Still searching for speed
12 April, 2012 | by Oliver Dewar
After ten days at sea, the Global Ocean Race (GOR) fleet has found relatively stable breeze and the race is on to the Celox Sailing Scoring Gate off Natal on the coast of Brazil.
GOR leader, Cessna Citation, dug into the easterly breeze early on Wednesday morning and around 24 hours later, Marco Nannini and Sergio Frattaruolo in second place on Financial Crisis began to pick-up speed at midnight Wednesday/Thursday, followed by Phesheya-Racing in third and Sec. Hayai in fourth approximately four hours later.
For Conrad Colman and Scott Cavanough on Cessna Citation, the early break into the easterlies has seen their lead grow dramatically by 60 miles in the past 24 hours and they now hold a lead of 191 miles over the chasing pack. Nannini and Frattaruolo have also extended their lead over Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire on Phesheya-Racing with a 67-mile lead over the South African duo and the Dutch team on Sec. Hayai have dropped back four miles in 24 hours, trailing Leggatt and Hutton-Squire by 34 miles on Thursday afternoon.
While speeds have increased, three of the teams have been working hard to overcome potentially disastrous technical problems. On Cessna Citation, the Kiwi-Australian team had almost given up hope of repairing their hydrogenerator, which is lowered into the water from the transom for fuel-free battery charging, and a stop on the Brazilian coast and bunkering extra diesel to compensate for the loss of charging capability was firmly on the cards.
With the vital unit failing shortly after the Leg 4 start in Punta del Este, it has been a stressful period on board: “For nearly a week now we’ve been hand-steering almost all the time and turning off all electrical devices except the GPS and wind instruments,” explained Colman on Thursday morning. “While the technicians at Watt & Sea rightly enjoyed their Easter weekend, I was chewing off my fingers nails while stressing about whether we would have enough diesel to run the engine to charge the batteries and make water with the desalinator.”
However, support from the hydrogenerator’s manufacturers was thorough: “After a couple of days of back and forth with Watt & Sea, our unit had failed all diagnostic tests and we'd given up hope of producing green energy on the ocean blue and had resigned ourselves to a diesel pit stop and the associated penalty from the race committee.” Fortunately, while helming through the night, Colman saw the light and a stop and time penalty of between 24-76 hours was avoided: “I had a flash of inspiration and discovered that we’d made some assumptions during the tests that had given us a false negative,” he explains. It transpires that the unit’s propeller was slipping on the shaft. “The generator still works and we are charging again; our mood has lifted, the sun is shining and all is well in the world!” adds Colman.
Meanwhile, 290 miles south of Cessna Citation in fourth place, Nico Budel and Erik van Vuuren have been fighting with weather information problems on board Sec. Hayai: “It seems we finally managed to fix the software issue,” reported Van Vuuren late on Wednesday night. “But do we finally get the desired GRIBs?” he asks, having spent most of the day languishing at three or four knots. “So far, this tells us a good bedtime story for the night: it looks like we could be picking up a sea breeze off the coast where we are.”
Even though the problems on board Sec. Hayai were resolved, progress was abruptly halted. “So, when we finally had everything fixed, I felt a drag on the boat,” continues Van Vuuren. “Oh no, not trash on the keel or rudder?” The 42 year-old Dutchman hung off the back of the boat to inspect the twin rudders. “When I had a look, it seemed it was caused by a dolphin playing with the rudders, but are the dolphins on steroids around here or what? What do they feed them on? They’re huge animals causing this much drag, but what a great sight!”
In second place, 100 miles north of Sec. Hayai and 90 miles off the coast of Brazil, Marco Nannini and Serio Frattaruolo have been grappling with a couple of puzzling gremlins on Financial Crisis: “We had a few issues with the NKE electronics suddenly losing the boat speed reading, then the compass reading, all mysteriously working again by simply powering off and on the system,” confirms Nannini. “Another mysterious source of worry came from the primary alternator we rely on to charge the batteries,” he continues. “For two consecutive days it seemed to have given up the ghost, only to wake up gingerly this morning and resume service as if nothing had ever happened!”
Meanwhile, in third place on South African Class40 Phesheya-Racing furthest offshore in the chasing pack, technical issues were replaced with frustration at the light or moderate breeze: “Having sailed from the Roaring Forties and the Furious Fifties, we have now finished with the Tedious Twenties and are into the Terrible Teens with still not a hint of steady trade winds!” rumbled Nick Leggatt from 18S late on Wednesday night before digging into the new breeze. “By lunch time the sun was scorching again and we were becalmed on a glassy sea,” he adds. “Nothing much moved other than the banging and slatting of the sails and the occasional startled flying fish.”
Despite the breeze arriving and speeds building on Thursday, Leggatt and Hutton-Squire aren’t convinced that the route to the north is now clear: “We’re not under any illusions that we’re into the trade winds proper, though, as even 75 miles offshore the wind patterns are disrupted and influenced by the intense heating and cooling of the tropical lands to the west of us,” he warns cautiously.
Whatever the case, speeds are currently remaining fairly stable, as Marco Nannini reports: “This morning for the first time the winds held strong after sunrise and the sky is unmistakeably changed,” he observes. “Little, white, fluffy clouds are scattered regularly around instead of massive cumulus formations typical of the unstable air masses of the last few days,” notes the Italian-Slovak skipper of Financial Crisis. “I think we can now expect a drag race to the Doldrums where things could get shaken-up again,” he predicts. “I may be wrong, so we'll certainly keep a watchful eye on the Dutch and the South Africans and try to cover our backs from a likely attack.”
GOR leaderboard 15:00 GMT 12/04/12:
1. Cessna Citation DTF 3897 9kts
2. Financial Crisis DTL 191 7.9kts
3. Phesheya-Racing DTL 259 6.8kts
4. Sec. Hayai DTL 292 4kts