GOR leaders reach the Canary Islands

30 09 2011

At 17:00 GMT on Thursday, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire finally found some breeze following a day locked in a windless bubble 40 miles off Morocco. As the South African duo picked up speed to six knots, sailing Phesheya-Racing directly away from the African coast into stronger breeze to the west, the fleet leaders in the double-handed Global Ocean Race (GOR) were 140 miles further south with Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron on Campagne de France leading the fleet of six Class40s averaging between nine – 12 knots with a lead of nine miles over Ross and Campbell Field on BSL in second place.

Leggatt and Hutton-Squire were extremely relieved to be moving again: “We’ve enjoyed some pleasant sailing overnight,” confirmed Phillippa Hutton-Squire at midday on Friday as Phesheya-Racing gybed back towards Africa after a long gybe west. “We’re sailing in a northerly breeze of 10-12 knots which is great, but ahead of us looks like a minefield of windless areas that we will have to thread our way through very carefully.” Weather files currently predict winds of around six knots for the duo’s route to the Canary Islands on Saturday. “Normally we should be sailing in reliable NE Trade Winds, but as has been explained to us; the Trade Winds are never as reliable as people make out and they get their name from the fact that once you have experienced them, all you want to do is trade in your boat and buy a farm!” Despite the absence of north-easterly breeze, there is evidence that Phesheya-Racing is in the right neighbourhood: “During the past two nights we have had flying fishes land on deck,” Hutton-Squire reports. “This is a common occurrence in the Trade Wind areas and early morning is a good time to harvest them from the deck for breakfast. So far, the two that have landed on the boat have both managed to wriggle back in to the sea so, unfortunately, we will not be getting our dose of Omega-3 oils this morning.”

By midday GMT on Friday, the race leaders were closing in on the Canary Islands with Campagne de France 35 miles due north of Lanzarote holding an eight-mile lead over Ross and Campbell Field and BSL: “The past few days have revolved around sailing, eating and sleeping – the latter being something that got neglected at the beginning,” reports Miranda Merron. “We have been hand-steering almost all of the time since the start, changing sails whenever necessary, moving every single piece of moveable equipment in the boat to suit the conditions and looking at position reports every three hours to see the whereabouts of our playmates.” Since exiting the Mediterranean on Monday, the distance between Campagne de France and BSL has rarely exceeded 10 miles and has been as little as one mile and the prospect of close racing for the entire 6,800 miles to the Leg 1 finish in Cape Town is a certainty. However, the three main islands in the Canary group lie directly in the fleet’s path and negotiating the archipelago is a huge tactical challenge and opportunity: “We are picking our way around an ominous looking cloud right now and soon we will be picking our way through the Canaries, notorious for enormous wind shadows which can take you prisoner for many hours.” The sun sets at around 19:00 GMT in the Canary Islands and rises at 07:00 GMT, so in addition to the wind shadows and anomalies produced by the landmasses of Lanzarote and Fuertaventura and the Las Cañadas range on Tenerife or Pico de las Nieves on Gran Canaria, the two lead Class40s will sail close to the islands in darkness with the additional risk of unlit fishing vessels and unmarked fishing pots.

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