GSC – Difficulties for skippers tested to their limit

By Marco Nannini  / Global Solo Challenge

Week after week, the Global Solo Challenge is bringing stories of extraordinary human resilience in the face of adversity, ingenuity in resolving problems, images of huge waves and tales of incredible storms and whilst some competitors are sailing against the clock thinking about their ranking others have far more serious problems to deal with.

Whilst we were writing the news that Ari Känsäkoski had safely made landfall in Durban after his 25 days and 1200 Nautical Miles Odyssey, other skippers were facing their own challenges.

Edouard De Keyser broken rudder

At around 1800 UTC on the 14th of January Edouard De Keyser on Solarwind called to inform that he had broken his starboard rudder whilst sailing in 20 knots of wind from the North East. Unable to sail in any meaningful direction on his only remaining port rudder, he was forced to stop the boat at sea by heaving-to, using two sails set on opposite tacks to drift slowly and wait for favourable winds. The forecast was indicating that by the following evening a cold front would have reached him bringing south westerly winds, more than he really needed to make progress towards a safe port. On the 15th evening he was hit by 30-35 knots of winds which allowed him to start sailing in the general direction of Kangaroo Island in front of St Vincent Gulf, Adelaide.

JRCC Australia was immediately informed of the situation and the boat’s tracker update frequency was increased to give everyone the chance to monitor Edouard’s progress and be promptly able to react if the situation deteriorated, becoming a potentially dangerous situation to the skipper or vessel.

At the time of the incident Edouard was about 500 Nautical Miles southwest of the nearest land in an area with no commercial traffic and only the occasional passing of high seas fishing boats. This brings us back to the refuelling operation by Japanese fishing vessel Tomi Maru No. 58 that gave Ari Kanskoski a fighting change and renewed hope to reach continental Africa safely in his ordeal. However, in Edouard’s case, a similar operation would have been of no use, not only because Edouard’s engine had broken irreparably just a few days prior, but especially as his inboard motor is electric! 

Edouard’s best option was quite simply that he should try to reach land by his own means, easier said than done with no engine, a broken rudder and issues that were likely to prevent him from using the autopilot. The wind was followed by increasingly big seas with waves that pumped up to 3-4 meters but, luckily, nicely aligned with the wind. Edouard remained extremely apprehensive and whilst using the autopilot to set course towards land he was worried that the broken rudder would cause significant damage to the boat and other rudder leaving him to drift helplessly. He had no choice but to disconnect and remove the broken rudder, he managed to achieve this and maintain the use of the autopilot which was a huge relief for Edouard who now could make steady progress toward safety whilst hoping that no further technical issue would impede his sailing.

The hours turned into days and despite several involuntary jibes and difficult situations Edouard made it through the worst of the weather which started to ease on the morning (evening for him) of the 18th. The residual swell is still significant but the overall situation is quickly improving and hopefully Edouard is out of the worst part of his journey.

With JRCC Australia on standby it was also time to plan Edouard’s arrival in Australia, Australian Border Control requires that a VISA is obtained prior to arrival and, aside from the Search and Rescue Station, plenty more authorities become involved with the unexpected arrival of a vessel in difficulty such as the South Australia Police and the Maritime National Centre, Australian Maritime Safety Authority, Customs, biosecurity and so on.

The latest weather update indicates that the wind will be veering to the north east making an approach to Adelaide an unwise choice, as Edouard would find himself sailing within the Gulf of St Vincent with no engine and unable to tack. Therefore, based on the forecast Edouard decided he will be sailing to Port Lincoln, which is both closer and easier to sail to, given the wind direction.

Under normal circumstances Volunteer Marine Rescue vessels only operate to a maximum distance of 30 Nautical Miles from the coast, so it’s important for Edouard to choose a course that takes him as close as possible to a safe port where he can receive assistance.

All the while, the sailors’ community has been put into action, including by fellow competitors such as Ronnie Simpson who’s been emailing his contacts. Additional help may become available for Edouard both before and after he reaches a safe port.

Louis Robein’s Energy problems

Edouard is not the only competitor facing difficulties as Louis Robein continues his difficult navigation towards Hobart, his struggles with energy problems after the loss of a hydrogenerator have caused him more than just a headache.

With only one remaining hydrogenerator he has been forced to spend a lot of time helming when on a tack where he can’t charge his batteries. His installation makes it impossible to move the hydro at every tack. When he was hit by a squally front with 40+ knots of wind and prohibitively cold air rising from Antarctica, he had to take turns helming and using the autopilot knowing he was discharging his batteries too deeply. When conditions improved he decided he’d try to have only one battery charging out of his bank of three so that he could get some juice into the battery even on the wrong tack when the hydrogenerator only occasionally dips in the water.


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