In the Vendee Globe, Mike Golding is looking forward to his return to the 'Big South', the month long stretch through the Southern Ocean to Cape Horn, which forms such a key part of the Vendée. Golding, dubbed 'King of the South', for his speed and tenacity in the most inhospitable seas on the planet is only too aware of the dangers; he was dismasted in the Southern Ocean whilst leading the last edition of the Vendée Globe.
'Today I am just looking forward to feeling like I will have the bow pointing the right way and making fast miles. Of course I am aware of the dangers, especially after how the last race ended for me. The severe weather is inevitable and there is quite a bit of ice around so that is a bit of a worry.'
The Race Committee has put in place seven Ice Gates to ensure the competitors stay north of the worst of the ice flow, and before the race start the skippers received a detailed briefing from CLS, the organisation responsible for tracking and advising on the movement of the ice in the Southern Ocean.
'They [Race Committee] have moved the Ice Gate one degree North and seven degrees East which to me does not seem very much. But beyond that first waypoint there does not seem to be, at the moment, a big need to get South. The routing looks to run close to the rhumb line where it is all a question of getting the angles right. That is the important bit: you don’t want to be sailing downwind, you need to be in the best pressure at the best angle.'
Golding has tended to always profit in the south, earning him the moniker, 'King of the South'.
'[When in the Southern Ocean] I sail the boat the same, conservatively, but if we are going fast we go fast You just feel what the boat wants to do to a certain extent, but you’re not looking to make changes all the time. See what feels right and stick to it. I am conservative but I look at the patterns and rhythms and work with them, making the least changes.
'To be honest, that philosophy goes way back to the Global Challenge race, you are not looking to sail every shift or change in the breeze.
'But everyone down here is good, and Jean [Le Cam] beside me is a master of that as well. It is good to be close to him, he will soon let me know if I am slow! But I don’t want to get into a race with him, that’s not what matters. What matters is where you are at Cape Horn, getting back into the Atlantic. It would be nice to be in a similar situation.
'When in the Southern Ocean, you just don't think how long we will be down there. You take each day as it comes. 30 days or so is a long time, and we are entering a long way West. But you tend to just use the landmarks as the datum, Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin, New Zealand and Cape Horn. The stretch from New Zealand to Cape Horn is the longest but you are pretty much into the rhythm by then.'
Mike Golding's Boat Captain, Graham 'Gringo' Tourell gives us his appraisal of the weather systems Mike and the rest of the Vendée Globe fleet will be facing over the forthcoming seven days.
'The next 48 hours are going to be particularly nail-biting for all of us left ashore. Mike's decision to keep west is looking favourable and we expect to see the deficit with the leading duo reduce.
'Since my last update, there is a split up at the front of the fleet, with Armel Le Cléac'h (Banque Populaire) trying to cut some miles, which means Armel and Francois Gabart (Macif) are going in different directions. Their boats are identical so it will be interesting to see which strategy pays off.
Gamesa Boat Captain, Graham Tourell - 2012 Vendee Globe - Lloyd Images
'Looking at the rest of the fleet, it seems that the western bunch are more confident in their routing, with a less risky route taking the western side of the high because they should find themselves in established breeze earlier. The downside of this is that they sail more miles, but the upshot should be a net gain on the current leaders.
'By Wednesday evening (28 November), the coming 24 hours for Armel and Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) will be critical. Their decision to sail less miles could pay off, but it could slap them in the face. Potentially, they are facing a light, variable breeze before it establishes, whereas the rest of the field, who are further to the west, should find themselves in a steady north-westerly breeze, from 15-20 knots. This will then increase and become their passport to the South.
'So for Mike, the unstable breeze of the last 48 hours should be a distant memory as he focuses on, and looks forward to, heading into the Southern Ocean.
'The Southern Ocean has a fearful reputation, quite rightly so, which most people approach with apprehension and trepidation. And it is the same for Mike, but he has always been the fastest, or one of the fastest, and that is largely down to experience as he has been there so many times. But also he is very comfortable with his surroundings and the boat.
'The skippers will also now be starting to monitor ice flow and movements. The company responsible, CLS, advises the The Race Committee of satellite, commercial or survey shipping sightings of ice that have been reported and then track the flow, advising Race Committee on the positioning of the Ice Gates. This adds another dimension to the strategy for the skippers.
'Looking at the weather by the end of the week and into the weekend, it doesn't look as if there is any necessity to dive as far south as possible as there is an established corridor of breeze taking the skippers straight towards the first ice gate.
'It's been a tense race already and we haven't yet entered the Southern Ocean. So from ashore, we all keep everything crossed, for all the teams.'
Gamesa - 2012 Vendee Globe - Gamesa Sailing Team
Golding has put the frustrations of the recent protest, which was made against several IMOCA Open 60s allegedly breaching the race rules regarding the traffic separation systems off Cape Finisterre, behind him, but made the following points.
'First and foremost, I am known as a conservative sailor and totally respect the rules of the sea, and the rules of the racecourse. I would never endanger my boat, my life or someone else's just for tactical gain. Full stop.
'When I received notification of the protest, my team contacted the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) Madrid/Finisterre, who oversee the coastal stations that monitor the TSS (Traffic Separation Scheme) around Spain. The MRCC confirmed that at no point was any violation recorded, and had there been an incident or transgression of IRPCAS (International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea), MRCC would have logged it and made contact directly with the boat (or shore team if the boat does not respond) and the vessel would have been reported.
'MRCC can, and regularly do, act firmly, with some very serious fines, in such cases. It turns out however that on 11 November when the Vendée Globe fleet passed under the scrutiny of AIS and HD Radar, whilst MRCC was aware of the race boats, not one was logged as being in breach of IRPCAS and no boat on boat incidents were noted by them.
'IRPCAS are rules that apply 'when vessels meet'. IRPCAS 10 refers to TSS zones and advises seafarers of how to cross or transit a TSS and what would be expected of a vessel in the event it meets another larger vessel actually using the scheme. The language used in IRPCAS 10 is, by and large, advisory and it is very clear that TSSs are navigable provided the vessel understands its obligations in the event that it meets with another vessel using the scheme.
'If it were not so - IRPCAs 10 could simply say that a TSS is an exclusion zone for vessels not using the TSS. The question was asked by a fellow skipper in the pre-race briefing if Finisterre TSS would be an exclusion zone, but the answer was simply given, 'abide by the Sailing Instructions'.
'I can’t speak for the other race boats but for Gamesa we clipped one corner of the zone whilst I was on deck and at the time there simply were no vessels in the vicinity on either AIS, radar or visually and I kept a listening watch on VHF Channel 16. Gamesa did not meet a vessel so IRPCAS quite simply cannot be and were not breached.
'The Jury, perhaps for good reason, would only take discussion via email, which as a solo skipper is very restrictive. With so much going on the racecourse and keeping an eye out for other traffic, it is difficult to allocate the time that is needed to deal with such a protest and appeal. And now each of the competitors has undertaken the penalty, I suppose we are seen as accepting culpability, but I don’t feel that is the case.
'My focus now is to look forward, and not back, and to concentrate on the rest of the Vendée Globe.'
Mike Golding website
Vendee Globe website
by Gamesa Sailing Team
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5:23 PM Wed 28 Nov 2012GMT
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