They had to take the long way to get there but French skipper Yann Guichard and his crew aboard the maxi trimaran Spindrift 2 have made it past the Cape of Good Hope – the first of the three great southern capes they will pass on their high-speed lap of the planet in search of a Jules Verne Trophy winning record time.
Guichard’s and his 11-man crew had hoped for suitable conditions to be able to “cut the corner” on the Saint Helena high pressure system – a huge persistent patch of light winds that blocks the direct route from the equator to the tip of South Africa.
Instead the team had to take a 700-mile detour around the weather system, plunging deep into the icy reaches of the South Atlantic, down to 43 degrees south before they could make a turn to the east to scorch past the longitude of Cape Agulhas (the southernmost tip of the African continent at 0240 UTC (0340 CET) on Tuesday January 29.
The French-flagged team’s time of 12 days, 14 hours, and 58 minutes to Cape Agulhas from when they began the record circumnavigation attempt in northern France, put them six hours and 43 minutes ahead of the virtual time from Jules Verne Trophy holders – Francis Joyon’s crew on the smaller but equally potent red maxi-trimaran, IDEC.
Cape Agulhas marks the boundary between the Atlantic and Indian oceans and both Guichard on board the boat sand his weather router back ashore are feeling good about the next phase of the passage to the remote, desolate and windswept Kerguelen Islands.
The team is hoping to be able to take advantage of a storm system spinning off from the island of Madagascar to the north to boost the speed of the monster multihull up to a 35-knot average for the next three days it is expected to take them to reach the tiny Kerguelen archipelago.
“The sun has been up for a couple of hours and we really know we’re in the Indian Ocean,” Guichard reported after passing Cape Agulhas. “We’ll be reaching 50 degrees south soon. The weather’s grey and the temperature of the water is two degrees centigrade.
“But with albatross at our side, it’s amazing! The conditions are on our side to help us reach Kerguelen quickly. We’ll leave the Kerguelen to the North as we’ll undoubtedly go down to 53 or 54 degrees south.
“However, we’ll also have icebergs ahead of us from Wednesday: we’ll need to keep watch on the radar and with our infrared glasses. It’s looking a bit tense – we should sail the length of the anticyclone while being powered along by the southern winds.
“It’s looking pretty good up to the Kerguelen, but after that, we’ll have several gybes to do which will slow us down a little. We should still get through the Indian Ocean quickly without wasting too much time and hope to get to the Pacific, south of Tasmania without too much delay.”
The further south around the bottom of the world that the crew pushes, the shorter distance they will have to sail. But with the threat of icebergs – even the smallest of which could do irreparable damage to the boat – increases as well with every tempting mile south.
Despite their lead over Joyon’s record breaking time the Spindrift 2 crew all know that their rival had an exceptional run across the Indian Ocean where he set a new benchmark record time of five days 21 hours and eight minutes.
To get some idea of the breakneck pace the crew has been sailing at so far, consider that their average speed over the almost 9,000 miles they have sailed since leaving France has been a remarkable 31.4 knots (36 miles per hour/58 kilometers per hour).
According to the team’s website, at 2000 UTC tonight – January 29 – Spindrift 2 was sailing at 23 knots with a 360-mile advantage over IDEC’s record breaking pace.