Chileans round the Horn

Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz back into the Atlantic in the Portimão Global Ocean Race

Thursday March 19th 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
At 0050 GMT this morning, (19/03), Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz sailed into the history books on Desafio Cabo de Hornos when the Chilean duo rounded Cape Horn earlier today. Instantaneously, their offshore sailing CV has quadrupled in size. The first yacht in the Portimão Global Ocean Race to pass the cape; the first Chilean team to round Cape Horn in a race; the first modern, 40ft yacht to race around the bottom of the globe and the first Class 40 to take on the Southern Ocean and reach 56°S.

The overture to rounding of the world’s southernmost cape has been dramatic for Cubillos and Muñoz. At 1700 GMT yesterday (18/03), Desafio Cabo de Hornos passed three miles south of the Islas Ildelfonso: nine jagged, uninhabited and unlit stacks of rock at the western entrance to Drake Passage. Immediately, Cubillos fired off an email to the rest of the fleet: “Please take care of these rocks,” he warned. “They are north of our current position, but my impression is that they are a little bit south of the position marked on the chart and they’re unlit.” Three hours later, a Chilean Navy P-111 spotter plane buzzed Desafio Cabo de Hornos, quickly followed by a congratulatory call from the office of the Chilean President and greetings from Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme 85 miles astern in second place on Beluga Racer.

With the light beginning to fade at 56°S, Felipe Cubillos sent a final message before rounding the cape: “I have an important message to deliver,” he wrote. “Everyone can fulfil their dreams if they apply passion and determination. If you can overcome pessimism, self-doubt and triumph over the fear of failure, it is worth it as the prize at the end is immense. For me - and possibly many of you - it is our reason for living. Each of us has a personal Cape Horn: it’s a matter of locating this goal and then heading straight for it. In a few hours we will be at the cape and we can hoist our country’s flag and shout VIVA CHILE!” In the latest 0620 GMT position poll, Desafio Cabo de Hornos has hardened up since passing the cape and Cubillos and Muñoz are making just over nine knots, 60 miles south of the Le Maire Strait, the 16 mile wide channel of strong tides and confusing currents between Tierra del Fuego and Isla de Los Estados.

On Beluga Racer, 37 miles west of the cape at 0620 GMT today and 76 miles behind Desafio Cabo de Hornos, Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme have mixed emotions as they approach this crucial waypoint at the bottom of the world: “I am a bit sad to round the cape because that destroys the dream of challenging the Southern Ocean,” commented Herrmann late last night. “By passing the cape we have reached the summit, we have fulfilled that dream.” Averaging eight knots with a current ETA of 1030 GMT at the cape, the duo are just hours from German sailing celebrity. “I don’t want to leave the Southern Ocean behind us,” he continues. “It is cold, it is rough, but it is that intense sailing that makes me feel alive more than normal.” However, the duo will have company at the cape with Bouwe Bekking and his ten crew on the Volvo Ocean Race backmarker, Telefonica Blue, likely to pass Cape Horn around three hours after Beluga Racer.

While Herrmann and Oehme are experiencing between 10-20 knot breeze on their approach, the Chilean Centro Meteorológico de Megallanes and MRCC Punta Arenas have issued a severe weather warning for the area around the cape with highly unstable north to north-westerly blasts of 40-50 knots (Gale Force 9-10) and gusts of 70-80 knots. Further south, however, Force 6-7 is predicted and the event’s Race Director, Josh Hall, has cautioned the fleet: “Of course you are all free to navigate as you wish for your passage of the great cape,” he told the skippers last night. “But I just want to remind you that the big Southern Ocean swell and wave pattern that you have been experiencing turns very nasty in such conditions on the continental shelf around Cape Horn. Be prepared for a very short wave length and very high steep seas that are typical here. You may even wish to consider passing south of the shallow continental shelf area in the conditions that are coming.”

Currently due west of the cape, 60 miles off the continental shelf and 200 miles behind Beluga Racer, Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson on Team Mowgli have assessed the situation. “The forecast is showing 50-60 knots of wind over the next 24-36 hours,” confirmed Salvesen earlier this morning. “Just at the moment when we approach the most famous and probably the most treacherous stretch of water in the world. The sea bed rises from over 4,000 metres to less than 100 metres over about 100 miles and the result is that all those big Southern Ocean rollers we have been surfing down for the last few weeks build up into very short, steep waves.”

For the British duo, and solo sailor Michel Kleinjans on Roaring Forty, 112 miles west of Team Mowgli, the southern option looks attractive: “This is where racing stops and survival mode takes over,” says Salvesen. “We must concentrate on looking after each other and our boat in the knowledge that if we look after her, we know she will look after us.” Salvesen and Thomson have already decided on a strategy of safety which may take the British Class 40 closer to the Antarctic Peninsula. “We will be downsizing sail early and planning the safest, not necessarily the fastest, route,” explains Salvesen. “This may well mean us dipping much further south than we had intended in order to stay in slightly deeper waters.” However, both yachtsmen are ready for the challenge. “We have learnt so much about our beloved boat and of course about each other over the 20,000 miles sailed since the start of the race and with this experience behind us, we should be well prepared for what lies ahead. Bring on the Atlantic!”

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