Holding rank

As Around Alone competitors head north up the South Atlantic

Friday February 28th 2003, Author: Mary Ambler, Location: Transoceanic
After 20,000 miles of ocean racing for over 6 months around the world, surviving every physical and technical challenge in all conditions and oceans, the 11 strong Around Alone Open Class boats in both classes are now closing ranks as they race around Cape Horn and up the South Atlantic towards Salvador, Brazil. Both man and machine are battle weary, however these circumnavigators are still crunching out the numbers – both performance and points – in order to determine the podium positions going into the final leg to Newport, RI. Around Alone is now raced on points, which is proving to hold the excitement - and eventual outcome - of this eight month marathon sprint until the very end.

The dilemma for leg leader Thierry Dubois on Solidaires is the complex weather lying ahead. “The different weather sources I study are confused, and so am I! The way ahead is not blocked but full of pit holes to slow me up, which is normal for this transition area between the conflicting weather systems of the Southern Ocean and the South Atlantic High. I am just hoping those behind will also have the same problems. Right now my computer tells me the best route to Salvador is to cut across land, so I better go and ask Bernard how to best lift up the keel!”

The dilemma for current overall leader, Swiss skipper Bernard Stamm on Bobst Group-Armor Lux, is whether he can still end up with even a one point advantage over French skipper Thierry Dubois on Solidaires going into the last leg. To do this he must either take line honours or make sure he finishes ahead of 4th placed Emma Richards on Pindar inclusive of his 48hr penalty. “Emma and Simone could still come back on me pretty quickly, but I have my hands tied to do anything against their moves. My eyes are fixed on ‘Boisdu’ (Thierry). The rest of the leg is not that long and in pure boat speed it will be tough to reach him. It is all down to tactics from here.”

And saying that, Stamm has steadily eaten 50 miles into Dubois’ lead in the last 24hrs on a direct Northerly route from the Falklands in 25-30 knot northwesterly winds on the inside track. Emma is 479nm behind on the water, which is not a comfortable enough distance for Stamm right now. The British skipper has been able to rest a bit after rounding Cape Horn and hopes her Westerly option will also pay dividends: “This second half of the leg is going to be just as challenging as the first but in very different ways. The wind is forecast to come back to a good fast reaching angle within 6 hrs, which will be nice if it’s right!! Looking forward to the warm weather and less clothes…”

Currently third on the water, Italian skipper Simone Bianchetti on Tiscali is caught up in the middle of these numerical permutations and must not be forgotten. On the satellite phone today his voice was pumped up and he is clearly recovered from his ordeal through the Southern Ocean. “This is the sailor’s story; to come from dismasting at the early stages of the race, to now competing for third place on the podium. I am pushing my boat hard, the sails are nearly new and I am confident about my strategy for the last 2,000 miles.” Bianchetti and Richards could be going into Leg 5 on equal points, something Simone would not have contemplated 4 months ago.

American Bruce Schwab on Ocean Planet is pulling in to Port Stanley this afternoon in order to fix his boom, which incurs the 48hr penalty and drops him to last place again. But he is by no means out of the running and feels nonetheless rewarded to have seen how well his radical boat performs in a range of conditions and to have got round Cape Horn after 3 years of hard work. He also makes an interesting comment about this extreme end of the sport: “Ocean racing is like trying to box by mail as you rarely, if ever, see the competition aside from the little dots on the skipper's computer screens. Generally speaking, it IS more exciting than watching America’s Cup racing on TV right now…”

Representing the Kiwi nation in this race, Graham Dalton has quickly got back into the hunt after spending nearly a day sheltered in the archipelago just round from Cape Horn getting the carbon sleeve fixed onto Hexagon's boom with the help of his shore manager, despite his Solent ripping beyond repair in the process. “Pindar is my closest rival and in order to beat Emma, not only will I have to physically overtake her, but also because of my 48 hr penalty, I will need to arrive in Salvador at least 400 miles ahead of her. That is going to take a lot of sailing. I will need to think carefully about my tactics.” Already clocking up the fastest average boat speed of 13 knots and making gains to the West of the Falklands, Dalton has the boat to bring him through…

Class 2 skippers, from leader Brad van Liew on Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America to back marker Derek Hatfield on Spirit of Canada, are all pushing out impressive performances, the Open 40s consistently clocking over 200 mile days. These skippers are the real soldiers of the south for spending double time in the punishing conditions of the world’s roughest and most remote waters.

