Celebrations and drama on the high seas at the Global Solo Challenge

©Andrea Mura

It’s been another fantastic week of sailing at the Global Solo Challenge, a week full of achievements for many skippers and drama for some. The relentless pace of the southern Atlantic and Indian Oceans has tried and tested the skippers mentally and put to the test the resistance of boats and equipment in the face of wind, waves, humidity, cold temperatures, squalls, and many other challenges. 

Of the 16 boats that started from A Coruna so far, 15 are still in the game, Juan Merediz on Sorolla is the only boat to have formally retired due to autopilot failure on November 6. Of these, all but one have crossed the equator leaving only Kevin Le Poidevin in the north hemisphere. Having started nearly a whole month late due to a back injury and some technical issues, the skipper of Roaring Forty has seen his determination and patience put to the test. Instead of finding fast sailing conditions on his approach to the Canaries, his Atlantic descent has first seen him unexpectedly beat his way south in unseasonal southwesterly winds. Then, just as he thought he had sailed past the area influenced by North Atlantic low pressure systems,  the Australian sailor stopped in his tracks in a massive ridge of windless high pressure, recording the lowest ever 24h mileage by any skipper in the Global Solo Challenge so far, 12 Nautical Miles, effectively just drifting, hardly something you’d be longing for with 25000 miles to go and whilst trying to catch up with the fleet ahead of you.

Kevin le Poidevin ©Philipp Hympendahl

 

Only two boats are still scheduled to set off from A Coruna. Curt Morlock with his ex-IMOCA 6 Lazy K was due to start on December 9, he will certainly not be able to make that date and is now looking at the feasibility of a late start within the timeframe allowed by the event. His determination and resolve are intact despite the grains of sand in his hourglass becoming fewer and fewer, he’s not intending to throw in the towel until the last grain has fallen. We wish Curt all the best in his attempt to remain in the event. Volkan Kaan Yemlihaoğlu skipper of the Open 70 Black Betty, not due to start until January 6, has had to come to terms with the lack of sponsorship or funding adequate to prepare a boat of that size. Therefore, he communicated to the organisers that he’ll be continuing with his preparations to be in a condition to take the start in 2027, having had the time to campaign the boat and adapt it for a solo circumnavigation.

Of the 16 starters, the latest boat to cross the equator was that of Andrea Mura, Vento di Sardegna, who staged a little ceremony with an encounter with Neptune, with a trident, crown, white beard, and all, that he dedicated to his two children, 3 and 5, who are following the adventures of their dad from home. Unlike Kevin Le Poidevin, Andrea had found excellent conditions on his way to the doldrums and has so far recorded the best 24h mileage with nearly 300 miles, the boat is likely to break his own 24h best repeatedly in the south when wind and waves will align. Vento di Sardegna is the fastest boat in the event, so it is to be expected. The relentless high pace kept by the Italian skipper had seen him very quickly climb the rankings in terms of expected finish time. The doldrums slowed him down until he negotiated a passage through the equatorial calms and resumed sailing at speed due south. 

©Alessandro Tosetti

 

Andrea was not the only one to be celebrating personal milestones this week. Ari Känsäkoski, Pavlin Nadvorni, Ronnie Simpson, Cole Brauer, William McBrien, and Riccardo Tosetto all sailed past the Greenwich Meridian where the longitudes switch from West to East until the Antimeridian, 180° degrees of longitude due east ahead of them in the Pacific Ocean. Soon to cross 0° longitude is David Linger, whose progress has been hampered by the influence of several southern Atlantic high pressures that have repeatedly slowed him down. 

Alessandro Tosetti who was forced to a 6-day stop in Portugal in the early stages of his circumnavigation is making good progress and is sailing between Trinidade and Tristan da Cunha in the area of transition between the southeast trade winds and the area of southern Atlantic low pressure systems. He does not hesitate to share his apprehension for his first time he’ll be navigating into the southern seas, but he firmly believes that fear is a friend and not an enemy as it will command prudence and seamanship for a safe passage ahead. 

