Ian Herbert-Jones approaches Cape Horn in extreme conditions with a broken windvane, after days of ‘biblical’ conditions.

The battle of the doldrums and the GGR crown between Kirsten Neuschäfer (ZAF) Minnehaha and Abhilash Tomy (IND) Bayanat is on!

Dateline: Les Sables d’Olonne, Thursday, 23rd of March, 2023

Way before the start of the Golden Globe Race in Les Sables d’Olonne, the last stretch to Cape Horn was always a concern for Ian Herbert-Jones (GBR)

It became more of a worry for him in the South Atlantic when the Shropshire sailor thought of skipping the Cape Town film drop altogether to save time and make the 31st January Hobart gate cut off date. Miss that gate and you must stop, as you are considered too late to round Cape Horn before early spring storms. Ian just made Hobart by a few days. Later heading east, after a slow exit of the Tasman Sea, the weather conspired against him north of the Pacific exclusion zone, increasing his concerns about paying the price for a late rounding of Cape Horn.… and so it was!

Sailing for several days in what he described in his weekly satellite safety call as ‘biblical conditions’, Ian faced his worst fears: Extreme winds well over 60 knots, heavy and confused breaking seas, several knock downs with his hydrovane struggling to cope. He nevertheless carried on, displaying his signature vulnerability, humility, humour and determination to get the job done.

On Wed 22nd at 0400 UTC, Ian called the Race Office to advise that the conditions were crazy, screaming wind speeds impossible to determine (Chilean Navy forecast possible gusts to 90 knots) and 7-metre seas. Sailing under bare poles, he was struggling to deploy his drogue which was now a tangled mess in the cockpit. One hour later, he had deployed the drogue, unfurled a small amount of staysail and as the wind was finally abating.

Chilean Navy forecast was for winds gusting up to 70-90kts! Ian said it was simply impossible to guess, as it was so far above his point of reference.

However, at 1100 UTC he called back, sounding stressed, declaring a ‘PAN PAN’ and requesting GGR to notify MRCC of his situation, though NOT requiring assistance. He was unsure of his position and his hydrovane had another issue and was no longer working but in the dark he could not see why and it was dangerous hanging over the back. GGR was providing weather updates and monitoring his track which was headed for the Diego Ramirez Islands. Sailing at only 3 knots under the drogue in seven metre seas, the bottom rapidly rose from 1,500 metres to just 100 metres in a few miles, causing some concern in Race Control. Ian reported serious waves slamming into the back of PUFFIN. He passed 2.5 miles north of the islands as conditions slowly moderated and daylight returned.

Ian had several issues with his Hydrovane that he could solve but not the last one.

He rang a third time at 1810 UTC to advise that his drogue warp at some time had wrapped around the Hydrovane rudder whilst sailing slow in the big seas. It caused the initial damage and eventually the rudder snapped in half. He could not fit his emergency electric autopilot as it steered through the Hydrovane rudder and it was too rough to fit his Hydrovane spare rudder. He was hand-steering to Cape Horn and beyond. He cannot do that for 6,000 miles back to Les Sables d’Olonne. He is now headed for Puerto Williams about 150 miles away to effect repairs. He has been officially moved into Chichester Class (no longer in the rankings for the solo non-stop GGR) giving him full use of his safety GPS and sat phone to organise the stopover logistics.

Ian is safe, in control and did not require assistance. The ‘Code Orange’ which alerts the Chilean Rescue Coordination Centre of a difficult situation, was cancelled on 22/03 at 2200 UTC.

With Ian rounding Cape Horn in Chichester Class, there are a few significant changes in the fleet. First, all the GGR fleet is in the Atlantic, stretching 3,700 miles between the Tierra del Fuego at 56°S and the leader at 04°S. Secondly, there are now 3 sailors in Chichester Class: Simon, Jeremy and Ian, and only 3 sailors contending for the GGR trophy: Kirsten, Abhilash and Cpt. Gugg!

Despite the recent concerns about Ian’s safety, there certainly is a sense a relief in the Race Office after an eventful Southern Ocean experience, starting with Tapio Lethinen’s (FIN) rescue in late November and the various entrants knock-downs between the Pacific exclusion zone and the Horn, and a 2,000-mile detour to Chile for Simon Curwen. There has, however, been significantly less damage and loss of boats compared to the 2018 GGR. The new start date of September 4th from Les Sables d’Olonne, two months later than in 2018, put the sailors in the Southern Ocean two months later, experiencing fewer and less violent storms. The long list of retirements this time is mostly a result of personal and technical issues rather than storms.

“I have to admit that I am really surprised at the number of retirements. I was hoping half would finish! The GGR is a tough challenge unique in the world of sport. Nothing compares. It is extreme at the human, technical and psychological level and that is reflected in the results so far. 16 sailors chasing a dream and only three left in the game!”