Way before the start of the Golden Globe Race in Les Sables d’Olonne, the last stretch to Cape Horn was always a concern for Ian Herbert-Jones (GBR)
It became more of a worry for him in the South Atlantic when the Shropshire sailor thought of skipping the Cape Town film drop altogether to save time and make the 31st January Hobart gate cut off date. Miss that gate and you must stop, as you are considered too late to round Cape Horn before early spring storms. Ian just made Hobart by a few days. Later heading east, after a slow exit of the Tasman Sea, the weather conspired against him north of the Pacific exclusion zone, increasing his concerns about paying the price for a late rounding of Cape Horn.… and so it was!
Sailing for several days in what he described in his weekly satellite safety call as ‘biblical conditions’, Ian faced his worst fears: Extreme winds well over 60 knots, heavy and confused breaking seas, several knock downs with his hydrovane struggling to cope. He nevertheless carried on, displaying his signature vulnerability, humility, humour and determination to get the job done.
On Wed 22nd at 0400 UTC, Ian called the Race Office to advise that the conditions were crazy, screaming wind speeds impossible to determine (Chilean Navy forecast possible gusts to 90 knots) and 7-metre seas. Sailing under bare poles, he was struggling to deploy his drogue which was now a tangled mess in the cockpit. One hour later, he had deployed the drogue, unfurled a small amount of staysail and as the wind was finally abating.
However, at 1100 UTC he called back, sounding stressed, declaring a ‘PAN PAN’ and requesting GGR to notify MRCC of his situation, though NOT requiring assistance. He was unsure of his position and his hydrovane had another issue and was no longer working but in the dark he could not see why and it was dangerous hanging over the back. GGR was providing weather updates and monitoring his track which was headed for the Diego Ramirez Islands. Sailing at only 3 knots under the drogue in seven metre seas, the bottom rapidly rose from 1,500 metres to just 100 metres in a few miles, causing some concern in Race Control. Ian reported serious waves slamming into the back of PUFFIN. He passed 2.5 miles north of the islands as conditions slowly moderated and daylight returned.
He rang a third time at 1810 UTC to advise that his drogue warp at some time had wrapped around the Hydrovane rudder whilst sailing slow in the big seas. It caused the initial damage and eventually the rudder snapped in half. He could not fit his emergency electric autopilot as it steered through the Hydrovane rudder and it was too rough to fit his Hydrovane spare rudder. He was hand-steering to Cape Horn and beyond. He cannot do that for 6,000 miles back to Les Sables d’Olonne. He is now headed for Puerto Williams about 150 miles away to effect repairs. He has been officially moved into Chichester Class (no longer in the rankings for the solo non-stop GGR) giving him full use of his safety GPS and sat phone to organise the stopover logistics.
Ian is safe, in control and did not require assistance. The ‘Code Orange’ which alerts the Chilean Rescue Coordination Centre of a difficult situation, was cancelled on 22/03 at 2200 UTC.
With Ian rounding Cape Horn in Chichester Class, there are a few significant changes in the fleet. First, all the GGR fleet is in the Atlantic, stretching 3,700 miles between the Tierra del Fuego at 56°S and the leader at 04°S. Secondly, there are now 3 sailors in Chichester Class: Simon, Jeremy and Ian, and only 3 sailors contending for the GGR trophy: Kirsten, Abhilash and Cpt. Gugg!
Despite the recent concerns about Ian’s safety, there certainly is a sense a relief in the Race Office after an eventful Southern Ocean experience, starting with Tapio Lethinen’s (FIN) rescue in late November and the various entrants knock-downs between the Pacific exclusion zone and the Horn, and a 2,000-mile detour to Chile for Simon Curwen. There has, however, been significantly less damage and loss of boats compared to the 2018 GGR. The new start date of September 4th from Les Sables d’Olonne, two months later than in 2018, put the sailors in the Southern Ocean two months later, experiencing fewer and less violent storms. The long list of retirements this time is mostly a result of personal and technical issues rather than storms.
