This week, in the dark of almost midnight, Jeanne Socrates, 70-year-old solo sailor extraordinaire, successfully rounded Cape Horn in her 38ft yacht Nereida in almost calm conditions and changed course to begin her crossing of the South Atlantic, at the very end of Day 78 of her third attempt at a nonstop, unassisted, solo circumnavigation.
Jeanne Socrates tracked route for her Cape Horn rounding
This, amazingly to we lesser sailors, marks the beginning of her third crossing of the Southern Ocean from S. America towards S. Africa and on towards Australia and New Zealand.
At the moment of rounding there was just the Pacific Seafarers' Net to tell, by radio on regular sched. 'I announced it to everyone on the Pacific Seafarers' Net, on the radio just then, who shared the excitement with me!! (Someone blew a trumpet!) ', she emailed soon after.
Almost unbelievably, it is precisely the same date as two years ago, when she first rounded Cape Horn - that time on her way to Ushuaia for repairs after a nasty knockdown had damaged her boat badly on 5th January 2011.
Jeanne rounded the always-dreaded Horn in glassy calm seas, very unlike the reputation of the waters at the world's most southerly cape. 'The wind had died away for most of the day - a calm which continued until just before dawn... the Southern Ocean is not renowned for no wind and flat seas - quite the opposite!!' wrote Jeanne.
In one respect Jeanne lucked in, owing to the fact that the Vendee Globe racers had rounded the Horn in front of her. Icebergs and smaller 'bergy bits' had caused quite a worry on this section of her journey and she told us she has been very grateful to have had the support of the Vendée Globe Race Management team who have kept her posted with the latest ice reports so she has known accurately where problems are likely.
One iceberg in particular looks to be right on her path in the Drake Passage 50 miles on after 'turning the corner' into the S. Atlantic. She says her aim now is to head NE as fast as possible to get away from the ice threat and also to a region of slightly less extreme weather conditions as she makes her way towards Africa.
Onboard gear problems have continued, but she has overcome most of them. Jeanne told Sail-World recent ones have included:
'A shroud came free when a fitting broke holding it to the deck - successfully dealt with in big seas - rig now fine;
'Iridium satellite phone is no longer working - not something I have been able to resolve, unfortunately, despite Iridium Tech Support's efforts to help me by SSB and email;
'Mast track insert came loose just above the boom - now held firmly in place but means I am no longer able to hoist the full mainsail in order not to compromise the remaining track;
'Autopilot went down - but turned into a simple 'fix' and was quickly dealt with;
'Line at inboard end of genoa pole came free from the car used to stow it on the mast track when a shackle disappeared- another trip up the mast was needed (although only to the first spreader this time!) and some ingenuity was required to sort that problem out, so the pole could be used and then stowed easily again.'
Nereida and Jeanne on the deck
One problem that arose recently was with her newly-acquired wind information. In December she had put a replacement wind transducer (anemometer) in place on the stern arch and working. She reports that the data is no longer being received on her instruments, after a short period of erratic display... Not easy to troubleshoot, so not yet something that has been sorted out - so she's back to sailing 'by the seat of her pants', judging the wind strength according to the traditional Beaufort Scale and dealing with her sails accordingly.
'Actually it's quite simple,' Jeanne told us in her typical low-key fashion, 'if we're heeling too much, it's time to reef down!'
Accurate direction is no problem in daylight -'I can read the ripples on the water to tell me the wind direction - not a problem! Having weather forecasts is pretty important. I download gribs and weatherfaxes, when available, on a regular basis and get other weather info.
'If I'm expecting a 'blow', I can sail defensively and if a typical, strong Southern Ocean Cold Front is expected to pass over, I gybe early..'
While on her way south, she has had the opportunity to double check that Nereida was prepared for the rough Southern Ocean conditions - having been there before, she knows what to expect and she's looking forward to completing her circumnavigation in May/June.
'In the meantime, it's been good to have emails (the Winlink team have been very supportive there) and also to be able to speak over the radio regularly to people - especially now that my satphone is no longer working.'
Jeanne's final words were for others, as she made a money-raising plea: 'Please show your support for my sailing in aid of my chosen charity by visiting http://www.justgiving.com/jeannesocrates to make a secure donation to Marie Curie Cancer Care in aid of their free home-nursing for the terminally ill - even the smallest of donations will be welcome! Thank you!'