The approaching storm is the subject of many a conversation: “For the past 48 hours, we've been alternating between a N'ly and a S'ly air flow, which is tending to pick up big, choppy seas. Yesterday was really laborious for the crew; abysmal sea conditions and numerous manoeuvres really put us to the test. Fortunately things are better today and the crew are making the most of it to sleep and recharge their batteries ready for the next phase which isn't going to be easy”.
Dominic Vittet, warned us of this some days ago: “We're frequently going to change our shoulder rifle in order to tackle this storm as best we can”. And indeed Lionel Lemonchois and his men have had to revise their plans once again. After taking a slightly more N'ly heading, Gitana 13 has bent her course towards Port Elizabeth.
Explanation: The SE coast of South Africa lacks places to take shelter and the bay of Port Elizabeth is the only one which is close to the Agulhas Cape (a cape which forms the gateway between the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean). In order to find a new ‘refuge' worthy of this name, you'd have to go a lot further north, to the latitude of the town of Durban. “We are set to reach Port Elizabeth this evening. The idea is to take refuge in the bay, the size of which is reminiscent of Quiberon (near Gitana 13's home port), during the gale. Mooring is out of the question given the winds which are set to blow. Therefore we'll have to make a series of gybes and tack changes whilst trying to cover as little ground as possible. This is the price we'll have to pay for being able to benefit from a little gap in the weather so we can attempt to head offshore again on Monday 1st September” detailed the onboard navigator. In fact, for Lionel Lemonchois and his nine man crew, the goal is clear: At the rear of the first storm a second low is already forming. To stand a chance of weaving there way along between these two systems and leaving the Cape of Good Hope in their wake, they'll have to stay close to the Agulhas Cape.
With less than 24 hours until the forecast gale, the sailors of Gitana Team are continuing to prepare their steed: “For the time being, the watches are still functioning normally but we're preparing and tidying the platform in view of the wind forecast during the course of tomorrow – Sunday – and that of Monday. This preparation includes fastening the gennaker aft under the trampolines” explained Dominic Vittet.
Aboard the maxi-catamaran equipped by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild, the men are ready. The perspective of enduring such a gale isn't necessarily one they're relishing, but everyone knew this could be the situation as they rounded Good Hope and they're adapting to it.
A town in South Africa situated in the province of Eastern Cape, Port Elizabeth stretches for nearly 16 km along Algoa Bay. It bears the name of the wife of the governor of the cape, Rufane Donkin, founder of the town in 1820.
Weather flash from Sylvain Mondon (Météo France).
Around fifty miles from the African coast, Gitana 13 is this Saturday morning sailing in downwind conditions provided by a 25 to 35 knot N'ly breeze. With the help of this favourable wind and the Agulhas current (3 to 4 knots of N'ly), the maxi-catamaran is rapidly closing on South Africa.
However their exit from the Indian Ocean won't be played out straight away. Indeed, for several days Lionel Lemonchois and his crew have been preparing to deal with a storm which is sweeping the coast off the tip of Africa.
At daybreak, the cold front approached the Cape of Good Hope and is now shifting rapidly eastwards. Average winds of 45 to 50 knots will blow from the NW sector this evening, before backing to the W over the course of the night, ending up in the SW on Sunday afternoon. On two occasions gusts will be in excess of 60 knots. At the same time a very big sea will unleash its waves along the South African coast; those coming from 50 degrees south likely to reach 8 to 10 metres.
In such conditions an attempt at rounding the cape isn't possible so a solution to sit it out along the wild coast of South Africa will be imperative in order to allow time for conditions to become practicable again. The wait won't be a comfortable one for the maxi-catamaran since shelter in the region is rare and it will be difficult to hold firm there.
A few figures
Gitana 13 left Hong Kong on Thursday 14th August at 07h55'32'' (UT)
Saturday 30th August at 0815 UT, Gitana 13 was sailing at 32°50.47 S / 30°03.97 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)