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Global Solo Challenge: Live to fight another day

by Marco Nannini / Global Solo Challenge 13 Feb 09:51 PST
Ronnie Simpson (Shipyard Brewing) mastless in the Global Solo Challenge © Ronnie Simspon

The skippers of the Global Solo Challenge have to endure months of navigation in the roaring forties and screaming fifties to reach Cape Horn.

After braving storms, technical difficulties, fatigue and cold temperatures, the legendary cape feels like the big prize for all the efforts each skipper has put into their project. It is a reward and a climax not just in their circumnavigation but in years of preparations, struggles to raise the necessary funds, work around the clock to be ready for the start, and many other challenges.

David Linger on Koloa Maoli, an early OCD Class40 with the same hull as Cole Brauer's First Light and Ari Kansakoski's ZEROchallenge, rounded Cape Horn yesterday February 12th at 13:30 UTC. The southern Pacific gave no discounts to the American sailors who had brilliantly conducted the event with an excellent balance between progress and boat preservation. His boat had been prepared impeccably by Maine Yacht Center and had always stood out for the meticulous attention to detail that was paid in making the boat ready for the Global Solo Challenge.

On February 8th, however, Dave experienced a severe knock down and whilst the boat was laid on its side for moments that feel like an eternity, the pressure of the water caused the boom to break in the middle. Additional stress cracking developed at the aft end of the custom carbon boom. Dave had little option other than to press on for his rounding with no place to shelter from the wind and waves. The skipper had to focus on keeping up the pace in order to round Cape Horn ahead of a storm forecast to bring treacherous conditions at the tip of the southern American continent.

Dave described the morning of his rounding and the spotting of land after the darkest of nights as one of the most beautiful moments in his voyage so far. He sailed within 2.5 miles of the Cabo de Hornos lighthouse and we hope to retrieve the photos taken by the guardian with his telescope. At the time of writing Koloa Maoli was motoring up the Beagle channel to reach Ushuaia where Dave has already made arrangements for a stopover to repair his boom and restart as soon as possible in the Global Solo Challenge.

Six skippers had rounded Cape Horn before David: Philippe Delamare on Mowgli, Cole Brauer on First Light, Ronnie Simpson on Shipyard Brewing, Andrea Mura on Vento di Sardegna, Francois Gouin on Kawan3 Unicancer and Riccardo Tosetto on Obportus. All of these skippers were hoping to be relieved from the harshness of the south Pacific and were longing for warmer temperatures and easier conditions. The rounding of the Horn however does not always bring hardship to an end and often proves to be only a psychological milestone in a circumnavigation.

Ronnie Simpson was acutely aware of this and on his rounding he said he was postponing any celebration until he managed to sail out of a very strong storm bringing 60 knots northerly winds soon after his rounding of the cape. He was very wary of the risk that such heavy winds, especially in the shallow waters between Argentina and the Falklands could pose to him and his boat. He took the most conservative of all options by sailing through the Strait of Le Maire and then patiently hugging the Argentinian coast to keep away from the building seas and heaviest winds. For days Ronnie lost a very considerable amount of miles to all other competitors and came to accept that it was unlikely that he could defend his third position in the fleet from the faster Open 50 Vento di Sardegna sailed by Andrea Mura (which set off from Coruna 3 weeks after Shipyard Brewing). His frustration was palpable as the South Atlantic Ocean appeared to be cruel with him.

The combat wounded American veteran had to overcome a very unpleasant experience. He was caught in a maze of kelp, a very long and strong type of algae very common in those waters, that wrapped so nastily around his keel that Ronnie had no option but to dive and cut through the weed. Ronnie lost half of one of his lungs during his war injury and the experience of diving in open waters must have been even more terrifying for him, However he had no option and managed to gather his strength and resolve to complete the task.

Soon after this unpleasant experience the eyes of all skippers in the South Atlantic turned again to monitoring a large low pressure system that had been displacing east. After the northerly winds that tested the patience Ronnie's seamanship, the westerly side of the low was building up to bring another 50-60 knots blast. Relatively speaking, this was less of a bad piece of news as at least this time the winds were going to be blowing from the south in the right direction.

The center of the storm was due to move east at the latitude of the Falklands and all opted for some evasive action to avoid the worst. So much so that when drawing the low and the course of the skippers it almost seemed they were avoiding a diabolic ball of fire. Francois Gouin sailed east-south-east to remain in waters that would not see the worst of building seas. By going east the French skipper would also be in deeper waters and giving the wind less fetch to build a dangerous sea. Riccardo Tosetto decided to time the arrival of the cold front and associated strong winds by sailing just north of the Falklands seeking some shelter at least from the waves.

As the cold front hit Riccardo he found himself in a stormy downpour and a menacing sky with winds blowing steadily between 50 and 60 knots, for hours, before dropping to a more manageable range. He had issues with one of his sails but pressed on at good speed to the north.

Andrea Mura had placed himself to the westerly edge of the low pressure which provided him with a nice stairway towards Uruguay. The Italian skipper of Vento di Sardegna was hard on the chase to reach Ronnie Simpson who was 600 miles ahead of him. After all the difficulties and delays the American skipper had faced, the distance was getting smaller and smaller. Andrea's intention was clearly that of gaining third place on the water behind Philippe Delamare and Cole Brauer at the expense of Ronnie who, as we described, was dealing with the frustration of his slow progress in an effort to preserve his boat.

Ronnie Simpson too was monitoring the developing storm. The southerly winds presented him with a different challenge compared to the other skipper. By being at the northerly edge of the area affected by the strongest winds, he was due to experience the worst of the building seas with 7-8 meters. The skipper of Shipyard brewing again opted for a conservative strategy, by reaching east to move away from the area that would see the most dangerous sea state.

At 0200 UTC on February 12th, whilst sailing with a heavily reduced sailplan, Ronnie Simpson and Shipyard Brewing lept of the crest of a wave and came to a stop crashing in the trough. Ronnie heard the noise of equipment hitting the deck and immediately knew he had lost his rig...

Continue reading on the GSC Website...

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