It can be the most frustrating stage of non-stop round the world racing. After completing the difficult, stressful four or five weeks in the big south, there is an almost inbuilt expectation that, by comparison, after rounding Cape Horn and passing the Falklands milestong, racing up the Atlantic life should be a bowl of cherries.
Sometimes it is. Sometimes it is not. Neutrogena and GAES Centros Auditivos have been doing the best they can with the weather cards they have been dealt, but it is complicated, changeable, annoying and just not what the respective duos want or need at this point. Their gap to Cheminées Poujoulat has grown bigger. For nearly 24 hours Bernard Stamm and Jean Le Cam have been able to sail at twice the speed of Neutrogena. There has been no alternative route for Guillermo Altadill and José Muñoz, no other options than to take their medicine, to try and keep sailing fast to get past this area which is stricken with light and unstable winds. For long periods of the race Altadill and Muñoz have paced the race leaders, sailing at the same speeds - even when they have been several hundred miles apart - but right now the weather odds are very much stacked against them. And GAES Centros Auditivos.
Patience and perspective are required virtues right now. But 63 days of accumulated fatigue are felt acutely when it is slow and difficult, much more so than when the boat is moving fast and the adrenaline pumps through the veins and keeps you going. Anna Corbella pointed out today:
"Physcially we are at 100% and mentally we are just a little bit tired. It is like we are going home, so we feel like we have enough energy. We want to get there. But it is a mental effort for sure and we have to go step by step, day by day and be patient, and continue like that. We have to keep our morale high."
Without doubt these are doubly frustrating times for the Neutrogena duo. It's easy to overlook the fact that their race to date has been all but equal to that of Cheminées Poujoulat in every respect. Considering that this is their first ever IMOCA race around the world - indeed it is only Muñoz's second ever big IMOCA race - the performance of Altadill and Muñoz deserves enormous credit. They have proven that they can sail very fast and very smart. They have matched the Cheminées Poujoulat pair - who between them have six racing cirumnavigations. And Altadill and Muñoz have consistently been in the leading trio for the whole race. Consider that they lost some 900 miles for their 24 hours pit stop into Wellington. Altadill and Muñoz were 232 miles behind the leaders when they had to pull into New Zealand. Add the 900 miles they bled then and today Neutrogena's delta to the leaders is still no bigger, virtually the same as it was when they rejoined the low pressure train in the south. What might have been, had they not had to pitstop!
On the other side of Cape Horn, it’s a very different story. The four crews still racing in the South Pacific are having to deal with the usual weather pattern in the Southern Ocean: strong winds, biting cold conditions and frequent rain. But with fewer than 1000 miles to go to Cape Horn, the misery of their daily life, shut away in damp, uncomfortable conditions, is gradually being replaced by the excitement of knowing that it won’t be long before they round the southernmost tip of the Andes mountain range, Horn Island, meaning that they have nearly got their tickets to get out of the Big South. We can imagine that Bruno and Willy Garcia will soon be able to add the title 'Cape Horners' to their own impressive sailing and professional CV's