As the Vendée Globe fleet stream passed the Cape of Good Hope, over 600 miles offshore to the south, the six teams in the Portimão Global Ocean Race are in the final countdown to the start of the 7,500mile Leg 2 from Cape Town to Wellington, New Zealand. As this group of ten international yachtsmen continue preparations in the race base at the Royal Cape Yacht Club, the focus is clearly locked on the forthcoming voyage through the Southern Ocean and applying the lessons learned from Leg 1.

Desafio Cabo de Hornos on the hard in Cape Town

Oliver Dewar for Portimão Global Ocean Race

The young German duo, Boris Herrmann and co-skipper Felix Oehme, sailed Beluga Racer to victory in Leg 1 spending 34 days at sea, but Herrmann is aware that Leg 2 is a much bigger challenge: “On the last leg, we didn’t have a lot of wind,” admits the 27 year-old skipper. “I think the maximum the fleet experienced was only about 30 knots of breeze and on the next leg, there’ll be much, much more, definitely. So we’re trying to prepare ourselves mentally so we are ready to cope with situations when it might be really dangerous.” The Southern Ocean has a fearsome reputation and holds a near-mythical status for offshore sailors as an area of intense storms and huge seas. “The big winds by themselves are not always a problem,” Hermann explains. “But it’s the steep seas and chaotic waves which can be damaging, especially at night when you can’t see what’s coming. That’s what we’re frightened by.”

However, the two Germans have discovered a technique that can limit any potential damage: sailing full-on for as long a possible. “It’s really fun to sail the boat at 100 percent performance,” confirms Hermann. “If we go below that, the boat becomes less stable on the waves – especially downwind. So, to sail the boat well makes the boat even more safe.” Pushing his Akilaria 40 hard through brutal conditions may seem counter intuitive, but Hermann is convinced that the system works: “For example, when a low pressure has passed us, or a front passes, the waves get really chaotic. So maybe we have to push harder to make it safer for us.” Beluga Racer was launched in 2007 and is part of a new generation of Class 40 yachts: “These modern boats have to be sailed actively,” he believes. “If the conditions are right, we can hand steer the boat round the side of a breaking wave. If the conditions are really strong – say, 50 knots – then we have to find out how it works or what is the best method.” There is, however, a limit. “In those sort of conditions we switch to a mode where we concentrate on just saving the boat. The mission then becomes a case of being as prudent as possible. Up to 40 knots, though, we will be full-on racing.”

One of the many highlights of Leg 1 in the Portimão Global Ocean Race was the exceptionally close finish of the two front running boats with Chilean Class 40, Desafio Cabo de Hornos, of Felipe Cubillos and José Muňos eating heavily into the lead held by Hermann and Oehme: “We were 600 miles behind Beluga Racer at one point and we finished just three hours behind them,” recalls Cubillos. Part of the reason for this massive gain was equipment failure on board: “In the middle of the race we lost all our wind instruments, so we had to play the race by ear, the old fashioned way,” he explains. “Although this means you can’t use a lot of the software on board, it actually gave us a lot of advantages in terms of knowing the boat because we had to feel her due to not using the autopilot. This knowledge will help us a lot in Leg 2.” Cubillos is also quick to praise his shore based team: “I’m really confident with all the team helping us with the weather routing even though we made a mistake in the Doldrums,” he admits. Desafio Cabo de Hornos took a similar route to the Volvo Ocean Race yachts a week ahead of the Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet, taking the Chileans far into the western Atlantic: “We went by far the longest route in the fleet, sailing the most miles,” comments Cubillos. “But other than that mistake, it all went very well.”

The Chilean team has an impressive support network in Cape Town and while Cubillos will remain in Chile until Thursday, preparation work for the next leg continues: “My team is in Cape Town with José,” he confirms. “My rigger from Argentina is there, the French electrician is working on board and the builder of the boat is there. As soon as I get back, I’ll go to the supermarket, buy all the food supplies and we’re ready to go sailing.” However, part of Cubillos is already in the Southern Ocean: “Every day I check the weather files for Leg 2. It’s going to be a predominantly downwind leg, so I think we’ll go very fast and I really love that.” Cubillos is also aware that he made one important, personal error on the first leg that could prove vital in Leg 2: “First of all, I have to carry more food and take more care of myself, rather than focus just on the boat,” he says. “I lost 12 kilos on the Atlantic leg. I was concentrating on the boat so much I forgot about myself. That’s the first lesson I’ve learnt and I learnt it the hard way.” Despite this hardship, he is keen to return to the race course: “I have to admit that when we arrived at the finish line in Cape Town on a beautiful day with the spinnaker up, I told José that if it wasn’t for my children, my family and my girlfriend, I would love to be working in sailing all the time. I’m really looking forward to the next leg.” Cubillos also believes that Leg 2 will be intensely competitive: “We know it will be a very tough competition,” he predicts. “The two Akilarias, Beluga Racer and Team Mowgli, are very fast and very well sailed. We don’t know yet about the South African boat, Kazimir Partners, because they made a mistake in the Canary Islands, so they spent the whole race in a different weather pattern. It’s going to be really something out there.”

Taking third place in Leg 1 on Team Mowgli was an astounding achievement for the British duo, Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson. Salvesen’s sailing experience was limited to small dinghies until three years ago and Thomson, a highly experienced offshore sailor, only joined the racing project weeks before the start. However, 35 days at sea together have built a strong bond between the two yachtsmen: “We’ve learnt to trust each other and respect each other’s abilities in the good times and the bad,” explains Salvesen. “That gives you a great degree of confidence looking forward, which is wonderful.” Having only taken delivery of the Class 40 in the spring this year, Leg 1 was a sharp learning curb. “With the boat, we’ve also developed trust,” continues Salvesen. “We’ve now sailed for 7,500 miles and we have confidence in her that we never had before. We haven’t been through some of the weather that we anticipate in the next leg, but we’re now confident that the boat is strong and sound. The next leg has a greater degree of trepidation for us than the previous leg.”

