Monday 21 January 2019

My voyage around the globe revealed wonders of the seas

After 50 days alone at sea - tossed by huge waves and buffeted by gale force winds - Enda O'Coineen can finally say he is on the home stretch

Take a bow: Enda on ‘Le Souffle du Nord’
Take a bow: Enda on ‘Le Souffle du Nord’

Enda O'Coineen

Last Friday, Enda O'Coineen crossed the Equator and is now on the final leg to France to unofficially finish the Vendee Globe Around the World Race. The race began in November 2016 - but on New Year's Day 2017, somewhere on the ocean between Cape Horn and New Zealand, his main mast came crashing down - and he had to bring his boat into shelter in NZ.

Bloodied but unbowed, Enda decided to complete the solo circumnavigation as an "unofficial finisher" - and this is an extract from his ship's log...

CROSSING the Equator, now on my way home, was magic. Again I met King Neptune, whose court was in full session. It was a warm welcome - circumnavigation complete - having met the monarch also on the way out.

Dress to impress: Enda crosses the Equator, dressed as Long John Silver, while talking to President Higgins
Dress to impress: Enda crosses the Equator, dressed as Long John Silver, while talking to President Higgins

As an added bonus, it was a great honour that the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, called to congratulate us. And while sailing solo, it is a recognition of all involved in a great team effort - including the Southern Ocean Residents Association.

This Sunday I am 50 days alone at sea since departing New Zealand. I have had the privilege to witness the power, the vastness, the richness, the cruelty and the kindness of the world's oceans. It has been like ''stepping out of the world'' detached from its insanity on a 60ft, F1 of the ocean close to the elements and nature.

And with this, a massive range of emotions from sheer bliss to absolute hell - and everything else in between. Leaving Dunedin on Otago Bay was the culmination of a year of preparation from where I stopped.

Straight from the Kiwi summer into the Southern Ocean, at a very early stage in the voyage I encountered gear failure. Through a glitch in the self-steering system, when asleep, the boat did an involuntary gybe, smashing several battens and later a broken batten punched several holes in the mainsail.

The wind howled, the sail fluttered wildly. There was no moon and my heart sank when torchlight revealed massive holes punched in the sail from the batten out of control.

Could I ever repair this? I thought not. Should I go back? Perhaps. I was in bits and close to crying.

The dawn brought a new perspective and energy and I was doing a steady 12 knots with the jib alone! Yes I can try a repair. However, it would involve removing the main from the boom and putting it back up again - a major task.

Rounding Cape Horn in 50 knot winds was dramatic. I lived on the edge through several enormous waves. It was turbulent and through our boat's various violent gyrations in, around, and through the seas, I was frightened - but there was no going back.

And then, as if by magic, it seemed like we had entered the Garden of Eden. It warmed up, the winds became lighter, the seas were flatter in the lee of Tierra del Fuego.

To boot, the Southern Ocean Residents Association gave us an imaginary champagne reception to celebrate. They are imaginary group of characters who sail on the boat with me and are consulted with all decision making,

The experience drove home to me the fame and reputation of Cape Horn. The Roaring Forties, the Howling Fifties and the Screaming Sixties - are not age related (though in my case could be!) Rather they are bands of latitude around the bottom of our planet. Here the winds and oceans roll around the world almost uninterrupted and waves can attain heights of 30 metres.

After the Horn, it was a challenge of another kind. We had light and head winds as it took a month to work our way up the massive coastlines of Chile, Argentina and Brazil. The Equator marks the beginning of the end in what has been an extraordinary adventure and very tough challenge.

However while we are close, it's not over yet. We must head north through the Doldrums, past the Caribbean and up the North Atlantic, to finish in early April.

The log and daily positions of Le Souffle du Nord are online at teamireland.ie. Please support the Atlantic Youth Trust, whose mission is to connect the young with the ocean and adventure

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