The latest week in the Global Solo Challenge has seen the majority of the skippers at sea confront, some for the first time, the relentless and dynamic Southern Ocean. As the fleet that has reached the South spreads from Tristan da Cunha to South of Australia, each skipper faces unique trials, embodying the spirit of solo sailing.
Cole Brauer: A Sweet Surge in the Rankings
On ‘First Light’, Cole Brauer shared a touching story of “the Good, the Bad and the Ugly” that have led to her participation in the Global Solo Challenge, now aiming to become the first female American sailor to sail solo non-stop around the world. Deemed to be too “small” during a “The Ocean Race” selection a year ago, Cole has put in an impressive performance so far, that saw her reclaim second place in the expected arrival virtual rankings as well as confirm she is standing “tall” in the challenges of the Southern Oceans. This extraordinary feat demonstrates the raw determination and skill required to take on the challenge to sail these unpredictable seas that make no “height” or indeed “gender” distinctions.
Philippe Delamare: A Journey of Ten Thousand Miles
Philippe Delamare on ‘Mowgli’ reached a significant milestone, having sailed 10,000 nautical miles. His journey through the Indian Ocean towards Cape Leeuwin is a testament to his meticulous preparations, impeccable navigation and boat conduct so far. With 15,000 miles still to go, including 8,000 in the harsh southern seas, Philippe’s voyage is far from over. Upon entering his first deep low of the South Atlantic he had suffered two knock-downs in following breaking cross-seas. Since then Philippe has taken a slightly more conservative approach to his navigation as he tries to keep the average speed up but without taking too many risks. His goal is to preserve the boat through the South and round Cape Horn leaving the route back to A Coruna in the Atlantic as the “final race” for position. He is extremely well placed, his first position in the ranks has been quite commanding so far, however Cole Brauer’s recent increase in daily mileage casts a shadow of doubt as to whether the margin Philippe has built so far will be sufficient to fend off the likely challenge by the young and determined American skipper. What is sure is that it’s too soon to tell, Cole has only just hit the fast sailing conditions of the South, whilst Philippe has “used up” a third of the 12,000 southern ocean highway and will inevitably slow down after Cape Horn whilst the rest of the fleet, and Cole in particular, can keep clocking fast days.
Dafydd Hughes: Two of Three Capes Ticked
First to start on August 26 and slowest boat on paper, Dafydd Hughes kept his 1971 designed Sparkman & Stephens Bendigedig marching on day after day like a little Duracell bunny. His challenge is only made bigger by the size and speed his boat can attain, as his expected circumnavigation is estimated to take around 200 days. The word “estimated” well placed as Dafydd has so far only very briefly stepped off the top three in the ranks and often exchanged positions with Cole Brauer for second place depending on the miles clocked by each of the two skippers.
The Growing Fleet and Their Varied Experiences
The fleet, now comprising fifteen sailors, each brings their own story to the vast expanse of the ocean. From Kevin Le Poidevin‘s recent departure to the experienced Andrea Mura on ‘Vento di Sardegna’, the range of skills and strategies on display is as varied as the ocean itself. Kevin was forced to delay his departure by nearly a month, from 28th October to 24th November due to a back injury and some technical issues on the boat. He was very relieved and excited to finally be at sea taking on the Global Solo Challenge after many trials and tribulations making it to the start line with all the complications in managing a campaign between Australia and Europe.
Andrea Mura on the other hand took the start of the GSC right on the mark at 2pm local time on November 18th. After a first bumpy 100 miles Andrea has pointed the bow south and started recording some serious mileage on his vintage Open 50 Vento di Sardegna which had participated in the 2000 edition of the Vendée Globe. Having set off nearly three months after Dafydd Hughes on Bendigedig, the task of catching up with the rest of the fleet may appear very daunting. Andrea’s lifelong dedication to the sport and experience is starting to come through showing how fast he can actually go. In the first few days he was polling speeds that would place him at the back of the fleet on arrival but as soon as he hooked onto the trade winds his canting keel racing boat took off sailing pretty much alway above a 10 knots average. In a matter of days he has climbed the virtual ranking, “overtaking” most of the fleet to claim 5th place, after the other older fixed keel Open 50 in the event, Ronnie Simpson’s Shipyard brewing, which has steadily held onto 4th place and even traded 3rd place at some stages. As he enters the southern atlantic his averages are increasing again and he could consolidate his 4th place as well as challenge once more Bendigedig’s 3rd.
The Gateway to the Southern Ocean is filled with challenges
Reaching the autobahn of the south can sometimes be easier said than done. Many boats in the fleet have been experiencing on-off winds transitioning from the South Atlantic south easterly trade winds to the latitudes influenced by low pressure systems of the South. On their descent of the Atlantic, boats had to negotiate the St Helena High, then they were met with large expanses of windless ocean around the so called “Horses Latitudes”, a name given to waters around 20 and 30 degrees of latitude where light winds forced British ships sailing the oceans in the clipper era to literally have to dump their horses at sea to save on drinking water. Whilst some were affected more than others, the group composed by William MacBrien, Riccardo Tosetto, Francois Gouin and David Linger are unlikely to be able to keep ahead of a high pressure system moving their way, which could cause a significant separation with the boats ahead sailed by Ari Känsäkoski, Pavlin Nadvorni, Cole Brauer and Ronnie Simpson. The latter, however, will have to keep his foot on the gas to avoid being swallowed by the high pressure. Those behind will just have to accept the situation and wait for the winds to fill in again.
