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Day 185: Solo woman leading Golden Globe with 200-year-old weather routing! More storms ahead!

  • International Women’s Day celebrates Kirsten Neuschäfer (ZAF), the leader of the GGR, holding a commanding position as she reaches the South East Trades first.
  • Abhilash Tomy (IND) sailing ‘BAYANAT’ faces ongoing breakages, inc running backstay and mainsail ripped in two!
  • Captain Gugg (AUT) and Simon Curwen (GBR) finally out of Southern Ocean conditions and catching up with the leaders.
  • Jeremy Bagshaw (ZAF), 700 nm from Cape Horn, hit by the first of two storms in the next 48 hours, gusting 60kts and 8-9 metre seas.

Racing yachts around the world use computerised weather routing programs to optimise courses against satellite weather data. It’s the norm! Both are banned in the Golden Globe but the current leader and only woman in the race, South African Kirsten Neuschäfer, found the perfect solution for her best route home to Les Sables d’Olonne after rounding Cape Horn.

She consulted Ocean Passages of the World with its 200-year-old weather routing charts, historical weather and suggested routes from the original clipper sailing ships. Following that advice is now paying strong dividends sailing through the tricky horse latitudes! She sailed out to the east and is now in a commanding windward position as she reaches the South East Trades ahead of the rest of the fleet.

700 miles inshore to the west, Abhilash Tomy, currently second and 350 miles behind Kirsten, is now locked on starboard tack in northerly head winds. With the coast just 400 miles ahead, he must soon start tacking north. Kirsten on the other hand, 1,000 miles offshore, has easterly winds on the beam and could make one long 1,500 mile starboard tack through the trades, all the way to the northern tip of Brazil. That may give her another 300-400 mile advantage over Abhilash. Combined with her current 350 mile lead, that’s potentially a big break going into the doldrums and crossing the equator. But she will need it!

Abhilash’s Rustler 36 ‘BAYANAT’ is lighter and faster to windward than Kirsten’s Cape George 36. The north Atlantic is a real climb upwind back to France. Kirsten is 4,600 miles from the finish and just crossed her outbound track of four months ago “tying the knot” for the first time. She reports all is well onboard with no major issues! It is clear she is working hard to press ahead. To have a chance of being the first ever woman to win a solo race around the world, she must be well ahead coming out of the doldrums!

I haven’t had much weather info lately. I had one relayed from Peter by Puffin a couple days ago but hadn’t had any since then. I picked up some southeasterlies yesterday and it’s gone further south-east now. I’m hoping that gives me a push after many slow days. I don’t know how far I’m behind now but hope it will hold now!

Kirsten Neuschäfer, ‘Minnehaha’

Kirsten’s following has increased dramatically over the past months with many impressed by this sailors sailor, who just happens to be a woman. Well known Canadian singer songwriter Lennie Gallant has penned a tribute song to Kirsten titled “On the Minnehaha” and it is going crazy!

Abhilash Tomy (IND) has resumed his northern route after more repairs onboard Bayanat, detailed in his weekly safety call including climbing up the mast to replace a broken running backstay with his guardrail wire, getting badly bruised in the process. His mainsail ripped completely in two from luff to leach below the first reef point that was a huge effort to hand stitch together. More importantly, he caught another 30 litres of rain water which is always welcome on Bayanat!

I have been working quite a lot, non-stop for around 24 hours. I replaced the broken running backstay with a guardrail, and replaced the guardrail with the emergency HF antenna! I spent 3 to 4 hours up the mast and started to work on the mainsail. It was long and tedious but the sail is back on and looking good, better than the boat which is a complete mess.

Abhilash Tomy, ‘Bayanat’
Abhilash has been challenged with ongoing repairs aboard Bayanat, including stitching a four metre rip in his mainsail. Image: Abhilash Tomy / GGR

Mid-fleet showdown!

