Class40 Financial Crisis closes in for the kill

GOR Race Tracker 15:00 GMT 14/2/12

GOR Race Tracker 15:00 GMT 14/2/12

14 February, 2012 | by Oliver Dewar

After 16 days and over 3,000 miles of racing in Leg 3 of the Global Ocean Race (GOR), the recent pain continues for Conrad Colman and Adrian Kuttel as Cessna Citation remains glued to the sea in dead calm conditions at 55S with Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon charging in from behind with Financial Crisis and getting ready for a close battle to the Felipe Cubillos Cape Horn Gate at the southern tip of South America. As the fleet leaders battle with light airs, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire have been heavily-reefed and hitting big speeds west of the bluQube Scoring Gate with Phesheya-Racing.



Having gained a further 140 miles in the past 24 hours, Marco Nannini and Hugo Ramon are closing in on the leading Class40 with Financial Crisis as Cessna Citation languishes in a high pressure ridge. “We’ve been lucky with the wind as it has stayed with us far longer than was forecast,” confirmed Ramon on Tuesday morning as Financial Crisis rendezvoused with Cessna Citation at the southern end of the high pressure ridge stretching for 750 miles diagonally across the Southern Ocean. “It is incredible that although we’ve barely had 15-17 knots of breeze, the air is so cold and heavy that it weighs more and loads-up the boat.”



The overall conditions at 55S are beginning to extract a heavy cost from the Spanish sailor: “We’re less than 3,000 miles to the finish line in Uruguay, but having raced over halfway around the world, it doesn’t seem so far,” continues Ramon. “This is lucky, as the whole of my left side is covered in bruises having slept in a bad position as the boat slammed around and I’m looking forward to a soft mattress!”



At 15:00 GMT on Monday, Nannini and Ramon were just over three miles off Colman and Kuttel’s starboard quarter. “The cold is truly horrible right now,” Ramon reports. “Whenever we have to trim sails it takes forever to warm up again and your hands never really recover,” he explains. Currently, Financial Crisis is 1,400 miles from Cape Horn and around 1,000 miles north of the Abbot Ice Shelf in the Chilean sector of West Antarctica: “Every time I go up on deck, I think I’m going to come face-to-face with an angry penguin!” adds Ramon.



On Cessna Citation, Colman and Kuttel have watched their lead of 250 miles erode over three days in the high pressure ridge blocking their path: “It’s frustrating to have worked for years to get here on a racing boat, all the time hoping to satisfy my curious thirst for the ultimate thrill ride, only to come up against the evil triple zero; 0.00 knots of boat speed,” admitted Colman on Tuesday morning as Financial Crisis gained miles relentlessly and threatened the leadership held by Cessna Citation for 12 days. “We’re totally becalmed and spinning listlessly on an oily sea totally bereft of a ripple of wind,” he reports. “We currently have everything on board stacked as far forward as we can get it in order to push the bow down and help lift the draggy stern out of the water,” Colman explains. “We’re very gently shooshing along upwind with Code 0 and just a gentle tinkling ripple down the side of the boat tells me we are still moving.”



Despite being becalmed, the Kiwi-South African duo are continuing with a rigid watch system: “Normally, after three hours on watch one is glad for the break after been pummelled and abused by the ocean, but here one needs a break lest one go mad from being impotently powerless to make headway,” says 28 year-old Colman. “The air is squeaky clean and silently still and the only sound is the wrenching mainsheet and the ringing in your ears.”



On Tuesday afternoon, Cessna Citation was making just under two knots as the ridge began to slowly shift north-east away from the two Class40s. “I’m as yet unsure of whether it’s better to edge along the side of the ridge to the south or whether to plough on toward the east as the system moves on,” debates Colman. While the timing of Nannini and Ramon’s arrival is looking good and the Italian-Spanish duo have gone for the southerly option, for Cessna Citation, the choice is academic: “In fact, it’s easy, because such choice is illusory and currently we have no more choice as to our own course as we do over where, and whether, the wind blows….”



While Cessna Citation remains trapped, Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire have been sailing through dramatic and constantly changing conditions as Phesheya-Racing was chased east through the Roaring Forties by a deep low pressure system: “In the evening we had some torrential rain squalls though the sea remained quite flat and the wind was generally a mere 15-20 knots,” Nick Leggatt updated early on Tuesday morning. “Later, the moon rose in front of us with a silver path leading across the water between the rain squalls,” he continued. “It was quite a dramatic scene, highlighted by flashes of phosphorescence in the water.”



As the weather system pursuing the South Africans moved closer, the change in conditions began: “Sunrise was glorious and a Black-browed albatross has now joined the petrels in our wake and the wind and seas have been steadily building from the NNW.” Phesheya-Racing averaged speeds over 11 knots throughout the period, despite an intentionally conservative sail plan: “We’re well reefed-down, but still surfing at speeds up to 17 knots in near-gale force winds, though the sky remains partly cloudy with occasional outbursts of bright sunshine,” Leggatt confirms.



While the crews of Cessna Citation and Financial Crisis could potentially rely on each other for assistance in case of a drama in the Southern Ocean, Phesheya-Racing is isolated 800 miles north-west of the leading duo. Leggatt has been looking at the electronic charts on board and at the nearest land to the north in French Polynesia: “Zoom in a bit on the chart to check the name of the atoll,” he suggests. “Mururoa. Mmm…not a lot of help coming from there then, ever since the military blew it up with an atom bomb, just for fun,” says Leggatt of the area’s 30-year history of French nuclear tests.



The nearest inhabited island to the South Africans is Rapa, or Easter Island: “It is 1,222 miles away and any thoughts of help from there bring on visions of Polynesian war canoes gliding across tropical seas,” comments Leggatt. “So hopefully you’ll forgive us if we sail a bit cautiously and conservatively for the next couple of thousand miles….” At 15:00 GMT on Tuesday, Phesheya-Racing was averaging the highest speeds in the trio at 8.6 knots with 240 miles remaining until the bluQube Scoring Gate.



GOR leaderboard at 15:00 GMT 14/2/12:
1.    Cessna Citation DTF 2847 1.9kts
2.    Financial Crisis DTL 3.6 6.4kts
3.    Phesheya-Racing DTL 935 8.6kts