by Emily Caroe
Vendee Globe 2012-13 skipper Mike Golding has 630 miles to make to Cape Horn this morning and is back up to 16 and 17 knots boat speeds now that the horrendous conditions he has had for the last 48 hours have finally eased. He can now contemplate a slightly smoother passage towards his sixth rounding of the Horn.
Mike Golding onboard Gamesa - 2012 Vendee Globe
'I have just taken the reef out and to be honest it was probably a bit early. We still have some wild conditions but the 40 knot squalls are gone. Conditions have steadied a bit, there are less and less squalls. The rain showers we had with the stronger winds are gone for the moment and we are getting back towards 100% of boat speed for longer now and so we are making good time towards the Horn,' Golding told his Team HQ in Southampton, England today.
'I am OK. I have had some sleep about an hour ago and now once the boat is settled, I will start to pack some sleep in as much as I can so that I am really alert for Cape Horn. It is going to be a long, stressful 24 hours and I want to be able to ensure I can maximise my visual watch. There is not much light at night, there is just a crescent moon and I don’t have radar so I will just have to keep my best visual watch that I can.
'So things are back to ‘normal’ . The seas have been horrendous. I have seen much worse [seas], but they have just been very confused. The slams have been bad from time to time and I have spent a lot of time trying to prevent the worst of it.
'The big slam last night was really… it was a real bone cruncher. You could almost hear the boat breaking. I was at the nav station and I nearly put my head through the computer screen! It wasn't particularly bad for me as I was sitting on the cantilevered bench, when a big slam happens it takes the punch out of it, so not so bad for me, but a bone cruncher for the boat.'
In the worst of the weather Golding lost his wind wand which gives wind direction information to the autopilot. Hence he had a period racing with the pilot only able to be set to a compass course rather than to a wind angle.
'I have switched over the wind wand and have another up top and up and running again. With one thing or another, I have had a fairly busy 24h. Long term, all these things are damaging you, but at the same time, you have to assume that everyone is having problems. You know if these things I have are the only damage, that’s fine by me. I’m sure that everyone has their problems and it is all evened out across the fleet.'
Looking back at the recent conditions Golding recalls, 'It has been pretty tough. In the Southern Ocean there is bad weather, but then there is BAD weather. The bad weather you don't mind is when you put in a reef, hunker down a bit, drink a coffee and wait for it to finish. This was not like that, one minute it is 23, next 38 knots. 50 degrees squalls, that is how the slams happen. It has just gone on and on. Thankfully it's now over.'
Mike has pulled back nearly 200 miles on Jean Le Cam and this morning is 230 miles behind his rival from Port La Fôret, Brittany.
'It is good to have got back at Jean. It would be good to get back on terms. He is on the same gybe now and so hopefully some of these gains will stick. There is still time to get him.'
And on the ongoing problems that skippers have had with hydrogenerators, Golding remarks ruefully, 'The theme of the race has been hydrogenerators. I think we have been beguiled into exchanging engine charging for them but as we have seen it is a riskier strategy. You have to think they are just not yet built to be hanging off the transom doing 20kts. When they are working it's great, but logically if you have something hanging in the water off the back of the boat at that speed, they will get damaged.'
Update - 7 January 2013 12:30 GMT: Vendée Globe Live interview with Mike Golding:
How was last night?
It was alright. The breeze sort of stabilised, the squalls stopped, I was able to start back on full sail now and start to be 100% plus velocity so that is good. We are making really good progress now towards Cape Horn.
I hear you are on quite a vigilant ice watch this morning?
Not so much now, but certainly as we approach the Horn, really a visual look out is the only one that is going to be of any value, which is fortunate as I don't have a radar!
I don't if you heard that Bernard has more problems with his hydrogenerators. We spoke to Javier yesterday, his solar powered solution means he has only used his hydrogenerators three times. I wondered if you thought we will we see more boats using solar power rather than hydrogenerators?
I think you will see more boats using a combination of systems. The solar power is very good, but we have a little bit of both, the panels I am using are the same make as the ones that are on Acciona and they are custom, but they are extremely expensive. Acciona will not be a cheap boat to equip such a large array of panels. For sure, it is a solution now. It is strange because solar power was good for a time, but the panels were very inefficient, but the panels we have now are extremely effective.
It is price versus weight. Are the solar panels light enough now?
Yes these ones are. They are light, but also extremely efficient. These ones are very very little weight. Our panel array weighs less than 2kg, it's nothing. They are delivering on a sunny day I am getting 20amps, it is quite extraordinary. Obviously it only works when the sun is out and when the sun is reasonably strong, or when it is very bright. It will work in overcast conditions but obviously less efficient, but the hydro works all the time, of course, and you get a bigger bang for your buck, so to speak. I think the hydro has a place, but I saw Bernard's interview on the quality on some of the parts available and I can't help but agree in part with what he is saying. I have felt the same frustration previously, not just hydropower, but with supplier parts which aren't just up to the job.
Have you had any problems with your hydrogenerators in this race?
Well, I can't tell a lie. Ours aren't working either! I have two very good hydro generators that are working extremely well, but the little box of tricks that does the conversion has fried itself. To be honest, it nearly caused a fire, I nearly had a fire onboard, so I wasn't that impressed with that. The irony is that I have two very effective hydrogeneators both fully attached to the boat, functioning correctly, but I can't use the power.
Do you have enough fuel onboard to get you to the end?
We hope so! I did load some fuel, we are assessing it now. We have been out for a while, but it is very difficult in the South to know how to manage the fuel because you need certain things. We have been running a sensible economy and we have probably lost the ability to generate with the hydro about three weeks ago.
You are quite an experienced boat manager, you have been in this game a long time. I imagine you have a good understanding how to balance your requirements.
Yes, but it is very difficult, it is not straight forward at all, you need certain things. To try and operate on the boat with next to no power is very, very difficult. Bernard is in a very difficult situation as his boat is low on power now, he is unable to generate power at all and he is just running on his batteries, I think he has a little bit of fuel and so can charge his batteries a little. It is a pretty scary thought and actually the story of this race has been people having problems with hydropower. The irony is previously in the past, people have had problems with power and now we have got more available systems that do actually work, but unfortunately the competitive side of us always wants to use the most efficient system from a weight perspective. We dithered on fuel a lot, on about how much to carry and luckily in the last analysis we loaded more. So with even that, it just depends on your usage. Even having done that, I am still not 100% sure.