Cole Brauer has since also rounded the first of the three major capes, Cape of Good Hope, and, at the time of writing, should be soon followed by Ronnie Simpson and Louis Robein. The young American skipper of the Class40 First Light has so far produced an excellent performance, having clocked the highest mileage over a given 7-day period, which is testament to her overall high speeds and high averages. Cole is now placed second in estimated time of arrival and third on the water behind boats that left A Coruna much earlier than her. She’s overtaken all other boats and, in particular, all those that left the week before her and all those in her group of starters on October 28. She’s certainly setting a demanding pace and giving Ronnie Simpson on his vintage Open 50 Shipyard Brewing a run for his money. 

©Ronnie Simpson

 

Ronnie Simpson can’t quite push his boat as much as he’d like, the age of the hull and equipment and lack of adequate funding have meant that not everything could be optimised to the standards of the ambitious and determined war veteran. This week Ronnie shared that he’s only just starting to come to terms with the fact that he can only press on whilst finding a reasonable balance between performance and boat preservation. All this whilst clearly raising the bar mile after mile and recording his own personal best 24h run on the morning of Monday December 4. Less than 300 miles separate Ronnie and Cole, the two American skippers have let the competitive element of the event come through, with the duo inevitably finding themselves defending position and chasing hard respectively in a round the world American match race. 

Further ahead in the fleet, Philippe Delamare on Mowgli still holds firm on his first place in the virtual rankings and second boat on the water. He left 4 weeks ahead of Cole and Ronnie and has kept the chasers at bay very effectively so far. Last week he had to contend with his first large and windy southern Indian Ocean low pressure system, which brought as much as 7-8 meter waves and constant winds of 30-40 knots with occasional squalls blowing into the low 50s. Philippe is a captain of very extensive experience and seems to have clear where is the place to push hard and when is the time to hold back and make sure the boat remains in top shape for the remainder of the trip. With all the technical challenges that skippers face at sea, it is clear that the number one reason for being slow is not sail trim or sail area, but breakages and equipment failure.

Louis Robein ©globalsolochallenge

 

Philippe has been sailing more cautiously than in the Atlantic, where the first low he encountered had had him face two unexpected knock-downs in cross seas, giving the brilliant French skipper food for thought on the subject of boat handling in heavy seas. This past week he celebrated the rounding of his second major cape, Cape Leeuwin. His eyes now will be set on the big prize much further ahead, Cape Horn.

Louis Robein on Le Souffle de La Mer III was at sea on his 70th birthday on November 27: what better way to spend such a milestone in life than by being out there achieving your dream! Leaving aside his navigation and seemingly endless DIY projects, he enjoyed the day talking to friends and family and eating a delicious meal accompanied by an exquisite bottle of wind brought for the occasion. 

Riccardo Tosetto received his birthday wishes from family and friends, who prepared a video message to dedicate to the Italian skipper, on December 1. His confident but cautious sailing is an excellent display of great seamanship by the young but very experienced Italian sailor whose number one priority is to bring home the circumnavigation, as he feels that retirement would leave him having wasted the entire project, with placement coming in as a secondary factor. 

Edouard de Keyser celebrated his birthday ashore on December 2. He is currently in Cape Town where he was forced to stop to effect some crucial repairs to his boat before carrying on in his quest to sail around the world. All work has been completed and Edouard on his trusty SolarWind is just waiting for a favourable weather window to leave Table Bay, an area notoriously battered by strong south easterly winds, not ideal if that is the direction you want to go.

©Riccardo Tosetto

 

Unlike many other events, where skippers are given a one-shot only opportunity to complete their circumnavigation and are either disqualified or moved to a separate ranking if they are forced to stop, the Global Solo Challenge acknowledges that many projects are self-funded or have limited resources and some technical issues may arise through no fault of the skipper, other than the lack of resources to start with all brand-new equipment. Therefore, the rules of the event aim to avoid unnecessary risk-taking by the skippers when they face any technical issue. Stopping for repairs is allowed, and only a time penalty is applied to keep it fair with regards to those skippers who do not need to stop. This should limit the possibility that a skipper insists on sailing, whilst faced with serious technical issues, to avoid being outright disqualified or taken off the rankings. Each participant knows that, if it comes to it, they can weigh safety and the time lost and choose, based on seamanship and not as mere competitors, whether to stop or sail on.

©Dafydd Hughes

 

One such example is that of