Ten days since his world quite literally came crashing down around him, Irish skipper Enda O'Coineen says he is still contemplating his next move.
O’Coineen’s 2017 got off to the worst start imaginable when his IMOCA 60 yacht Kilcullen Voyager Team Ireland dismasted on New Year’s Day 180 miles south east of New Zealand.
The violent Southern Ocean squall to blame ended O’Coineen’s Vendée Globe dreams in an instant, and the 61-year-old single-handed sailor had no option but to cut the entire rig free.
Rather than calling for help he fashioned a crude sail from the broken pieces of his boat and headed towards New Zealand, where he was eventually picked up by a fishing vessel. Now, more than a week after the disaster, O’Coineen says he is finally coming to terms with his shattered dream and has begun weighing up the options of a next move.
‘Only the French would dream up such a mad crazy race, such an adventure, and lure an innocent young Irishman into it,’ said O’Coineen, who found safe haven in Otago Bay in Dunedin on the southern tip of New Zealand’s South Island.
‘How do I feel about it? It’s been an adventure, a challenge, and I feel privileged to have been able to do it. I took risks, I accept that, and I’m responsible for my own destiny. I’m proud I didn’t call the rescue services. It’s an emotional bomb, really, but that’s life – you get kicked in the arse, you fall down and you get back up again. We’re making plans for the future and let’s see what happens.’
Since arriving in Otago Bay last Friday O’Coineen has been inundated with offers of support from locals, and has had camera crews lining up to interview him.
‘I’m a bit isolated here in one of the remote parts of the world but the people have been great,’ he said. ‘I was front page on the local newspaper – me, together with a big story about the local penguin population. Not a lot happens here!’
The question remains as to what O’Coineen will do with his wounded IMOCA 60. One option is to ship it back to Europe alongside Paul Meilhat’s SMA, another to refit it and sail it home. He’s even had an offer from a Kiwi sailor to buy the boat in its current state.
‘I haven’t made any final decisions yet,’ he said. ‘I’m not in a massive rush – my family don’t expect me back for a while! It’s tempting to get a mast and try to sail the boat home but that’s a huge logistics effort in itself. So I really don’t know – the ball is in the air.’
Meanwhile on the racecourse leader Armel Le Cléac’h has been working hard to defend his slim lead from the relentless attack of second-placed Alex Thomson.
A costly passage through the Doldrums for Le Cléac’h has now been compounded by complex weather uncharacteristic of this part of the ocean.
By rights Le Cléac’h should be enjoying fast sailing on Banque Populaire VIII in steady north-easterly trade winds, conditions that could have allowed him to consolidate his lead over Thomson’s Hugo Boss. Instead a large depression 1,500 nautical miles to the north is disrupting the trades and playing havoc with Le Cléac’h’s bid for a first Vendée Globe title.
‘The situation isn’t very clear in comparison to the forecasts,’ the exasperated Breton skipper said. ‘For two or three days it’s been hard getting north. It’s been thundery weather since the Equator. The Doldrums travelled up with us with big clouds and heavy squalls. It hasn’t been as thundery since yesterday, but is very cloudy, and we’ve got some more complicated patches ahead. It’s different from the usual scenario and I’m at the limit of my understanding of the weather.’
Still hurting from seeing his 500nm lead at Cape Horn reduced to 146nm at the Equator, Le Cléac’h’s quest for glory was dealt a further blow when he was snared by the Doldrums. Thomson’s passage, by comparison, was much quicker and at one point he came to within 50nm of Le Cléac’h. Now the pair must deal with whatever the weather throws at them as their race for the finish line enters its final week.
‘We don’t have manoeuvres like we did in the Southern Ocean,” Le Cléac’h added. ‘It’s just a question of trimming depending on what the wind throws at us. I thought I had got away from the Doldrums but that wasn’t the case. It was more favourable for Alex and that’s hard to take. For the moment, we’re in front. We are going to have to see what happens.’
Six hundred miles south, third-placed Jérémie Beyou joined Le Cléac’h and Thomson in the northern hemisphere after passing the Equator at 1329 UTC. Beyou is likely to have a much simpler traverse of the Doldrums, which are forecast to shrink in the west in the next 24 hours. That will also be good news for fourth-placed Jean-Pierre Dick, who has gambled on his route close to the coast of Brazil paying off by allowing him to skirt round the western edge of the Doldrums.
French sailor Eric Bellion is set to become the ninth skipper to round Cape Horn tomorrow, followed closely by New Zealander Conrad Colman.
Three thousand miles west, Dutch sailor Pieter Heerema was temporarily celebrating after the wind hole that has held him for several days started to relinquish its grip.
‘The position of the area of no wind was a little different to what I was expecting,” the 65-year-old explained. “I’ve been locked up and the waves were coming at me from everywhere. It was a bit bouncy without much progress, but in the last two hours a little bit of breeze has started to establish and I think that will build and we’ll be on our way again.’
No Way Back skipper Heerema, in 17th, said the waves had been so bad that he had not been able to carry out any routine maintenance despite the lack of wind. ‘The boat was moving so badly there was nothing I could do – I couldn’t stand or sit so I was just lying in my bed being bored for a long time,” he added. “They aren’t big jobs though, nothing that will hamper my progress. I’m just trying to point the nose east as much as possible in the direction of Cape Horn – I want to get out of the Pacific as quickly as possible.’
Eleven of the 29 IMOCA 60s that set sail on the 2016/17 Vendée Globe on 6 November, have so far been forced to abandon the gruelling challenge, due to dismasting, breakages and damage caused from hitting unidentified floating objects.
Find the latest updates and boat tracking at www.vendeeglobe.org/en
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