Cape Horn, the landmark of deliverance from the Southern Ocean, has been bittersweet for the race leader, Swiss skipper Bernard Stamm on Bobst Group - Armor Lux.
This morning was the first time Stamm has ever rounded the legendary rock, and it was: "surfing at 21 knots fully reefed in winds gusting up to 60 knots and monstrous seas". The passage from New Zealand to this point has taken 14 ½ days - which is just half a day more than the crewed Volvo 60's - and yet it has also taken its toll on the boat.
Temporarily unable to use his satellite phone, Stamm sent a fax to say that the part of the keel inside the boat had been damaged when Bobst Group - Armor Lux fell down the side of a huge wave and he had heard a sinister cracking noise. "I immediately understood that this came from the keel, and I jumped on the winch to let everything off. Thankfully I managed to limit the damage by doing this. It was the part of the keel above the axe, which has cracked. I have jury-rigged it so it will hold, but I am having to throttle back from the speeds this boat can normally do."
He is still on course and the conditions dropped to 10 knots in the afternoon. Stamm's shore team are also on the case; the 4.5m keel carries a 3 ½ ton bulb but the temporary repair Bernard has effected is not going to last him through to Salvador, still nearly 3,000 miles up the South Atlantic. No decision as to his plan of action has yet been taken, but for now the skipper is trying to resolve this problem without having to recourse to outside assistance, and therefore a potentially crushing penalty of 48 hours on his elapsed time for the leg.
Stamm is more than aware of whom his closest enemy is. French skipper Thierry Dubois is only 3 points behind in the overall rankings, and also threatening in second place just 160nm behind Stamm on this fourth leg of Around Alone. Stamm concluded: "I can't shake him off whatever I do, and the next stage of the race is really tactical, and the options are going to be quite radical."
The clean-up after the boom breaks on both Hexagon and Ocean Planet has been in progress, both skippers reflecting on the sequence of events and planning the immediate future. Kiwi skipper Graham Dalton is sailing Hexagon at 9 knots in the following breeze under Solent headsail alone, with the broken boom and mainsail lashed down. He hopes to make the Horn in 3 days, where his shore manager will meet him to effect the repair with a carbon 'sleeve'. Easier said than done, according to Dalton: "The weather around Cape Horn is notoriously changeable. I will need to sail Hexagon close into the shore and find a place that is both safe and practical to stop and affect the repairs. I am determined that we will be able to fix Hexagon and join back in the race with a chance of being on the podium. The winds up the South American coast are know to be light and fickle, which could give me an excellent opportunity to catch up with the leaders."
American Bruce Schwab on Ocean Planet is still wishing he could wake up from his own nightmare, but the hole in the deck where the runner jammer used to be and a second broken boom are reality enough. "We are sailing okay with just the working jib for now and as it lightens I'll change to the heavy reacher. Now the challenge is to see if I can fix the boat at Cape Horn or the Falklands, and somehow manage to finish this leg and the race."
With no corporate sponsorship Schwab's plight is that much more of a struggle, however such is the spirit of collaboration in Around Alone, that with the blessing of Dalton's sponsor HSBC, his shore manager is on standby to assist Bruce if he indeed decides to stop.
The three other skippers in Class 1, whose boats are relatively unscathed, are inevitably turning over the ultimate question in their heads, as Emma Richards on Pindar expressed in her log this morning: "I have taken a very careful route and not pushed the boat close to its potential. It was a decision I took before I left the dock, and sometimes I wonder if I took it a little to extreme. I have often reefed or furled early, sometimes to huge frustration. So now, do I push a little harder to catch and overtake the others quickly or continue at my own pace until I am out of the Southern Ocean?"
Richards has a lot at stake, as she battles to hold onto her third place in the overall rankings with 20 points - but only one point ahead of Dalton. If Hexagon does receive outside assistance and thus a 48hr penalty, will she even catch up enough from her last position in Leg 4 still 900 miles from the Horn for her to stay ahead in this leg and then in the points?