228 days from the start with just one week till the finish in Les Sables d'Olonne with 29.000 miles under the keel, Abhilash Tomy (IND) BAYANAT and Kirsten Neuschäfer (ZAF) are now separated by only a few miles. @GGR2022

228 days from the start with just one week till the finish in Les Sables d'Olonne with 29.000 miles under the keel, Abhilash Tomy (IND) BAYANAT and Kirsten Neuschäfer (ZAF) are now separated by only a few miles. @GGR2022

GGR: 900 miles to a Hero's welcome in Les Sables d’Olonne


21/04/2023 - 17:37

229 days from the start with just one week till the finish in Les Sables d'Olonne with 29.000 miles under the keel, Abhilash Tomy (IND) BAYANAT and Kirsten Neuschäfer (ZAF) are now separated by only a few miles. This is an incredibly tight finish for the two fantastic sailors who have led the fleet since February after Simon Curwen (GBR) HOWDENS moved into Chichester Class. On paper, the situation looked dire for Kirsten Neuschafer last week. She had lost all of her lead in the very wide doldrums, and Bayanat the Rustler 36 of Abhilash Tomy is a better boat for the all-round conditions of the North Atlantic, with upwind, downwind in the medium to light conditions.  Abhilash had made a bold move over the last weekend, tacking to the NNE with negative VMG, in pursuit of the low pressure that was pushing the high away. He did lose precious miles in the operation, but the payback was well worth it as he sailed in more wind, longer, and a better angle, catching up on Kirsten and finally snatching the lead on Wednesday! Nursing a wounded boat home, Abhilash is skirting the low pressure, constantly arbitrating between speed and safety, keeping the boat together for a safe return. Today, he tweeted that his starboard runner broke but that he was doing a repair.

Kirsten still has a few cards up her sleeve however. The wind will be fair and downwind for both sailors after April 21st once the low pressure north of Abhilash has gone east. They will then surf the Atlantic swell all the way to Cape Finisterre and the entry of the last -but not least- stretch to Les Sables d'Olonne. They will be side by side entering the Bay of Biscay and that means Kirsten will be virtually one day ahead of Abhilash when you account for Kirstens 23-hour net time compensation from Tapio's rescue.

The Bay of Biscay presents plenty of challenges in the last 400 miles to Les Sables d'Olonne, with highly localised and fast changing weather systems and where both fishing and shipping traffic are intense. The skippers cannot let their guards down after more than 230 days at sea. There is sure to be true suspense as both navigate this last obstacle that will decide the winner of the toughest game on the planet!

Minnehaha is in fine form and Kirsten is pushing as hard as she can, flying the spinnaker on her bowsprit and racking up miles. In fact, she has posted the best 24-hours and 7-day distance of the last 30 days as per the GGR Underground page curated by Jonathan Endersby. Also, she has proven time after time how resourceful she is in making most of the cards she's dealt with, and not shy of bold options that have paid-off more often than not.

A tale of three heroes...

In the blue corner, Indian Navy Commander, Abhilash Tomy nearly lost his life in the GGR 2018 in the Indian Ocean after his Suhaili Replica got rolled over in a storm. He was left hanging from the spreaders by his watch strap, which eventually gave in, falling on the boom, breaking his back in the process, unable to move, until rescued by the French navy ship Osiris.

With welded vertebrae and several years of hard work to be able to walk, fly planes and sail, Abhilash was back in 2022 with unfinished business, but the road was not easy. Bayanat suffered a collision with a ship during the SITRAN Challenge from Gijon, nearly ending his race before it started. He then suffered from PTSD after the start, unable to eat or sleep in the Bay of Biscay due to his past trauma. In Cape Town he delivered an extraordinary outburst to organisers suggesting the GGR was not a race anymore, he was not enjoying it and he was no longer racing. This all changed on passing the position of his GGR 2018 rollover and rescue, apologising to organisers. After Southern Ocean storms he spent most of 2023 repairing his yacht showing incredible DIY skills and ingenuity in the process.

To see him leading the GGR is a testament to his skills as a sailor but equally to his incredible resilience and resources.

In the red corner, professional sailor Kirsten Neuschäfer has by far the most miles at sea than any other sailor in the fleet, in excess of 250.000 miles working on deliveries and skipper with sailing legend Skip Novak (USA) Pelagic expeditions in the most inhospitable places of the southern Atlantic. At 22 years of age, she cycled back alone from Europe to her home in a 15.000 kms voyage which enabled her to pick French on the way.

She is made for this stuff. Out there, she is at one with the sea, whales and marine life, she loves the solitude at sea without ever being lonely, and being cut from technology. Her ongoing fight for the lead is nothing short of extraordinary and the mental toll of ignoring and not knowing where the competition is, is real. For the other sailors, she never was the "woman in the Race" but a fierce, experienced sailor, feared and respected.

In the middle, Simon Curwen (GBR) is "fast cruising" in Chichester Class as he says himself, and now out of the rankings. The most Francophile of British sailors, terror of the Solent onboard his J/105 Voador, and in the Mini Transat which he finished second in 2001, behind Yannick Bestaven (FRA), the Vendée Globe 2022 winner. "L'Indétronable" as the French called him had been leading the GGR from Cape Finisterre until the fateful day when his Hydrovane broke in a storm on the way to Cape Horn, but never lost his humour or his competitive spirit.

