it keeps getting worse

It looks like the Southern Ocean is still dishing out its balmy summer sailing conditions and has claimed yet another victim. British sailor Susie Goodall, racing solo in the Golden Globe Race, was rolled and dismasted and is out of the race. Goodall had been lying in fourth place behind the Estonian sailor Uku Randmaa, Dutch sailor Mark Slats and the leader, the indomitable French sailor Jean-Luc van den Heede who has led the fleet since the very beginning. Before being dismasted Susie sent out the following message (in all caps). “TAKING A HAMMERING!WONDERING WHAT ON EARTH IM DOING OUT HERE.”

A short time later she activated her EPIRB but didn’t respond to numerous text messages sent to her by the Chilean authorities. We now know that she was on deck trying to deal with the mess created by the capsize. When Goodall finally made contact with the race HQ she reported that her yacht, a Rustler 36 sponsored by DHL, had pitchpoled and had lost all above deck gear. Her mast had been cut away and the capsize took her twin spinnaker poles. Essentially she has nothing to use to create some kind of jury rig. All she can do is wait for rescue from either a passing ship, or from her fellow competitor, American Istvan Kopar.  Kopar is just under 800 miles from Goodall’s position sailing at less than four knots. At that rate it will take him over a week to reach Goodall.

Susie had been riding along the north side of a very intense low pressure system at the time of her dismasting. Winds were a steady forty knots with gusts well over 50 knots. Her position is midway between the tip of New Zealand and Cape Horn, in other words in the middle of nowhere with nowhere to go. Had this happened 50 years ago when the original Golden Globe Race took place she would most definitely have been up a creek without a paddle. Since we live in a very different world from 50 years ago I am sure that she will be rescued in the coming days.

The Southern Ocean circumnavigates Antarctica and strong and persistent westerly winds build up massive seas. I speak from experience having sailed those waters on numerous occasions. You look behind you and watch this huge wall of water approaching. Often times the swells are well over 100 feet in height and they have smaller waves breaking on the face of them. Each time a swell rolls up to your boat the stern lifts, the yacht rises, and if not checked, it starts to careen down the front of the wave until the swell passes under the yacht.

At times, between swells, the troughs are so deep that it’s almost windless at the bottom, but that all changes as soon as the next big ocean swell rolls up behind you. It’s easy to see how Susie could have been pitchpoled especially if she was trying to slow the boat down. The safest thing to do is to sail as fast as possible to reduce apparent wind but that’s not always possible especially when you are a lone sailor on a small boat.

Of the 18 sailors that set out from Les Sables-d’Olonne, France on July 1 earlier this year, only seven remain in the race assuming that Susie Goodall is out. Ten sailors have either been rescued or made it to port and some of the competitors are not yet halfway around the world. There is a vast stretch of Southern Ocean ahead for many of them and there is also a long slog up the Atlantic that is always fraught with potholes.

At the front of the fleet Jean-Luc van den Heede holds a decent lead over second place Mark Slats, but Slats has been steadily chipping away at the distance between the two boats. Jean-Luc himself was rolled in the Southern Ocean and sustained a lot of damage to his mast, but he has been able to stabilize it and is sailing cautiously which is one reason why Slats has been able to close the gap. Van den Heede, also sailing a Rustler 36, has just over 5,000 miles to go to the finish and still holds a 1,000 mile lead over Slats so it appears that his lead is safe but Jean-Luc, who has already completed five solo circumnavigations, knows that a lot can happen in the days ahead. In the meantime we watch and wait to see who rescues Susie Goodall.


– Brian Hancock.