As the leading three skippers of the 13 remaining on this Vendée Globe contemplate passing Cape Horn on the first days of 2013 they may well give thanks that the last month of 2012 has delivered relatively benign conditions in the ‘big south’.
Complacency is not often a failing which visits many solo sailors, but after a five week spell with no abandonments – since Vincent Riou on 26th November – it would be too easy for an outside observer to consider that a successful escape unscathed from the Pacific is a passport to a successful finish in Les Sables d’Olonne.
Recent editions of the Vendée Globe have seen at least one retirement in the Atlantic. In 2009 it was Roland Jourdain who lost his keel and had to retire in the Azores. Four years before, for Nick Moloney it was also keel damage which forced him to abandon, retiring into Brazil. In the last Barcelona World Race Dominique Wavre and Michèle Paret lost their mast on the return up the Atlantic in tough conditions off Argentina.
Ice at Diego Ramires Island
For the leaders there is an initial worry about ice at Cape Horn, but once they are into the South Atlantic there is predicted to be a succession of low pressure systems which can be as challenging as anything they have had in the Indian or the Pacific.
The ice threat for Armel Le Cléac’h and François Gabart is being very carefully monitored. Closest to their routing for their approach will be a 200 metres long, 100 metres high berg which is reported to be grounded beside Diego Ramirez island – some 50 miles SW of Cape Horn, which is reported to be releasing smaller growlers.
The iceberg is just one of five in the area, the others are more to the east and south of the current course.
“ I’m concerned about the ice in the Cape Horn area.” Race leader Armel Le Cléac’h admitted today to Vendée Globe LIVE, “ It’s a little unusual in that zone, but we’ll deal with it. It’s not fun to sail close to the coast in such conditions, with icebergs, but we’ll use the latest info given by Race Direction. François and I will be very careful and if we do see ice, we’ll let each other know. That’s another good thing about being so close. If you really want to be as safe as possible, the radar is not enough. We’re lucky because when you’re at 56° south, nights are very short and that helps when you are looking around, checking for icebergs. Except when there’s fog, of course!” Armel Le Cleác’h (Banque Populaire) was leading the race by eight miles this afternoon ahead of Francois Gabart with less than 800 miles to Cape Horn.
Stamm in the fog, one speed only.
The return of Bernard Stamm continues as the Swiss skipper chases down Arnaud Boissières on Akéna Verandas which is now around 50 miles ahead of Cheminées Poujoulat. Stamm has been second quickest of the fleet and spoke today to Vendée Globe LIVE for the first time since he made his technical stop off Dunedin, NZ.
Splitting thick fog at an average of 19 knots average, Stamm said he could only see 200 meters. But he confirmed that his two hydrogenerators are working well, restoring his power to well beyond the two hours he had left his batteries when he was on his technical stop. "I had no more than half a liter of fresh water left at one point. There, you can always call for help and throw in the towel." Tenacious Stamm managed to avoid doing that. After 50 days at sea, in 10th position he is clearly intent on staying in the race.
Javier ‘Bubi’ Sanso, skipper, Acciona 100% EcoPowered: “I am going fast, I have good winds. I am catching the guys in front. I am catching them very slowly, but I am catching. I think I will have some more miles to catch because of the front. It is a lot of work to keep the boat going fast, a lot changes to keep the boat balanced, constant trimming, constant ballast in, ballast out. It is full time, non stop job. I am trying to grab 40 minutes continuous sleep from time to time. I have many catnaps but I need to catch up. Maybe when the wind is more stable and from a better direction then I will be able to get some more sleep.
I feel good. I am 100% in terms of healthwise. Physically I feel very good, I feel like I have no problems. I am quite happy.
Actually I have to go a little bit more to the east down here so I can get a better wind angle for the gate when the wind goes more into the west. I will not be catching them so quickly but in 12 hours I will be going straight to the mark.
Honestly I have no jobs to do. Every day I check the whole boat, the hydraulics, everything seems to be OK. The radar is broken and so I am a little concerned about that. I will go back up the mast some time because it came off a bit during a previous storm and it was hanging by the cable. I managed to put it back but it could still be a stupid thing. I am really worried down here without a radar.”
Armel Le Cléac’h, FRA (Banque Populaire): “ It’s getting kinda cold, we gybed last night and we’re headed to Cape Horn. The sun is rising and it’s been a very short night. Things are fine on board and I can’t wait to round Cape Horn, probably around January 2nd in the very early morning. CLS is saying we might see ice there.
Whether François and I can actually see each other or not, we know we’re close and it’s reassuring, in case something happens. It’s good to know there’s a boat around that can come and help if needed, especially when you know it would take the rescue teams much longer to reach us. Having François around also make me even more motivated to work hard and make the bat sail fast and well. It’s a nice landmark, something that helps me see if I’m doing the right thing and having the right speed.
No, I won’t keep my beard after rounding Cape Horn, I’ll shave it. As soon as the temperature goes up a little, I’ll take care of it because it will become more unpleasant than really useful. But I won’t do it now, I’ll wait a little.
I’m concerned about the ice in the Cape Horn area. It’s a little unusual in that zone, but we’ll deal with it. It’s not fun to sail close to the coast in such conditions, with icebergs, but we’ll use the latest info given by the race direction. François and I will be very careful and if we do see ice, we’ll let each other know. That’s another good thing about being so close. If you really want to be as safe as possible, the radar is not enough. We’re lucky because when you’re 56° south, nights are very short and that helps when you look around, checking for iceberg. Except when there’s fog, of course!
I try to enjoy some nice moments on board, like having a meal or watching the daily clips of my Advent video calendar, made by my friends and family. Every day I have a different video from someone I love, they’re nice and funny videos. They may be short moments, but they’re heart warming.”
Bernard Stamm, SUI, Cheminées Poujoulat: “ Speed is fine but I have very little visibility. The wind is favourable, I’m surfing well. One of my hydrogenerators is charging just fine, but the other isn’t entirely in the water but with my current speed, it’s fine.
(About the protest against him) I’ve sent my report to the Jury. We need to let the jury work now. I’ve never asked for any assistance, all I did was done to secure the boat. I’m waiting for the jury to decide now. It’s complicated but I’m serene and confident.”“ I’m feeling good because I got some sleep and the wind was stable. I ate well and I can see the hydrogenerators are holding on fine, even though I hit something. But I lost my pedestal winch again, so it’s very frustrating because every manoeuvre is just like an extreme workout session.
I’m looking forward to being able to focus on sailing and not having to work on broken things and repairs. Every manoeuvre takes much longer than it should, I wish I could have more normal sailing conditions.
I have no choice but to go fast because that’s the only way I can charge my batteries and it makes my life simpler. I couldn’t imagine what was going to happen after two hours, I had only half a liter of water, and to make more, I had to move the boat myself. I’d rather have a tough storm in the south… Now I can have a longer-term vision..