Golden Globe Race skipper Simon Curwen will shortly make landfall in Chile to make repairs to his Hydrovane windvane steering

Hydrovane self-steering systems are the most popular choice for the 2022 Golden Globe Race fleet, with 12 out of the 16 skippers choosing them.

British entrant Simon Curwen is certainly missing his, after his Hydrovane windvane steering system broke when his Biscay 36, Clara was knocked down in 6-7 metre waves and confused seas around 1,200 miles from Cape Horn.

He believes the mast didn’t go into the water during the knockdown [there was no cutlery in the headlining and ‘it wasn’t total carnage down below’], although he said the wave height reached half way up the mast.

Simon Curwen needs to replace the head of his Hydrovane windvane. Credit: Simon Curwen

Without a working Hydrovane self-steering system, Curwen has to either hand-steer the boat or use sheet to tiller steering.

‘Sheet to tiller or any method of steering a boat is great upwind or anything down to just after a beam reach. Theoretically, you can go further downwind than that with a poled out genoa or storm jib, but I’ve found that actually doing that on these boats when there are a lot of confused seas can’t be done safely; you don’t get enough sleep,’ he said.

‘I can’t wait to get the Hydrovane back up and running again. I’ll stop calling it names now. I think it took offence and broke itself!’

Simon Curwen is preparing Clara in Lorient, France

Simon Curwen prepared Clara in Lorient, France. Credit: Piwisy Armor

Curwen, who is sponsored by Howdens, said if he had taken a spare complete Hydrovane self steering unit, he could have ‘easily done repairs at sea’.

He is carrying spares, but not the solid aluminium alloy casting which has broken on the windvane head.

‘Of all the components on the Hydrovane, it is one of the bits that would be least likely [to fail] and was never proposed by Hydrovane to carry, and I wouldn’t have thought [it would have broken]. I will talk to Hydrovane and give some feedback, because in the unlikely scenario of receiving the treatment [knockdown] that I did, it would have been useful if there was a weaker point in the construction, so when a wave lands on top of the vane, the vane breaks, rather than the casting.  I am also carrying a spare vane,’ he said.

A sailor wearing a boiler suit sitting on the deck of his boat steering his boat

Simon Curwen says sailing in crossed seas is physically exhausting. Credit: GGR 2022/JJ&D

Fellow Golden Globe Race entrant, Edward Walentynowicz, who retired just days after the start of the race, was the only skipper in the competition to fit two Hydrovanes to the back of his Rustler 36, just in case one was damaged.

Simon Curwen has just entered Punta Chocoi at the entrance of the Chacao canal in Chile; he plans to stop at Puerto Montt to make repairs.

As well as fitting a new Hydrovane, he also plans to repair his sprayhood.

During the knockdown, a wave filled the canopy [it was lying flat and tied down to the coachroof at the time via handrails], opening the sprayhood and ripping the canvas at the seam and twisting the five millimetre stainless steel tubes. A handrail was also ripped off.

Simon Curwen using a sextant

Simon Curwen says once he has made repairs, he plans to join Michael Guggenberger in the Golden Globe Race fleet. Credit:  GGR2022/Simon Curwen

Naturally, he is disappointed that he is now in the Chichester Class for entrants who make one stop.

‘The race was there to be won and that would have been great. There have been no British winners of a solo yacht race since Robin Knox- Johnson in 68-69. So, that would have been a real achievement for me personally, and it was there for the taking, bar this incident [his knockdown].’

‘Having said that, I’m fine. I set out on this journey to circumnavigate alone around the world, and I’m still going to do that – touch wood – I am not making any assumptions yet, but I’m pretty prosaic about it, and I am looking forward to seeing Clare [his wife] and Paul – my support team – who are waiting to help me with the job list, and then I’ll be back on the water again.’

He said it was unlikely that he would catch Kirsten Neuschafer or Abhilash Tomy, but hopes to ‘join the fleet’ with third placed Michael Guggenberger.

