Cape Horn has been the primary focus of attention for quite a few days now in the Global Solo Challenge, starting from the successful rounding by Ronnie Simpson on Friday February 2nd, to a trio of competitors on their approach to the dreaded cape dealing with a deep low pressure system and some serious winds.
On friday, at approximately 03:30 UTC, in the thick of the night, sailing heavy seas and winds gusting to nearly 60 knots, Ronnie Simpson successfully rounded Cape Horn with Shipyard Brewing, sailing with no mainsail and just the storm jib. The previous day a window of opportunity had opened up for Ronnie and he had to choose whether to wait for the weather system to clear the area or press on in heavy but manageable seas. Ultimately he decided that the conditions were safe enough for the rounding without any evasive action in relation to the cold front that was chasing him. He wisely opted to stay in deep waters off the continental shelf, too far to see the Cabo de Hornos lighthouse or any sign of having approached the south american continent.
On Rounding, however, Ronnie was already focusing on the next deep and windy low pressure. The development of this system, vast in size and with winds up to the 50-70 knots range, was of great concern to all those still in the Pacific. The associated winds were also due to spill over into the Atlantic and bring a heavy northerly blow to the American skipper on his route to the north. Ronnie decided to avoid the worst which was going to sweep over the Falklands during the course of Sunday with prohibitive conditions. He sailed through the Strait of Le Maire in light conditions on Friday night and kept hugging the Argentinian coast sailing towards the Beagle Channel. When the northerly winds hit, he experienced a manageable sea state and winds gusting up to 40 knots, nothing compared to the nasty weather further east. On Sunday the wind backed to the west and put Ronnie in a position to resume a direct course to the north east.
The US veteran, sailing under the sponsorship of Shipyard Brewing, is a proud representative of US Patriot Sailing. Ronnie has displayed great skill and seamanship during his rounding and in nursing his 1994 Open 50 through difficult seas. After a forced pitstop in Hobart he is acutely aware of the limitations that his vintage boat imposes to ensure a successful completion of the circumnavigation. In a few days the weather should progressively improve and give Ronnie respite so that he can finally celebrate getting safely through south Pacific and Atlantic heavy weather towards warmer and calmer seas.
In the south Pacific’s screaming fifties, several skippers are now dealing with the heavy forcast that promises difficult seas and heavy winds. We had been monitoring this huge low pressure system for days. The forecast indicates winds up the 50-70 knots range and potentially dangerous sea. The forecast has not gone unnoticed and given there are 3 round-the-world events taking place at the same time, the news was hitting every media outlet. The severity of the forecast is such that Charles Caudrelier, the skipper of the giant Gitana Team trimaran taking part in the Arkea Ultim has had to put his approach to the Horn on pause declaring this is the first time this happens in his entire sailing career. In the Ocean Globe Race the leading boats PenDuick VI and Translated9, which both crossed paths with Andrea Mura on Vento di Sardegna last Thursday, are the two boats that may get closest to the heavy winds that will squeeze by the Chilean coast on February 5th.
In the Global Solo Challenge three skippers are monitoring closely the weather: Andrea Mura on Vento di Sardegna, Francois Gouin on Kawan3 Unicancer and Riccardo Tosetto on Obportus. Based on the forecast the situation was more delicate for Andrea Mura who had to decide whether to slow down or keep sailing to stay out of the worst of the winds and waves. Francois Gouin further back may actually not need to slow down to approach the same position. Riccardo Tosetto, further north, was due to be reached by the north westerly band of strong winds with little hope to avoid them. As difficult as it may seem, this type of weather is quite typical and skippers need to adapt and find their safe way through.
During the course of last night (between the 4th and 5th February), Riccardo Tosetto on Obportus reported initially winds around 40 knots and a 5 meter swell which he described as short and with breaking crests. It did not appear to be a worrying situation. A few hours later in the night the Italian skipper wrote again to report a worsening of conditions with bigger seas and several breakers crashing over the cockpit or slapping the boat on the beam. The winds had increased to sustained 50-55 knots and a squall brough by a gust of 70 knots. All seems well on board otherwise and the situation should be improving as the strong winds head towards Cape Horn with Riccardo hopefully finding easier conditions on the back of the low.
Andrea Mura on Vento di Sardegna and Francois Gouin on Kawan3 Unicancer will not be hit the same way by the system as the heavy winds are heading south east from Riccardo’s position to the north of them and will squash against the Andean mountain range bringin very heavy winds by the tip of the south American continent and blocking the way for an early rounding. Both competitors are sailing forward with the goal of finding themselves at the back of the strongest winds so they can carry on sailing whilst the low will displace east faster than they can reach Cape Horn. Andrea has had to slow down and pace his approach. Had he carried on at full speed he would have reached the thick of the storm, something Andrea wants to avoid.
Andrea Mura’s Vento di Sardegna is a solid year-2000 ex Vendée Globe boat, but the Italian skipper has shared with us several reasons why he has to balance speed and boat preservation. His decision to take part in the Global Solo Challenge was not confirmed until August last year leaving him with 3 months to prepare and deliver his Open 50 to A Coruna. Preparations were made by working overtime and closing temporarily his sailing loft. There only was time to replace 3 of the 6 most important sails and no time at all to sit down and optimise these to handicapping rules. This means that with more time and resources Andrea may have been able to lower his rating and attain an earlier start but this was not possible under the current sailplan configuration.
