Colman and Ramon hold third place with Cessna Citation trailing the lead boat by 24 miles and Nannini and Peggs are up to fourth, heading west and closer to the direct route to Brazil, with Financial Crisis and making the best speed in the fleet at nine knots while Phesheya-Racing remain closer to the African coast. Nico Budel, Ruud van Rijsewijk and Sec. Hayai are currently off Tarifa, trailing the leading boat by 115 miles.