© Amory Ross / / 11th Hour Racing / The Ocean Race
11th Hour Racing Team storms towards Cape Horn
Just when they were beginning to wonder if this was going to be a relatively benign second half of the voyage around the bottom of the world, the Southern Ocean still has a sting in its tail. Now 26 days since they departed Cape Town, and for the past week 11th Hour Racing Team has been engaged in an extremely tight battle with the other three boats still competing on the mammoth Leg 3, at 12,750 nautical miles, the longest ever leg in the 50-year history of the race. The five-strong international crew onboard Mālama has approximately 3,000 to go to Itajaí in Brazil.
It has been tight, tactical racing, as the boats have often been sailing within sight of each other in quite light airs by the stormy standards of the Southern Ocean. However, the weather has just taken a turn for the worse as they draw close to Cape Horn at the bottom of the American continent. The resident meteorologist for The Ocean Race, Christian Dumard, is predicting winds of 30 knots [35 mph / 55 kph], gusting to 40, with waves picking up to six or seven meters high on the approach to Cape Horn. Although, as the fleet goes around, expected at the end of the week, it's anticipated to ease off to a slightly milder 25 knots or so.
That big breeze has now arrived, as trimmer Jack Bouttell (AUS/GBR) observed: "We're into the start of the strong downwind conditions that will see us into Cape Horn in a few days time.
"It's difficult to find a good mode between too slow, too fast and keeping the boat in one piece. The sea state is building and also changes often. It can be all nice one moment then very soon after completely different and hard on the boat.
"And the living conditions onboard aren't easy, and we are all being thrown around a lot. I can feel my body degrading from so little movement. I feel like a hunchback, always being bent over in the cockpit. We will all need a big recovery session in Brazil."
The anticipation of almost two weeks of recovery, and back home with families, will be particularly sweet after the massive effort to repair the one-meter rip in the mainsail, and two damaged rudders, a prospect that a week ago had looked like mission impossible. The carbon dust got everywhere, into the sailors' skin and even into eyes, despite the protective eyewear.
So, the question is, will Mālama pass the legendary landmark during the day, at night, or maybe the team will find themselves too far to the south and not even close to Cape Horn? Of all the crew, race-winning navigator Simon 'Si Fi' Fisher (GBR), has the most roundings of the Horn to his name. "This is going to be my fifth time around, and it will certainly feel like an achievement when we get there to turn left and start heading north up the Atlantic."
SiFi points out that they might have to resist the temptation of a hand-brake turn at the Horn to get into warmer latitudes. "The first time I rounded Cape Horn we decided to stay south for stronger breeze and took a wider route around, and only started heading north a while later. So although we didn't see Cape Horn, it gave us some pretty nice gains on the fleet. Then there are other times when the right move is to go north quickly as soon as you've passed Cape Horn. We'll just have to see as we approach."
The lighter winds of the past week have been a chance to take stock of what has been an extremely trying and challenging leg for the crew, with so many breakages and setbacks along the way. It's been gratifying for Skipper Charlie Enright to see the fleet racing in such close proximity, and at times even to be leading the fleet. "Unfortunately as I speak we're bleeding miles to the others, being underpowered because we're running with two reefs in the mainsail when it would be better to be on one.
"But we're certainly in a better spot than after we passed through the scoring gate [to the south of Australia]. What the crew, and Jack in particular, have been able to do and repair has been pretty amazing. We're determined to eke out every ounce of performance from the boat, and it's been cool to be racing within sight of the other boats. There's 20 of us down here in this remote part of the world, and yes we're rivals, but we're also friends, we're family. There's a camaraderie between all of us, good banter on the radio, and it feels good for all of us to be down here together in this crazy part of the world."
Their world is in the process of getting crazier as the Southern Ocean saves its worst for last. Charlie says the crew are playing close attention to SiFi's hashtags of wisdom and caution: #ChillUntilBrazil, #NothingSillyUntilWeGetPastChile.
"We're naturally competitive people who like to push as hard as we can, but the hashtags are a good reminder that there's a balance we need to strike, and we're trying to keep that top of mind as we approach Cape Horn."
All of the crew, except one, have been around Cape Horn, everyone except Justine Mettraux (SUI). So it's an exciting moment in JuJu's illustrious career, and we'll be bringing you her reaction soon after Mālama passes the iconic landmark early next week. Fingers crossed for the team and all the fleet as they buckle up for one of the toughest episodes of this 32,000-mile round-the-world adventure.
Leg 3 current positions as of Friday, March 24, 2023 1800 UTC
DTL=distance to leader
Team Malizia - DTL 13.9nm
Biotherm - DTL 64.3nm
11th Hour Racing Team - DTL 71.4nm
Guyot environnement - Team Europe - suspended racing
11th Hour Racing Team Crew for Leg 3 of The Ocean Race 2022-23:
Charlie Enright (USA) - Skipper
Simon Fisher (GBR) - Navigator
Jack Bouttell (AUS/GBR) - Trimmer
Justine Mettraux (SUI) - Trimmer
Amory Ross (USA) - Media Crew Member
5 points = first; 4 points = second etc.
Team Holcim - PRB - 15 points (5+5+5)
11th Hour Racing Team - 10 points (4+3+3)
Team Malizia - 9 points (3+2+4)
Biotherm Racing - 8 points (2+4+2)
GUYOT environnement - Team Europe - 2 points (1+1)
The Ocean Race 2022-23 Route:
Leg 1: Alicante, Spain to Mindelo, Cabo Verde
Leg 2: Cabo Verde to Cape Town, South Africa
Leg 3: Cape Town, South Africa to Itajaí, Brazil
Leg 4: Itajaí, Brazil, to Newport, Rhode Island
Leg 5: Newport, Rhode Island to Aarhus, Denmark
Leg 6: Aarhus, Denmark to The Hague, The Netherlands (with a flyby past Kiel, Germany)
Leg 7: The Hague, The Netherlands to Genoa, Italy