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Global Solo Challenge: A brutal trial by fire debut for the late October starters

by Marco Nannini 7 Nov 2023 03:06 PST 7 November 2023
Sunrise on November 6th in the Global Solo Challenge © Riccardo Tosetto

The grand departure of October 29 saw 7 skippers set off from A Coruna to join those who had left in the prior weeks taking the total of boats at sea to 14.

It was a brutal trial by fire debut for the late October starters in the Global Solo Challenge had to deal with the anger of the North Atlantic in autumn. After unanimously opting to delay their start from the 28th to the 29th morning, they nonetheless set off upwind in a 5 meter swell and winds accelerating to 35 knots gusting 60 around Cape Finisterre.

The first 48 hours brought their share of trouble for this group. Alessandro Tosetti on Aspra faced an all systems down issue with his autopilot caused by problems with the data network. After attempting to resolve the issue at sea whilst hove to, he opted to sail to the port of Leixoes near Porto in Portugal. The problem with the instruments proved to be quite trivial, a problem with the wind sensor cable connection was corrupting the whole data network.

Alessandro was ready to set off again for his grand adventure but little did he know that the fluvial port of Leixoes has an area of sand banks at its exit which forces the local authorities to close off the port to navigation in bad weather. It was only on the morning of Monday 6th November that the port opened again causing Alessandro nearly a whole week lost.

The trial by fire did not spare the other skippers. Juan Merediz on Sorolla, suffered a multitude of problems, a broken mainsail halyard, issues with the hydraulic autopilot drive and issues with connecting to the satellite network to get up to date grib files. Juan headed for the first bay after the Cabo Sao Vicente, protected by the headland of Sagres, where he anchored and assessed the situation. Fatigue must have been a contributing factor to the problems when navigating in very difficult conditions.

In fact the first issue to be resolved was the satcoms connection: the wrong password had been used to login. The autopilot problems were more serious and in a jigsaw exercise of electronics and mechanics, out of two autopilots on board Sorolla, Juan managed to re-wire and re-build one functioning unit. In order to climb the mast and change the mainsail halyard the skipper sailed to the next bay which was even more protected from the swell. Once the cold front, echo of the distant storm Ciaran, passed through, Juan set off during the early hours of the 5th of November.

For 24 hours he was one of the fastest boats in the entire GSC fleet. Unfortunately on the morning of the 6th disaster struck again, new autopilot issues forced Juan to heave to again. At the time of writing we do not know if this is a final curtain on his 2023 GSC or just a temporary slow down for Sorolla.

Other boats suffered lesser problems and some skippers like Dave Linger on Koloa Maoli and Cole Brauer on First Light whilst not faced with technical issues, were challenged by severe sea sickness and dehydration.They are both well now!

The GSC fleet now stretches from Porto (Aspra) to as far as the Kerguelen Islands. Dafydd Hughes on Bendigedig has kept an amazing pace right on target for his expected performance and is the only boat to be sailing in the remoteness of the Indian Ocean nearly midway between Cape Good Hope and Cape Leeuwin. Dafydd's humorous updates and amazing performance have earned him a worldwide following.

In second place on the water, but effectively first in terms of expected time of arrival is Philippe Delamare on Mowgli. His impeccable navigation and relentless rhythm have earned him day after day some advantage on his theoretical finish time. For all boats this is the 15th of March. Dafydd and Philippe are the only two boats that are currently overperforming their target speeds. For the duo, the increased speeds achievable in following winds in the south make this possible, whilst the rest of the fleet has barely started or has not yet hooked onto stable following winds.

Speed and exciting downwind big waves surfing are every sailor's dream but they can come at a price. Whilst sailing just east of Tristan da Cunha, the cold front of the first proper southern ocean low swept over Mowgli, bringing confused and crossed seas. Two breaking waves laid Philippe Delamare's boat flat on its side. The skipper contacted the event organisers to inform all was well on board, no damage to vessel or injury to skipper. The Starlink antenna, however, mounted on top of the pushpit, was totally submerged during both knockdowns and is now unserviceable. Philippe had delighted us with some very funny videos including one gone viral of his soft toy monkey at the helm.

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