Solo sailor Simon Curwen has led the 2022 Golden Globe Race from the start. A 'racer at heart', he shares how he is riding the weather systems in his Biscay 36 to remain at the front of the fleet
Weather routing is banned in the retro 2022 Golden Globe Race. Instead, the solo skippers have to rely on information from passing ships, what they can pick up via their HF, HAM and VHF Radios, and their weather fax, or by reading the sky, their barograph, and their barometer.
British entrant Simon Curwen is proving himself adapt at reading the weather. Since crossing the start line in Les Sables d’Olonne in September, the Mini Transat veteran has led the Golden Globe Race fleet in his sloop rigged Biscay 36, Clara.
‘Don [McIntyre, Race Chairman] tells me I’m being lucky, which I think is true. I also think I’ve been putting myself in positions to be lucky in keeping, hopefully, on the right side of high pressure systems. We basically have no information, so I’m just reading the signs on the water or in the air. So far, I’ve managed that process of working out what’s going on with the weather reasonably well. I follow it through, even though it seems, at times, to be taking me in fairly obscure directions,’ Curwen told Yachting Monthly.
A ‘racer at heart’, he is also continually optimising his boat’s performance, trimming and changing sails to get the best combination for the conditions.
‘If I feel the boat’s not going in the middle of the night, I’ll get up and sort it out and and make sure we’re going in the right direction and as fast as we can. I suspect it [my position in the fleet] is a mixture of a bit of luck, a bit of working out the weather and keeping the boat moving.’
Curwen, who has now sailed 40% of the Golden Globe Race course, said the only useful weather information he has received was around the Canary Islands and South Africa.
The weather has also not been as expected. An unusual Antarctic polar vortex is reportedly contributing to a weather anomaly which is pushing the usual strong westerly winds of the Roaring Forties further south than usual. Some high-pressure systems are also lower than normal, pushing the Roaring Forties toward the Furious Fifties.
‘Nowhere on the route really has the weather been as expected,’ commented Curwen, who said he predicted the south-southeasterlies coming out of the Doldrums. Usually, southeasterlies are expected. He previously experienced similar conditions in the 2000-2001 Mini Transat.
‘I came out of the Doldrums a bit further east than traditional, which allowed me to not get pushed beyond 30° west, which was a bonus. I think that played relatively well for me keeping east and getting through the Doldrums relatively quickly. Then there was a huge high pressure, from where I was sitting, in the south Atlantic, completely separate from the Saint Helena High. This forced us to go south until we got all the way down to the latitude of Cape Town; so I did south all in one go and then started moving east. It was totally unexpected. I expected to cut that corner and sail a long distance, and there was no opportunity with that high pressure.’
He said conditions in the Southern Indian Ocean are also not as predicted, with mild, short-lived 35 knot gales, gusting to 40 knots, and ‘touch wood’, nothing stronger. He had hoped to be able to use his spinnakers more in the Southern Indian Ocean, but ‘there’s just too many waves, and there was no better performance than just using genoas poled out as necessary.’
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Since leaving Cape Town, Curwen is sailing around 1,000 miles a week, and is hoping to reach the Hobart Gate by the 19-20 December 2022.
Unlike many other skippers in the Golden Globe Race fleet, Curwen’s Nautix antifouling is working well, although he plans to check the hull for growth when he reaches Tasmania. Nautix provides antifouling for the IMOCA 60 fleet.
He is also experiencing few problems with his Biscay 36. He lost his genoa halyard in the Atlantic, and substituted his spinnaker halyard, which meant he could only use his lightweight genoa during the four weeks coming into Cape Town. He spent several hours at the South African port up the boat’s mast fixing the problem.
The fixed solar panel on the boat is not working, so instead, Curwen is replying on portable solar panels. He is also regretting not spending more time installing his HF radio.
‘I’m not transmitting on HF radio at all well, which means I’m in no communication with my fellow [skippers] out here on the water. The last time I had any communication with them was with Tapio [Lehtinen] in the Canaries. But I could at least listen in on the radio, to some of the conversation all the way down to Trinidade, and then after that I’ve not been able to pick up any of the talks at all. I think distance and atmospherics has something to do with that,’ commented Curwen.
Despite this, he says he is coping well with the isolation, although he regrets not bringing more books to read including a guide to birds of the Southern Ocean.
He admits there is a ‘certain amount of boredom’, but ‘it’s amazing how long you can sit in the companionway hatch and just stare at the birds and the weather and wonder if you should do a sail change…I am loving most of it.’
Current positions of the Golden Globe Race 2022 skippers on 2 December 2022 at 1100 UTC
Simon Curwen, (UK), Biscay 36, Clara
Kirsten Neuschafer, (South Africa), Cape George 36 cutter, Minnehaha
Abhilash Tomy, (India), Rustler 36, Bayanat
Michael Guggenberger, (Austria), Biscay 36, Nuri
Jeremy Bagshaw, (South Africa), OE32, Olleanna
Ian Herbert-Jones (UK), Tradewind 35, Puffin
Elliot Smith, (USA), Gale Force 34, Second Wind
Guy Waites (UK), Tradewind 35, Sagarmatha
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
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