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Sixty knot gusts, tears, OGR champagne and sea lion attacks!

by Ocean Globe Race 21 Oct 2023 16:20 PDT 21 October 2023
Pen Duick VI returns to Cape Town. The iconic yacht is recreating history having sailed in the 1973 Whitbread Round the World Race © OGR2023 / Rob Havill

It was a frantic 24 hours in the V&A Waterfront Marina, Cape Town, with three McIntyre Ocean Globe Race yachts crossing the finish line. A stunning Table Mountain vista welcomed the French Bermudan Ketch, Pen Duick VI FR (14), at 17:06 UTC Friday after 40 days at sea. The French yacht was second across the line having surrendered the lead they had held for 37 days to Spirit of Helsinki FI (71), who finished just 8 hours 56 minutes ahead of Pen Duick VI.

Pen Duick VI was considered a firm favourite to take line honours from the start with many fans surprised when their lead slipped. But skipper Marie Tabarly, daughter of French sailing icon Eric Tabarly who sailed Pen Duick VI in the 1973 Whitbread, stated that Leg 1 is just a warm-up before the Southern Ocean.

"Of course, I'm a bit disappointed we finished second, not first, but that's life. I don't regret anything because we had a good race. The boat responded very well, the crew were amazing and the tactics were good. I would not change anything. It was a perfect 40 days. The only difference is Spirit of Helsinki could see where we had a problem because nobody had a weather forecast, and knowing Pen Duick is slowing down and say 'we will go another way'. For us, we did not have anyone ahead, as we were ahead. I would have done the same if I was in Spirit of Helsinki's position."

Marie explained how important crew dynamics were to their success.

"The crew have bonded from the very beginning. We have a lot of fun, a lot of love and we joke a lot. We have a team of 21 and I'm looking forward to the new guys arriving. These are my warriors for the Southern Ocean. It will be a different mood."

She says that Pen Duick VI needs very little maintenance work and she was planning on taking a few days away from Cape Town to rest. But those plans have now dramatically changed after being attacked by a Cape Fur seal!

"I went to take Translated 9's lines as they were coming into the dock. There was a big seal lion at the end of the pontoon so I jumped above the seal but he grabbed my leg and I fell into the water. I got back on the pontoon, took the lines and then noticed I had a hole in my leg and I was bleeding everywhere. I now know why they're called sea lions," laughed Marie.

She'll be staying close to the hospital for checkups to ensure her injury doesn't become infected.

Translated 9 (IT) had a tough late-night arrival at the V&A Waterfront Marina in 60 knot gusts at 01:48 UTC after 40d 13h 48m at sea. But this did little to dampen the crew's ecstatic celebrations. The Swan 65, which sailed in the 1977 Whitbread, led the team to a provisional first-place IRC handicap ranking, the premier prize for any yacht race.

Co-skipper Marco Trombetti, who only started sailing four years ago, admitted everything is still new to him and of course exciting.

"We're so happy. The boat was perfect. We're seeing the results of the hard work we put in for two years. The boat, the crew - everything fine. And this is just the beginning of the adventure!"

Golden Globe sailor Simon Curwen, navigator on Translated 9, says that his navigational skills were just a small part of what makes Translated 9 such a success story.

"There was a huge amount of preparation on this boat. It's a classic boat, Clare Francis came 5th in the 1978 Whitbread - so it's a great boat, but it's been modified structurally a little bit - taking out a little bit of weight and also the sail plan has been really well thought out. And the guys know how to sail it fast. Yes, there's a bit to do with navigation, you can't get there without navigation but there's a lot more to it. We took some relatively conservative routes thinking big picture long-term rather than going for risky short-term maneuvers and we're really pleased to be in this position," said Simon.

Maiden UK (03) was the third yacht to arrive within 24 hours and also endured gusty 45kt head winds in Table Harbour Bay slowing their final approach to the finish line. The all-female crew who were ranked 2nd on IRC for the past five weeks lost that title just minutes before finally crossing the finish line. They slipped to a provisional 3rd place in IRC rankings after 41 days and 4hrs racing. Spirit of Helsinki moved up to 2nd place IRC.

It was a highly emotional arrival with fans of Maiden supporting the iconic yacht's crew, with a special focus on South African crew member, Vuyisile Jaca, sailing back to her native home.

Her brother Sandile, cousin Thabile, and members of the Sail Africa Youth Development Foundation where Vuyisile learned to sail had flown in from Durban to welcome her home. Sandile admitted that his younger sister was turning into a celebrity back in Durban.

"I'm so proud of her. I'm afraid of the sea and don't know how she does it. At home everyone has heard of her. When I see her I think I might faint," laughed her brother.

And clearly Vuyisile was overwhelmed with emotions upon seeing the support from fans of Maiden.

"It's just amazing to be here. And Heather, the skipper, gave me the helm when we were crossing the finish line. It was the best feeling ever," she said.

Maiden fans Leah and Isadora, both 13 years old, were on the pontoon to welcome in the tired crew, who'd had a tough final 24hrs sail in challenging conditions. They were presented with the 'Message of Hope Baton' which was carried on each leg of Maiden's world tour. Children from each country add their messages and hand the baton back to the crew to take to the next country - just like a relay. These messages will be turned into a 'Call to Action' - giving them a voice to tell the world what future they want for all children.

"The crew of Maiden must be very brave to sail out on the seas and get all the way from the UK to here. I think it's really cool," said Isadora.

And while the new arrivals shower, eat fresh salad and pizzas, drink a beer or eight and watch the rugby, there are still another 10 OGR yachts battling the winds and waves. Former Whitbread winner L'Esprit d'équipe FR (85) and Whitbread entrant Outlaw AU (08) look likely to be the next arrivals. But as history shows - fickle winds, tactical errors and luck, or lack of, means it's still anyone's game - well except for Explorer AU (28) and Godspeed USA (01) maybe!

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