Ellen's crew are back up to speed and hurtling south, but Géronimo's still scorching ahead

It has been a case of full speed ahead for Ellen MacArthur and the crew of Kingfisher 2 in the last 24 hours as they pick up speed and tear towards the Southern Ocean. At the same time, however, conditions on board have changed drastically and summer is fast becoming a memory. Here is Ellen’s report:

“Sailing along at 23 knots – averaging 26-27 knots though. Incredible how things have changed in the last few hours, never mind days, really. Gone from hot, hot sunshine to sailing downwind in 30 knots of breeze and quite heavy seas. Now we are down to almost south of the 40th parallel so we’re heading pretty quickly down into the Southern Ocean and quickly east as well – we had a good day yesterday averaging over 25 knots.

“Yesterday I was sitting down below in the nav station in shorts and t-shirt and now sitting here in thermals, mid layer and blanket over my legs! The water temperature is getting lower and lower – pretty chilly. Amazing how things can change in 24 hours…and today we saw first albatross – in fact, there were two of them – absolutely stunning, massive…

“Should be able to keep this pace for a while longer – sailing along with spinnaker and full main in 28-30 knots breeze. We’ve got a depression passing underneath us and we need to gybe over the top of that and ride with it as long as we can. Most important thing is to set ourselves up for next depression which is much bigger and more powerful, and we have to pick the right point on the front side of that depression. Seaway not too bad – relatively flat as we’re sailing into the back of an old high pressure system but last night it was horrendous, really violent sea, bouncing around everywhere and impossible to write or do anything down below…”

But if Kingfisher 2 was upping the pace, so too was Olivier de Kersauson’s Géronimo. Yesterday she was back on form and logged 521 nautical miles – an average speed of 21.7 knots.

“It’s very tiring,” admitted de Kersauson. “We’ve had to manoeuvre a lot in the last few hours. It’s also really cold and dark here. It’s complicated and stressful, but everything’s going well.

“The sea is a bit less harsh at the moment. You can see glimpses of sky through the clouds and a few stars to remind us that there is another world out there somewhere. Géronimo is gliding noisily from one crest to the next. We can see the beginnings of the Aurora Borealis to the south behind a line of black squalls. The storm is still roaring here. We’re taking another crappy heading to avoid the worst of it. Sadly, were getting the distinct impression that the South doesn’t want us”.

Since entering the Indian Ocean, de Kersauson has been trying to venture further south and take the shortest course, but so far he has been thwarted by rough seas. Géronimo is currently at 55°S and ideally de Kersauson would like to drop even lower, but the fear of ice plays is beginning to feature in his calculations, as he explained yesterday:

“The water temperature is still about 9°C, so we’re not in any danger at the moment. The risk of icebergs begins when the water gets down to between 0°C and 4°C. At this latitude, we shouldn’t meet any floating ice. There’s a big clothes peg next to the chart table so we can touch wood when we talk about things that could prove a little tricky.”