Hall puts arduous voyage behind him, Garside advancing

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND: With the Southern Cross dangling above the horizon like an upside-down kite, Josh Hall and his Class I 60-footer Gartmore Investment Management cleaved across the finish line in a fresh southerly last evening at a shade past 11 p.m. local time (2313 GMT on the 7th) to complete a difficult second leg of Around Alone. “There was some amazing sailing between some amazing wipe-outs,” Hall said. “It’s such a struggle to cross that bloody [Southern Ocean] that to arrive disappointed is not what I bloody came for. But I’m glad it’s finally over!” Hall’s time of 33d 00h 13m 31s placed him fourth in class and fifth overall.

Hall had an exasperating voyage. His problems began early in the trip when he slewed down a wave face and was served up a double portion of trouble: Gartmore’s port rudder had swung 20-degrees off kilter and the car that guides his mainsail up the mast had come unhinged. “I’d had trouble with my mast track delivering the boat across the Atlantic and I figured the worst–that the track had gone again. I decided to hike off on a northeasterly jibe to get in a bit of lighter weather to make repairs. By the time I got it sorted out and back on the race track I was 250 miles behind the leaders. Not a big deal. But by then they’d decided–and quite rightly for them–to honor that new waypoint [north of the Kerguelen Islands]. I agreed with it at the time [but the weather changed by the time I rounded it]. I was so far north and we had due westerlies so I had to sail dead downwind to reach it. The same thing happened to Mike Garside and Brad Van Liew. We couldn’t sail the fast angles. It was a point of honor, but if I’d dived south I potentially could’ve made up 500 miles.”

Little did Hall know, his situation was on the verge of plummeting from horrible to terrifying. “Something whacked my autopilot compasses,” he said. “There’s nothing so scary as gassing along at 20 knots and have the pilot decide to make a 180-degree turn. I reckon I was doing 6 or 7 crash jibes a day and that was not fun. I’d hand steer 6 or 8 hours a day but I couldn’t manage any more really… The best word to sum up my leg is ‘frustration.’ I know I’m not as cavalier as the guys ahead of me in Class I. They push their boats more, they are more extreme sailors. I’ve got no illusions about that. But I also think we have a slightly faster boat in most conditions. Last leg, I mixed it up [with the others]. But on Leg 1, my problems happened late. This time it was early on.”

In fact, by heading east in the Tasman Sea in the trip’s closing days, Hall was able to make huge gains on Garside, who at one stage had closed to within 25 miles of him. At 10:44 a.m. local time (2144 GMT) today, Garside still had 392 miles to go, and was 45 miles in front of Van Liew. But both skippers had better beware of Russian Viktor Yazykov, who was just 69 miles astern of Van Liew at the latest update and making a fleet-best 9 knots. Yazykov has for the most part avoided the high that has slowed his Class II rivals. Hall had an interesting take on the Tasman stretch: “It probably is now the most tactical element of the race… If I had known the high was going to be so static, I would’ve gone south of South Island and up the east side.” But overall, Hall has remained philosophical about the race thus far. “It’s been fantastic. What stories! Mike Golding appeared unassailable, and now he’s out of the race. People were writing off Giovanni [Soldini], and he’s been brilliant. And who could have predicted Isabelle [Autissier’s] comeback. I feel really privileged to be a part of it. And I’d like to be much more part of it on the next leg!”