Vendée Globe :The Southern Ocean beckons once again for Britain's Mike Golding

Wednesday, 05 December 2012

It is not really his preferred domain, the deep south and the Southern Ocean, but Gamesa's skipper, Mike Golding, has raced there often enough to feel at home and he embraces the many challenges that the often hostile waters and winds bring.

After 23 days of solo racing on his fourth Vendée Globe, non-stop round the world race, Golding is in a good place physically and mentally. He lies in sixth position, well established among the trio of his ocean racing contemporaries: the effusive Jean Le Cam whose jokey demeanour masks a fiery determination and huge experience and the reserved, precise Swiss skipper Dominique Wavre. All are drawing on their guile and massive stock of hard racing miles as they seek to keep pace with the leading group.

Gamesa passed the Cape of Good Hope at 1920UTC on 4 December. The British skipper has confirmed many times that time stands still during long ocean races, it is a matter of checking off each key landmark and taking each hour, each ranking, each day as it comes.

“I am feeling pretty good to be honest. I feel the boat is in good shape and I am in good shape. And I’m starting to feel we are making good progress around the course. To be fair I’d like the gap to the leaders to have been smaller but as long as we can stay in the same weather system as them, I'm happy.

“And now we have seen real boat-breaking conditions like last night, it is a reminder that you cannot afford to push too hard. If you look at how the top three boats are working each other up just now, you really have to hope for them.

“This race was physically hard for me at the start and everything felt a bit heavy and I struggled a little, but now I am right into it and thinking, bring it on!

“I look back and there are no big mistakes to be worrying about now. My decision on how to go through the high pressure ridge, in hindsight lost me a few miles but I am happy that at the time the decision was the right one to make. And I have made some good decisions since then. And with Jean [Le Cam] and Dom [Dominique Wavre] in the same patch of water I feel like I am in good company.

“I have to say that Alex Thomson [Hugo Boss] is sailing a very good race with an older boat. For me at the moment I can’t see how we, in this group, can match the speeds of the newer boats at the front.”

The topic of ice gates remains a slightly thorny one, though Golding and his team remain unequivocal that given the level of information available, and the ability to plot the flow of ice so accurately, there is no way that Race Direction could allow the skippers into waters where there was any obvious risk.

Gamesa’s Boat Captain, Graham Tourell agrees. “I think you have to consider that the race has already seen two IMOCA60s hit fishing boats, and so to lose more teams from ice that is known to be present would be reckless for Race Direction. The ice is such a long way north at the moment, some of it is just 150 miles south of the racecourse, and the tracking gets better every year. So if it is known where ice is then Race Direction need to do all they can for the fleet to avoid it.

"In 2004, Mike was right behind Seb Josse [VMI] when the French skipper hit a growler. I remember speaking to Mike about his mindset, he said that the best route for him to take would be to go straight to the same point because there was every likelihood that the one place the growler would not be was where it was last seen. Ice can move hundreds of miles a day so all the skippers can do is view the information they are sent and accept that it is out of date from the moment it is issued and keep an eye out with all means available."

Message from Mike Golding sent on 4 Dec at 21:00 GMT

"A really horrid 24hrs running/reaching in dreadful, huge waves. The boat has, and still is, taking a serious pounding in these conditions. Only small things have actually broken such as the gennaker furler drum which detached itself from its stowage position and has done some damage to the bow – probably only cosmetic but there could be some delamination – I’m not concerned as this is a strong bit of the boat. One of the daggerboard covers has come off and broken which means the forward leeward ballast fills and needs continual emptying. The leak in the transom is much worse and I had a good amount of water building up which, with the bouncing and pounding, has leapt over into the next bulkhead – I could shut the door but I like to see what’s happening.

"Everything else, keel system, rig sails, deck gear and me have taken real punishment: this is a true Cape of Good Hope experience - and there is no escaping from it. It’s just a function of the wind and massive seas which are so large because of the Agulhas current which is setting against the wind. The water is warm and has both flying fish  (normally unseen in the South) and Portuguese Man-O-War jellies in it – worth dodging when they arrive in the cockpit trailing stingers everywhere!

"The predicted fleet compression looks now like it will become a serious extension by the lead pack – disappointing - I need to work the boat to the max, inspite of the conditions -  just in case the high comes in slower/faster and allows me to squeeze through. Seems doubtful now – but still worth a go."

Boat Captain, Graham Tourell, gives his view of the weather to the end of the week

"So, looking ahead at the next few days, it looks like the chasing pack will have their work cut out to make any big gains on the leaders, as the weather is naturally taking the skippers nicely towards the next ice gate at Crozet. This in effect is simply a drag race, and as you can see, there are some big miles being pushed! Mike is doing all he can to hold on to the breeze to take him up to the Crozet gate as there is the risk that he could be engulfed by the high and left behind. I've just spoken to him this morning and he is in a S/SWly 12 knots and he's pushing 15-18 knots which is a good sign, based on the forecast. Looking at the GRIB files, it should be going more to the West, but for the moment,  he's hanging in there, which is a great. The next 24h will be critical.

"As the breeze settles from the South West, it will be increasing anything up to 35/40kts at times, and as we've heard from the skippers, they are already experiencing big gusts, but it is the wave conditions which are making life particularly uncomfortable at the moment.

"In every edition of the Vendée Globe we see the skippers head into the Southern Ocean and watch in amazement at how hard the boats are driven, and wonder how long the pace can be sustained for.

"I think the answer is becoming clear....... these guys are physically and mentally capable of keeping the pace up all the way through to Cape Horn. The question is, 'who will get dealt a blow from 'Lady Luck'?

"The addition of the Amsterdam ice gate is a sensible one by the Race Direction, and from there, it seems the boats will then be able to take more of a dive south to 50 degrees + as they head under Australia & New Zealand."

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 05 December 2012 )