'At 48° 45 South and 10° 19 East, I am an eyewitness to this infamous global warming. As far as I can remember, I’ve never seen ice so far North during this season.'
Whilst sailing abeam of the Cape of Good Hope, at the gateway to the Indian Ocean at 48 degrees South, Thomas Coville, chasing Francis Joyon and the round world solo sailing record, has just been through one of the most stressful nights of his sailing life.
Imagine Michael Schumacher hurtling along at 300 km/hour in the pitch black, all his headlights turned off, at the wheel of his Formula 1, and added to that, on terrain closer to Paris-Dakar than a tarmac circuit. All that to explain that at the point where we in Europe were tucked up under our duvets, the skipper of Sodeb’O had got out his dry suit and his survival kit, his stomach in knots, his throat dry and his eyes stinging through scanning the radar intently.
Thomas spent the night at over 25 knots amidst the icebergs with two obsessions: keeping his nerve and remaining lucid so as not to end up astride of an iceberg, whilst making as fast a headway as possible in order to stay ahead of this depression, which is enabling him to progress on flat seas.
'These cathedrals of ice, these temple keepers which remain on the blue planet, adrift of the Minquiers, I don’t know how to describe these great forms sculpted by the wind and the sea. Victor Hugo imagined them, I’ve actually seen these petrified tempests. I thought I’d got clear of them but the water temperature dropped off sharply at 5° then 4.9°, a sign of their proximity.
Out on deck and the atmosphere is icy. The apparent wind, created by the boat speed, increases the chill factor. Dawn turns everything white. I’ve uncovered the contours of the boat. The white foam from the gusts breaking on the water could be mistaken for a sheet of ice. I catch myself a little more with each of them. Far away, a more limpid mass emerges, just to my East. I hold my breath, another one? This is but the first rays of daylight, which are just coming out from under the clouds on the horizon. I manage to find the strength to smile. I'm going to rediscover my eyes for a few hours. Last night was one of the longest in my existence. I'll have to ensure I sleep a little before the next one...'
At midday Coville's trimaran Sodeb’O was sailing 140 miles from the Cape of Good Hope, which it is set to round between 1800 and 1930 hours UTC this evening. Thomas Coville currently has a lead of over 775 miles on Ellen MacArthur's record on B&Q Castorama, that is over 2 days and 5 hours, and a 1363 mile deficit on the Trimaran Idec. At the entrance to the Indian Ocean, Thomas is likely to have conceded a little over 2 days and 16 hours to Francis Joyon.
In the early morning, the winds had dropped off slightly as the trimaran was rounding to the South of a zone of high pressure. A new depression is set to propel them towards the Kerguelen Islands. Some 3,810 miles from the Cape of Good Hope, this second cape will mark the entry into the Pacific no man’s land.
Coville may be currently trailing Joyon, but 'It isn't over until it's over', so keep watching developments.