January 22 – Point Nemo and less than a ‘Transpac’ to Cape Horn

Jan 22, 2024

As I write this, Shipyard Brewing and I have just recently passed Point Nemo and are less than a Transpac to Cape Horn. For those that are not avid sailors, Point Nemo is the mythical and imaginary point in the South Pacific Ocean that is renowned for being the most remote place on earth; close to 2,000 miles from land in any direction. And even the closest points of land are remote islands in the South Pacific – far north of me – that offer little in the way of a safe refuge or marine services. You are truly alone out here. Another huge milestone for any West Coast or Hawaii racing sailor is that I am now less than the distance of a ‘Transpac’ race from Cape Horn, or about 2,100 nautical miles. As of this writing, I am 1,900 and change away from Cape Horn. 

I say that i’m alone out here, and yet ironically yesterday I had my first encounter with a ship since being back in the Atlantic. (I don’t count vessels I saw going in and out of Hobart, as I intentionally went towards land, and thus, vessel traffic.) I had a cargo ship slowly pass me to the south, headed towards Cape Horn over the last few days but we never got very close. But then yesterday I I had a crossing with another cargo ship that was headed the opposite direction. I saw the ship on AIS and on my radar at about 8 miles out, and we even spoke on the radio, but I never actually spotted them with my own eyes. I heard a man with an Indian or maybe Sri Lankan accent hail ‘Sparrow’ on channel 16, and so I answered. He asked me for a weather forecast and report, and then asked if I had internet access. I reported the conditions I had been seeing and responded that I did have internet. They said they did not have internet at the time, and so I relayed some weather information to them. How’s that for progress! It wasn’t so long ago that ships were providing sailors with weather info and world news, but with Starlink and the Southern Ocean, now it’s the other way around!

My weather window to the Horn is beginning to come into focus, and while it looks and feels terrifying in so many ways, it is probably pretty typical. One huge nasty, fast moving and volatile low after another, after another. There is a reason that Cape Horn has the reputation that it does, and so all I can do is keep a very close eye on the weather and proceed with caution. Yesterday I actually slowed the boat down a bit to not get too close to this fast-developing low that was forecast to develop basically right in front of me. By slowing down and also dipping south some, i’m staying a good distance away from the system, and also trying to avoid heavy southerly seas by trailing right in its wake. Right now i’m reaching mostly east with wind and seas right on the beam, and building. Hopefully the seas remain manageable, but if they get too bad ill crack off some and sail more northeasterly for a bit until the wind backs more to the west. In other parts of the world, you’ll notice that I write more about strategy and racing, or a wind shift, or whatever. In the south, you navigate by survival instincts and trying to avoid terrible sea states. This place is wild, and to be totally honest, i’m completely over it. I can not wait to get back into the Atlantic and leave this place behind.

The last depression, and yesterday in particular, was some of the more challenging sailing i’ve ever done in my life. It was extremely squally and very difficult to have the proper amount of sail set. I saw at least a 40-knot gust for like 5 or 6 days in a row. And the squalls were so frequent that you couldn’t just stand watch for them and try to reduce sail accordingly. If you did that, you would have just been on deck and changing sails nearly 24 hours a day, which is not sustainable. So I proceeded with small sails and endured 40 knot squalls that were mostly very intense and very brief, followed by the associated light patch which was incredibly frustrating. With the boat set up for 30 or 40 knots, it felt okay in 25 ish but just miserable in the 9-15 knot light spot. It is simply impossible to sail a boat very well by yourself when it’s constantly blowing between 9 and 42 knots of breeze. Late last night or early this morning was one of those rare occurrences where I totally lost it and was screaming at the ocean, “why the f – – – are you doing this to me??!!!!!”. Last night was horrendous. With the cold, all I wanted to do was get somewhat dry and then get into my sleeping bag. But whenever I did that, I would inevitably have to get out of my sleeping bag and get foul weather gear back on and go ease the main sheet in a 35 knot gust. If I jumped up on deck when not in foul weather gear, I would have gotten my under layers soaked and would never dry out. Long story short, I remained in my foulies, wet, and never able to sleep properly or get in my sleeping bag and get any semblance of comfort or proper rest. It’s just a miserable way to live when the wind is that un-stable.