American Tim Kent – incidentally racing a 50 footer in the 50th parallel aged 50yrs old – expressed what all their dreams have been about: “Cape Horn is the Everest of Everest Horizontal, one of two summits of this mountain of a race. The other, of course, is the finish line. But it is Cape Horn that is the draw, the goal of every sailor in this event. Sailing solo across the Southern Ocean has been frightening, exhilarating, breathtakingly beautiful, and awe-inspiring. Crossing this storied ocean took a leap of faith in my own abilities and the safety of the boat that we have prepared. And we are almost to the gate out of here, into the Atlantic and the promise of home.”

Not one of these skippers has got cold feet – well not metaphorically speaking. Kojiro Shiraishi is turning into a natural improviser of equipment to repair parts of Spirit of yukoh along the way: “The remaining fins on the end of the wind indicator have gone flying off again from the top of the mast! Why! After risking all that to go to the top of the mast to re-fit it. I will wait until we are around the horn and then I will make some homemade fins and fit them then. This is going to be tough, especially if there is a big shift in direction the chance of a wild gybe is high.”

The Bermudan skipper Alan Paris on BTC Velocity and Canadian Derek Hatfield on Spirit of Canada have another week until they reach the Horn. Both boats are maintaining speeds of between 9 – 11 knots, making quicker work of the arduous 7,880 nm leg than expected. Hatfield describes the conditions: “A big sea swell is rolling by with waves up to 20 feet. Spirit of Canada is sailing along at 10-12 knots, and with the surfs, the boat goes up to 16 knots, with one reef in the mainsail and big jib. I feel I'm sailing the boat quite fast without pressing it too much.” He has only 125 miles to make up to Alan’s position, and the bets are on that they will round Cape Horn together. Paris concluded: “Here we are racing our hearts out in the Southern Ocean. How about that for two lucky guys having their dreams come true.”


Class 1
Boat Lat Lon AvgBsp AvgHeading DTF

1 Solidaires 42 49.190 S, 47 19.480 W, 96.44 nm, 12.06 kt 4 °T, 1857.36 nm,
2 Bobst Group-Armor Lux 44 16.570 S, 51 52.570 W, 99.42 nm, 12.42 kt, 15 °T, 2021.22 nm
3 Tiscali 46 57.140 S, 56 33.380 W, 85.67 nm, 10.70 kt, 40 °T, 2262.53 nm
4 Pindar 49 46.570 S, 60 49.400 W, 88.78 nm, 11.10 kt, 25 °T, 2500.61 nm
5 Ocean Planet 51 46.430 S, 57 44.430 W, 77.50 nm, 9.69 kt, 46 °T, 2527.44 nm
6 Hexagon 50 59.020 S, 62 09.700 W, 107.27 nm, 13.42 kt, 24 °T, 2588.98 nm

Class 2
Boat Lat Lon AvgBsp AvgHeading DTF
1 Tommy Hilfiger 53 23.280 S, 60 34.430 W, 85.65 nm, 10.71 kt, 52 °T, 2665.80 nm
2 Everest Horizontal 56 11.090 S, 81 34.310 W, 85.72 nm, 10.70 kt, 144 °T, 3424.55 nm
3 Spirit of yukoh 55 00.700 S, 86 51.280 W, 79.89 nm, 9.99 kt, 133 °T, 3612.70 nm
4 BTC Velocity 53 49.450 S, 100 06.190 W, 72.01 nm, 9.01 kt, 115 °T, 4075.62 nm
5 Spirit of Canada 53 59.590 S, 104 00.140 W, 72.31 nm, 9.03 kt, 120 °T, 4201.18 nm

Graham Dalton reports from on board Hexagon

Time to Make Up

Hexagon is barrelling along at 16 knots; we are making good progress and are now lying north of the Falkland Islands. I am happy with our speed, but we have a lot of time to make up.

