François Gouin expected thursday April 4th in A Coruña on Kawan3 Unicancer

François Gouin – Kawan3 Unicancer @GSC / Pep Portas

 

With 400 miles to go, French skipper François Gouin on Kawan3 Unicancer must certainly feel he has had to earn his arrival in A Coruña with his teeth and nails. After discovering a few weeks ago that the mainsail track on his mast was again getting detached he was forced to fix the sail permanently with three reefs, unable to lower it in storms or hoist in light airs. Since the equator Francois has had to accept the situation and make the most of the winds he was given and manage at best his sail plan and keep focused on the big prize of successfully completing the circumnavigation.

After an initial video in the heat of the equatorial calms where he looked dejected by the situation, François has since regained his mental fortitude and probably seeing that he was making progress he started to look up and regain morale. His concern was that the mainsail track would let go altogether and he’d be left with no mainsail at all, luckily so far this has not happened.

Forced to a conservative sail plan, last week François found plenty of wind south of the Azores to propel him closer and closer to the Iberian peninsula. Riccardo Tosetto arrived last saturday and the two had had a close race for the entire circumnavigation so the French skipper must have felt doubly disappointed when he knew he could no longer continue the match race with his Italian friend.

François Gouin – Kawan3 Unicancer @François Gouin

 

François is now enjoying good following winds and his arrival is now expected on Thursday April 4th in A Coruña. Family and friends will be gathering to see him arrive after just over 160 days at sea, probably a few more than initially planned, so much so that the skipper had to start paying attention to his provisions.

His boat, Kawan3 Unicancer, is a 2007 Pogo 40S, a proven Finot-Conq design built by the renowned Structures boatyard. As every skipper in the event he has had to deal with various issues on board. Very early in the event his engine became flooded by sea water and miraculously, our should I say with blood and tears, he managed to get it going again.

François’ mainsail track issues started to develop before Cape Town and the French surgeon had to use all his resources to find a fix. Initially he thought he would have no option other than to stop in the South African town where other competitors decided to pull into port for repairs. However, with patience, skill and using up all spare materials he had on board he managed to drill new holes for the few screws he had that would fit the purpose, and using all the epoxy adhesive he had he secured the mast track back in place and resumed his circumnavigation.

Mile after mile François gathered confidence that the issue had been permanently solved and Kawan3 Unicancer proved to be the reliable and trusty companion he had hoped for, so much so that his duel with Riccardo was set ablaze. The two skippers traded positions a few times. The French skipper overtook briefly the young Italian before New Zealand before dropping back behind him. By Cape Horn, however, different weather choices gave the captain of Kawan 3 Unicancer a 24 hours lead on rounding the third of the three Great Capes.

François Gouin – Kawan3 Unicancer @François Gouin

 

The South Atlantic proved to be tricky and complicated; the French and Italian skippers, both sailing on first generation Class40s with similar performance, took very different routes, first to deal with a severe storm by the Falklands and later to try and push their way north through tropical calms which played havoc with all routing choices. The west to east lateral separation between the two sailors reached over 800 miles, and whilst many were betting that the François would come on top after the tropics, Riccardo reached the Equator with a narrow lead. Games were far from over between the two, as despite being behind, the French skipper was to windward and could use this advantage in the NE trade winds.

The continued flogging of the sails in the tropical calms, however, was the final straw for Kawan3 Unicancer’s mainsail track which became damaged again despite having survived all of the roaring forties and screaming fifties storms. With no materials to attempt a further repair François had to secure the mainsail with three permanent reefs and accept his fate.

When we discussed the situation I tried to point out the positives given the circumstances, François was too far from making a meaningful stopover to make repairs without wasting a considerable amount of time and therefore his best option was to press on despite being unable to hoist his full mainsail. By doing so he will be able, on completion, to claim a solo and nonstop circumnavigation, becoming part of that elite we have repeatedly mentioned of less than 200 men and women that ever achieved this feat.

François Gouin, Archie Fairley (IACH) @globalsolochallenge

 

The winds north of the equator and south of the Azores were at times quite strong therefore making the reduced sail plan a lesser handicap than probably initially anticipated. Regardless, we are sure that François must be delighted to be in sight of the finish line having gathered more than one tale to tell, from being knock down in the Pacific to all sorts of other challenges.

The route to the finish appears to be clear, with a good forecast and downwind sailing conditions with hopefully no further test along the way for the french skipper from Pornic, not far from the round-the-world solo sailors mecca of Les Sables d’Olonne.

Some two thousand miles behind, American Skipper David Linger is in stable NE trade winds with little to distract him from his navigation towards the Azores high other than the frequent Sargasso weeds, which however he describes as a lot less difficult to deal with than the Falklands kelp. It’s a little early to make accurate previsions about David’s arrival, the Azore’s high does not seem to be forming an isolated centre to be sailed around, and David will more likely have to deal with an extended ridge. Once through this area of light winds like all skippers before him he can start his countdown to the finish once he hooks on to the first available east moving north atlantic weather system.  David should expect to reach A Coruña after  just over 2 more weeks at sea.

David Linger – Koloa Maoli @GSC / Pep Portas

 

In the South Pacific we have all been following with apprehension Louis Robein’s slow progress. WIth no autopilot and sailing in low temperatures, life on board must definitely be taking the toll on the almost superhuman french skipper who has, probably more than anyone else, pushed the limits his comfort zone.

Louis has closed in toward the South American continent and is now only 50 miles from the closest rocky outpost of Chile. Sailing between the latitudes of the Magellan Strait and the Beagle Channel, the French skipper must be acutely aware of the storm due to hit the area in just 24 hours first from the North then from the West. Although initially land may provide Louis with shelter from the northerly blow, once the wind turns to the west he will be by a lee shore hopefully still in a position to heave to drifting south towards Cape Horn before conditions improve so that he can continue to round the cape. Further south he could also opt to seek shelter through the Beagle Channel and there are secondary accesses to the Magellan Strait.

Louis must find shelter and calm waters to attempt repairing his autopilot which will require taking apart the motor of the linear drive, something he currently can’t do in the seastate and conditions he is facing: in his messages he reports that he is well and all else is fine on board but I can only imagine he’d be absolutely exhausted by now and he conceded he’ll have to consider his options after Cape Horn. The next few days will be intense for him but we are glad to know he is not as isolated as he was just a few days ago. Should things get complicated there are now more options for shelter and assistance.

Louis Robein – Le Souffle de la Mer III @globalsolochallenge

 

François must be feeling anxious and relieved that he will soon be able to embrace the warmth of family and friends. David needs a little more patience but seems to be well en route to completing his challenge. Certainly things have been more difficult for Louis and we hope his difficulties and days of sailing in difficult waters will soon be over, ideally as he finds a fix for his autopilot, or otherwise by finding shelter and regaining energy after an immense accomplishment in crossing half the Pacific Ocean with no self steering, something we can only look at in disbelief and in admiration for the fortitude he demonstrated.