Without spares to affect a repair, he made a 2000-mile round trip to get them and stopped three days in Puerto Montt, then another two days waiting for a weather window on anchor. He eventually caught-up and passed Michael Guggenberger (AUT) at Cape Horn and is now playing the shifts and the Joker between King Abhilash and Queen Kirsten, potentially arriving first in Les Sables d'Olonne.

Whatever happens in the next week, they all battled overwhelming odds to be leading the fleet of five, and will be duly celebrated by the people of Les Sables d'Olonne, the Vendée and the Pays de la Loire together with the extended GGR family.

We're expecting an early arrival on Friday 28th of April and all three could be docked and on dry land by Labour Day.

Saving a life...and time credits

It is a long-held tradition of the sea, that if a mariner is in Distress and declares a "Mayday", all other mariners will use their best endeavours to immediately assist if they are safely able to do so. Such was the case for Abhilash on Bayanat and Kirsten on Minnehaha when asked by GGR control to assist in the rescue of fellow GGR entrant Tapio Lehtinen (FIN) on Asteria. Both altered courses immediately and stopped racing on receiving the request. The rescue was successful.

To calculate time compensation for both sailors all the factors affecting both sailors were considered, focusing on the primary impacts of:

Time away from the course
Changing and new weather systems on resuming the course
Position at the start and finish of their diversion


Abhilash acknowledged the rescue message at 0930 UTC and was subsequently released at 13:50 UTC, (4:20 hours). He confirmed he resumed sailing at 1400 UTC (total 4:30 hours) and he also stayed on a higher course (80° approx.) for the duration of the rescue in case he may be needed. Engine: did not use the engine.

Distance 27.5 nm @ 50°, approx. Lateral 23 nm/vertical 15 nm

Kirsten acknowledged the rescue message at 1303UTC and called to confirm transfer to vessel at 0745+1 but stayed on scene until 1000 UTC before proceeding under reduced sails: total 22 hours. Engine hours: 2 beginning, 2 middle, 3 at the end for a total of 7 hours.

5 hrs @ 1.8K rpm=3.5 l/h= 17,5lt and 2 hrs @ 2.4K rpm=5 l/h = 10lt. Total 27.5 litres

Distance 100 miles @ 38°approx, lateral 57 nm/vertical 83 nm

The following time compensation has been determined by GGR team:

Kirsten Neuschäfer 35 hours + 30 litres of fuel
Abhilash Tomy 12hrs
Abhilash and Kirsten both commented that it took some time to let the adrenaline go and get back into racing mode. Although released from rescue effort, Abhilash was emotionally involved and remained on a more northerly course than normal for the duration of the rescue, asking to be regularly updated on progress and Kirsten had steered Minnehaha all night and manoeuvred at close quarters to the vessel for Tapio's transfer.

"While it seemed far-fetched at the time, that they would be neck to neck for victory in Les Sables d'Olonne several months later, there had been a precedent in the Vendée Globe for Kevin Escoffier's rescue. While such calculations are always subjective by nature, we have been extremely careful in the fairness and equity of the compensation between Kirsten and Abhilash, but also in comparison to Simon who was leading in good winds at the time of the rescue." SÉBASTIEN DELASNERIE, GGR RACE DIRECTOR

South Atlantic closing...

It's closing time for the fleet with various misfortunes in the "Mental Bermuda Triangle" a term coined by Jeremy Bagshaw (ZAF) Chichester Class, in his last safety call. Closing the fleet, Olleanna and her skipper are continuing their "longue route" now crossing the equator. He did not turn right to save his soul or even towards home in Simon's Town, clocking miles before getting into the doldrums. Jeremy has sailed an exemplary race, and the doldrums he is entering this weekend look particularly narrow, only at the end will we know if his personal goal of the best time between Hobart and Les Sables d'Olonne will stand! 

Michael Guggenberger (AUT) NURI who has been struggling for weeks in trade winds he doesn't recognise! Unstable in strength and direction, alternating calms, squalls, rain, humidity, and heat, he suggests they are only an extension of the doldrums, and a purgatory for Nuri on the way back. But will they lead to heaven?

It was not that simple earlier this week when Race Control sent him a message informing him, he must serve a 4.5-hour penalty (for sailing into the Pacific exclusion zone) in a penalty box. To achieve that, at 1200 TU on a given day he must turn south and not cross north of that point for at least 4.5hrs. He refused to do it. After it was explained that if he did not, he would be deemed "not to have completed the course" and therefore disqualified from the GGR. He eventually complied and continues in 3rd place of the GGR.

"Since before Cape Town we have had several conversations with Michael as he expressed frustrations with the race course and communication systems used. We know that the isolation and challenges of such a long arduous voyage can play havoc on the mind and emotions of all entrants. We understand that and take the mental well-being of our entrants seriously. But the Rules of the Notice of Race are the GGR itself and must be adhered to." DON MCINTYRE GGR FOUNDER & CHAIRMAN

PUFFINS Tracker has now lost power so we do not know where she is, but happy Ian is on the dry land in Cape Town!


The line-up for the Youth & Women’s America’s Cup has been completed
Heat and Fremito d'Arja leaders of the Puntaldia Grand Prix Melges World League