After leaving my crew yesterday, I sailed through the straits of Lemaire, described by Jules Verne when he visited the area as ‘ terrible rocks, incessantly visited by hurricane and tempest.’ For once, Neptune, which is the strong current that flows through the straits, was on my side and it helped to propel Hexagon along the first part of the journey.

Richard and his team did an excellent job fixing Hexagon. Richard especially deserves a mention as he dove underneath the boat and removed the rope that was fouling the propeller. When he came out of the water, he could hardly speak as he was so cold, but we pointed out he must be one of the few people in the world who have been swimming off Cape Horn and told him to toughen up!

When I left the guys and started sailing again I encountered immediate problems with my sail arrangement. As I mentioned in the previous email, my Solent headsail was ripped in my approach to Cape Horn and is now unusable. I had to make do with using my staysail only at the front of the boat. The wind conditions dictated that I sailed Hexagon with two reefs, so I set the staysail and came up onto the wind. I found straight away that the boat was very unbalanced. The large amount of mainsail at the back of the boat was overpowering the small staysail at the front and Hexagon had an unmanageable amount of weather helm (this when the boat continuously tries to round into the wind), which meant that the autopilot was not physically able to steer the boat.

The two immediate solutions to this problem were to either use less mainsail, which would slow Hexagon down – not a good move when you are racing – or to put a larger sail up at the front which would mean Hexagon was completely overpowered for the conditions. Neither of these options were viable, so I had to think of another.

I decided to move the staysail further forward and fly it from one of the forestays; this alleviated the weather helm a little, but not enough for me to be comfortable. In addition, I set the storm jib from the inner forestay and this combination, of the two sails forward, seemed to balance the mainsail quite well. The sail plan is not as effective as flying the Solent, but is the best solution I have at the moment. As soon as the wind drops, I will have to be up on deck setting one of the larger headsails.

I have just had a nap and am thinking about food. I have not eaten since I set off yesterday and am in need of some proper sustenance. Claudio, the owner of the vessel that my crew chartered, was not only a great seaman, but also a fantastic cook and he made me a wonderful casserole whilst Hexagon was undergoing repairs. The thought of eating my onboard rations after his tasty fare has not been that appealing.

I am the furthest west out of all the class one competitors and am happy with this position. I will need to work very hard to make up time on the other boats, but in the last 24 hrs I have already started to gain. As we head further north the wind will start to ease and become less reliable. Anyone of us could park up with an area of no wind and the others will get away. Pindar is my closest rival and in order to beat Emma, not only will I have to physically overtake her, but also because of my 48 hr penalty, I will need to arrive in Salvador at least 400 miles ahead of her. That is going to take a lot of sailing. I will need to think carefully about my tactics. Following the rest of the fleet will not help me to get in front, however, I do not want to put myself out on too much of limb by taking a completely different route.

Last night there was 45 knots of wind. Only 25 had been predicted and this was a reminder that we are still not out of the harsh weather conditions. Over the next couple of days the wind will start to ease and hopefully by next week I will be able to shed some of my many layers of clothing.

The boom is holding out; I have decided not to worry about it. I am not cruising and if I am to try and make up my penalty hours Hexagon is going to have to be sailed fast. If the repair fails, well so be it. As I am writing, Hexagon’s speed is surging up to 18 knots. If we can keep this up, I am sure that we will see good gains over the next 24 hours.

Fair winds


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