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Global Solo Challenge: Cole's and Philippe's stormy duel

by Marco Nannini / Global Solo Challenge 11 Jan 06:52 PST 11 January 2024
Cole Brauer - First Light © Cole Brauer Ocean Racing

Two days ago the amazing Philippe Delamare rounded Cape Horn. He did so at night, in the midst of some typical nasty Drake passage weather, with winds blowing around 35-40 knots and with the passage of a squally cold front bound to have brought gusts well over 50 knots.

Philippe chose a course which prudently allowed him to gain miles towards the south so as to create more room between him and the Chilean lee shore. He gave himself the option to stay off the continental shelf altogether or decide, on his final approach, if he felt comfortable venturing into the shallower waters south of the Cabo de Hornos archipelago that can bring the infamous messy and dangerous seas that made Cape Horn so dreaded through history.

Philippe eventually chose to clip the corner of the protruding continental shelf whilst still giving a wide berth to Isla Cabo de Hornos passing around 15 Nautical Miles offshore. Since his rounding conditions have hardly improved and in fact a new severe storm was brewing just behind him meaning he has not been able to let his guard down quite yet. Two days ago I wrote suggesting Philippe may take a northerly course inside of the Falklands after la Isla de Los Estados, where certainly he would have found lighter winds and less swell. From a pure routing point of view, however, braving the oncoming storm would have taken the French skipper on a slingshot towards the north east keeping him in strong following winds for another 4 days which could make him cover very precious miles towards the finish line and allow him to fend off any possible attack to his leading position from the competitors still in the Pacific.

In fact, Cole Brauer on First Light, just as Philippe rounded the Horn seemed to have put her foot on the gas and started recording some impressive speeds which may have added to Philippe's pressure to ensure he did not waste the opportunity he had to cement his lead by enduring storm conditions for just a little longer.

The young American skipper kept her sight east and with a severe depression forming behind her we held our breath wondering if she'd just take it on or whether she'd try to avoid the worst of the gyrating red inferno. Her course held steady and it soon became clear that she was aiming to stay just north of the centre and bravely press on. In the space of just two days she gained over 200 miles on Philippe whose quietness seemed to be a sign of his need to concentrate on his route.

The scenario where Cole could find a motorway to the Horn whilst Philippe buckled in on a conservative course to the west of the Falklands seemed to be a very real and possible development. By the the 10th of January, the day following his rounding, Philippe's estimated time of arrival margin had shrunk to just over 9 days, which may still seem a lot, but Cole had 3000 miles ahead of her of open Pacific Ocean whilst the French skipper could clearly see that the days of fast sailing were numbered for him, and taking the easier option west would have certainly exposed him to the American skipper's attack. Further up the route to A Coruna, and especially in the transition towards the trade winds conditions can be difficult, near Brazil the trades rotate to the point of being unfavourable whilst sailing north and around the latitude of Rio de Janeiro conditions can be fickle and tricky. Avoiding headwinds often means sailing through areas of high pressure with light following winds, certainly not the favourite point of sail for a displacement boat such as Mowgli.

We had therefore two parallel situations developing, on the one side Philippe had to choose whether to endure another storm or play safe and go inshore of the Falklands, which in days to come would have certainly cost him a lot of precious time. On the other side of the Andean Mountain Range, Cole had her foot heavy on the gas and making some very serious gains. Yet, simultaneously she had to look at what lay ahead for her in terms of developing weather patterns. Was there a motorway to the Horn for her? Well, not quite, and the weather scenarios were still difficult to decipher. Without a crystal ball at hand, Cole and her shore team were certainly monitoring the first storm, which they decided to take full on without any course variations, as well as what was brewing in the Screaming Fifties pot.

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