In an incredibly busy week at the iconic Cape Horn, a remarkable 15 yachts have raced past on their exit from the South Pacific into the Atlantic Ocean this week alone

Armel Le Cléac’h’s 100ft foiling trimaran Maxi Banque Populaire XI became the 15th boat to pass Cape Horn in a week, when he rounded at 05:01:50hrs UTC this morning, Sunday 11 February.

Le Cléac’h is currently 2nd in the solo around the world Arkea Brest Ultim Challenge race, and today’s rounding is his personal fourth passage of the Horn.

The Ultim fleet is just one of three around the world races currently exiting the Pacific and beginning the Atlantic return, in an extraordinarily busy period at the Horn.

First of the Ultims was fleet leader Charles Caudrelier on the Gitana Maxi Edmond de Rothschild who flew around the last of the great capes on his circumnavigation on Tuesday, 6 February at 1708.

Maxi Edmond de Rothschild leads the Arkea Brest Ultim Challenge fleet around Cape Horn. Photo Yann Riou/Polaryse/Gitana

HIs rounding had been delayed by severe weather forecasts, which predicted two major Southern Ocean lows colliding to produce potential winds of 50-70 knots and extreme sea states. Caudrelier sailed conservatively for around 48 hours, but retained a lead of more than four days over Le Cléac’h and 3rd placed Thomas Coville on Sodebo (who is expected to round later today).

Caudrelier’s Cape Horn rounding – his first solo – was dramatically captured by Gitana team photographer Yann Riou, who flew overhead.

However, Riou was also flying over the area to check for potential ice risk. Prior to Caudrelier’s rounding the CLS service (Collecte Localisation Satellites), which monitors iceberg movements and determines likely risk areas, spotted icebergs north of the previous exclusion zone in the Cape region. 

Since Gitana sailed out of the area, race management team members have made further surveillance flights over the area to check the movements of the ice, but the waters so far appear clear.

Ocean Globe Race rounds Cape Horn

Riou also captured Marie Taberly and crew on Pen Duick VI, Leg 3 leaders in the Ocean Globe Race, as they rounded the Horn early on Tuesday 6 February. in a 25-knot north-westerly, gusting 45, and 2-3.5m seas.

Skipper Taberly reported that their approach to the Horn had been challenging, on a video sent from the yacht after their rounding. “At some point, the wind stabilised between 40 knots, 45 knots, to 50 knots, then from 50 to 60 knots before dropping back to 50. It kept rising and falling, and the waves, well, there were waves and swells, some breaking waves, and the boat started to surf.

“We averaged about 12 knots throughout this low pressure area, which amounts to approximately 270 nautical miles per day. We had beautiful days of consistent surfing between 20 and 23 knots. There was even a surf at 28.3 knots, which I think scared us all. We were all very frightened, but the boat was on fire completely.

“Indeed, the sea was very rough, so the challenge was to keep the boat aligned and manage the waves coming from port or starboard, which could easily catch the stern of the boat and make us broach. In such conditions, it’s crucial to keep the sail up; speed is safe, so you must keep the sail up and move the boat as fast as possible to control and not be overwhelmed by the swell. Instead, know where to position yourself, maintain speed in the trough of a wave, and be ready to tackle the next wave with good speed.

Marie Tabarly at the helm of Pen Duick VI in the Ocean Globe Race, Flyer Class Photo: Martin Keruzoré

“Steering was very challenging; those who are cold once they’re at the helm usually warm up in a few seconds because of this, plus the stress of being at the helm. And yeah, there are moments when you feel quite small, especially at the top of a wave, 7 to 10 metres high, looking at the vast ocean. It’s really when you’re at the top of the wave that you realise the immensity of the sea. And then, we’re at the Horn, not just anywhere in the world.

“Passing Cape Horn isn’t that difficult because when you arrive, the sea is calm, and there’s no wind. The challenge is before reaching Cape Horn; passing it is the reward,” Taberly added. “We passed Cape Horn under excellent conditions with an incredible sunrise. It was the first sunrise in Patagonia, just sublime. And well, the Translated team was still there, passing Cape Horn a few hours after us.

“From Cape Horn, we started our ascent of the Atlantic towards Punta del Este, passing a place called the Strait of the Sea, west of the Falkland Islands, also known as the Malvinas. Our friends from Translated 9 also followed us closely in the Strait of the Sea, overtaken by Charles Caurdrelier and Gitana. So, we won our bet, arriving before the Ultimes.“

Storm conditions at the Horn

Second-placed Swan 65 Translated 9, co-skippered by Golden Globe Race finisher Simon Curwen and Marco Trombetti rounded five hours later in more moderate conditions of 15-20 knot winds as they sailed just half a mile from the coast of Cape Horn.

“We’ve had three days of fire; we sailed through the storm with winds at 55 knots, gusts, and formed waves. Only as we approached Cape Horn, about 60 miles away, did the weather situation improve, and we had a great rounding of the Cape,” the team reported.

However, Translated 9, which has held the overall race lead in IRC since the race’s outset, was forced to divert to the Falklands Islands swiftly after, having reported hull damage. The crew discovered two cracks in the stern section – one potentially significant – causing water ingress. The team safely made port in the Falklands, where they confirmed that the yacht cannot be repaired without assistance, forcing their retirement from Leg 3.

Thursday 8 February saw three more Ocean Globe Race crews make the rounding, with Maiden, the Swan 651 Spirit of Helsinki and the French former Whitbread 60 Neptune passing the iconic Cape, followed closely by the Swan 53 Triana. 

In doing so, three of the crew on Maiden – Vuyisile Jaca, Junella King and Maryama Seck – made history as the first black female crew to become ‘Cape Horners’.

Maiden rounds Cape Horn in the Ocean Globe Race. Photo courtesy of OGR

The brief messages sent from the teams in the ‘retro’ round the world race captured the moment. “CAPE HORN! Laughing, crying, hugging on the deck. LEGENDARY moment. Masa shouted land ahoy and Jouko drove us through the longitude,” reported Spirit of Helsinki. 

“Bye Southern Ocean, thanks for being so good to us. A life-changing experience.”

Over the past two days, the former Whitbread yacht L’Esprit d’Equipe, Tapio Lehtinen’s Galiana with Secure, the Swan 57 White Shadow, Outlaw and Evrika, with just two teams still to round on their way to the race’s final stopover in Punta del Este, Uruguay.

“The wind was gusting up to 50 knots as we were approaching, and the waves were steep, breaking waves, so it was proper Cape Horn weather! So I feel lucky that for me it was my fourth time sailing Cape Horn, and I felt lucky to do it in a proper gale and also during daylight,” said Lehtinen.

Tough conditions for Galiana WithSecure on the race towards Cape Horn. Credit: Galiana WithSecure Ville Norra / OGR2023

Global Solo Challenge

Meanwhile entrants in the single-handed Global Solo Challenge have also been streaming around Cape Horn. 

While the leader Philippe Delamare on the 46-footer Mowgli rounded on 9 January, the past couple of weeks have seen second-placed Cole Brauer on the Class 40 First Light round on January 26, then Ronnie Simpson on the Open 50 Shipyard Brewing on 1 February.

Italian skipper Andrea Mura, also on an Open 50 passed the Cape on 7 February, closely followed the same day by Francois Gouin on Class 40 Kawan 3, and Italian Class 40 skipper Riccardo Tosetto the next day. American David Linger is likely to pass the landmark before the close of this weekend.