Yesterday at 2120 hours local time, 1620 UT, the crew aboard Gitana 13 hoisted the mainsail and unfurled the solent at sunset and headed offshore. With the worst of the storm which swept across the tip of South Africa throughout the weekend having passed, it was out of the question for Lionel Lemonchois and his men to lose a minute more on their record attempt between Hong Kong and London.
Nevertheless, on deck the apprehension is palpable as the sailors have spent the past two days watching the waves unleash themselves just a few miles downwind of them. The condition of the maxi-catamaran's platform bears witness to this: “During our stopover in Port Elizabeth, Gitana 13 was really caked in salt. Everything on the deck of the boat was white: trampolines, winches, sheets… Yesterday we had to clean certain tracks with fresh water (mainsail cars), as well as the sheets which were totally stiff” explained Dominic Vittet.
There are certain rituals which you respect aboard Gitana 13… In this way, in order to make the atmosphere more relaxed prior to taking to the seas again, Léo (Léopold Lucet) and Zolive (Olivier Wroczynski) slaved over a hot stove in order to prepare the first meal shared by the entire crew: “We're trying to make a special meal for the big occasions. Our departure from Port Elizabeth was one of those times! As a result we've opened the dishes specially prepared for us by the team from the Chalet du Mont d'Arbois* and delivered to Hong Kong shortly before our departure: a confit de canard stew, rechristened by the Port Elizabeth bay! It's an indescribable pleasure for the crew after over 15 days of freeze-dried dishes” explains Léopold Lucet. This first meal shared by all was a treasured moment of conviviality prior to what is forecast to be a difficult rounding of the tip of Africa.
Off South Africa this morning, the maxi-catamaran equipped by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild was benefiting from a light W'ly air flow of less than 10 knots, to tack through over two metres of residual swell. The conditions differ greatly from those observed over recent days. However this relative tranquillity will soon be but a distant memory: with the arrival of a new disturbance to the south of their course, Lionel Lemonchois and his men will see the atmosphere transformed. In the afternoon, there will be a 30 to 35 knot SW'ly wind, with possible gusts of 40/45 knots expected. The passage of the front will also pick up bigger seas: “We're not expecting it to be particularly enjoyable and the next 24 hours won't be very comfortable aboard Gitana 13” highlighted the onboard navigator.
Sentenced to a series of upwind tacks as far as the bay of Cape Town, over 260 miles away, the crew of Gitana 13 will have to be patient before they can open the sails and thread their way along towards the equator. According to the latest forecasts from Sylvain Mondon, the maxi-catamaran is set to leave the Agulhas Cape to starboard late tonight. Lionel Lemonchois and his nine man crew will thus make their way back into the Atlantic Ocean, after over seven months' absence.
A few figures
Gitana 13 left Hong Kong on Thursday 14th August at 07h55'32'' (UT)
On Tuesday 2nd September at 0745 (UT), Gitana 13 was sailing at 34°45.72 S /23°34.08 E
Watch No1: Lionel Lemonchois (Skipper / watch leader / helmsman) / Olivier Wroczynski (trimmer /head of computers and power) / David Boileau (Bowman / head of deck fittings)
Watch No.2: Ludovic Aglaor (watch leader / helmsman) / Laurent Mermod (trimmer) / Ronan Le Goff (Bowman)
Watch No.3: Pascal Blouin (Watch leader / helmsman) / Ronan Guérin (trimmer) / Léopold Lucet (No.1, head of supplies and doctor)
Outside the watch system: Dominic Vittet (navigator)
*Situated on the summits of Megève, the Mont d'Arbois Domain groups together some refined establishments from the hotel and catering trade, of which the Chalet du Mont d'Arbois forms part as a gastronomic restaurant and jewel of the Rothschild's rich culinary tradition. During ocean races, the sailors of Gitana Team benefit from the possibility of embarking some of this prized fare from this restaurant.