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Retrospect: The Days Leading Up To The Abandonment Of Shipyard Brewing


  • Retrospect: The Days Leading Up To The Abandonment Of Shipyard Brewing

    Live to fight another day - The tough reality of ocean sailing

    By Marco Nannini.

    The skippers of the Global Solo Challenge have to endure months of navigation in the roaring forties and screaming fifties to reach Cape Horn. After braving storms, technical difficulties, fatigue and cold temperatures, the legendary cape feels like the big prize for all the efforts each skipper has put into their project. It is a reward and a climax not just in their circumnavigation but in years of preparations, struggles to raise the necessary funds, work around the clock to be ready for the start, and many other challenges.

    David Linger on Koloa Maoli, an early OCD Class40 with the same hull as Cole Brauer’s First Light and Ari Kansakoski’s ZEROchallenge, rounded Cape Horn yesterday February 12th at 13:30 UTC. The southern Pacific gave no discounts to the American sailors who had brilliantly conducted the event with an excellent balance between progress and boat preservation. His boat had been prepared impeccably by Maine Yacht Center and had always stood out for the meticulous attention to detail that was paid in making the boat ready for the Global Solo Challenge.

    On February 8th, however, Dave experienced a severe knock down and whilst the boat was laid on its side for moments that feel like an eternity, the pressure of the water caused the boom to break in the middle. Additional stress cracking developed at the aft end of the custom carbon boom. Dave had little option other than to press on for his rounding with no place to shelter from the wind and waves. The skipper had to focus on keeping up the pace in order to round Cape Horn ahead of a storm forecast to bring treacherous conditions at the tip of the southern American continent.

    Dave described the morning of his rounding and the spotting of land after the darkest of nights as one of the most beautiful moments in his voyage so far. He sailed within 2.5 miles of the Cabo de Hornos lighthouse and we hope to retrieve the photos taken by the guardian with his telescope. At the time of writing Koloa Maoli was motoring up the Beagle channel to reach Ushuaia where Dave has already made arrangements for a stopover to repair his boom and restart as soon as possible in the Global Solo Challenge.

    Six skippers had rounded Cape Horn before David: Philippe Delamare on Mowgli, Cole Brauer on First Light, Ronnie Simpson on Shipyard Brewing, Andrea Mura on Vento di Sardegna, Francois Gouin on Kawan3 Unicancer and Riccardo Tosetto on Obportus. All of these skippers were hoping to be relieved from the harshness of the south Pacific and were longing for warmer temperatures and easier conditions. The rounding of the Horn however does not always bring hardship to an end and often proves to be only a psychological milestone in a circumnavigation.

    Ronnie Simpson was acutely aware of this and on his rounding he said he was postponing any celebration until he managed to sail out of a very strong storm bringing 60 knots northerly winds soon after his rounding of the cape. He was very wary of the risk that such heavy winds, especially in the shallow waters between Argentina and the Falklands could pose to him and his boat. He took the most conservative of all options by sailing through the Strait of Le Maire and then patiently hugging the Argentinian coast to keep away from the building seas and heaviest winds. For days Ronnie lost a very considerable amount of miles to all other competitors and came to accept that it was unlikely that he could defend his third position in the fleet from the faster Open 50 Vento di Sardegna sailed by Andrea Mura (which set off from Coruna 3 weeks after Shipyard Brewing). His frustration was palpable as the South Atlantic Ocean appeared to be cruel with him.

    The combat wounded American veteran had to overcome a very unpleasant experience. He was caught in a maze of kelp, a very long and strong type of algae very common in those waters, that wrapped so nastily around his keel that Ronnie had no option but to dive and cut through the weed. Ronnie lost half of one of his lungs during his war injury and the experience of diving in open waters must have been even more terrifying for him, However he had no option and managed to gather his strength and resolve to complete the task.

    Soon after this unpleasant experience the eyes of all skippers in the South Atlantic turned again to monitoring a large low pressure system that had been displacing east. After the northerly winds that tested the patience Ronnie’s seamanship, the westerly side of the low was building up to bring another 50-60 knots blast. Relatively speaking, this was less of a bad piece of news as at least this time the winds were going to be blowing from the south in the right direction.

    The center of the storm was due to move east at the latitude of the Falklands and all opted for some evasive action to avoid the worst. So much so that when drawing the low and the course of the skippers it almost seemed they were avoiding a diabolic ball of fire. Francois Gouin sailed east-south-east to remain in waters that would not see the worst of building seas. By going east the French skipper would also be in deeper waters and giving the wind less fetch to build a dangerous sea. Riccardo Tosetto decided to time the arrival of the cold front and associated strong winds by sailing just north of the Falklands seeking some shelter at least from the waves.
    As the cold front hit Riccardo he found himself in a stormy downpour and a menacing sky with winds blowing steadily between 50 and 60 knots, for hours, before dropping to a more manageable range. He had issues with one of his sails but pressed on at good speed to the north.

    Andrea Mura had placed himself to the westerly edge of the low pressure which provided him with a nice stairway towards Uruguay. The Italian skipper of Vento di Sardegna was hard on the chase to reach Ronnie Simpson who was 600 miles ahead of him. After all the difficulties and delays the American skipper had faced, the distance was getting smaller and smaller. Andrea’s intention was clearly that of gaining third place on the water behind Philippe Delamare and Cole Brauer at the expense of Ronnie who, as we described, was dealing with the frustration of his slow progress in an effort to preserve his boat.

    Ronnie Simpson too was monitoring the developing storm. The southerly winds presented him with a different challenge compared to the other skipper. By being at the northerly edge of the area affected by the strongest winds, he was due to experience the worst of the building seas with 7-8 meters. The skipper of Shipyard brewing again opted for a conservative strategy, by reaching east to move away from the area that would see the most dangerous sea state.