The boat is mostly working okay at the present, though the boat and the skipper are both getting quite tired down here in the South. I look forward to actually doing some proper sailing and putting up big sails and racing again in the Atlantic. Down here I am not racing so much as just trying to survive and keep the boat moving efficiently towards the mark. Yesterday for example, I was intentionally slowing down and sailing additional miles, all in an effort to increase odds of survival and. not breaking the boat. Having said that, i’m locked into a close race with Andrea Mura. We have been trading third place back and forth – on anticipated date of arrival – for the last few days. He is getting some slow and challenging conditions right now while behind me (he’s on the fastest boat in the race and started three weeks behind me). At this point, my mindset is much more geared towards prudent navigation and surviving the South with the boat in one piece much more than actually racing, though maintaining my third place remains a high priority. But there is still so much race track left that anything can happen. On that note though, I have less than 9,000 miles to the finish. That sounds like a ton, but considering that we started at 25,000, it means that i’ve nearly hit the 2/3rd mark. One thing’s for sure, this race and my mental mindset is all about little milestones. First (from Hobart), it was halfway to New Zealand, then New Zealand, then the date line, then Hawaii longitude, then halfway to the Horn, then Point Nemo, then 2,000, then…. lots of little milestones make it feel doable.

Almost touching 53 South last night, it is certainly getting colder and I am wearing lots of layers. Also, with the wind being from the south the last few days, it is coming up from Antarctica and there is a definite chill to the air, and the water temperature has dropped as well. It’s cold, and i’m fairly uncomfortable, but I can’t help but get the feeling that even this place is diminished in how cold it is due to climate change. Sure, I haven’t quite reached the latitude of Cape Horn, and it is obviously summer – though for comparison’s sake, virtually every other sailing story around Cape Horn is also in summer – but it doesn’t feel quite as cold as the legend led me to believe. I remember when I started crossing oceans, back in 2010, and I sailed back from Hawaii to San Francisco. I remember those last days headed into port and I was just freezing. I did that trip again in 2012, and then ’13, and then ’15 and many more times over that decade, and as recently as 2022. And it has just consistently gotten warmer and warmer. In 2010 it was cold, not it’s not. So I wonder what this place has done in the last 10 or 15 years as well. Having said all of that, yesterday morning I had a brief 37 knot squall that brought through a lot of hail and sleet, my first frozen stuff of this journey.

Most of us have been having intermittent issues with Starlink while in this part of the world. While my bandwidth is more limited and the connection less stable, it’s still working most of the time. The biggest challenge i’ve had is that it just takes forever to find a satellite and connect to the internet. I know that they are constantly upgrading and maintaining the system to make it faster, it’s evolving in real-time, but I still have to say that Starlink has been amazing. I just took a Starlink 2/3 of the way around the world and through the single most remote spot on the planet and it worked. That’s a pretty strong endorsement. So yean, good job Elon and company, and thanks for the support, and to Jason and my sponsor Kim at Starlink. Having Starlink has truly been a game-changing technology. Let’s hope it survives the last 9,000 miles and remains working to the finish. My favorite sport to watch, by far, is AMA Supercross, or in other words, dirt bikes racing in big stadiums. Even in the Southern Ocean, i’ve been able to watch live dirt bike racing on Saturdays on NBC Sports. Incredible. Three races into the 2024 season and there’s been 3 different winners so far. I can’t wait to watch Anaheim 2 this weekend.

My Solbian solar panel set-up and my APS alternator from Bruce Schwab at Ocean Planet Energy continues to work very well and keep my batteries charged up and working well. When it’s sunny, and even when it’s overcast a lot of times, my solar panels charge the batteries very well and I only have to run the motor every several days. My wind generator and hydrogenerator are merely backups at this point, though i’ll use both when back in the calmer waters of the Atlantic.

This is difficult and this is challenging and it’s un-fun and scary in a lot of ways, but even in writing this blog and reflecting on where im at, I realize how fortunate I am to be here. So many dream of racing solo around the world and yet so few get to realize this dream, and so for that alone i’m grateful to be here. And I do still have my Vendée Globe dream very much intact. Ask a runner how much fun it is to run the Boston Marathon and they may have different feelings on mile 19 as they do a day or two after they cross the finish line. And i’m sure that’s how this race will be. This is some serious Type II fun that’s probably going to seem a lot cooler after it’s over. So I would again like to thank all of my sponsors and supporters for helping me get here. I love and appreciate you all. It’s been by no means perfect, but approaching Cape Horn and still sitting in a podium position seems pretty cool. It’s been an adventure. 

Go the Shipyard Brewing,