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Golden Globe Race - Day 173: Longest day in the Southern Ocean

by Barry Pickthall, Golden Globe Race 21 Dec 2018 19:40 GMT 21 December 2018
Mark Slats - still smiling © GGR

Today is the longest day of the year in the Southern Hemisphere so the sun has the largest declination to the south for all using a sextant to navigate. It also often marks a period of unsettled weather but all seems fine for the GGR fleet for now. The thoughts of skippers are towards Christmas mixed with their drive to the finish line back at Les Sables d'Olonne.

Third placed Uku Randmaa rounded Cape Horn at 04:00 UTC on Wednesday (19th Dec). The 55-year old Estonian, has been here once before during a previous circumnavigation in 2011/12, but the emotional sighting was just as great: His text messages said it all: IT IS UNBELIEVABLE THAT I CAN SEE THE HORN. I AM THANKFUL FOR MY GODS followed by: THANKS TO SIR ROBIN FOR THE FOOTSTEPS AND ST MAWES SC FOR THE CAKE!

He is of course referring to Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, winner of the first Sunday Times Golden Globe Race 50 years ago and to the 'Aunt Eileen' fruit cake that sustained Sir Robin that day, faithfully replicated by a Cornish baker and presented to each GGR skipper by members of the St Mawes Sailing Club in Cornwall for them to open at the Horn.

Uku and his Rustler 36 One and All were then becalmed for a period, but now taking full advantage of westerly reaching winds to pass to the East of the Falkland Islands, hoping perhaps to miss the worst of the headwinds that Mark Slats is experiencing. There is no settled weather pattern for the region at this time of the year so no right or wrong way to head north. One thing is for sure; after months of savage Southern Ocean conditions,Uku is enjoying the opportunity of lesser wind and lower swells.

His Christmas message is: MANY ASK WHAT I DO AT XMAS? I'M SAILING!...BUT A MERRY XMAS TO ALL GGR FANS FROM ONE AND ALL! I HAVE COQ AU VIN DE BERGERERAC. NO DECORATIONS...JUST HEADWIND

2,163 miles ahead, Mark Slats sailing the second Rustler 36 Ohpen Maverick, continues to surprise everyone with his sustained high speed to windward, regularly making 6 knots. The forecast shows continued headwinds for many days to come and in a text message yesterday, the Dutchman admitted: ALL GOOD. LIFE IS A LITTLE BORING HERE BEATING TO WINDWARD!

When you live at a constant angle of heal everything is hard to do: eating, sleeping and doing anything on a spray-soaked deck. He is also too busy trying to catch Van Den Heede to focus on Christmas, and during the stress of departure, he reported this week that he had forgotten to pack any of his presents!

Jean-Luc, sailing yet another Rustler 36 Matmut may be seeing Slats whittling away his lead bit by bit at, but knows that his wind angle gets better every day that he moves further north at 5-6 knots. He must be dreaming now about easing sheets and turning the corner around the South American bulge to benefit from the Caribbean trade winds. It has been hard work, especially with a damaged mast, but he is making good progress. His Christmas present will be seeing Matmut regain some of her lead lost to Ohpen Maverick since rounding Cape Horn, but whenever he looks up at his mast, he knows there is still a long way to the finish!

Jean-Luc's Xmas message to all his followers is: WISHING EVERYONE A MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR FOR 2019

4th placed American/Hungarian Istvan Kopar currently sits between two areas of heavy weather, one to the North, the other South. He survived his biggest storm so far yesterday, and now has his Tradewind 35 Puffin running East as fast as possible. He is very happy onboard now that he has collected rain water to drink and while he will be living the Southern Ocean life for another week or more (Puffin is currently 1,300 miles West of Cape Horn), Istvan is looking forward to Christmas, and hopefully will be celebrating the New Year in the Atlantic.

His Xmas message is: MERRY XMAS TO MY FRIENDS IN US, CANADA, HUNGARY, GERMANY, AUSTRIA, FRANCE AND AUSTRALIA. I HAVE NEVER BEEN WEALTHY, BUT RICH IN NUMBERS AND QUALITY OF FRIENDSHIPS.

In a safety call to Race HQ today, Istvan added: "No decorations, but I will be changing my underwear and having a shave on Christmas Day. I've also fixed my cassette player so will have some Xmas songs to drink a special desert wine with that I have onboard. It will be a very lonely Xmas... the hardest ever... I'll be thinking of family and missing them."

5th placed Finnish skipper Tapio Lehtinen sailing the Gaia 36 Asteria has pre-Xmas plans to clean barnacles from her hull without swimming. Instead of diving overboard and running a gauntlet between hungry sharks, he intended to try swinging out on the end of the spinnaker halyard, and using the boat hook with scraper attached, to walk along the hull like a rock climber. The weather maps show a near calm so we hope he is successful. Tapio wants to make Les Sables d'Olonne Agglomeration before April 22 - the GGR prize giving final party!

Tapio's Xmas message: MY RED NOSE IS THE DECORATION. SLICE OF SIR ROBIN'S FRUIT CAKE AND A SLUG OF JALLU,

Russian skipper Igor Zaretskiy returned to Moscow today for a health check. If all proves well, he will be back on his Endurance 35 Esmeralda within a week and restarting the GGR from Albany, Western Australia in the Chichester Class. If not, he has until 14th January to restart, or wait for the winter season in the Southern Ocean to pass and restart after November 14.

Explaining this restart announcement made by GGR organisers today, Don McIntyre, Race Chairman says: "It is important for safety and risk minimisation for us to know that Igor will round Cape Horn no later than the end of March when the winter storms in the Southern Ocean start to become prevalent. We have used the sailing progress set by Istvan Kopar from Cape Leeuwin and added an additional 3 days to calculate a total sailing time to the Horn of 78 days. Should Igor have an operation, then he will need to undergo another GGR medical and gain a release from his doctor that he is good to sail. We wish Igor well in the coming days and hope to see him back in the Race very soon."

Following our update on Gregor McGuckin's Biscay 36 Hanley Energy Endurance on Monday, two groups have expressed interest in salvaging the yacht currently drifting some 1,200 miles West of Fremantle. The main attraction it seems is the barrel of Glendalough 7-year-old 777 single malt Irish whiskey onboard. The recovery of his boat would also make a great Christmas present for Gregor too!

For the GGR team it is business as usual 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week and we will continue to post news as it happens on www.facebook.com/goldengloberace

On New Year's Day it will be exactly 6 months since the start of the Golden Globe Race from Les Sables d'Olonne so we will be saying cheers to our sponsor Champagne Mumm. And so too will our skippers. Two bottles were loaded aboard each yacht before the start, so even Mark Slats will have something to celebrate with!

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