Continues below…

Curwen, who led the 2022 Golden Globe Race until his knockdown, said sailing in crossed seas in the Southern Ocean is ‘physically tiring’.

‘I continue to be surprised by the amount of crossed seas and just how uncomfortable that is to sail in because the boat is being knocked from side to side in a totally unpredictable manner. You’re continually being caught off balance whether you’re on deck or down below. It’s physically tiring; it’s taking a lot of energy generally to keep balanced and to keep warm,’ he said.

The weather is also not what Curwen was expecting.

‘I was really expecting generally westerly winds with regular low pressures rolling through. I think what’s been happening is those big low pressures have been rolling through much further south, and so we haven’t had regular fronts coming through every four or five days. Instead, we’ve had little continual westerly winds and just a series of fronts, some small and some quite big like the one that got me.’

Michael Guggenberger is sailing towards the end of the Pacific No Go Zone, which prevents competitors from sailing below 47°S until 115°W.. Guggenberger sailed into the area for 1.5 hours over the week-end, which generated a 4,5 hour time penalty. Credit: Aïda Valceanu/ GGR2022

Michael Guggenberger is sailing towards the end of the Pacific No Go Zone, which prevents competitors from sailing below 47°S until 115°W. Guggenberger sailed into the prohibited area for 1.5 hours over the weekend, which resulted in a 4,5 hour time penalty. Credit: Aïda Valceanu/ GGR2022

Fellow skippers Neuschafer and Tomy are currently riding out a storm – 50-60 knot winds and 7-8 metres seas – around 1,000 miles from Cape Horn.

Both skippers moved further north to avoid the worst of the weather, having been informed by Golden Globe Race HQ.

Tomy’s Rustler 36 Bayanat suffered two knockdowns, once in the front with a northerly wind and later in the crossed seas with the westerly wind.

The former Indian commander has reported he is fine and the only damage is a torn heavy reefed staysail.

Neuschafer is further northeast.

The South African sailor has reported that her Cape George 36, Minehaha is handling the conditions. She has deployed 70 metres of warp to control the boat, and has been using a small storm jib.

A yacht sailing using white twin headsails

A broken spinnaker pole means Kirsten Neuschafer can no longer use her twin headsails. Credit: GGR 2022/JJ&D

Like Tomy, she is experiencing crossed seas with the primary swell coming from the west-northwest, and a secondary swell from the north-east.

Earlier this week, Neuschafer, 39, reported that she could no longer fly her twin headsails due to a broken spinnaker pole, although she still has one larger heavy pole. She believes the pole has broken due to fatigue rather than shock loads.

Without the big twin-headsail, her downwind performance will be affected, but at the moment she is focussing on sailing conservatively to prevent additional strain on her rig in heavy weather.

Current positions of the Golden Globe Race 2022 skippers on 08 February 2022 at 1600 UTC

Kirsten Neuschafer, (South Africa), Cape George 36 cutter, Minnehaha
Abhilash Tomy, (India), Rustler 36, Bayanat
Michael Guggenberger, (Austria), Biscay 36, Nuri
Ian Herbert-Jones (UK), Tradewind 35, Puffin

Chichester Class:

Simon Curwen, (UK), Biscay 36, Clara
Jeremy Bagshaw, (South Africa), OE32, Olleanna


Edward Walentynowicz, (Canada), Rustler 36, Noah’s Jest
Guy deBoer, (USA), Tashiba 36, Spirit
Mark Sinclair (Australia), Lello 34, Coconut
Pat Lawless, (Ireland), Saltram Saga 36, Green Rebel
Damien Guillou, (France), Rustler 36, PRB
Ertan Beskardes, (UK), Rustler 36, Lazy Otter
Tapio Lehtinen, (Finland), Gaia 36, Asteria
Arnaud Gaist, (France), Barbican 33 Mk 2, Hermes Phoning
Elliot Smith,  (USA), Gale Force 34, Second Wind
Guy Waites (UK), Tradewind 35, Sagarmatha

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