Polar bid sailor faces Cape Horn

Adrian Flanagan celebrated a hundred days at sea this weekend on his quest to be the first solo sailor to circumnavigate the world via the polar regions. He set off on the 35,000nm trip in October, crossed the equator in December, and is now preparing for a mid-February rounding of Cape Horn from the west, against the prevailing winds and currents. Cash raised by the bid is going to Save the Children and Oxford Children’s Hospital. An extract from his diary follows:

‘100 days at sea! It seems neither longer nor shorter though I have been through a tremendous amount. The worst part for me was the beginning of the voyage. Not only saying goodbye to my children but then the seemingly endless run of vicious lows bringing storm force conditions to the western approaches of the English Channel. The best section has been the stretch from south of the Canary Islands to the equator – reliable winds, mild and warm conditions.

This latest phase of the voyage since the ‘big’ storm on 15th January has been very frustrating. I would reckon that I have been becalmed at least 50% of the time, interrupted with variable winds or violent squalls. I had planned to be round Cape Horn by the end of January. It now looks as if it will be mid-February! For the past three weeks, every mile has been painstakingly massaged from the wind and wrested form the reluctant sea. For every five miles gained, I must yield three.

The problems with the boat have been more numerous than anticipated. The latest steering failure required the complete disassembly of the steering column and dismantling of the ship’s compass, which was damaged beyond repair in the process. On a pitching sea, it took me ten hours to drill out a screw whose head had broken off, snapping fifteen drill bits on the way – three days in all to get the job done. On the upside, Barrabas has proved equal to the worst conditions she has yet faced. My confidence in her has escalated manyfold and now that I am more familiar with her temperament, we communicate better when we need to act fast or manoeuvre quickly.

I have been fortunate that a loyal and dedicated shore-side support team has developed since my departure. Special mention needs to be made of Louise, the expedition manager who has kept things running smoothly through some testing times and Ricardo Diniz, my weather and routing guru who despite the recent arrival of a baby, never seems to sleep and whose own sailing aspirations attest to a kindred spirit.

At this point also, a thank you to all those many people who have sent in messages of support from around the world – you have no idea how much I appreciate reading your good wishes.

The first milestone was to reach the Atlantic equator. Next is to round Cape Horn against prevailing winds and currents – for me a monumental challenge in itself and a long held ambition.

As for myself, I am fine bar the odd knock. The only situation causing me some concern is my left wrist which I damaged badly in a motorcycle accident twenty years ago. It was deemed inoperable then and left me with an ‘unstable’ wrist in which the scaphoid bone floats free, its binding ligaments severed. It aches constantly and often ‘catches’ as the scaphoid ‘jams’ the wrist generating a sharp pain. It is now permanently strapped. Otherwise, I am fit and psychologically strong.

My diet has become heavily carbohydrate based as the weather gets cooler – rice, pasta and bread with a variety of sauces which I create form the various condiments in the larder. I tend to eat a lot of the same thing, then get bored of it and go onto something else. Part of the rationale is that I can cook for three days in one sitting! At the moment the dish of the day is spaghetti accompanied by an Arrabbiata-based sauce with anchovies and hot chilli. I also drink many cups of tea!
I sleep as much as I can. With one near miss so far, I am more alert near the shipping lanes, otherwise I try to keep to a regular light/dark day/night pattern.

For entertainment, my Creative Zen MP-3 players are great. Out here in the middle of the ocean, I can sing to my heart’s content without offending anyone!

I miss my children, warm pubs, hot baths and crisp bed sheets. What I get here that I don’t get at home – an incredible sense of actually how small the world is – I have been a third of the way around it on a small boat going at walking pace in 100 days. I am struck by the earth’s vulnerability – at the perilously delicate balance of nature and the environment.

So far, I have been roundly tested, but this first third of the voyage has been enriching. Now, as I prepare to face Cape Horn, I am ready for the next 100 days at sea?’