January 13, 2024 – Hobart, halfway and bound for the Horn

Jan 14, 2024

The first blog entry of the New Year sees, as always, a number of milestones to celebrate onboard Shipyard Brewing in the Global Solo Challenge. There’s the passage of halfway, the entry to the Pacific, Christmas, New Year’s and more. For me, those almost all coincided with a pit stop in Hobart, Tasmania. It’s now been over a week since I departed Hobart, and in this part of the world, a week feels like both a moment in time and an eternity from which i’m a bit older, more experienced and will never be the same. With a number of small technical issues onboard ranging from sails to electronics to rigging, mast, rudder bearings, supplies and more, I opted to stop in Hobart and honestly, i’m glad that I did. 

The boat was in good shape, for the most part, but I simply wished to become better prepared to take on several more thousand miles of Southern Ocean sailing before a long-awaited date with Cape Horn. After some mostly quick sailing towards Hobart, I arrived on the back side of a depression on New Year’s Eve. I had made up a number of miles on Cole in second place and had the gap down to just under 200 miles before diverting from the race course and making the expensive stop. But it’s a decision that I made and I had to accept the consequences. From a sporting perspective, it was a real bummer, but from a human perspective, it was a cool experience. Hauling ass into Hobart with a dolphin escort on New Year’s Eve morning, and then racing the clock to arrive at the dock before dark to get cleared in… all so that I could get off the boat and celebrate New Year’s Eve with my partner Marisa and other humans. It was a thoroughly unplanned coincidence, but with my arrival to Hobart on New Year’s Eve, I got to be in what is literally the coolest place on earth to celebrate New Year’s if you are a sailor. With the Sydney – Hobart fleet at it’s peak and still sailing into town after a challenging race down the coast, Shipyard Brewing rocked up to the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania and crashed the party. I may not have sailed in the Hobart race this year, but 63 days and half a lap out of Spain, I certainly felt like I deserved to be there. 

After a memorable evening on the Santa Cruz 70 Antipodes and a Class 40 from Melbourne, Marisa and I met with well known navigator Bradshaw Kellett and his wife Torie and some of the crew from Antipodes to get the main off the boat and to the loft. By New Year’s morning, my mainsail was in the hands of Jimmy Chillman, a recent Hobart transplant from Queensland. I had a sailmaker devoted to my sails for a few days in the local Quantum loft, which was super close to my berth. Amazing. Marisa was amazingly supportive, and while we did enjoy date nights and dinners together, this was strictly a business trip. She had brought down a suitcase full of NKE autopilot parts and sensors, and I now have more redundancy onboard than I did when I started the race. A lot of people forget that I lost my primary autopilot computer on day #1 of the race, and this was certainly one of many motivating factors to stop. 

Once going up the mast, I discovered some unsavory chafing on the rig, from the mainsail, on the starboard lower spreader. I don’t think it’s bad enough to where i’m worrying about a spreader failure, but I also don’t want it getting any worse. New Year’s Day and January 2nd, it was hard to find bodies to help. I had shown up on a holiday on short notice and literally everyone was sailing and enjoying summer as they should be. On January 2nd though, after the King of the Derwent Race, I managed to hook up with some of the Alive boys, who had just won the Sydney – Hobart race overall. While Marisa and I chipped away at work January 1 and 2 with limited resources, I had a small army working on the boat January 3 and the morning of the 4th and we just managed to be ready to get the boat off the dock January 4, right on time to make the minimum 96 hours pit stop. All the working sails came off and went to the loft for repairs and then went back on the boat; a huge task in itself in just 4 days. Composite repairs and chafe protection were added to the mast. A couple new halyards were spliced up and installed. A number of small rigging projects were addressed. The tiller arm where the autopilot connects to the rudder post was taken to a machine shop and improvements were made to increase autopilot reliability. New autopilot parts were installed. Rudder bearings were loosely inspected (need to drop rudder for proper inspection, which we did not do), electrical work was done. More boat supplies and provisions were obtained. In short, it was a valuable pit stop and we got a lot done. It’s a bummer to stop, but I can’t beat myself up for that anymore. I’m more than halfway around and the boat’s in one piece and we’re currently still in a podium spot. So from that metric, things are going pretty well. Let’s just keep this train on the tracks and see where we end up. 

