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The relentless chase and the rising stars of the Global Solo Challenge

by Marco Nannini / Global Solo Challenge 12 Dec 2023 02:22 PST 12 December 2023
Ronnie Simpson - Shipyard Brewing - Drone shot Kerguelens - 2023 Global Solo Challenge © Ronnie Simpson

Every week at the Global Solo Challenge is a whirlwind of fast sailing, technical problems to overcome, frustration, isolation as well as achievements. A week of challenges for each of the 15 skippers still in the event.

The starting roster had a total of 20 entries of the nearly 60 that had initially registered for the event. A 2 in 3 attrition took place even before the starting gun. The latest to drop out of the entries list of the Global Solo Challenge are American skipper Curt Morlock on the ex-IMOCA "6 Lazy K", who was due to start on December 9, and the Turkish sailor Volkan Kaan Yemlihaoglu with his Open 70 "Black Betty", who was due to start January 6. Both fought teeth and nails to make the start but the financial demands of what would have been the two fastest boats in the fleet were felt hard by the two entrants until both had to come to terms with the impossibility to close the gap in funding needed to prepare their boats safely for this demanding event.

Speaking of older generation ex-IMOCAs such as Curt's "6 Lazy K", we love the idea of these older boats having a second life as they no longer take part in the race they were built for. The last time a fixed keel Open 60 took part in a Vendée Globe it was the year 2012 when Italian Alessandro di Benedetto campaigned his "adventure" entry on Team Plastique to take last of the only 11 finishing boats. Despite the high budget and high professional level of the majority of entries it is not until more recent editions of the Vendèe Globe, with standardised keels and masts, that the attrition rate was dramatically reduced. In fact after just 2 weeks of sailing in the 2012 edition, 7 of the 20 starters strong fleet had already dropped out for reasons ranging from dismasting, collisions, autopilot failure and canting keel problems with more forced to retire later.

We are therefore very pleased to see that of the 16 boats that started in the Global Solo Challenge, only one has formally retired. Two have stopped for repairs in Cape Town but managed to restart: Edouard de Keyser on Solarwind and Ari Känsäkoski on ZEROchallenge. One is currently stopped in Hobart assessing the situation, Dafydd Hughes on Bendigedig, who has already achieved the extraordinary feat of sailing halfway around the world in about 100 days on his S&S 34, the smallest and slowest boat in the fleet. This leaves the Global Solo Challenge with 14 sailors at sea: 11 in the Indian Ocean, 2 in the Southern Atlantic and only 1, Kevin Le Poidevin, still in the northern hemisphere. Kevin started a month late and has been far from lucky with the weather encountered so far resulting in slower than expected progress towards the south. We appreciate that the format of the GSC allows for technical stops (unlike the VG), but, considering this event is not reserved to top elite sailors and their huge budgets, we think this does not diminish the achievements or efforts put in by the skippers, especially as they all sail slower and smaller boats than the elite pros.

Philippe Delamare on Mowgli, after Dafydd Hughes stopped on Bendigedig in Hobart, has taken the overall lead on water and in estimated finish time rankings with a faultless navigation to date. Philippe has not reported any significant problems and has kept an amazingly regular pace, slowing down and sailing prudently in the worst part of each depression but never losing focus on finding an efficient route forward. His strength is in the amazing regularity of his progress worthy of an ultra-marathon runner who can find the pace and balance between speed and long term resistance. Unfortunately Philippe did lose use of his Starlink antenna after a knockdown in the South Atlantic that caused the antenna to be submerged under water and stop working, so we don't receive as much information as from other more vocal skippers. Philippe was anyway quite reserved to start with, or rather, he is out there enjoying his own circumnavigation and loves what he's doing, which truly comes through in his incredible seamanship. Many of his competitors in the event have confided their admiration for the regular and relentless pace of the French captain, especially after starting sailing in the roaring forties and encountering their first serious problems with equipment failure in the face of the harsh sailing conditions, which only make Philippe's performance so far even more remarkable.

This past week has been one of many challenges for the outstanding Cole Brauer whose performance in the Global Solo Challenge has been remarkable on the water as well as from a mediatic point of view, grabbing the attention of more than 100 thousand followers on her Instagram channel. After last week's broach and knock down caused by a breaking wave, Cole has had to deal with the constant reminder of that episode with pain at her ribs, causing her difficulty in moving around freely or even simply jumping out of her "bed" when action is required. Adding to the misery, the young American skipper has had to deal with a faulty rudder reference unit, the same piece of equipment that caused Dafydd Hughes to pull into Hobart. Luckily she has a spare sensor but there now is an inherent concern of what to do should this sensor fail too. Hopefully it will remain as just a concern. A wave of support has reached the talented revelation of this event whose determination and performance has been nothing short of inspiring.

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