Keeping alert off the Moroccan coast on BSL – photo Jesus Renedo
As the northerly breeze arrived on Wednesday afternoon, the double-handed, Class40 fleet in the Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR) were on the move again following a period stuck in light airs north-west of Rabat on the Moroccan coast. Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron with Campagne de France held the lead by four miles, running along the West African continental shelf chased by Ross and Campbell with BSL with both Class40s averaging around nine knots. In third place, Conrad Colman and Hugo Ramon on Cessna Citation had been reeled in by Marco Nannini and Paul Peggs with Financial Crisis and the South African duo of Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire on board Phesheya-Racing with just 15 miles separating the three boats. Hampered by the loss of any effective offwind headsails on Sec. Hayai, Nico Budel and Ruud van Rijsewijk trailed the lead boat by 157 miles on Thursday morning in a completely different wind pattern north of the main group.
Having kept communications to a minimum on BSL since shortly after the start, Ross and Campbell Field broke cover on Thursday morning. “We’ve been spending all our time either sailing or sleeping,” explained Campbell Field. “We are hand steering almost 100 per cent of the time, although the pilots are very good and have been very well set up, after reviewing data they are slightly slower than driving, so for the most part, one of us is driving, the other sleeping or making coffee,” he reports. Off Tarifa on Monday night, the father-and-son duo shot out of the Mediterranean leading the GOR fleet in 40 knots of breeze and the comparatively soft sailing along the coast of Morocco has provided some time for reflection: “The Med is an interesting place of contrasts; stunning sunsets, teeming with dolphins, but – at the same time – littered with monstrous feats of engineering freighting our daily essentials all over the world,” recalls the 41 year-old Kiwi. “Initially, they can be admired for their sheer size, then you sit back and observe the mountains and mountains of unnecessary rubbish that is moved from one place to the other,” he notes. “Easy to say, I guess, from our little 12 metre space where we can’t just whip up the road and buy a steak from Argentina or cheese from Italy or a car from Korea. The Med isn’t only littered with ships, but with masses of plastic that we see daily out here with bottles floating about.”
At mid-morning on Thursday, BSL and Campagne de France ceased their course parallel to the coast of Morocco, putting 60 miles between the two boats and the African continent, heading south-west with the Canary Islands 370 off their bows. Clearing the coast was a relief for the Fields: “We had a few interesting encounters off the Moroccan coast,” continued Campbell Field. “A lone fisherman in his 30-odd foot traditional wooden fishing boat, 30 nautical miles from the coast…maybe just trying to feed his family?” he wonders. “Then a much larger and ominous looking fishing boat that could have just been curious and wanted a closer look.” In a briefing shortly before the start of Leg 1, the head Palma’s Salvamento Marítimo (Search & Rescue) advised the GOR teams of the piracy threat off the western coast of Africa in the corridor bordering the Spanish Sahara and south of the Canary Islands in an area closely monitored by the Spanish authorities. While the risk is far less than in the Gulf of Aden or off Somalia, in the Arabian Sea and across the Indian Ocean and methods are more opportunistic involving theft, rather than hijack and ransom, there is a risk with recorded incidents off Guinea, Togo and in the Bight of Benin. Although these areas are far to the south of the fleet, the GOR teams were advised to be alert. Fortunately for the Fields, the threat receded: “It did give us a couple of anxious moments as he seemed to be determined to get close to us,” concludes Campbell.