The northern part of the Indian Ocean has afforded the ‘mile devourers' that make up the crew of Gitana 13 the maximum of pleasure. Thanks to a powerful SE'ly tradewind which blows at this season, the 33 metre maxi-catamaran equipped by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild covered nearly 3,000 miles on a single tack in the space of four days. The whole thing was achieved at an average speed bordering on 26 knots! However, since the start of the week, the sailors that form Gitana Team have known that their future would be coloured rather differently to the start of their journey: “Conditions are still good for the time being and we're benefiting from a regular air flow of 24 knots in order to make a direct course towards Port Elizabeth, at the south-east tip of Africa. Given our current speed we should make the outskirts of this town early morning on Saturday 30th August. We opted for Port Elizabeth, as the goal is now for Gitana 13 and her crew to seek shelter! A very big low will sweep the tip of Africa this weekend, and it wouldn't be a good idea to hang around outside…” conceded Lionel Lemonchois.
Indeed, for several days, the forecasts offshore of the Cape of Good Hope have been deteriorating. Situated along the route of the big southern storms, the African tip can be violent. According to the latest estimates from Sylvain Mondon, sea safety forecaster at Météo France and router to Gitana Team, the expected low could generate average winds of between 45 and 50 knots, and pick up very big seas, with 8 to 10 metre waves on the coast.
Faced with such numbers there's no way they can just hope it will pass! Sitting it out for a while in order to be able to continue on their way in conditions of optimal safety is paramount and something they encountered last February during the Route de l'Or. In the latter scenario, Lionel Lemonchois and his men had to halt their progress and wait for five days in the lee of Tierra del Fuego for the weather conditions to calm down off Cape Horn.
The WSSRC ruling – a body which governs and validates records – forbids the maxi-catamaran from making any stopovers alongside a quay. In this way, in order to remain within the ruling and hope to be able to continue their record attempt once the gale has passed, the ten sailors have to find an alternative: “We have opted for Port Elizabeth because it doesn't take us too far off Agulhas and the Cape of Good Hope, situated around 300 miles away. The winds during the passage of a front will certainly force us to climb a little northwards but the goal will obviously be to make as few miles as possible so as to be ideally positioned to get back on track again as quickly as we can” explained Lionel.
Aboard Gitana 13, the ten experienced sailors are preparing for a difficult 48 hours from Saturday, during which time the performance and the record time will naturally be of secondary importance.
Weather analysis at the approach to the African coast
The weather situation which the men of Gitana Team are confronted with, requires the analysis of the specialist in the subject. Sylvain Mondon thus details this second stage of the Indian Ocean, at the approach to the Cape of Good Hope: “To the south of Madagascar Gitana 13 is sailing along a small zone of high pressure in 7 to 12 knots of S'ly breeze, backing slightly to the SE. This is a tricky passage since it's very narrow between the two zones of wind. One is a few miles to the north and the other is a few miles to the south. Once the wind backs to the east, Lionel Lemonchois and his crew will proceed with a gybe, which will enable the maxi-catamaran to escape this passage along 30 degrees south. It is then that the pace will pick up progressively in a NE'ly air flow reaching 10 to 15 knots in the evening, before backing to the north as it fills to 20-25 knots on Friday morning. These N'ly winds are produced by a small disturbance which is forming on Thursday, downwind of Lesotho and shifting rapidly eastwards. Whilst finding more established winds again during the course of the night, Gitana 13 will begin to see an influence from the Agulhas current. This current transports warm waters from the Mozambique Channel (between Africa and Madagascar) as far as 40 degrees south as it runs along South Africa. Once past this small scale system, Lionel Lemonchois and his crew will have to prepare to tackle several vast disturbed systems circulating around the roaring forties, which will further hinder the maxi-catamaran's progress over the last days of August.”
Departure from Hong Kong: Thursday 14th August at 07h55'32'' (UT)
Thursday 28th August at 14h15 (UT)
Latitude: 30°08.82 S – Longitude: 44°19.20 E
Speed over 4hrs: 11.3 knots – average speed since the start: 17.39 knots
Distance left to go: 7,425 miles
Gitana 13's crew
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)
Gitana 13's records
Route de l'Or (New York – San Francisco, via Cape Horn): in 43 days 3 minutes 18 seconds (February 2008)
North Pacific Crossing (San Francisco – Yokohama): in 11 days 12 minutes 55 seconds (April 2008)
Yokohama – Dalian: 3 days 20 hours 19 minutes and 11 seconds
Dalian – Qingdao: 23 hours 50 minutes and 20 seconds
Qingdao – Taiwan: 3 days 52 minutes and 15 seconds
Taipei – Hong-Kong: 1 day 58 minutes 27 seconds