Andrea has no concerns at all for the structural integrity of the boat which was built very strong, in fact it is not a light-weight Open 50 and it was built with safety in mind and has 7 watertight bulkheads, many more than the minimum of 4 required by the GSC rules. On the other hand, despite pre-event inspections, the keels of this type of boats have a finite life and even if everything is in good condition it is natural for the skipper to have to keep this in mind when not sailing with a brand new keel which cannot yet develop fatigue issues. The hydraulic system that cants the keel is also a delicate component of the boat and lack of time means Andrea has been unable to replace some of the components leaving him to deal with small oil leaks and occasionally with having to re-cant the keel when it loses some of its angle whilst sailing.
As organisers we are aware that the public does not hold all of the information regarding every boat and every competitor but we feel it is appropriate to highlight these considerations and congratulate Andrea Mura as a skipper for having approached every difficult passage of the event with the due care and seamanship putting safety first at all times. In typically difficult seas of the Indian Ocean where wave patterns can cause more slamming than in the long period waves of the Pacific, Andrea chose to ensure the boat and keel would not suffer. Considering his competitive and determined spirit he certainly must suffer the frustration of not being able to push as hard as he would like to but he has accepted this compromise with a smile. His primary goal is to finish the circumnavigation non-stop. He is currently projected to finish in third place and may still have a shot at second place depending on the conditions he finds in the Atlantic.
This same frustration was felt by Cole Brauer, currently holding second place, when she had to slow down to dodge several heavy weather systems ahead of Cape Horn and by Ronnie Simpson as we explained earlier. Andrea, Cole and Ronnie prepared with a very tight schedule and as Ronnie often explained as to his situation, many aspects went overlooked due to lack of time. The combination of these aspects largely explain the gap that the leader Philippe Delamare has managed to build and defend. The french skipper had time to prepare his boat impeccably and with sufficient time make all the changes and optimisations he deemed necessary.
Philippe’s route along the shortest distance is the immediate testimony of the fact that he trusted his boat in all weather and did not need to slow down or alter course to avoid heavy conditions. We can say Philippe had come to the compromise of a slower boat even before the start, by carefully analyzing the event and the format, he decided to forego the thrill of high speed sailing on a surfing boat in order to reap the benefits of a lower rating, sturdier boat and earlier start. This, combined with the self-limitations that chasing skippers had to adopt to preserve their boats, also reflects the spirit of this event where different boats with different characteristics sailed together each having to deal with a circumnavigation within different parameters.
What stands out is the seamanship displayed by all participants, especially when they had to deal with unavoidable limitations, and their high degree of self-sufficiency. Surely some skippers, with more time and resources could have allowed themselves to push harder, but it would be a mistake to reduce the endeavour of these sailors to the mere position on the water, there simply is so much more to it.
Further testimony to the great seamanship of the sailors of the Global Solo Challenge came in the form of dealing with far more complicated circumstances. Let’s not forget Ari Kansakoski’s 1200 miles and 25 days odyssey to reach Durban after dismasting or the week long struggle by Edourd De Keyser to reach Port Lincoln after breaking one of his two rudders and with no engine. The Belgian skipper reached land safely without assistance and once ashore he was faced with an incredibly difficult decision to make. The boat could not be repaired in time to set-off with enough margin to reach Cape Horn safely before the end of the Austral summer and despite having to dig really deep, Edouard finally decided safety comes first and he postpones his restart when the boat is fully sorted out, either returning to Europe by a different route or leaving for Cape Horn to next year.
Louis Robein too faced a difficult challenge. Due to issues with his hydrogenerators the french skipper had planned a stop in Hobart to sort the issues on board. Things progressively deteriorated on Le Souffle de La Mer III and ultimately Louis lost all power on board. He skillfully alternated days of hand-steering to nights heaving-to and finally reached Tasmania safely and without any outside assistance, even sailing up the river Derwent.
Alessandro Tosetti on Aspra managed to save his mast when a diagonal shroud broke, then proceeded towards Tasmania with headsails only and the mast secured with a makeshift lashing. He reached Hobart shortly after Louis Robein and the two even had dinner together in Hobart. They are now both working to restart as soon as possible.
Pavlin Nadvorni had stopped in Bluff Harbour due to problems with his mainsail mast track. He had to cross the whole Tasman sea unable to hoist his mainsail and in very stormy weather. All repairs have now been carried out but a nasty storm is hitting New Zealand as we write and Pavlin has been forced to postpone his departure.
Still managing well and without any major issues to report are David Linger on Koloa Maoli and William MacBrien on Phoenix who are really showing how a cautious approach and reduced speed do in fact help make steady and safe progress, even if this is at the detriment of speed. Their goal is not podium placement and their navigation is a perfect example that this challenge is possible whilst not venturing too far out the safety zone for the boat. We can say the same for Kevin Le Poidevin on Roaring Forty who set for himself a circumnavigation target that leaves him able to play it safe.
When circumnavigating the globe solo the number of factors and variables involved is incredibly high and the skill of each sailors comes through in their ability to handle such a complex situation, it is hardly a case of pressing a button on the autopilot and going below to read a book, it’s the constant management of an intricate project with moving goal posts and external factors that can require adaptation at any moment.
by Marco Nannini / Global Solo Challenge