    At 0200 UTC on February 12th, whilst sailing with a heavily reduced sail plan, Ronnie Simpson and Shipyard Brewing leapt off the crest of a wave and came to a stop crashing in the trough. Ronnie heard the noise of equipment hitting the deck and immediately knew he had lost his rig.

    Wind and sea state at that stage were still manageable but in the pitch black darkness of a moonless night (the new moon was on February 9th) he was very concerned by the mast heavily and repeatedly hitting the hull of the boat. This presented the skipper with a very real risk of suffering damage to the hull and seeing his boat flooding. Such an event would immediately turn an already difficult situation into a life threatening one.

    He acted guided by self preservation instinct and knowledge of the risks he was facing, he freed the mast from the deck and had to let it sink over the side. It is only at this point that Ronnie could collect his thoughts on what had just happened, very grateful that he was not injured and that his swift actions had avoided the development of a far worse scenario.

    The American skipper’s thoughts inevitably had to turn to the developing storm due to hit him within 36 hours. His options were very limited, unable to keep running away from the oncoming dangerous sea, he was confronted with the thought of facing huge seas at the mercy of waves.

    Ronnie had to summon all his thoughts and weigh all factors of the situation. He knew that staying with the boat in 7-8 meter waves would constitute a dangerous situation. He certainly evaluated the options of running with the winds by trailing a drogue or setting one of the sails as a sea anchor, but the risk of endangering his own life could only be mitigated but not eliminated. We can only imagine all that was going through Ronnie’s mind, each choice carries consequences and sometimes even a fighter knows that it’s better to live to fight another day.

    Ronnie finally decided he would request a rescue ahead of being hit by the storm the following day, he was also aware that by staying with the boat, if things deteriorated he was not within reach of a helicopter rescue, at 650 miles from the Argentinian coast the only chance for any assistance could come from commercial traffic or another competitor.

    Andrea Mura on Vento di Sardegna was informed of the situation and despite being 600 miles to the south west he gave his immediate and unconditional availability to help. His distance however meant that he could not reach Ronnie before the storm would hit him so he was asked to continue sailing and remain on standby whilst the situation developed.

    The activation of the Epirb by Ronnie alerted the Search and Rescues center responsible for the waters where he was located. MRCC Argentina took charge of the operation. The timeframe for the rescue was 24 hours, before the sea state would deteriorate. The SAR Center had to evaluate the best course of action based on the traffic around the dismasted boat. A ship had passed near Ronnie during the night but he had been unable to hail them and was therefore waiting for MRCC Argentina to follow SAR protocols to contact nearby ships and request the rescue. The wait was a little tense and stressful for Ronnie who was hoping not to have to spend another night in building seas at the mercy of waves.

    As event organisers we made ourselves available to MRCC Argentina and provided all the information they requested from us. We also requested the satellite trackers supplier to increase Ronnie’s position update frequency. For every skipper we hold a file that contains all relevant information that may become necessary in such a situation with all details of boat and skipper. We transmitted the file to MRCC Argentina together with the aerial identification photos that all entries have to submit before the start. This process enabled MRCC Argentina to relay the information to the ship that was eventually diverted for the rescue. The Taiwanese bulk carrier Sakizaya Youth changed course around noon yesterday and accelerated heading toward Ronnie’s position holding photos and boat details for ease of identification and able to plan the rescue knowing what to expect.

    The ship had to cover approximately 100 miles and fortunately was able to reach Shipyard Brewing just before sunset and successfully recovered Ronnie from his boat to the deck without any accidents.

    The American skipper had to deal with a very difficult farewell, leaving his companion of many adventures behind, during rescue operations the sole focus is the preservation of human life which sealed the fate of the boat. For safety reasons Ronnie was ordered to scuttle the boat which had already started to sink at the time of rescue. A very sad ending but as Ronnie put it, holding his tears just before abandoning ship, we live to fight another day. It was a very moving moment which the skipper shared in a video.


    Apologies to all the competitors that have not been mentioned in this update, Philippe Delamare holds strong on his first place but has been considerably slowed since leaving the trade winds. Cole Brauer is reaching north in stable winds with good daily mileage. Back in the Pacific William MacBrien on Phoenix reports all is well on board, he’ll soon be in the spotlight as he approaches Cape Horn. Alessandro Tosetti and Louis Robein have restarted form Hobart and have had to slow down to deal with a storm that will affect the west coast of New Zealand. Kevin Le Poidevin is dealing with several issues on his boat and is planning to make a stop in Hobart.

    Philippe Delamare - Mowgli

    Pavlin Nadvorni, after safely reaching Lyttleton in New Zealand, informed the organisers that after careful consideration of his physical condition he has come to the difficult decision to retire from the GSC. His left arm needs to be immobilised for at least a month, following the knockdown incident while having the kidney stone issue. Pavlin had a really hard time coming to terms with this outcome but he believes he made the right, if extremely painful and disappointing, decision. He concluded by adding that “The GSC has been an adventure of a lifetime and I feel grateful and privileged to have been a part of it.”

    Pavlin Nadvorni - Espresso Martini

    We are very saddened by Pavlin’s retirement and Ronnie’s loss of his boat but we always fully respect the difficulty of these decisions taken by each individual skipper. The complexity of sailing around the world does not stop at dealing with a boat and the weather. Pavlin, Ronnie, Edouard, Ari, Dafydd, Juan who have had to retire from the event each had to be the captain of their emotions, feelings and decisions.

    Edouard De Keyser - Solarwind
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