David Linger in a video message where he looked tired and possibly a little emotional too he explained how the prior night he had passed a kidney stone, something that had happened to him before in life, but it’s a different story being at sea, days away from the nearest piece of land and solo. With the support of his partner and her mother he withstood the pain and started recovering. David is now sailing between Trinidade and Tristan da Cunha and is in good spirits after this unexpected challenge.
Adapting to the Southern Ocean’s Might
The Southern Ocean is notorious for its carousel of low pressure systems with skippers reaching higher latitudes reporting strong winds and their first taste of the formidable roaring conditions. These bring not only high speeds but also exhausting conditions, a mix of harsh weather, and significant navigational challenges. Except for Alessandro Tosetti, still sailing in the southeasterly trades and the duo of latest starters, Andrea Mura and Kevin Le Poidevin, all skippers had at least a first taste of the South Atlantic. Riccardo Tosetto was somewhat caught out by a very shift 120 degrees wind shift after the passage of a cold front, which caused some havoc on board as well as, potentially, the loss of the vertical wind sensor which appears to have stopped functioning, although Riccardo is still to run a full check on all of the connections. Those who have reached the south may have fond memories of the warm trades and easy days. Alessandro Tosetti on Aspra even managed a dip on a sunny windless day to check the status of the antifouling, something that would never cross the mind of anyone in the South!
Between Saturday and Sunday, Ari Känsäkoski’s tracker on ZEROchallenge stopped reporting his position. This can happen sometimes but is usually limited to one position report being skipped. The organisers checked in with Ari who was well, just dealing with the difficult seas of the low pressure he was negotiating. The tracker however didn’t seem to have liked the change of ambience and seems to have given up the ghost. Ari was asked to turn the spare secondary tracker on and the event tracking page was updated to report the position from the new unit. All was well on board, despite the testing conditions, however on Sunday the cold front dealt a heavy blow to ZEROchallenge with a sudden doubling in wind speed and a 50 knots squall. With some damage to equipment, Ari was forced to slow down and take stock of the situation and plan for repairs which hopefully he can carry out at sea.
Equipment preservation, emotional roller coasters and pitstops
Pavlin Nadvorni on Espresso Martini made it clear he had no intention to take any risks in his first proper South Atlantic blow and sailed very cautiously. However, in the early hours of Saturday he was awakened by the boat spinning out of control, his only remaining autopilot ram had broken, the second one on this trip. With breakers hitting the boat exposing its beam to the waves he was quick to deploy his drogue to keep the stern to the waves. A roller coaster of feelings crept in the cracks of his tiredness, frustration, despair, anger at the possibility of failure. Pavlin knew he had chosen the equipment, if it had failed he was blaming it on himself alone, for not checking, for not upsizing, for not carrying any more spares. He had already resigned to sail into Cape Town with the future of his circumnavigation much under doubt, after all he had broken two rams to that point and simply replacing with a new unit would have given no guarantees for the remainder of the South. A friend emailed him to suggest checking the brushes of the electric motor. Upon picking up the ram to have a look the moving rod and ball end of the drive fell on the floor. Pavlin was confused. He then proceeded to disassemble the drive piece after piece, the motor was in perfect condition, the drive mechanical parts were in perfect condition… the rod end seemed to have simply unscrewed itself. His hands were shaking as he reassembled the unit and crawled to the back of the boat while the boat was being tossed around. Would it work? He installed the unit, hit auto on the remote and as the ram started to work faultlessly Pavlin burst into tears. With the boat under pilot and on course again Pavlin slept, several times for several hours. When he woke up the boat was still on track towards the first of the three great capes as if he had just woken up from a bad dream.
Caution was also the leitmotif on Louis Robein’s Le Souffle de La Mer III. Louis opted to gain miles to the North ahead of the first serious low to avoid the worst of it. Meanwhile his boat journal is an intriguing sequence of DIY boat projects, fixing his hydrogenerators down to make them more sturdy and less prone to problems, moving one of the autopilot screens to a new position to deal with the fact that his remote control no longer works. He also had a joyful encounter with a whale, surfacing behind the boat a few times to breathe. Having crossed the Greenwich meridian and having dealt with the most important jobs on his list he was in good spirits and happy with how the first low had been tackled and how the boat had responded. Louis Robein celebrates his 70th birthday today! What an amazing place to be to celebrate such a milestone, sailing solo around the world.
The slightly more northerly route followed by Louis Robein to keep out of the thick of the low was also followed by Edouard de Keyser who was heading for Cape Town, a pit stop announced a while back to resolved issues with his autopilot and replace a broken watermaker, as well as other repairs. Stopping in the GSC is allowed, subject to a minimum 4 days time penalty. This is to ensure that skippers, for fear of disqualification as it would occur in other events, do not carry on sailing and take on unnecessary risks if they feel the boat needs repairs to carry on safely, especially in the South. Edouard has a time limit to be allowed to restart, December 18, this is to ensure he does not venture in the south too late as all boats stopping must still be capable of rounding cape horn by end of March 2024 where the end of the austral summer is likely to bring on more challenging conditions.
This week has been a vivid illustration of the Global Solo Challenge’s essence: a test of human endurance and ability to strike a balance between performance and boat preservation. Each skipper, with their unique strategy and determination, contributes to the rich tapestry of this extraordinary event.
As the challenge continues, the Southern Ocean waits with more trials and tribulations, ready to test the mettle of these remarkable sailors. Stay tuned for more updates from this thrilling adventure on the high seas.
To stay updated on the competitors’ positions, the tracker is available on the GSC website: https://globalsolochallenge.com/tracking/ or by downloading the “YB Races” app, which allows you to track positions from your phone.