Southern Atlantic philosophy
It’s not plain sailing in the Atlantic either, starting with Jeremy Bagshaw (ZAF) in Chichester Class who has been faithful to his gale record holder title of the GGR fleet! Although now on the right side of the South American continent at 45°S and 1,000 miles ahead, he has still shared most of Ian’s foul weather all week. He is ending his roaring 40’s experience with another strong gale of 40 knots gusting 55! He and Olleanna have been fantastic to watch since the OE32 became barnacle free in Hobart. He is certainly enjoying the ride as he shared in his weekly call.
The podium hopeful Michael ‘Gugg’ Guggenberger (AUT) is certainly delighted to be out of the forties. Now entering the horse latitudes, he has been in very variable conditions, alternating fresh wind this week with a full blow of nothingness in the past week. He was struggling with a high pressure hugging Nuri closely. Then he caught 280ltrs of water in a squall! But after 200 days at sea, Captain Gugg who has struggled with the isolation and weather conditions, found redemption in a new philosophy of life and is enjoying the little things. Possibly changing his whole outlook on life as he shared in his call last week, after several days idle which would have driven him nuts only a month ago.
Battle of the doldrums is raging at pace!
Up front, it’s getting really close! Who will be the first to cross the finish line in Les Sables d’Olonne? Who will win this incredibly disputed GGR 2022? Who will dare make a prediction on those questions? One thing for sure, it won’t be the team at the Race Office!
Kirsten and Abhilash have not talked on the HF radio for weeks and Kirsten, unaware of Abhilash’s position, is chasing an imaginary leader. She is quite despondent and thinks she has made too many mistakes which she shared on her weekly call.
In reality she has been leading for the last month! Abhilash Tomy (IND) knows Kirsten is in the lead but ignores where she is exactly. But make no mistake, he is racing! All is well on Bayanat, and Abhilash thoroughly enjoys his uneventful sailing as he shared in his weekly call. He is busy sailing, collected another 100 litres of water, topping all tanks on Bayanat, and finally has leisure time, namely French literature and a (long) tale of revenge: The Count of Monte-Cristo!
Both sailors now have equal weather information: Bayanat has no weather fax installed and Abhilash does not receive Peter Mott’s New Zealand HF weather forecast, while Kirsten recently stopped receiving faxes from Chile and Passage Guardians bulletins relays. Abhilash decided to sail the shorter course, relying on coastal traffic for weather information, while Kirsten is taking an option 550 miles to the east of him based on historical data.
Both boats were involved in the Tapio Lehtinen (FIN) rescue four months ago, and received time and/or fuel compensation to be calculated after docking in Les Sables d’Olonne. Abhilash was awarded a 12-hour compensation for diverting course before being relieved from the rescue effort by the GGR Crisis Management Team and MRCC Cape Town. However, he has lost some diesel through a leak and will be penalised 2 hours for any litre over the 25-litre allowance. Kirsten has been awarded a 35-hour compensation for her rescue and transfer aboard the M.V. Darya Gayatri and a 30-litre fuel allowance for engine use. Every litre of fuel consumed gives the entrant a 2 hour time penalty.
Cruising class rocking the boats in front
Cruising in Chichester Class, with no ranking of any sort, or fighting for any position, Simon Curwen (GBR) HOWDENS is still sailing very impressively. He had huge luck in the past week or more, with favourable weather but sails Clara like he is racing in the Fastnet! His route choices and the Biscay 36’s raw speed are impressive. Enjoying the eastern trade winds as he shared in his weekly call he has been consistently posting high averages, reducing the gap with Abhilash to 100 miles and 400 miles with Kirsten.
The 2018 GGR had one Chichester Class finisher, Marc Sinclair (AUS) a.k.a. Captain Coconut, who famously finished his circumnavigation two years later. In 2023 we now have three Chichester Class sailors and could well see a ‘cruising’ Chichester sailor contending for line honours in Les Sables d’Olonne!