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Golden Globe Race Day 213: Kirsten Neuschäfer out of doldrums and defending her lead

by Golden Globe Race 7 Apr 2023 12:24 BST 7 April 2023

In the northern hemisphere, it's been tense for Kirsten Neuschäfer (ZAF), in less wind than her runner-up for longer. Every time it looks like she's losing the lead, she finds the resources to grab some miles back, or clutch to the extra bit of wind to hold the lead.

At the back of the fleet, Ian Herbert-Jones (GBR) and Jeremy Bagshaw (ZAF) still experienced heavy weather, with another storm for Jeremy at 30 degrees South. The feat of the week goes to a retired GGR sailor, but nevertheless very much part of the GGR family. Guy Waites who rounded Cape Horn on the 3rd of April in rough conditions with winds ranging from 40 to 60 knots. He received a warm letter from his personal heroes at the International Cape Horners Association, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and Jean-Luc Van Den Heede. Congratulations Guy!

The week has been hard on Kirsten who has generally been in lighter weather for several weeks running, bleeding miles from her lead to Abhilash, falling from 300 miles last week to 50 today. Worse, the eastern option she chose, while closer to the finish has brought an in-and-out of the doldrums scenario with more frustrating light winds and psychological trauma. But yesterday she was in fresh winds, now on a higher route at speed towards Les Sables d'Olonne.

The contrast with Abhilash Tomy, Bayanat, is stunning. Choosing a closer route to Brazil, he had very narrow doldrums and found strong, consistent tradewinds earlier, allowing him to sail higher and faster for weeks. After several months of fixing/rebuilding equipment failures and rationing water to less than one litre a day, he is really enjoying the sailing, posting good speed, with time to relax and drinking plenty of fresh water as he shared in his call.

Unexpectedly, Abhilash called the Race Office yesterday to inform that one of his two EPIRBs activated inadvertently for a couple minutes, with the antenna not deployed. Two minutes later, the CROSS Antilles Guyane / MRCC Fort-de-France called Race Director Sébastien Delasnerie as he was drafting the incident report to advise them of the false alarm. After being informed of the situation on Bayanat, the CROSS then called Abhilash directly on his satellite phone for a SitRep and closed the case. It all went smoothly and the response from the Cross Antille Guyane to the EPIRB activation was instantaneous. The Race Office wishes to thank the team in Fort de France and all of the MRCC's along the route of the Golden Globe Race for looking after vessels worldwide, including the GGR yachts.

Tooth and nails

While sounding despondent on her last weekly call, Kirsten's resistance however is nothing short of spectacular, as she always seems to come back when her leadership seems lost. A few days ago, after 7 months and 27,000 miles, she played a wind shift at night for 8 hours, pointing straight to Les Sables d'Olonne and gaining precious miles over Abhilash. Yesterday, after losing 40 miles daily to Abhilash, she finally got fresh, steady trade winds bringing Minnehaha back up to speed, and pointing higher, somehow keeping Bayanat at bay. As the saying goes, it's not over till the fat lady sings!

It is unclear however how the arrival will pan out, but we know this: Kirsten received 35 hours time allowance and 30 litres of fuel for Tapio's rescue. Abhilash got a 12 hours time allowance for his early involvement in the same rescue, so that's 23 hours to Kirsten. Then there are fuel penalties to consider, with a 2-hour penalty for every litre of fuel used above 25 litres, and Abhilash had a fuel leak onboard. What we don't know is how much fuel he lost, and that may change everything.

While the Queen and the King of the GGR fleet battle it out, the Jester Simon Curwen (GBR) HOWDENS in Chichester Class on board Clara is playing his own cards in between them, pointing higher than any. He is in excellent spirits, looking after Clara's interior, building curtains to protect himself from the sun! But don't be fooled by the cruising stories he shares in his weekly call. He's still the fastest, now leading the fleet, but not the race.

On top of elusive winds, the Sargasso weed is impacting the fleet. While Robin Knox-Johnston found them at 24 degrees north latitude in 1968, the GGR leaders found them on the equator and the raft of weed was reported on CNN as now being bigger than the size of America! The Sargassum were first mentioned by Christopher Columbus during his 1492 voyage and created quite a panic as seaweed is normally a sign of close ground. He eventually recognised them for their own oceanic danger: stopping boats from moving in light winds! Learn more about them at the Sargasso Sea Commission. Bayanat can't get his wind pilot to operate in all the seaweed! Scientists suggest the massive sudden increase is due to global warming.

Southern adventures

South of the Equator, they have not yet seen the dreaded Sargasso seaweed, and are not the slowest of the bunch, starting with Michael Guggenberger (AUT) on Nuri Sardines. The Austrian sailor had a fantastic week in the trade winds, piling up miles while the leaders were struggling in the doldrums. Now he himself is entering the ITCZ (Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone) while the leaders are in the NE trade winds, tensioning the elastic again. Such is the game of ocean racing!

He is working very hard in the light weather, alternating light genoa, spinnaker or code zero and keeps Nuri Sardines moving well, while taking advantage of the current as per his contingency plan. He is hiding from the heat and taking seawater showers several times a day. The disco ball is back out and he is dawn dancing at the early hours of the morning to cheat the heat and stay fit. Feels like clubbing back in the day, he says in his weekly call!

At 25 degrees S, Jeremy Bagshaw (ZAF) in Chichester Class has weathered his biggest storm to date unscathed. He had to replace -yet another- plywood vane on the wind pilot, but Olleanna and her seasoned skipper have done well in dreadful weather. A usual understated tale shared by Jeremy in his weekly safety call, but he is certainly happy to head north in not enough wind than too much!

Ian Herbert Jones (GBR) in Chichester Class had his share of heavy northerlies, pushing him more east than he liked, but we know gentlemen don't sail to windward. He is especially happy to be out of the Furious 50s but had a most unusual experience in Southern Patagonia as he shared in his lengthy chat this week. One that might be the highlight of his round the world trip, even if it meant continuing in Chichester Class.

Those started with meeting Mark and Caroline on S/V Jonathan who are organising sailing adventures in remote places and came out of their way to meet and tow Puffin into a sheltered anchorage. More adventure ensued involving stunning scenery, anchor drift, stepping on land for the first time in months.

One more Cape Horner in the GGR Family!

Last but not least, Guy Waites (GBR) and Sagarmatha have rounded Cape Horn on the third of April, in winds ranging 40 to 60 knots and heavy seas. Guy, who arrived late in the season, is tired after weeks of foul weather in the Pacific but delighted with the achievement.

He received a letter from the International Cape Horners Association to congratulate him on his rounding, as did all GGR entrants.

"The International Association of Cape Horners, the President Robin Knox-Johnston, the Vice President Jean-Luc Van Den Heede congratulate you on rounding the Horn on Sagarmatha. A great achievement even though you are no longer part of the GGR Race. We wish you well on the home run to Les Sables d'Olonne." Ashley Manton, Chairman of the IACH.

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