On Wednesday (3rd August), the front runners in the GLOBE40 round the world yacht race reached the halfway point in this second leg having covered 3,600 miles since setting sail from Cape Verde on Sunday 17 July, which equates to an average speed of 9.1 knots for the top duos. Indeed, they now have 3,500 miles left to go until they reach the leg two finish in Port-Louis in Mauritius. The entire distance for this leg is the equivalent of two back-to-back Route du Rhum transatlantic races!
The first week of racing after leaving Mindelo involved a long sprint towards the African coast in search of a SE’ly trade wind, whilst the second section towards the South Atlantic consisted of a seemingly endless beat spanning nearly two weeks, with a brief but lively passage through the doldrums and across the equator. A fairly relaxed section of racetrack ensued with an average of around fifteen knots of breeze and balmy temperatures offshore of Brazil, together with a few little tactical pitfalls dotted along the course. For the past few days, the skippers have launched onto the third phase of this epic leg, having gradually gained some ground to the east to get around the Saint Helena High and make towards South Africa, which is still some 1,500 miles ahead of their bows.
Currently sailing downwind, the pace has accelerated across the fleet and the skippers have had to raise their game as they try to adapt their strategies to what is a complex situation, slinking along in a corridor of breeze between 2 windless zones of high pressure. Inevitably, the duos will be keen to make hay while the sun shines as the door at the end of the corridor may well be closed, leaving them to punch into headwinds with the threat of their first gale under the tip of South Africa.
The competition remains intense then with the fierce duel between MILAI Around The World and AMHAS continuing to rage, still just twenty miles or so separating the duos, which is precious little after 3,600 miles of racing. Astern of them, WHISKEY JACK and GRYPHON SOLO 2 are embroiled in an equally closely fought contest. In fact, their proximity, just 6 miles apart yesterday evening, meant that they were able to speak to one another via VHF. Meantime, SEC HAYAI remains in an intermediary position between the two groups, lying in wait for a favourable weather scenario, which would enable them to catch up with the head of the fleet again.
For the crews, the long days spent in T-shirts in the trade wind are over as the temperatures begin to plummet and the days become shorter. Everyone’s minds are now focused on the next major passage around the tip of South Africa. A key milestone in this race, it comes with some trepidation, even though it will be followed by a swift climb up towards Madagascar, Réunion and Mauritius. In theory, there is less of a risk in this final section of the course of encountering strong winds, but it may well prove complicated to negotiate given the multiple weather strategies required to hook onto the numerous and diverse systems.
There is still a long way to go in the very unique spirit of the event that has been created since Lorient, as race director Christophe Gaumont describes it to us:
« Halfway, almost 3 weeks…3 weeks monitoring the position reports, tweaking the polars, monitoring the grib files… the fundamentals that are par for the course!But also 3 weeks of sharing the adventure of the crews at sea, experiencing a similar temperature range, a mixture of the European heatwave and the trade wind of the southern hemisphere…Over time, the regulatory daily email has been fleshed out, going from a cryptic “All’s well aboard, nothing to report”, to longer sentences, proper exchanges to talk about technical complications firstly, then onto daily life… But also the ups and downs now, the doubts and the little pleasures of life aboard…
Time has passed, a sense of trust has been built up, and we are entering the moment of truth, with the approaching chill, the longer nights… and with the journey into the unknown as the lows roll in, the exchanges are becoming increasingly frequent…
It’s all about keeping in contact with land for some, keeping in contact with the sea for the rest of us. Still another half of the course to go before we hook up with one another again in Mauritius! ”