Red carpet day for Brian Thompson and team at the front of the Oryx Quest fleet

We are having the red carpet treatment here in the Southern Ocean today as we reach in light northerly winds. We are just trailing a ridge of high pressure that is being pushed eastwards by the low behind, so we are in flat seas with a three metre long swell from astern bumping our boatspeed up to the low 20s. There are clear skies and stable conditions but the windchill is going to be biting tonight.

Looks like more northerly winds for us tomorrow as we break through this ridge and join the great merry go round of wind circling a stationary high pressure to the south-east of Madagascar. If this remains stationary we will be able to spin around the high anti-clockwise and turn north towards Mauritius, the equator, and then Doha. We are already planning a general strategy for the Indian Ocean but our focus now is to get through this ridge tonight and then around the high in about four days time. Water temperatures will be from 5C to 7C for the next three days, so we are still on berg alert although so far no sightings. Paul is particularly keen to get just one in his photo album. At night in these flat seas the radar will spot the bigger ones from about six miles so we should be okay if we stay alert. We have not seen another ship since Uruguay as these are very untravelled waters.

We will probably be the second to last sailing boat through here until the Volvo Ocean Race fleet comes blasting through later this year. Daedalus will come past in a few days and then this ocean will be left to the Albatross and Petrels to play on.

But it’s been a busy season this austral summer, with the Vendee Race coming through here in December with Vincent Riou on PRB winning brilliantly, and getting a new solo monohull RTW record after a memorable battle with Jean, Mike and Sebastian (congrats to Seb on his Volvo ABN Amro skippers job). In December Ellen MacArthur created a touch and go virtual battle all the way around the planet with Francis Joyon, and got a superb hard fought record for outright solo RTW.

If that was not enough ‘planet shredding’ for one year, Bruno Peyron and his team has just pulled off a fabulous result. He has done a consumate job of choosing the right boat, the right crew and sailing with speed, precision and control for 25,000 miles. Having been a watch captain on Cheyenne [last year] I was a co-holder of the record for about 11 months, and knew the record would not last for ever, but never expected it to come down so much in one fell swoop. On board Doha 2006 we have four of the Cheyenne crew: myself, Damian, Jacques and Fraser, so congratulations from all of us to Bruno and the crew of Orange 2.

The speed of Orange 2 is very impressive, averaging 22.3 knots for the entire trip. We have averaged 19.3 so far and another 15 per cent of speed would be very hard to get, despite the different course they are very fast indeed. It looks like the catamaran design is ideal for the Jules Verne course, because from the start at Ushant, all the way to Cape Horn and on to Rio it’s all downwind with a very small bit of reaching in the SE Trades. The width of the tri is not required for downwind, but the freeboard of the Ollier cat allowed it to keep moving fast in the Southern Ocean, staying ahead of the fronts even if the seastate was less than ideal. Having a small speed advantage here, even one or two knots, allowed Orange 2 to stay in the same weather system for days longer than earlier generation cats. The weather systems have been catching us very slowly when we were sailing at 25 knots, and when they catch you it’s basically a slow fall backwards until the next set of NW’lys catch you on the leading edge of the following depression. It is just feasible to ride the same depression all the way from the Cape of Good Hope to Cape Horn, you just need a fast enough boat.

It’s going to take a special boat and team to break this new record, but the door is just ajar to a sub 50-day passage. We were the first to a sub 60, but Bruno was first to break 80 with Commodore Explorer, to break 70 with Orange and now this latest trip has just set the bar even higher. Who would have guessed that we would be ever talking about a sub 50, where is it all going to end?

It will be fascinating sitting in my rocking chair at home in 2030 watching on my head up live Southern Ocean cam, as maxifoilers weave their way past fast moving depressions as they rocket to the Horn at 45 knots.

Meanwhile, whilst the celebrations go on in Brest, the racing continues here in the Oryx Cup as we spend another four days in the Roaring Forties and Daedalus prepares for her second dose of Southern Ocean in a few days time. The Albatross and us on board Doha 2006 can continue our mutual appreciation society for a little longer. Brian –