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The balance between speed and risks, a week of maturation in the Global Solo Challenge

by Marco Nannini / Global Solo Challenge 19 Dec 2023 02:54 PST 19 December 2023
Andrea Mura - Vento di Sardegna © Global Solo Challenge

We're in the week approaching Xmas at the Global Solo Challenge and the whole fleet seems to have found the rhythm and pace of the roaring forties.

The majority of boats progressed under gray skies and in cold weather in the vicinities of the Crozet and Kerguelens Islands. Philippe Delamare on the leading boat Mowgli, much further ahead, has just crossed the antimeridian, on the same day that the fastest boat in the fleet, Vento di Sardegna sailed by Andrea Mura, crossed the Greenwich Meridian.

Andrea's entry in the great south did not spare him a baptism of fire and when sailing south east of Tristan da Cunha the boat wiped out, followed by a breaker hitting Vento di Sardegna and pushing it to bear away causing an involuntary gybe. With the mainsail against the runners the boat was knocked down and pinned flat on the water until the Italian skipper could regain control of the situation and, fortunately, reported no damage.

The week had begun with the announcement of Dafydd Hughes' retirement from the event in Hobart who did not feel his Bendigedig in its current state was fully fit for the long stretch in the Pacific to Cape Horn. Dafydd had sailed an inspiring and impeccable journey which saw him stop in Hobart following primary autopilot issues. However, even if he were to repair the autopilot, concerns would remain for the remainder of the event as the budget had not allowed the skipper to install redundant and reliable backup steering systems leading to the considerate realisation that he had achieved what he had set out to achieve, and that he should not put himself and his family under the stress of 3 more months of sailing knowing a technical issue, especially in the remoteness of the Pacific, could spell disaster. Followers of his adventure from around the globe inundated him with messages of admiration and support, his witty blogs will certainly be missed.

On thursday Ronnie Simpson woke up to find that he had suffered significant mainsail damage which cast a long gloomy shadow on the American skipper's whole campaign. Plagued by a series of snags and problems Ronnie acknowledged that the mad rush to make the start meant he has not had the chance to prepare the boat as well as he would have liked to face the inevitable technical issues that can arise during a circumnavigation, including the need to carry out sail repairs. The weather stayed relatively manageable for the frustrated skipper, giving him a chance to take action and repair the two vertical rips on his most important sail. He had to cannibalise material cut from an old staysail and stitch and glue with sikaflex patches that will hopefully allow him to carry on sailing. He is considering a stop in Fremantle or Hobart, not just to make more permanent repairs to the sail but also to address other issues, like the total loss of the primary autopilot, before venturing into the long stretch of the Pacific. Ronnie has not yet finalised his plans. This past week was all about damage control, both in terms of preserving and repairing his sail, as well as trying to lose the least amount of miles to the boats ahead and behind.

The leaderboard is unchanged since last week, with Philippe Delamare on Mowgli holding skilfully onto his lead. The french skipper, who saw his sprayhood ripped clear off the deck by a breaking wave does not otherwise report any significant damage to his boat which he is sailing along the South Pacific ice limit. The safety of land is behind him until the south American continent. His strength so far has been in being able to take care of the boat without incurring in any technical problems that would cause him to slow down. Philippe has taken good care of his boat, finding a balance between speed and safety. He has already dealt with two major depressions one of which saw him sail in dantesque conditions in winds of 50 knots and huge 8 meter seas. Philippe took the time to applaud Dafydd Hughes' achievement up to his retirement, when Bendigedig was still leading overall on the water, and concurring with the decision of the Welsh skipper as to the need to sail a boat that is fully equipped to face the remote waters ahead.

Cole Brauer on First Light sailed a more conservative week compared to the previous one during which she had suffered a nasty wipe out and knockdown resulting in a bad bruise to her ribs. Even though she openly shared she was taking it a little easier for a couple of days to regroup and find the energy to carry on, she still managed to shave in excess of 300 miles from leading Philippe Delamare, the gap between the two boats has narrowed not just in absolute mileage, which is to be expected as Cole's is a faster boat, but also in relative terms, with Cole narrowing the expected arrival time gap calculated in days and hours.

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