Sonntag, 24.01.2021 03:44 Uhr

After Greta trip, solo through the Roaring Forties

Verantwortlicher Autor: Jochen Raffelberg Les Sables d'Olonne (France), 11.12.2020, 19:53 Uhr
Presse-Ressort von: Jochen Raffelberg Bericht 4822x gelesen
The VandeeGlobe flotilla sailing the Roaring Forties corridor near the bottom of the Indian Ocean
The VandeeGlobe flotilla sailing the Roaring Forties corridor near the bottom of the Indian Ocean   Bild: ©VendeeGlobe and J Raffelberg

Les Sables d'Olonne (France) [ENA] Fighting squalls of 40 knots and rogue waves close to Île Saint-Paul sailor Boris Herrmann radioed home: “I felt alone at sea; the emotions are stronger with the loneliness and the lack of sleep.” The German ranked 8th in the solo round the world yacht race near its midway point.

At this time Herrmann’s 60 feet monohull Seaexplorer was navigating some 90 nm abeam the French island and had mastered 11.000 nm (21.000 km) four weeks after takeoff with another 15.000 nm ahead. The pack of 33 entrants set out on the VendeeGlobe from this small sea resort on the French Atlantic coast to circumnavigate the globe in no more than 163 days; single-handed, non-stop via three capes and without outside assistance. The time limit is based on Jean-François Coste’s race time, the last competitor to finish in the first edition of the Vendee Globe almost thirty years ago. The tail-ender in 2017 arrived home after 124 days; Breton sea captain Armel Le Cléac’h won in record breaking 74 days.

But before the winner will net the prize money of €200,000 (runner-up €140,000), s/he and their rivals will have to continue braving almost gargantuan challenges like injuries, sleep attacks, drift ice, gale force winds and the solitude amid the infinite emptiness of the Southern Ocean. And yet microscopic dots on South Atlantic maps indicate a couple of isolated islands lining the inhospitable Roaring Forties passages at the bottom of the world that old shellbacks termed “running the Easting down.” Herrmann and his companions by Thursday had passed a few of them including the Stoltenhoff islet in the Tristan archipelago, Gough, Marion (the larger of the two Prince Edward Islands), Crozet, Kerguelen, Amsterdam and Saint-Paul islands.

Prior to the third edition of the race in 1996 your reporter happened to be sitting next to Houston Professor William R. Sheldon on a flight from Kuwait to Cairo during which he recapitulated adventures in some of these remote Southern Ocean locations. The US space physicist had performed rocket investigations of electron precipitation and very low frequency waves (VLF) that can be used for military communication with submarines. Sheldon told me about the Forgotten of Saint-Paul, a French group of seven left on the island in 1929 to look after the lobster factory. Only three were rescued years later; the others had perished. According to Sheldon French sociologists had watched the doomed from afar as part of an inexcusable experiment.

The Prince Edward Islands, 200 nm south of the VendeeGlobe course and off-limits to its sailors because of the Antarctic Exclusion Zone’s (AEZ) ice drift, were the scene of another mystery: the Vela incident also known as the South Atlantic Flash that was detected by an American Vela Hotel satellite in 1979 near the islands in the AEZ. Although the cause of the double flash remains officially unconfirmed and with some information still classified by the US government, most independent researchers reportedly believe that the flash stems from a nuclear test possibly carried out by South Africa and Israel.

For the brothers Gustav and Friedrich Stoltenhoff the archipelago of Tristan da Cunha 2500 km off the Cape of Good Hope turned into an isle of doom at the beginning of the 1870s. Shipwrecked at first they returned to make a living on Inaccessible Island for two years but failed to survive on proceedings from sealing. The Tristan islanders also disliked what they saw as unwelcome intruders and sought to get rid of them by inter alia steeling vital cattle from the Germans. The siblings later peacefully died in Cape Town where they share a grave still existing at the Maitland cemetery. To honor their courage the British Admiralty named an islet of Nightingale Island on their maps after the two.

Every four years: one-handed, no assistance, non-stop around the world:

By Friday five contestants, among them one of six participating women had abandoned the race. The rescue of Kevin Escoffier by his rival Jean le Cam and his subsequent salvage by the French Navy from near Crozet to Reunion has hit the headlines. The race rules stipulate the course of the circumnavigation "from West to East": Following the start in the bay of Les Sables d'Olonne (also the finish) the field descends from North to South on the Atlantic leaving the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin at the Western tip of Australia and Cape Horn to port (left); the Antarctic continent and the AEZ to starboard (right) to eventually ascend on the Atlantic from South to North.

This order makes the flotilla largely follow the route windjammers during the Age of Sail took on their passage from Europe to Australia, aided by the forceful westerly winds of the corridor between the 40° and 50° South latitude. The VendeeGlobe sailors kept north of the largest group of islands at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, the Kerguelen archipelago, to steer clear of icebergs in the area. They might have met the MS Marion Dufresne II from Reunion, which services the Terres australes et antarctiques françaises (TAAF), calling at the three permanently manned bases there: Port Alfred (Crozet), Port-aux-Français (Kerguelen), and Martin-de-Viviès (Ile Amsterdam) weather permitting. The vessel also allows for up to 14 tourists.

Skippers Boris Herrmann (39) from Hamburg and Munich-born Isabelle Joschke (43) are the first German sailors taking part in the Vendée Globe. While Joschke is sponsored by the MACSF insurance group Herrmann is sponsored by the two main partners, Yacht Club de Monaco and Kuehne & Nagel. His team was founded by his long-time friend Pierre Casiraghi, Prince Albert’s nephew. Before entering the VendeeGlobe Herrmann sailed climate activist Greta Thunberg from Plymouth in the UK to New York City in August last year on his emission-free racing yacht Malizia II. Joschke, who also holds French nationality, has founded the Horixon Mixité association seeking to promote gender equality.

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