Edouard De Keyser’s journey in the Global Solo Challenge has been one of trials and tribulations, of patience and determination, and indeed of technical issues. With the smallest boat still in the event, after the retirement in Hobart of Dafydd Hughes on Bendigedig, we must consider that the challenge is magnified for smaller boats for which the same seas and winds are more demanding and treacherous than for bigger boats.
Initial Incident and Decision to Heave-To (14th January)
On the 14th of January, Edouard De Keyser, while located south of Australia, encountered a critical challenge. He reported to the event organizers around 1800 UTC that the starboard rudder of Solarwind was damaged, rendering him unable to sail on a port tack or use his autopilot. Complicating matters, his engine had failed a few days prior. At that time, with a decreasing NE wind of about 20 knots, he could no longer head towards Hobart 650 Nautical Miles ahead of him, his intended destination. Facing an upcoming shift in wind to the SW and an increase to 30-35 knots due to an approaching cold front, Edouard decided against sailing NW on the other tack, as the weather evolution wouldn’t allow him to reach South West Australia. He opted to heave-to, a maneuver to stop the boat under sail, to rest and prepare for the challenge ahead. Despite the apprehension caused by the lack of autopilot and strong winds, Edouard did not feel in immediate danger and requested the organizers to inform JRCC Australia as a precaution.
Change in Wind Direction and Progress (15th January)
By approximately 14:30 UTC, an anticipated cold front reached Solarwind, allowing Edouard to steer towards Australia. He set a course almost directly north, moving towards busier shipping lanes 400 miles north of him where he could seek assistance if needed. With the wind not expected to increase beyond the current 30-35 knots and set to decrease gently within 24 hours, Edouard faced, however, challenging sea conditions. The biggest problem was that the autopilot appeared to be inoperable and he would have had to alternate long periods at the helm alternated by rests whilst stopping the boat.
Route Adjustment Towards Adelaide (15th January)
Edouard contacted the organizers to report a significant development: he managed to set a course for Adelaide using his autopilot. He left the broken starboard rudder support in place, a decision that made him apprehensive about the sustainability of this setup. Sailing in about 30 knots of wind and a 3-4m swell, Edouard covered over 100 Nautical Miles since the previous day. Positioned just under 400 miles from Kangaroo Island, south of Gulf St Vincent, he was progressively getting closer to more shipping and therefore options. Adelaide was a further 100 miles from Kangaroo Island, and the route to Port Lincoln was about 450 miles from his current position.
Removal of Broken Rudder components and Improved Conditions (16th January)
Edouard successfully removed the broken starboard rudder components while maintaining the use of the autopilot. This improved the situation significantly, as the broken rudder equipment posed a risk of causing further damage to the boat. With sustained winds of 25 knots and following seas, Solarwind’s autopilot and conservative sail plan allowed for reasonable sailing at around 5-6 knots. Edouard, who had communicated via satellite phone, seemed well-rested and in good spirits, given the circumstances. The current route was set towards Kangaroo Island and Adelaide, with the final destination still dependent on weather evolution.
The difficulty in avoiding damage at sea whilst sailing a small boat in big oceans is certainly one of the considerations that brought leading skipper Philippe Delamare to choose a robust and bigger aluminium boat. Foregoing the speed potential of light racing boats, he decided to opt for a boat that would be able to take on big seas and big winds without having to deroute to lighter conditions even if it meant he could not surf down the majestic south Atlantic, Indian and Pacific waves.
Whilst racing boats have shown us their great capabilities, often surfing at double digit speeds and covering much greater distances on a day or week basis, so far it is Philippe’s choice that seems to have paid off. He sailed the shortest extra distance compared to the theoretical route than any other competitor and this alone is worth many days in terms of mileage as going faster alone, but sailing many extra miles, only pays off when the speed differential is such to justify the choice.
Another aspect is indeed the ability of a sturdy aluminium boat to withstand heavy weather with a somewhat lesser risk of damage. Only on one occasion in the South Atlantic Philippe has decided to briefly slow down to avoid the worst of a storm that was rapidly crossing his path, but otherwise he’s just dealt with what came his way, a rather different approach to that of many other competitors who, in order to preserve their faster but inevitably more delicate boats, have had to often opt to slow down or deroute to avoid the heaviest storms. This is certainly the number one factor that has given Philippe the advantage he has today.
In the past weeks several light displacement boats were forced to take evasive action to stay out of the worst of the weather in their path. Andrea Mura on Vento di Sardegna, sailing on a 50ft light displacement canting keel Open50 has weaved a route that kept him on the edge of the roaring forty depression in areas of medium intensity winds which is where his boat can express the highest speeds and does not have to endure slamming conditions on waves at high speed. Andrea’s strategy has consistently seen him as the fastest boat in the fleet rising the ranks from last to 7th with the likely imminent overtaking of David Linger on Koloa Maoli that will have to concede 6th place on the water.
In terms of expected time of arrival (ETA) rankings we are witnessing a breathtaking duel between Andrea Mura and Ronnie Simpson on Shipyard Brewing who have repeatedly traded their ETA 3rd place. Ronnie will be dealing with some complex weather and a heavy storm in his approach to the Horn and has decided to slow down with boat preservation in mind. Meanwhile, however, the Italian skipper has some light winds to clear and may face some headwinds in the coming days leaving this duel completely open to any result.
Cole Brauer in second place has had to look at the bigger picture and knows that to finish first you first must finish, in her case several storms seem to have decided to test her patience and seamanship by creating a complex scenario where sailing too fast could lead her to being stuck in between two heavy storms with potentially nowhere to run for respite. A little frustrated by the developing scenario but fully aware of the risks she would otherwise face with her 40ft light displacement racing boat, Cole and her shore team have wisely opted to draw a route that will see her rounding Cape Horn just behind the second storm, rather than attempting to squeeze between the two that are forming on her route.
|Vento di Sardegna
|Kawan 3 – Unicancer
|Kevin Le Poidevin
|Le Souffle de la Mer III
|Édouard De Keyser