Cape Horn ahoy

Geronimo bags another record on her Jules Verne record attempt

Thursday February 20th 2003, Author: James Boyd, Location: Transoceanic
At 19:16:13GMT today, Geronimo rounded Cape Horn to set a new record time for the passage there from the Jules Verne start line off Ushant. The Cap Gemini and Schneider Electric-sponsored crew have improved by one and a half days on the time set by Bruno Peyron and his crew last year, despite a very difficult time in the Southern Ocean and the ever-present threat of icebergs.

The French 110ft trimaran has also suffered from low pressure areas tracking much further north than anticipated as well as the prospect of encounters with icebergs, which have prevented the crew from heading further south, thus extending the distance they have had to travel. The end result is that Geronimo travelled 350 sea miles further than Orange to reach the famous Chilean landmark.

In reaching the most famous seafaring landmark in a time of 40 days, 16 hours, 16 minutes, 09 seconds, she has added yet another record to the times she already set for the passages from the start to the Equator, the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Leeuwin, as well as the intermediate times to the Antimeridian (half way round the world) and the passage from the Equator to the Cape of Good Hope.

New record holders of the shortest passage to Cape Horn:
Geronimo - 40d, 16h, 16m, 9s
Orange - 42d 2h 52m
Sport Elec - 46d 16h 57m
Commodore Explorer - 53d 6h 42m

A remote rocky overcrop situated at the crossroads the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, Cape Horn is ravaged by storm force winds for 200 days every year. It was first discovered in 1616 when Dutch navigators Willem Schouten and Jacob Lemaire searched for, and found a westerly passage to the Moluccas, the legendary 'Spice Islands' or East Indies. They were followed by the great adventurers of the Pacific such as Cook, Bougainville, La Pérouse and so many others. It was then the turn of the clippers heading for the Californian and Australian gold rushes to round the Horn and be followed in their turn by the great steel sailing ships carrying wool and nitrates.

"The Jules Verne Trophy course is magnificent, and Cape Horn is by no means a deliverance," commented skipper Olivier de Kersauson. "Passing this rock is also a great moment in itself. We've been able to take care of the boat and the crew and we've just left a difficult southern passage in which the Indian and Pacific Oceans have both given us foul seas, with waves on our beam all the way and very poor potential for the boat to glide. We've had no choice but to sail a long way north to avoid violent low pressure areas, themselves much further north than is usual. It's therefore been impossible for us to go for a classic southerly route.

"As well as that, we've encountered ice at unusually high latitudes. This Southern Ocean was neither enjoyable nor emotionally moving, and far from beautiful thanks to the fog and drizzle. There was none of the magic and grandeur that so often compensates for the extreme cold and isolation. I remember making the same passage a few years ago just as winter was descending, and there was a great feeling of being in a completely different and very magical world. This time, the only magnificent experience has been the sailing.

"We've had to push Geronimo in conditions where she couldn't glide properly: there were no interesting moments. It was certainly an intellectual challenge, but emotionally we were robbed of the amazing beauty of the extreme south. Today, every member of Geronimo's crew is happy to be rounding the Horn, because we know that we're going back to the world of colour, skies, blue and stars. I've made this voyage six times in my life. If all six had been like that, I'd never have done it again.

"All the time, we've had to hold back for fear of damaging the boat. We've had very little opportunity to glide properly, which is pretty frustrating. Just imagine climbing to an 8000-metre peak, but when you get there, it's covered in fog and you can't even see the mountain. That's what it's been like for us. Despite the fact that we've been very quick, we've lost a day and a half of the advantage we had over Bruno Peyron's record. On the other hand, the boat is in good shape and I've always said that I would arrive at Cape Horn with a boat and a crew still capable of racing and facing up to the extraordinary range of weather conditions we will encounter between now and the time we arrive at Brest.

"Apart from a small dent to the aft end of one float caused by a wave, we've nothing serious to report. The boat and all her equipment is absolutely as it should be. We've also had no injuries despite several impressive impacts and other exciting moments. I have a truly formidable crew. Every one of them is a real seaman. Some come from the Merchant Navy and others from deep sea fishing, but they're all men of the sea and it hasn't taken long to turn them into really first-class racers. Manoeuvres are done very quickly and there hasn't been one mistake all the way. There hasn't been one misunderstanding despite the fatigue. There hasn't been one gennaker that hasn't been hoisted at top speed.

"On board Geronimo, the entire crew has shown an incredible level of resistance and control - it's been a real joy. We're leaving a world where innocence no longer seems to exist. Even at this time of year, the Southern Ocean has colossal reserves of violent wind. Rounding the Horn symbolises that this hard and violent episode is closed. Naturally, we've still got some hard blows to come, but it won't be all the time. As Didier Ragot said, once you round the Horn, you know you're not going to die and that whatever happens, you can cope", concluded Olivier de Kersauson.

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