Velux 5 Oceans British skipper Chris Stanmore-Major reports on his approach to Cape Horn.
Its close now, both the Horn and the weather. Like hands being brought together in one almighty Clap! the land ahead and the low pressure behind, which has been chasing me down these past 48hrs, are finally drawing towards each other and Spartan will lie directly off the Horn at the moment of concussion.
Like actors waiting in the wings, these two elements have been kicking their heels waiting for their cue for a number of acts and now their time has come.
I am 200NM off the most dangerous part of our journey around the world and it is in the next 24hrs that this show's biggest scene will play out. But we are ready. For two days now I have been downloading the latest weather updates and playing out each variation and each time it has become clear what would happen.
There will be no surprises; we are ready for the worst. Spartan is in great shape - I have been from front to back on deck and below these past few days and if trouble comes it will be from some new as yet unidentified source not the old culprits. I even had the opportunity to unravel the latest A2 mess yesterday and get that recalcitrant heap of soaking wet Dacron back into its snuffer sock and ready for action - we are shipshape and Bristol fashion in every aspect.
All things being even we may yet make it to the Eastern side of the land mass and get off the shallow submarine plateau that creates most of the problems associated with Cape Horn, maybe even get far enough round that I get some lee under the Southerly tip of the Andes chain - but it will a close run thing and I am urging Spartan on to ever greater speed with every trick she has taught me these past three months. Apart from whipping her flanks as a steeple chase rider might persuade more from his tiring steed or getting out and pushing, there is little else to be done. Point for the corner and hope.
In the past six hours the wind speed has increased from a sedate 15kts to 25kts and with gusts hovering on 35kts. But as the next 24hrs plays out I am expecting 45kts on deck with upper atmosphere winds making their presence felt at sea level with gusts up to 70kts. For my part I am still quite relaxed - there is little point getting upset about the situation as worry, I understand, is just chewing gum for the mind. Instead I have begun to engage in the prudent sailors age-old mental gymnastics of playing the 'what if' game.
The basic principle is to pick any part of the boat at random and consider a total and unexpected failure. Then spend as much time as is necessary going through exactly what would be the most expedient response in each case and try to work through the steps of recovering the situation. The benefit of this game is that you may uncover weaknesses in the systems or procedures you are already employing and that you lay down in your mind multiple game plans for evolutions you may never have had to engage in before.
For example, what if I lose a rudder, what if a deck spreader snaps, what if the forward hatch cracks and I am suddenly shipping thousands of liters of water - you cannot press the bell and get off at the next stop - there must be a plan. This may sound like a pretty morbid game to get involved in at such a time, but as old wives are so quick to point out - 'stranger things have happened at sea' - which may be a point of comfort for those with two feet on Terra Firma but it stands as a telling prophecy of the nature of life at sea for those of us who went our way to work across shifting decks.
Whatever lies in store, whether it be a drumming or deliverance, one thing is certain - we are good for the fight. Derek is now 150NM ahead, Gutek only 30NM beyond him - so I am not going to let up one inch for what may or may not happen come the Horn but be sure though, as I search the Eastern horizon for the competition's topmasts, I am also casting a weather eye to the West and will as always ensure the safety of myself and my humble craft before I rip the bows off for a rosette. www.velux5oceans.com