The 11-man crew aboard Olivier de Kersauson's 110ft trimaran have been attacked by vicious conditions and are currently in survival mode in the deep south

“We’re not racing anymore, we are just suffering. The sea is incredibly violent, dangerous, hard, icy and dense. It’s moving from the pack ice up to our latitudes and further at between 30 and 35 knots. I’ve been here many times before, but I’ve never been attacked like this – I get the impression that it’s already winter and we’re too late.”

Spoken by Olivier de Kersauson, these words have a particular resonance and weight: “The sea is coming at us from the south and the wind is beam-on to our route. We’re surfing at 35kts with very little canvas. It’s not the wind that’s giving us the problem, because if it were, then all we’d have to do is shorten sail and Geronimo would stay manageable. As things are, it’s the sea that’s making the decisions and sending us off downwind or wherever it wants. It’s wholesale slaughter. We’re trying to get further south at the moment, because if it carries on the way it is, we won’t even be able to get round Cape Horn. The depression is a long way north and very active. It’s blocking our route and forcing us as far north as 48 or even 46° – it’s sidelining us. We’ve still had no breakages on Geronimo, either because the boat’s so well made or because it’s a miracle. What’s certain is that we can’t stay in seas like this for too long, because something’s bound to get broken sooner rather than later. I’m looking at it from every angle, but I can’t see any way out. The door is closed. This depression spreads over 5° from north to south and 20° from east to west. We’re already 4° further north, but it’s not enough. We’re going to be forced to go 8 or 9° – nearly 1,000 kilometres? to put it bluntly, things are not good.”

At the edge of the Pacific Ocean and, after 32 days at sea, midway through their record attempt, the crew of Geronimo are having some appalling days in which survival is the only objective. “There’s no fun in it, no competition, what we’re doing now has nothing to do with a record. This crew is all about attacking, but for four days, we’ve done nothing but curl into a ball and submit. The guys are physically worn out. It’s impossible to sleep below decks and above decks, things are really wild. Geronimo is surfing at between 25 and 27 knots under mast alone. It’s out of hand and exhausting. Didier (Ragot) has been confined to his berth for three and a half days after damaging his lower back. Otherwise, nothing’s broken, nothing’s fractured, no open cuts, just bruises and terrible fatigue. It’s sheer brutality coming from every side. It’s just athletic survival.”

Despite forecasts which show conditions improving over the next 12 hours, Olivier de Kersauson remains sceptical about the future. “We can’t just luff. As far as the next 48 hours are concerned, I have no plan – I simply don’t know. I’ve never seen anything like this. The door to the world is closing and I’ve no idea what to do. It’s unfeasible; I can’t stay on route, because it’s too dangerous. We’d end up capsizing. When it comes to the weather, you always tell yourself that the worst probably won’t happen, because if you didn’t say that, you might as well give up there and then. One thing’s for certain though, I will never insist on rounding the Horn at all costs. If it goes on like this, we’ll have to get out as quickly as we can and forget about the record. It’s not like being in an Atlantic storm where there are people around. If it all goes wrong here, then you’re dead.”

Over the next two or three days, the Cap Gemini/Schneider Electric team will be evaluating the risk of continuing its attempt on the record. But at the moment, Olivier de Kersauson can only think of the impossibility of “passing” through this succession of ice-cold liquid roller-coasters moving with incredible violence and speed. “If we can’t find a way out of here in the next 72 hours and the winds stay as they are, I’m not going further south, I’ll turn around and throw in the towel, it’s just too dangerous. It would be far worse to end up breaking the boat or capsizing. If we can find a consistent weather system? but I just don’t know at the moment – that’s the 64-million dollar question. I’ve asked those ashore – those who look at the weather for us – to find us a way, but today, there’s no way at all.”

Position on Day 32



Distance covered in 24 hours 448 nautical miles

Average speed