Aussie Class II skipper Hunter is to put the Southern Ocean behind him today, while Petersen and Saito are on a drifter
He’s the last man still standing, the final official participant in the 1998-99 Around Alone race ready to take his place among the amazing cast of solo sailors to have rounded Cape Horn before him. Neil Hunter may be the ninth skipper in a nine-boat field, but he is about to accomplish something that, in this edition of the race, many of the bigger-named, better funded competitors could not do. For today, Hunter will slip past the Horn and into the South Atlantic. He and his 40-footer Paladin II, despite long odds, are about to make history.
According to race coordinator Pete Dunning, at 1330 GMT today Hunter was due south of the Everest of the Seas. Hunter did not report to race ops this morning, so it can only be assumed that he is pressing forth on the westerly breeze that was forecast for his rounding. Yesterday, in a COMSAT email to headquarters, he did provide this update: “Wind northwest 30-40 knots, gusts to three meters. One hundred percent cloud cover, sea temperature 8 degrees Celsius.” Cape Horn weather!
“All okay, no dramas,” he continued. “Looks like Commanders’ Weather might be right with their forecast increase in breeze. Have dropped the main and am proceeding under storm staysail and a bit of headsail and making good progress. Seas are starting to build and weather looks a bit ordinary [Aussie translation: awful] for the next couple of days. Hopefully it will calm down in time to see the Horn.” Hunter signed the note, “the Aussie pirate Half Beard.” Whether that means Hunter has adopted a George Michael-like stubble, or is in fact just shaving half of his mug, will not be determined until he reaches Punta del Este.
Reaching Punta is obviously the primary thought on the minds of fellow Class II sailors Neal Petersen and Minoru Saito this morning. At 0944 GMT, Petersen was 601 miles from the finish line and making a shade better than five knots. Petersen has now opened up his lead over Saito to 275 miles, who at the morning report was 876 miles out and sailing at a steady 4 knots. Both boats are struggling in light airs. “Saito is obviously very slow,” said Dunning. “And at this point Petersen isn’t even making 100 miles a day.”
Petersen has company, however. In a COMSAT text message to Charleston yesterday, he wrote, “Last night I could see the lights of Cape Town. No, it’s not a hallucination. To my northeast the skies were lit up like Table Mountain is lit up, and yes, it appeared I could see all the way across the Atlantic. The lights were the bright halogen deck lights of what I counted to be a fishing fleet of over 40 boats. I have never seen a fishing fleet so large. Fortunately they were spread along a north-south line, and I was inshore of them about 8 miles and passed without incident. This morning I saw one of the trawlers close by, with hundreds of birds circling it. I am curious what they are fishing for. With so many boats visible at one time, there must be many, many more. What chance does the fish stand with all those nets?” A lonely sailor, a philosophical riddle… It’s time for the breeze to blow.