Golden Globe: Tactics with the Wind Gods
Published on January 7th, 2019
(January 7, 2019; Day 191) – As Golden Globe Race leader Jean-Luc Van Den Heede continues his climb up the North Atlantic to the finish at Les Sables d’Olonne, the French skipper has served out his 18 hour penalty on January 5 for improper use of his satellite phone (related to his mast damage) and is now clear to race the remaining 2,150 miles. He expects to arrive there on January 26.
While Van Den Heede was serving his ‘time-out’ in the penalty box south of the 20°N parallel, 2nd placed Dutchman Mark Slats was powering northwards through the SE Trades at more than 5 knots and by 08:00 UTC today, had closed the difference in ‘distance to finish’ to within 417 miles.
Worse for Van Den Heede, the NE Trade winds have disappeared and he is likely to be facing the frustration of calms for two more days at least, while Slats continues to make strong gains.
The calms blocking the path of Van Den Heede and his yacht Matmut, and the narrow band of north-easterly winds coming off the African coast which Slats and his rival Rustler 36 Ophen Maverick are striving to reach, create an opportunity and sets the scene for a tactical battle with the wind gods playing their part during the week ahead.
Slats is currently making 5.0 knots and this is likely to continue until he reaches the same 20°N latitude where Van Den Heede is sitting. From then on it will simply be a case of powering into the NE Trades up to the Bay of Biscay, which could also spring more surprises before the finish.
“A pretty frustrating day… I did not get any wind at all,” reports Van Den Heede. “I was stopped for several hours, until midnight yesterday while listening to a book ‘The foreign student’. I did not make even 20 miles. Since then, I found a little wind, it’s not crazy speed but at least I advance, and at least I’m sailing with the windvane.
“I am in a very difficult area where normally the trade winds are well established in January. I can tell you that they are not established at all. I do my best to go north, I hope that next week the weather conditions will have changed, that I will have good speed, and that I will be able to charge my batteries.”
The two skippers are racing identical Rustler 36 designs, but Matmut carries a smaller rig and mast damage which Van Den Heede does not want to challenge. Ophen Maverick has the benefit of a larger sail plan, but after 25,000 miles, she’s beginning to show signs of wear which could lead to breakages. These final two weeks promise to provide a nerve-racking finale.
One man with his money still firmly on Jean-Luc is French weather guru Jean-Yves Bernot. Writing for Voiles magazine, he sums up the situation thus: “The coming days are not going to be very fun because it is a lot of starboard tack work and Jean-Luc will lose half his lead. That said, this is not really a problem for him. These venerable boats are not very fast; it takes a lot of time to regain ground. At best they cover 140 miles a day and VDH still has a good cushion.
“We are in a classic situation, with an Azores anticyclone in its place and the route that passes to the west of this archipelago. There, in the Azores, you hope to find a depression to carry you home on south-westerly winds. For Van Den Heede, the wind will be weak and unstable for the next few days. Meanwhile, yes, his Dutch comrade will make up a lot of ground; maybe 300 or 400 miles to roughly half of his lead.
“But then, there is no situation where one would miss a weather phenomenon beneficial to the other, and Slats will slow down while Van Den Heede goes off again. That’s why I think there are no problems for him, even if he will moan because it is all upwind to the Azores.”
Van Den Heede did not help his cause by straying north of the 20°N parallel during his 18 hours in the penalty box. The rules are very clear:
On crossing north of 20° North latitude, the entrant suffering a time penalty must then return south of that latitude (when the penalty time starts) and not cross North of it again (within 40 miles of the initial crossing point) until the time penalty has been served. The entrant may then make for the finish line.
Nor should there have been any confusion with navigation. Because of difficulties with traditional means of navigation in knowing precisely when you cross a latitude, GGR HQ gave Jean-Luc a time of 00:10 UTC on Saturday 5th January to start his penalty. All he had to do was remain south of his position at that time.
He started well enough, heading SW (130°T) for two hours at an average speed of 3.67 knots, But he turned and sailed NE (317°T) for a distance of 9.9 miles which carried Matmut north of the line. The yacht remained north of the line for 3 hours.
As it happened, the winds died at the end of his 18-hour penalty period, and Jean-Luc found himself trapped behind the line for several hours more so he did in fact serve an uninterrupted 18 hours behind the line.
GGR HQ has since ruled that Jean-Luc made an unintended navigational error and had served the penalty at 21:00 UTC on 5th January. For full ruling, click here.
Third placed Estonian skipper Uku Randmaa and his Rustler 36 One and All survived last week’s South Atlantic storm unscathed, and now finds himself drifting in a hole, yesterday making only one knot while off the coast of Buenos Aires.
He used the time to dive overboard and give the hull another clean, with the forecast suggesting winds will not return until later today – and then from the north! His climb up towards the Equator will not be any easier than it was for the two leaders but at least temperatures are warming by the day.
Surprisingly, fourth placed Istvan Kopar, who rounded Cape Horn on December 1, has made the most progress of all during the past five days, but now headwinds have become his new reality and Puffin’s VMG has dropped to 2.8 knots today.
Also surprising is the 5.1 knots recorded by Tapio Lehtinen’s Finnish entry Asteria. She is covered in barnacle growth, which is sapping her speed at an ever-increasing rate. Last week, GGR HQ lifted the restriction of the NO-GO ZONE south of the 42°S Parallel in the South Pacific as a safety measure for Lehtinen to escape the worst of a Southern Ocean storm running up behind, and Tapio has been running before strong NE wind towards Cape Horn ever since.
Ever the humorist, Tapio messaged Race HQ on 5th January: CAN I GET THE GUINNESS BOOK OF RECORDS FOR THE SLOWEST TIME ROUND THE WORLD?
This had set us thinking: Has there been anyone slower than the time of 312 days set by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston 50 years ago?
The distance to finish between his Suhaili and Asteria in this virtual race played out on the YB Tracker is down to 512 miles. Five days ago, Asteria’s lead was 690 miles, so the record could yet be won by Lehtinen.
Plans are moving forward to salvage Irish GGR skipper Gregor McGuckin’s yacht Hanley Energy Endurance. Cody Cordwainer, a tugboat captain operating out of Brooklyn Navy Yard is set to arrive in Perth, W. Australia on January 16 and charter a fishing boat to take him and his crew to collect the yacht, now some 1,100 miles to the west of Fremantle. Cody is posting all news on Facebook.
NOTE: The Golden Globe Race issued the time penalty against Jean-Luc Van Den Heede as a result of his actions when he sustained mast damage during a storm 1,900 miles west of Cape Horn. Details.
The 2018 Golden Globe Race started for 17 skippers from Les Sables d’Olonne on Sunday July 1, 2018, with the inaugural solo non-stop around the world yacht race expected to take 9-10 months to complete.
The event marks the 50th anniversary of the Sunday Times Golden Globe solo non-stop round the world race in 1968-69 when rules then allowed competitors to start from ports in northern France or UK between June 1st and October 31st.
A notable twist to the 2018 Golden Globe Race format is how entrants are restricted to using the same type of yachts and equipment that were available in that first race, with the premise being to keep the race within financial reach of every dreamer.
The rules allow for one breach of the strict solo, non-stop un-assisted circumnavigation without the aid of modern electronic navigation aids regulations that make this Race unique. However, those that do move down to the Chichester Class as if, like Sir Francis Chichester in 1966-67, they have made one stop during their solo circumnavigation.
Those who breach the rules for a second time are deemed to have retired from the GGR Event and the organisers have no responsibility or obligation to them.