With a potential of around 33-35 days sailing in the high latitudes of the Indian Ocean, Salvesen is pragmatic about the forthcoming Leg 2: “Having never been to the southern Ocean before, I’m really not sure if we’re mentally prepared or not. I don’t really know what it takes down there,” he admits. “For us, it’s more about mental preparation. We’re going into this with eyes wide open, not fearful, but hugely respectful of where we’re going. Not nervous, just cautious.” Like all the skippers in the Portimão Global Ocean Race, Salvesen is aware that sailing fast is only part of the game: “It’s a balance,” he explains. “We’ve learnt how hard we can push Team Mowgli. On Leg 1, we ended up blowing both of our spinnakers and we did that because we were pushing too hard. It’s a balance of ‘Yeah! We’re really in it to win it!’ and being in it to get as far up the leaderboard as we can and be competitive.” Preserving the boat and racing effectively is the key for Salvesen and Thomson: “So, we want to push as hard as we can,” says Salvesen. “It’s knowing when to take your foot off the gas. It’s a really difficult thing to do, but it’s the wisest thing. We want to get to New Zealand in one piece and be able to continue with the race around Cape Horn and onto the next leg.”

The South African brothers, Lenjohn and Peter van der Wel, took fourth place in the double-handed division on Kazimir Partners after 45 days that were filled with frustration:We had some computer issues which obviously put us at a disadvantage as we were unable to access decent weather files,” explains Lenjohn. “This all happened around the Canary Islands where the normal strategy is to go west,” he continues. “Everyone else went on the eastern side and we lost 400 miles in three days and we never regained them. We were in a totally different weather pattern to the rest of the fleet.” Effectively sailing blind with minimal weather information, the brothers watched the fleet slip away, with Kazimir Partners losing 20 miles each day as they headed west across the Atlantic towards Recife, Brazil. In a bid to decrease this deficit, the duo identified a possible option of heading through – rather than around – the St Helena High Pressure system in the South Atlantic: a gamble that could save Lenjohn and Peter between 800-1,000 miles and an extra week of sailing. “Whatever we did, the high just moved in such a way that it blocked our entry into Cape Town,” explains Lenjohn. “It was extremely frustrating, but there was nothing we could do about it.” An additional setback also arrived as the bright yellow Class 40 sailed through the tropics: “We also had about 500 toredo worms attached to the bottom of the boat,” reports Lenjohn. “Everybody else had maybe two or three of them and this cost us between half to a knot of boat speed. I could have opened a pet farm with them!” he jokes. With the computer systems repaired, both the brothers are determined to improve their performance on Leg 2: “We need to get it together for the next leg,” Lenjohn admits. “My philosophy for pushing the boat hard is that it’s a long way to go to New Zealand, but we will try and push hard and try to redeem ourselves and our reputation!” As the time to leave their home town approaches, the brothers are in good shape for the Southern Ocean: “I wish we had another week in Cape Town, as you can always use more time, but we’ll be fine for the next leg,” confirms the skipper of Kazimir Partners.

Belgian yachtsman, Michel Kleinjans, won the Leg 1 single-handed division crossing the Cape Town finish line after 36 days despite some serious rigging failures on board his Open 40, Roaring 40. “I think the mast will be OK now,” he comments with calm confidence. Kleinjans’ boat is 11 years old and he has taken drastic measures to increase the yacht’s potential performance: “I think I’ll be the only one without a heater in the Southern Ocean,” he says. “I don’t have one fitted and I’m not planning to fit one.” Kleinjans considers that every weight saving is crucial. “My only real chance against the newer boats is to be a bit lighter. So I try not to take too much and get rid of everything I don’t need.” One concession, though, will be an extra bottle of cooking gas: “When it’s too cold, you just put on the gas for a while and it heats the interior pretty quickly. It’s nice to have a heater, but it makes a lot of condensation sometimes and uses quite a lot of diesel.”

Kleinjans is planning a delicate balancing act for Leg 2: “I have to watch out, I think. My boat is the oldest and I have to remember that. It would be nice to push hard, but I think I might have to buy another boat if it falls to pieces,” he comments, laughing. “I might have to sail a bit conservatively and make sure I get to New Zealand.” The Belgian is no stranger to the Southern Ocean having competed in the 1985-86 Whitbread Round the World Race and he is totally relaxed with the prospect of sailing solo through the Indian Ocean’s high latitudes: “Physically, there’s not much preparation going on,” he admits. “Mentally, I’m not too worried although I’m aware I have to watch out.” However, he is not convinced that his knowledge of the Southern Ocean is a major benefit. “I’ve been there, but it’s more than 20 years ago. The memories are all a bit vague. Maybe the fact that I’ve been there is a small help.”

Meanwhile, the Belgian’s single-handed opposition, 69 year-old Dutchman, Nico Budel, is enjoying the Cape Town stopover: “I’ve had a really nice time in Cape Town. They are really nice people here and my wife and family are staying with me. It has been a great time.” Budel and his ten year-old, canting keel, carbon fibre Open 40, Hayai, took a total of 42 days to complete Leg 1, six days longer than Kleinjans and Roaring Forty: a time deficit that he is determined to reduce on Leg 2: “On the first leg I learnt that I must work harder,” jokes Budel, laughing softly. “I have no real strategy for the next leg. I just want to go faster.” With less than a week until the start gun on Saturday 13th December, the Dutch sailing veteran is keen to get back to sea: “The boat is ready to go and I’m OK as well,” he says.

– Portimão Global Ocean Race Press Release

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