Lemaire as watchdog

Saturday, 4:00 UT. We have been playing a new game for the past few hours and expect it to take a few more: jockeying for the best possible timing through Lemaire Channel, which is the door to Cape Horn. For now, looking at the weather reports and latest info from Sylvain Mondon, it's a no-go. The door is closed! So we tacked and are slowly working our way toward the coast in order to seek some shelter from the wind and sea. The door should open in a few hours, but the crossing from Atlantic to Pacific waters will not be easy. That's not really news...our marching papers had said the following: the Route de l'Or, rounding Cape Horn against the wind and current. We can't say that we weren't forewarned.

Like always, the seas are more of a problem than the wind. This strait between Staten Island and the continent can be compared to the famous Raz Blanchard and the Straits of Bonifacio. Venturi effect, current, it's all there. But here around the Horn, with its well deserved legend, the air is heavier and denser than anywhere else. The seas are higher and more violent. Six- to 15-meter swells and breaking waves are commonplace here. We'll have to get used to them if we hope to continue our long voyage.

Last night, we had a brutal reminder of what it's like to sail upwind in rough seas on a maxi-catamaran. It's not fun! It's rough and harsh, not enjoyable. With a steady 45 knots and three reefs, we have adopted a docile sail configuration in order to keep down our speed on a really choppy sea. We have experienced some steep drops where we see Gitana 13's hulls leave the water all the way to the centerboard before they tip forward into the void and come down with their full force on the water exploding under their weight. The problem here is not trying to go fast, but rather to tame Gitana 13's power. The boat could certainly bolt across these rough seas, but would inevitably sail off course. The job of the helmsman—who is wearing a drysuit and gloves due to the biting air—is more demanding than ever, as a tiny change in trajectory could affect the boat speed by a factor of two. At 10 knots, okay, but at 20...

Life inside the boat is punishing, since the smallest movement must be calculated and controlled to be successful...even staying in the bunk requires a certain expertise. The crew on deck is rewarded by the surrounding spectacle. We have just experienced our first real gale since the start, but it was against the backdrop of a blue sky. It was beautiful, really, really beautiful.


Nicolas Raynaud


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