French sailor Eric Bellion today became the ninth Vendée Globe skipper – and the first rookie – to round Cape Horn. Bellion, 41, first passed the legendary landmark on the southern tip of the South American continent in 2005. Then, he was with two friends in a 28ft boat on an adventure that would see them spend three years cruising the globe. Twelve years later, the circumstances have changed somewhat - Bellion, a management expert-turned-solo sailor, rounded Cape Horn on his 60ft IMOCA raceboat in ninth place in the Vendée Globe solo round the world race, just 66 days after leaving Les Sables d'Olonne in France.
What's more, the Parisian skipper of Commeunseulhomme has been surfing towards the milestone at speeds of up to 24 knots thanks to a big Southern Ocean depression that brought huge seas and storm-force winds. Despite receiving what he described as a 'Patagonian spanking', Bellion said nothing could suppress his excitement at his first solo rounding. “I rounded Cape Horn for the first time 12 years ago,” Bellion said.
“I was excited like a kid at Christmas, and it’s the same again this time, but it’s not the same when you’re sailing solo. I know what Cape Horn looks like, but this time the approach to it is different. I can tell you that it’s quite tricky here. I got hit by a 45-knot squall with some hail and huge waves. If the Vendée Globe is an Everest, it is the Horn that is at the top and the road to Les Sables d'Olonne is be the descent to the base camp.”
Bellion passed Cape Horn at 1449 UTC today, two days, eight hours and 11 minutes behind eighth-placed Nandor Fa and 19 days, two hours and 15 minutes adrift of race leader Armel Le Cléac'h. Although the heavy weather of the Southern Ocean has pushed Bellion, a relative newcomer to solo sailing, to the limit, he said he would miss it once into the Atlantic and heading north towards Les Sables. “I’m sad to leave the Southern Ocean, I feel good here,” he added. “I don’t know when I’ll be back to see the albatrosses. For me, it’s all about hunting down the lows - that’s how the adventure really began. I wanted to enter the unknown and I’m doing it my way.”
Ninety miles west of Bellion and 130nm from Cape Horn, Conrad Colman was having an easier approach in 20 knots of south-westerly breeze and calmer seas. It will be the third time the New Zealander has passed Cape Horn but the first solo. Colman said he was grateful to be rounding Cape Horn at all after his yacht Foresight Natural Energy was almost dismasted a week ago.
“For my first rounding in 2012 I was trying to outrun a massive storm of 50 knots,” he said, “and the second time was two years ago in the Barcelona World Race when we sailed right past it but it was midnight and we couldn't see a thing. I'm crossing my fingers for the third time. After my misadventures in the Southern Ocean I'm a disappointed I can't push hard and be competitive but it puts things in perspective. I was a hair's breadth away from going home early on a cargo ship, so I am just happy to still be running under my own steam.”
At the 1400 UTC position update Le Cléac'h had pulled out his advantage over second-placed Alex Thomson to 226nm. The latest ETA for the leading pair is January 19.
Alan Roura (La Fabrique): “We've got nice wind that came back, so that's quite cool. It's really downwind so it's hard to go quick at the moment. This evening we will get more wind, up to 30 knots, then it'll be two gybes to get past Cape Horn. There will be quite a lot of wind passing Cape Horn, about 40 knots, so I'm trying to get a bit of rest before the big weather comes. I really like Rich, we've spent a few moments talking on the VHF so that's really cool. We both had to change our course because we were struggling last night, and we wanted to keep safe, so we changed our angle 30 degrees and now we're away again. It's really cool to be this close for three or four days now. I'm pretty happy that he's behind me at the moment. My boat is ok, it's in pretty good condition. I feel safe on this boat even though it's an old one compared to the others. It's a great boat and I'm really proud of what I'm doing with it. This boat is easily capable of finishing this Vendee and that's what I need to do now.”
Jean le Cam, (Finistère Mer Vent): "Yann (Eliès) is leeward of me, about five miles away. That is speeding us both up. It would be stupid if we collided, but I don’t even have my alarm on. We keep an eye on the AIS and don’t sleep for more than 4 or 5 hours. If there was a risk of collision, we’d call the other one up. You call the other person to let them know you’re going to sleep. The Doldrums aren’t looking too bad. We look like we may be lucky with the doors opening for us. No point in being negative, when you can look on the bright side of things.”
Romain Attanasio (Famille Mary-Etamine du Lys): “I was a bit tired this morning, as the conditions have been changeable. I’d like to catch Didac, but he is making good progress. I don’t have a code 0 or J1 and just one J2. I didn’t have the budget. Each time there are light conditions, he makes his getaway. That is what is annoying me. We’re more or less in the same weather system but not entirely. I got stuck in a calm patch behind a front, while he slipped through. He did the same thing last week. I’m counting down the miles to the Horn. I should take around 105 days and finish in mid-February in Les Sables d’Olonne.”