4 days is just long enough to not get too far out of the rhythm of the sea, but also long enough to let the body get acclimated to eating real food, taking showers and being with a partner. It was hard to leave port, but i’m happy with how it went and that we got the boat back on the water in the 96 hour minimum, and have remained competitive in the race. If you’ll notice, I keep saying ‘we’. While it’s a solo race and a lot falls on me, I truly couldn’t have done this; in Maine, Spain or Australia, without the help of many. I also consider myself and the boat to be a  team. Huge thanks to the Australian authorities for helping make my stop so seamless, thanks to my amazing partner Marisa, Bradshaw and Torie, the Antipodes crew and skipper, Big Mick and his son at the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, Sam Tiedemann and Will from Alive, Ian from Hawaii, David from Canary Islands, Robbie Vaughn, Dustin, Anthony the diver, James Chillman and Kat, my San Francisco dock neighbor Jim Fryer, Tommo D from Greenville, Liv Coyne and a number of others for your help getting Shipyard Brewing back on the water. I’m surely forgetting to mention a number of people and names, and I apologize for that, but even right there, you can see it was like 20 people that helped make this stop happen. So thank you again to the Hobart sailing community for the help. This was the 3rd New Years in the last decade that i’ve done in Hobart, and i’m so happy and grateful to have some great friends there, both new and old. A peace-time Hobart visit when I have the luxury of time is high on the list for Marisa and I, post-race.

Last Thursday January 4, I docked out right on time and went to the fuel dock at 11 am. At 1130, Australian Border Force had cleared me out and by 1153 am, I was docking out to an emotional farewell from 9 lovely souls who came to see me off. Motoring out of  marina and then motor sailing down the Derwent River, I was engine off and short-tacking upwind before the Iron Pot. With a day time sea breeze building to 20 knots, I threw in a couple of tacks to clear Storm Bay and was back to sea in a dying breeze that first night. I just barely managed to hang onto the breeze and then link that to the westerlies of the south. While I lost over a thousand miles in total on Cole in second place, I quite critically held onto third place (on the water) over Riccardo and Francois, and on anticipated time of arrival over Andrea Mura. So there it is, Hobart pit stop done and dusted, back on the road in third place ready to attack the second half of the course. 

I use the term ‘attack’ loosely, as i’m currently under reduced sail and tip-toeing, relatively speaking, through the south. With the most remote and some of the most hostile waters on earth lying just before me, the goal is to quite simply arrive to Cape Horn in one piece and not lose much time to my rivals. There is not a lot of attacking going on out here. The last few days were especially challenging. After clocking good speed towards the southern tip of New Zealand, I had to go dead upwind in moderate easterlies for a bit that then turned into gale-force northeasterlies before backing all the way around to the west again. Trying to get east without diving south in those gale-force northeasterlies was an exercise in not breaking the boat, and I again tip-toed through those conditions. Today I have had a northwest front that has seen me steaming towards Cape Horn on a good heading and with good speed. I should have another day or two of this, and then i’ll be on the back side of this depression. It is very interesting to continually learn the South and how to negotiate and navigate these depressions. When southeast of Australia and also when southeast of South Africa, you find yourself in the firing line of some very peculiar low-pressure systems that come off the continent and then head southeast towards the roaring forties. These can bring big northerlies, or even upwind conditions as I had near New Zealand. There is also a zone ahead of me, right in the most remote bit, that seems to spawn big, deep lows. Cole just went north to avoid one. We’ll see how I fare. 

A couple of days ago was a very emotional and challenging day for me as I lost my friend and teammate Chris Passas. If you have followed this campaign, you may remember my main boat prep helper from Maine, and early on in Spain; Chris. Chris had been involved in a very long and drawn out battle with cancer and he knew that it could take him at any moment. He lived his life with courage and truly lived every day like it could be his last. A humble, selfless, hard-working and kind man, he became one of my closest friends over the course of the past 8 months. Unfortunately, while in Spain, his cancer continued to progress and moved into his shoulder. At first we thought it was a rotator cuff injury, but it turned out to be his cancer. With only one good arm and in constant pain, the decision was clear that he needed to go home to Maine and recuperate with his family, and so he left Spain early and wasn’t there for the start. It was an emotional farewell when Gioele and I dropped him off at the airport in A Coruña. As it turns out, that’s the last time I would ever see him. We spoke on the phone a few days ago and his spirits were high, but it was pretty clear that his days were limited. Fortunately, he was surrounded by family and loved ones and was comfortable and at peace when he passed. A sailor who always dreamed of doing a solo around the world race, being involved with this campaign was the closest that he would ever get to realizing that dream. On the day he died it blew up to 43 knots and Shipyard Brewing was catching big surfs in huge southern ocean seas. I’d like to think Chris was with us on that ride, and with us on this entire journey. Goodbye old friend, and thank you for everything.

I am currently just over 1/3 of the way from Hobart, Tasmania to Cape Horn and hoping to round Cape Horn in very early February. This race is the culmination of many very small milestones and requires a ‘one day at a time’ approach. Right now I am back on Hawaii time and will soon pass the longitude of Hawaii; a huge psychological boost for me. Just recently, I passed south of my beloved Fiji, a nation in which I used to live and be a legal resident. At that same time I crossed the international date line. As I write this I am 2,000 miles south of Samoa; a country I have only briefly visited but never had the opportunity to explore. One day at a time, one day at a time. 

Aloha and love to you all and thanks for the support, 

Ronnie Simpson

Skipper, Shipyard Brewing