Meanwhile, as the two leaders fight it out, Simon Curwen (GBR), sailing his Biscay 36 ‘HOWDENS’ as a Chichester Class entrant not in the rankings, is slowly closing in on both. He has been doing what he does best: sailing the shortest course at the best possible speed, and it shows! Since Cape Horn, Clara/Howdens reduced the gap from 800 miles to 550 with Abhilash’s Bayanat. He previously held the lead for 150 days before diverting 1,000 miles and taking a stop for repairs. He is cruising home to finish his one stop circumnavigation, but admits he does not know how to go slow! And surely has Bayanat in his sights!

Clara, sponsored by Howdens, has been very impressive in strategy with limited information and raw speed, pulling away from Nuri and catching up with the leaders! Image: Josh Marr

Obviously I’m not racing, but I don’t sail much slower than the boat can, even when I’m in cruising class! I’m still doing a lot of sail changes to match the wind speed and direction, I just took the Genoa down. Now I want to go back to Les Sables and finish this!

Simon Curwen, Clara/Howdens, in his last safety call (French @07:00 minutes)

Meanwhile, Michael Guggenberger (AUT) found it difficult to find the right pace and route in the changing conditions after Cape Horn, as he shared in his weekly safety call. From no wind to too much wind and many sail changes with a succession of cold fronts and calms he decided to find a middle route in the sail combination of his ketch-rigged Nuri and limit changes. He lost 300 miles on Simon since Cape Horn but managed to gain around 100 miles on Abhilash and 200 on Kirsten. With the doldrums coming up, the Biscays could further reduce the gap!

Cape Horn was the high point of his voyage, now Michael has to deal with changing weather conditions, and sailing in an ocean he knows for the first time in months. Image: Michael Guggenberger / GGR

With the non-stop change of wind strength and direction I’m constantly changing sails, so I’m having very little sleep and it’s been very challenging. I decided to stay in the middle, between high performance and cruising sail trim because it’s just too hard. I’m very tired physically and emotionally. Until the Horn, everything was new, but I know the Atlantic and I have to deal with that.

Michael ‘Gugg’ Guggenberger, ‘Nuri’

Two storm fronts for Jeremy!

On 7th of March, GGR placed Jeremy on a weather alert and provided routing advice to head north above the second of two storms that are fast approaching his position 700 miles NW of Cape Horn. The first front crossing on the 8th is impossible to avoid and will bring NW 50kts and 7 metre seas. The second storm due to hit late on the 9th is much stronger and will last for over 24 hours with gusts over 60kts and seas to 9 metres. Jeremy is trying to get above 51 degrees south latitude so the worst will pass below his position, but it is quite clear he is in for a hammering, even at that latitude. He has prepared everything onboard for the two days of solid weather. 

Jeremy is the fleet’s record-holder for gales encountered, but these last two are nothing like the ones he encountered before. Once passed, he may have a relatively open period of average weather to get around the Horn!

Jeremy Bagshaw and the Race Office may have little sleep in the next few days. Image: Nora Havel

At the back of the fleet, Ian Herbert Jones (GBR) has found a new lease of life, FINALLY coming out of the northern limit of the dreaded no-go zone. Puffin celebrated her newfound freedom by posting the fleet’s best 24 hour speed at 155 miles a day, a distance the Tradewind 35 has not sailed daily in weeks!

Ian will get decent winds this week, possibly beating his own 1022-mile weekly personal best but after 50°S will be very heavy with low pressure now crossing the zone one after another all the way to Cape Horn 1,500 miles away. Ian is in his usual good spirits as he shared on this weekly safety call. With a 4.5 knots VMG, Puffin could be rounding the Horn in 14 days, just in time for the northern hemisphere spring.

Getting around 47°S and 115°W (the end of the no-go zone) felt like the end of a leg to me! Since then, I’ve had good, steady SW winds which is great, and I am getting plenty of weather reports from New Zealand, Passage Guardian and now Chile! All good on board, I’ve run out of spare mainsail slides but learned to refurbish the old ones. I treat myself to three hot meals a day, I sleep in a dry bunk which is great but all my socks are wet!

Ian Herbert-Jones, ‘Puffin’

Ian is sailing conservatively, mostly under-canvassed to avoid being surprised by the weather. Now living full time in his dry suit and looking forward to getting out of the Southern Pacific Ocean into warmer weather. There’s still a bit of time before that!


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