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Rough Road Ahead As Teams Approach Cape Horn


  • Rough Road Ahead As Teams Approach Cape Horn

    Big conditions ahead on the way to Cape Horn

    The weather is forecast to provide one final taste of Southern Ocean conditions on the approach to Cape Horn.

    For 50 years of The Ocean Race, sailors have considered the Southern Ocean leg, the racing that takes place between Cape Town and Cape Horn, deep in the southern latitudes, as the biggest milestone in the event.

    Rounding Cape Horn marks the end of the southern conditions, where deep low pressure systems follow one after the other, unimpeded by land masses, the gale force winds building towering, fearsome seas. Icebergs are to the south and the leg culminates with a squeeze around Cape Horn, where the land juts as far as 56-degrees south latitude, funneling the winds and waves through a narrow passage firmly in the area sailors call the Furious 50s.

    At the end of this week, conditions are expected to live up that name.

    "The fleet is probably going into the toughest days of the race so far, with very aggressive weather between now and Cape Horn at the end of the weekend," said Race Director Phil Lawrence.

    "The wind is going to increase above 30 knots, gusting 40 knots, and we can expect 6 to 7 metre waves on Friday and Saturday," said Christian Dumard, the meteorologist for The Ocean Race.

    "I think we can expect the fleet will stay a little bit north of the ice exclusion zone to avoid the worst sea state as the wind gets even stronger."

    Dumard said that during the approach to Cape Horn on the weekend, the wind will be strong, 25 knots or so, before easing dramatically, and the sea state should moderate in turn.

    "Cape Horn is a massive benchmark in sailing for anyone who is passionate about offshore racing. It's the pinnacle," said Francesca Clapcich, a member of 11th Hour Racing Team crew who isn't on board for this leg, but was available for media on Thursday to reflect on her experience in the last race.

    "Last race, I remember, it was a mix of emotions. I was going around for the first time and coming from such a different sailing background - racing dinghies - I had barely ever dreamed about it...

    "You feel proud but also it's such a relief to be there with the boat and the people all in one piece. And then you turn to the north and the layers of clothes start to come off as it gets warmer and the weather gets nicer and of course you're doing it in a team environment so it is awesome as you have a chance to share it with everyone on board."

    On the race course, the competition is still very close, with Biotherm pushing about 40 miles to the south of Team Holcim-PRB and Team Malizia who are so close together they appear to be on top of each other on the race tracker. 11th Hour Racing Team has fallen off the pace ever so slightly on Thursday, now about 30 miles behind to the west.

    Biotherm, holding the lead at 1500 UTC, suffered a tear in their fractional headsail as skipper Paul Meilhat explained in a French interview: "We had two reefs and the FRO (fractional code zero). There was a steep wave and we had a serious nose-dive. When the boat came out of it, the sail was practically torn in two at the foot. We managed to roll it and put it back in the bag, and we then hoisted a smaller sail.

    "This was our first warning shot of this big low pressure system… I think it will be reparable in Itaja? but not now, we won’t be able to fix it at sea."

    This is unlikely to be the last of the drama in the next days - the approach to Cape Horn nearly always adds a final challenge - so stay tuned. The ETA is overnight Sunday night, into Monday morning UTC.

    11th Hour

    Holcim PRB



    There is some excitement and tension in the air at the moment. The wind is picking up and so is the sea state, as the fleet is approaching increasing winds this afternoon. There is a strong depression centred almost 1000nm to their south which starts to move east and they have just started feeling the effects of this weather system.

    by Holly Cova

    We see at the moment that Malizia and the other three boats have been switching between first and fourth over the last two days, with Malizia and Holcim PRB holding the lead over this period for the longest time. However, Malizia is currently 18 nm behind Holcim PRB who seem to have a better setup in VMG downwind, likely Malizia is missing the C0 they damaged early on in the race. With the increasing wind and waves (where Malizia performs the best) it is likely that we will be able to catch up soon.

    Rosalin Kuiper messaged to land saying: “I want the storm to come now, we can see it coming on the data and sometimes the anticipation is worse”. Skipper Boris Herrmann added in his podcast End of Watch


    Boris Herrmann

    The teams will likely all settle onto a starboard gybe by tomorrow morning (all time references in UTC). As the depression progresses, we will see Malizia start to sail in a stronger SW wind. Then by midday tomorrow, the wind will have built into the high 20 knots range and the sea state will start to build with this stronger SW flow coming off of the west side of a depression rolling along deep in the Southern Ocean. This will create conditions that normally favour our boat.

    Over the course of Friday day, the wind shifts more to the NW and continues to build as the fleet is mercilessly caught up by the next depression. With Friday evening approaching and through the long dark Saturday night, we expect the boats to see sustained winds of 40kts and violent gusts well above that, this combined with a wave height in the range of 5-6m. This is an intense combination of conditions for any sailor, however, when you combine this with the fact that the team is also approaching Cape Horn, one of the most formidable Ocean areas, renowned for producing huge waves and big ocean storms, there is reason to be wary and focus will also be on protecting the boats. This is not an area where any sailor wants to have a major issue, although problems have been encountered in both the past Ocean Races and Vend?e Globes in this location.

    At the height of the storm it seems to be the exact time the boats should be quickly diving SE towards Cape Horn so it will be a tricky balance of staying north out of the strongest wind and still making good progress towards the horn. These strong weather conditions will stay with the fleet until later on Sunday when they start approaching the coast of Chile at which point the GFS model shows things moderating to closer to a more manageable 30kts of sustained winds. The sea state will still be quite big around 5m as the fleet should be rounding Cape Horn over Sunday night.

    Technical advisor Jesse Naimark commented: “They should initially make some quick progress north after Cape Horn according to the GFS model but by Monday afternoon they will likely start sailing upwind. As they approach the Falkland Islands (this is 5 days out so here the forecast starts getting less reliable and we are speculating about what happens here), we are estimating a finish anywhere between 1st to 4th April but throughout these very strong conditions it is hard to know so until they get around the horn it is hard to say a precise arrival day.”
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