We received a call from the Race Direction, and they told us to stop and wait for the storm for our own safety. I do not remember that ever happening in a race before where the organisers tell you to wait out the weather. Arnaud Bossieres and I waited it out at Cape Horn and Brian Thompson found shelter at Estados Islands. I remember charging my batteries putting in three reefs in the mainsail and tidying up the sail on the boom, putting my storm jib up and doing some checks around the deck.
I ate a good meal and made a hot drink and then afraid that I would be left behind by the others I started to press on towards La Maire Straits and my journey up the Atlantic. The maximum wind speed I saw was 60 knots and this was less than the storm we felt the effects of on our approaches to Cape Horn a few days before, where we saw 68 knots and I had to do my final gybe towards Cape Horn in 50 knots of wind.
Once the storm threat had passed and we were safe in the Atlantic, I spoke with Brian Thompson and he had seen 75 knots of wind and the wind speed recorded across Tierra del Fuego that night in question was 88 knots of wind. So, it was the right call, but it did feel quite strange.
In the depths of the Southern Pacific Ocean there is a geographical location, called Point Nemo. This point marks the Ocean Pole of inaccessibility. It is the furthest point from land you can get and the closest person to you is in the International Space Station. It is the most remote you can ever be on the planet and a stark reminder to the sailors that they are alone out there. Normally we see the fleet stretched out across the oceans with thousands of miles between the groups, yet the nice thing about this edition of the Vendee Globe is the fact that the fleet is so close.
There is every chance that there will only be a couple of hours between boats at Cape Horn and this sets us up for a super competitive Atlantic race to the finish line where the current prediction is for many boats to be finishing during the final week of January 2021.
The fleet is over halfway and so they are in effect sailing home, reducing the miles all the time. I do not think you feel as if you have cracked the back of the race until you are clear of Cape Horn. The fact that once back in the Atlantic the weather warms up, the sea temperature rises, the weather is less severe, and everything feels easier. Rescue is closer and there is evidence of life and shipping routes giving you greater confidence of others that could come to your rescue, if necessary.
It is not a time to be overconfident, there are still 7000 miles to sail to the finish line and the weather patterns are often more difficult to manage. There is some more upwind sailing to be done, there are the dreaded doldrums to cross and more high-pressure zones positioned between you and the finish line. However, survival of the Southern Ocean and a thorough check of you boat normally gives you confidence to push your boat a little harder on the way back north
Your confidence in your own ability and the boats ability has grown and therefore how you sail your boat on that final Atlantic run north often changes. You are willing to push a bit harder and faster and with the fleet so close this could be the difference of several places in the final rankings. That said completion of this race is a win in everyone’s book and we will continue cheering all those that took part.