24 January 2013
At 2257 GMT on Wednesday night, Mike Golding, currently lying sixth in the Vendée Globe, completed his sixth circumnavigation of the World as he crossed his outward track from his descent of the Atlantic over eight weeks ago.
While the relief of being on the home straight is palpable, Golding is facing one of the biggest challenges of his solo racing career as he attempts to wrestle fifth place from his long time rival, Jean Le Cam.
“There is not much I can do against Jean at the moment in the current conditions and sail configuration. He has the more powerful boat. I keep doing what I can, but it is swings and roundabouts. I can’t really put my finger on what I can do to go faster, I am doing all I can. We are fast reaching now and he is just a little bit quicker.”
The passage of the Doldrums might be decisive. Even a matter of tens of miles apart, the duo can encounter very different wind conditions. In their fatigued states, this will be a stage where it will be necessary for both to manage themselves as best as possible.
While Golding knows the skills and record of his French rival, built up over the same career span as himself, he does not know the condition of his rival’s boat, what sails he has left or Le Cam’s physical and mental state. Golding, however, is a tough, doughty fighter and relishes this final challenge.
“The Doldrums are not looking too bad. We are both aiming for a little ridge of wind and there seems to be 10-11 kts all the way through according to the models. Once we are through the trades on the other side, it looks fine and so it will be upwind again. I should be at The Equator some time between 6-8pm this evening, 6pm at the current speeds but I will slow, I am sure.
“It is blisteringly hot right now, the high 30s, and so I am trying to get my sleep in the early morning when it is cooler. Food is sparse, shall we say, all the good stuff is gone for sure,” commented Golding this morning.
“And I can safely say there will be nothing left when I get to Les Sables d’Olonne. In the back of the increasingly sparse larder, I have saved a special bottle, a somewhat battered looking bottle of Mumm Champagne. I intend to enjoy it fully when I cross into the Northern Hemisphere, so it is now ‘on ice’, cooling outside in the wind, wrapped in a damp cloth.”
The latest prediction for arrival back into Les Sables d’Olonne for Golding and Gamesa is around the 90 day mark, anticipated to be 8-10 February 2013.
A personal view of the ‘battle’ on the water with Jean Le Cam
“Even at this stage of the race, when our bodies are tired and our supplies low, when everyone seems to agree it is the worst South Atlantic ever, the competitive pressure between boats remains undiminished. Jean has called it a war against the weather and of course each other – it seems a fair description…
“This afternoon, dozing at the nav station in a sweltering 37 degrees, I wake in a pool of sweat to see that I am off course to the west as the wind has headed for the past 15mins. Given my position in relation to Jean I know this is just the opportunity Synerciel needs to attack my position. To defend, I must quickly manoeuvre so that, if he has tacked, our relative positions in the wind are maintained. I must, for now, keep this small lateral (east) separation as it is my chance to grab 5th position.
“Annoyed and cursing myself I leap to begin emptying ballast before going on deck and scanning the horizon for the enemy – has he caught me napping, has he stolen the advantage. This is stupid as he is more than 60 miles away but still I look…
“Without further delay I hurl myself into preparing for the manoeuvre, runners, traveller, sheets etc are all made ready then a quick crawl around in the furnace below, physically move the 400kg stack and check the water ballast has emptied from the starboard side. Then the tack itself, keel over, daggerboard up, reset sheets etc – lots of mindless grinding of winches before heading back into the furnace to load new ballast on port… all the while I am checking the VMG , the speed towards my next waypoint. Early signs, unfortunately, are not good. Still, finally, I settle onto port, but it’s really not the result I was hoping for after all that effort. Looking at the data logging the shift lasted just 20 mins and unfortunately I missed the best of it and tacked just as the shift dissipated.
“My emotional brain tells me that Jean will have pounced on the shift and has gained some benefit, I am annoyed at this point so I swear a bit – $%^(+++, RTIOO etc
“My more logical brain tells me that he never got the same shift, it was just local.
“Either way this is bad news.
“Whatever, there is now no choice, I must now, quickly, undo all I have done and get back onto starboard before reflecting on the possible damage in the next poll at 1900z.
“I suppose, trying to be positive, I was reactive – which all things considered is pretty good at this stage, and regardless, after the next poll, the slate will be cleaned once more and we can begin afresh: the next ‘poll to poll’ battle in our Vendée Globe war to Les Sables d’Olonne.
“In reality it’s ridiculous to compare sailing with war, no ‘one’ is trying to kill us here, but for life long competitors – even these small tasters of victory are as sweet or as bitter as those gained in more serious conflict.”
Schools get onboard with Mike Golding & Gamesa Sailing Team
Mike and the Gamesa Sailing Team have forged links with three primary schools in the south of England for this Mike’s fourth Vendée Globe. Alverstoke Junior School, Hook-with-Warsash CofE Academy and St Edmund’s Catholic Primary School in Godalming, all invited Mike to come in and speak to the pupils prior to his departure and have been following his progress over the past three months.
From a calendar of Christmas jokes to weekly Q&A sessions to poetry, each school has become an extended part of the Gamesa Sailing Team, sending Mike off from Les Sable’s d’Olonne with envelopes of good luck messages.
Year 5 pupils from Alverstoke Junior School, near Gosport, Portsmouth, visited Mike at the Southampton Boat Show last September and 30 pupils came to the start of the race in Les Sables d’Olonne France. They have been sending Mike weekly questions about everything from life onboard to technical routing.
Two of the latest questions this week are:
Have you seen any wildlife?
I have seen whales a little way off and a huge whale shark just behind the boat and also dolphins . There were a lot of fish around too because, at the time, there was no wind and it was calm. I could see them jumping out of the water all around the boat, I’m not sure if they are trying to get away from the boat or perhaps the dolphins? I also saw a small beautiful turtle. The last time I saw one I was with my son Soren on a beach in Brazil. This one was similar but a little bigger, about the size of large dinner plate.
Have you seen any albatross?
During my time in the Southern Ocean I saw some Albatross, they are generally found in the South, it is always magical when they appear as they are such an impressive sight to behold, especially up close!
Read more recent Q&A sessions from Alverstoke Junior School here and here.
Mike’s nine year old son, Soren, attends Hook-with-Warsash Academy and the whole school have been getting creative with motivational messages, videos and poems for Mike. The latest video can be viewed here, and pictures and poetry from all years here.
“It’s great to have this support,” commented Mike. “At every school visit we were asked the most interesting questions and the children had obviously all done their homework. On a race that is as tough and long as the Vendée Globe, it’s fantastic to have this continued link back to home when sometimes the finish line looks to be so far away.”