This past week has been one post after another providing updates on the delicate and difficult descent for Cole Brauer, on her Class40 Number 54, First Light, towards the most legendary of capes, Cape Horn. After nearly 20,000 Nautical Miles and 3 months at sea the talented young American skipper is about to achieve a feat very few people ever accomplished. If she goes on to successfully finish the Global Solo Challenge, Cole Brauer will make the history books by becoming the first American female to ever complete a solo nonstop circumnavigation by the three Great Capes joining an elite of less than 200 humans that have achieved this – ever.
Even before reaching the end of this adventure she will join a special group of sailors that have had the honour of rounding Cape Horn by sail and will become a member of the International Association of Cape Horners. She will receive a congratulatory message from none less than Sir Robin Knox-Johnston himself, the first person to complete a solo nonstop circumnavigation in 1968-1969.
Cape Horn is often referred to as the Everest of the seas, to indicate how treacherous and difficult it is to successfully round Cape Horn by sail. In fact the number of people that have reached the summit of Mount Everest is about twice those that one way or another rounded cape horn during a circumnavigation, whether solo or with a crew, nonstop or in a journey involving stopovers. If we count just solo circumnavigators, there are 30 times more people that climbed mount everest than there are solo circumnavigators by the three great capes.
If this is still not enough to give you an idea of the scale of the achievement, there have in fact been approximately 3 times as many humans in space than solo circumnavigators by Cape Horn. At 29 years of age this trip is likely to become life changing for Cole in terms of everything that will follow.
Obviously we will have to wait till she reaches A Coruna before calling her a circumnavigator but I hope you all agree that this rounding, this milestone, is a moment she will never forget. She will also certainly feel that this badge of honour is fully earned, in the past week she’s had to weave her way through several difficult storms in an attempt to find the path of least resistance to reach the cape.
In fact, the rapid sequence of severe storms was so insidious that she had no option other than patiently time her moves in the South Pacific like a pawn on giant chess board swept by storms ready to take her out of the game, she had to skip turns by slowing down and letting some of the nasty winds blow by, then sneak forward, run downwind and all sort of tactics to keep herself in manageable conditions that would not jeopardize all the efforts to date.
This inevitably led to some precious time lost in her chase of the front runner Philippe Delamare, but she wisely accepted that she had to look at the bigger picture, and we couldn’t agree more as getting through and finishing will mean so much for her, breaking the boat and retiring would be a disastrous outcome. She has played her cards very well so far.
Philippe Delamare rounded Cape Horn on the 9th of January and whilst his approach towards Cape Horn appeared somewhat less dramatic in terms of the number and severity of storm in his path, we have to give it to Philippe that he pushed on and rounded the dreaded cape in heavy conditions, right when a cold front was sweeping by, and decided to press on without adding miles to his course. To this moment this has been the key factor to his voyage and what has made it possible for Philippe to preserve such a solid lead over his competitors. His sturdy aluminium boat is not capable of double digit surfs or speed records but has not encountered significant technical issues and has not had to deroute to avoid storms, something we have on the other hand seen as a recurring tactic used by the skippers of lighter and more delicate racing boats.
To give an example, Andrea Mura on Vento di Sardegna sailed for 2 consecutive days at record pace in the Global Solo Challenge, sailing first 313 nautical miles followed by a 322 nautical miles day run, which is equivalent to an average between 13.1 and 13.4 knots over the space of 48 hours. Cole has achieved a best 24h run of 286 miles, with a boat therefore capable of sustained double digit speeds. Philippe’s average so far stands at 7.3 knots and only in rare moments has he exceeded 8-9 knots downwind in his best days. However, Philippe retains the best ratio between miles sailed to theoretical miles having sailed hundreds and hundreds of miles less than most of his competitors, over 800 less than Cole, which, when sailing at 7.3 knots average, translates into several days of navigation saved.
The balance between speed and boat preservation has certainly been one of the most interesting aspects to consider in this event…
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