Friday, 11 March 2011

BWR: Groupe Bel Safely in Ushaia

On board Groupe Bel. Image copyright Guilain Grenier/Groupe Bel.

by Julia Huvé

What a relief! Kito and Seb arrived in the harbor of Ushuaia, at the southern tip of Argentina on Wednesday evening at around 19:00 hours. Safe and sound, the two men succeeded in bringing Groupe Bel to safety after many long stressful hours in which they feared losing the keel out at sea. Two members of the Bel Team arrived in the evening and this morning they will be making a technical assessment of the situation. The monohull must be taken out of the water. This is no small feat in the southernmost town in the world!

Since Monday, Kito and Seb have been living with the idea that Groupe Bel’s keel could come away from the hull at any moment off Cape Horn. It’s enough to send shivers down your spine! “The keel was moving longitudinally at a height of over a meter. The noise was so loud that we got the impression that we were slamming into each wave. We also have a small leak, since the ram has made a small hole in the hull”, says the skipper back ashore, while Groupe Bel is tied up in Ushuaia.

The sailors’ experience has paid off. Each of them has already lived through crisis situations, notably Seb when Groupama capsized off the coast of New Zealand during the Trophée Jules Verne. The Groupe Bel crew kept their thoughts straight: “we were conscious of the danger. The watchword was safety and we had to anticipate the eventuality of capsizing. Everything was ready. The compartments were hermetically sealed and we stayed in our survival suits continuously. We were also ready to spend time in the overturned boat, if necessary.”

Friends at the far end of the world!

Wednesday, during the day, Groupe Bel sailed up the splendid Beagles Channel between the Patagonian Islands. “At dawn, a Zodiac met us with pains au chocolat, fuel and lots of candy. They were really friendly and gave us a great welcome” explains Kito, “Guillermo Altadill (Spanish offshore racer) even came on board. It’s amazing who you meet! He said that according to the Cape Horn semaphore keepers, a sunny day like the one we had at the foot of the cliff, only happen once a year! As soon as we had moored the boat, a huge squall of over 40 knots hit the harbour.”

Untamed beauty

“Patagonia was not planned by the Barcelona travel agency” he said jokingly in his night message! “The light is incredible, the mountains snow-capped, the forests stretch out as far as the eye can see; it is astoundingly beautiful! There are no buildings. We’re not used to seeing this in the northern hemisphere. Here we rediscover the world as it should be, before man came along.”

Finding solutions and making decisions

Wednesday night, Kito and Seb admitted that they were “worn out by this Pacific crossing. We got quite a fright when we saw our faces in the mirror of the hotel elevator!” The two sailors need the technical team to take over. “Let’s sleep on it. A good bed, a good Argentinian steak and a few friends should help. I don’t want to make any hasty decisions. We are going take the boat out of the water, which will not be easy in this far corner of the world. Then we will assess the keel and the solutions will emerge”, Kito concluded.

From the race rules point of view, if the boat makes a technical stopover, it must stay 48 hours. This means that the boat is still officially racing.

1 - Virbac-Paprec 3 / Jean-Pierre Dick & Loick Peyron, 4860 miles distance to finish
2 - Mapfre / Iker Martinez & Xabi Fernandez, 347 miles distance to leader
3 - Renault / Pachi Rivero & Antonio Piris, 1205 miles
4 - Neutrogena / Boris Herrmann & Ryan Breymaier, 1531 miles
5 - Mirabaud / Dominique Wavre & Michèle Parret, 1657 miles
6 - Estrella Damm / Alex Pella & Pepe Ribes, 1660 miles
7 - Groupe Bel / Kito de Pavant & Seb Audigane, 1997 miles

Groupe Bel
Barcelona World Race