Spirit of Sark has a slender lead at the head of the Global Challenge fleet in Leg 5
After a slow start yesterday afternoon, conditions have gradually built with winds upwards of 25 knots and gusts over 30 for Leg 5 of the Global Challenge from Cape Town to Boston. Now just over 200nm out of Cape Town, the teams are positioning themselves to the east of a high-pressure system to the south-west and trying to maximise the mileage from the fast downwind run they are currently enjoying.
Sail preservation was acknowledged as a major issue for this leg but erratic wind shifts and gusts have already caused drama for some as a competitive fleet aims to draw the most speed from temperamental spinnakers while avoiding irreparable damage.
“We had a very interesting time with our spinnaker last night and decided we were better off without it,” wrote Duggie Gillespie this morning, skipper of first place Spirit of Sark.
And it seems that some of the other teams may well have been wise to follow suit. Eero Lehtinen, skipper of SAIC La Jolla, reported that their, ” sheet and lazy guy disconnected themselves in a 31 knot gust after a bit of a collapse in the kite.” Unfortunately, the “free flying clew” of the kite punched a small hole in the main sail, but the repairs are holding and their spinnaker came through the ordeal unscathed. Eero went on to describe the assault of another team on their position who were not so lucky.
They were closing in on SAIC La Jolla’s position during the night when, “Suddenly I heard a big flogging noise,” explains Eero. “I looked behind and saw their mast head light go from red to green to white and finally completely off. The deck light came on and we could see spinnaker cloth in the air, not necessarily as one whole unit any more. They fell quickly further behind, but another boat right next to them was kind enough to hold their search light on the boat so we could enjoy the show for a bit longer.”
When the yachts left the pontoons in Cape Town 24-hours ago, there was virtually no wind and a large swell, making life difficult for the teams trying to plan a precisely timed assault on the start line. As they drifted towards the start line VAIO crossed the line first and timed their run to near-perfection.
Unfortunately, they were just one second too soon; enough to incur a 720º penalty turn. Barclays Adventurer was second over the line followed by Imagine It. Done., but the positions had been turned on their head by the first mark, when Samsung took the lead.
The lack of wind at the start caused problems of a very different nature to those experienced last night – the winds were so light the spinnakers would not fill. Gradually a breeze filled in but the shadow cast by Table Mountain caused the wind to shift through 180º almost instantly, from northwest to southeast, taking teams by surprise and prompting rapid spinnaker drops. Me to You and Barclays Adventurer were among the teams embroiled in an early grapple with their kite to avoid costly damage.
The wind continued to build and eventually became a steady 15-20 knots from the south. The whole fleet had the spinnakers flying again after an eventful first phase and VAIO, having completed their penalty turn, had fought back to the front of the fleet.
BP Explorer had their own problems at the start with localised wind holes seemingly searching them out but have also managed to claw back through the densely packed fleet.
“It was one of our bumpier take-offs,” said BP Explorer skipper David Melville shortly after crossing the start line. “We managed to find every gap and hole in the wind there was going but some aggressive work with the kite has enabled us to fight our way back up the pack.”
Jeremy Troughton, skipper of Logica during the BT Global Challenge 2000/01 was watching the start in Cape Town. Talking about the conditions he said: “It was really tough for them. The boats are very big and heavy so the worst conditions are light winds and a big swell and that’s exactly what they had. The wind was only really just enough to be drifting along “
“At the moment they’ll be planning ahead for the next 24-48 hours, positioning their boat to set themselves up for their circumnavigation of the South Atlantic High, which is going to be the predominant weather feature on the first half of the leg. They’ll be looking ahead to get their position correct for that and trying to get their crew settled down into their watch systems as early as possible as everyone gets used to being back at sea again after a lengthy stopover in Cape Town.”
Although the Southern Ocean leg from Sydney to Cape Town is widely regarded as the toughest leg of the race, Jeremy explained that, “For all the skippers in the last race, unanimously, this [Leg 5] was the toughest leg.
“This leg will undoubtedly be the toughest leg of all for the crews as well,” he continued. “In the Southern Ocean you just knuckle on and you gel as a team because it’s really rough out there and you’ve got to work together to get through it. This leg will really highlight any fractures within the team and it will test relationships to the max.
“Little niggles will become big issues and I think what we’ll see on this leg is really the strongest team coming to the forefront. Obviously the tactics and the sailing side are critical as well but if they don’t have a harmonious attitude on board or work together well they’re really going to struggle.”
Spirit of Sark 6,552nm to finish
Team Stelmar 6,553nm
BP Explorer 6,554nm
SAIC La Jolla 6,555nm
Me to You 6,558nm
Barclays Adventurer 6,559nm
Imagine It. Done. 6,560nm
Team Save the Children 6,560nm
BG SPIRIT 6,561nm