Spirit of Helsinki powered across the Punta Del Este finish line in a nail-bitingly close end to the Cape Horn leg of the McIntyre Ocean Globe.

After days of too-close-to-call back and forth between the Finnish Swan 651 and the 58-foot Bruce Farr-designed Maiden, Spirit of Helsinki swept in just 43 minutes ahead of Maiden in a dramatic finish.

But after 6500nm of racing, taking in the South Pacific and the infamous Cape Horn, Maiden has placed 2nd on the leaderboard when a one-hour time compensation was deducted. On January 31ST the crew stopped racing for an hour to investigate a suspected life raft sighting three miles distant. In fact, it turned out to be a large orange fishing buoy.

The two former Whitbread yachts have raced into Punta del Este in previous Whitbread Round The World Races. Spirit of Helsinki in 1985, then known as Fazer Finland and Maiden in the 1989 race when she took 3rd place. So, it was the perfect opportunity in Leg 3 for frantic match racing since Cape Horn with Maiden taking the lead after rounding the horn but within just miles from Punta del Este, Spirit of Helsinki, stole it back.

The battle has been played in the daily tweets.

“Another day and night of match racing with the Maidens in light and shifty headwinds. Pushing hard for the line now.” tweeted Spirit of Helsinki.

Meanwhile Maiden had their challengers in sight.

“After more than 6000 nm, we are less than a mile away from Helsinki on the final day! Racing the Finnish 2 the finish!” tweeted Maiden.

Despite their mutual respect and fondness of each other, the crews on both yachts are furiously competitive. Spirit of Helsinki skipper, Jussi Paavoseppä and 13 crew have been fighting to repeat their leg one, 1st place line honours. They placed 3rd in leg 2, Cape Town to Auckland, they sit 2nd in IRC combined rankings for leg 1 and leg 2.

Skipper Jussi Paavoseppä has, on more than one occasion, voiced his frustration at the lack of winds during leg 3, but was clearly delighted to have successfully passed Cape Horn and arrived in Punta del Este without much maintenance required on the impressive Swan.

“It’s just great to be here, but we have bikini lines. We were sitting in the sun so long on this leg.” JUSSI PAAVOSEPPÄ, SKIPPER OF SPIRIT OF HELSINKI.

Commenting on losing out to Maiden by just 16 minutes he joked.

“In Finland we have a saying ‘ladies first, even on thin ice.” LAUGHED JUSSI, WHO NO DOUBT IS ALREADY LOOKING AT THEIR STRATEGY FOR LEG 4.

Heather Thomas, Maiden skipper, put their success down to the dedication and constant hard work of the crew.

“I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved. It’s really special and especially passing Cape Horn and making history again with the first black female crew to race around Cape Horn. As for our celebrations – yes, we wore the Maiden shorts!” HEATHER THOMAS, SKIPPER OF MAIDEN.

Maiden placed 3rd in leg one in line honours and IRC and 4th in leg 2 and IRC – placing them provisionally 3rd in IRC combined. This will change dramatically in the coming days as more yachts arrive and times are adjusted.

Next was Neptune FR (56) – the sun shone, the wind played ball and they breezed over the line at 20:32 UTC on February 16th, with a provisional 4th place in line honours and 7th in IRC – their placing has been affected by a 36-hour time adjustment for sail repairs made in Auckland. The fourth Whitbread boat to arrive in Punta del Este, having sailed in the 1977 Whitbread, Neptune looked in almost perfect condition after 33 days at sea. A tricky docking raised the stress levels slightly for the 9 crews and skipper Tanneguy Raffray, but the champagne and hugs from their many supporters who’d flown in from France put the smiles back on their faces.

And then it was Triana’s FR (66) turn for the spotlight. One of the smallest yachts in the fleet at 53 feet (Sterna SA, the other) the hard-working Swan has achieved the remarkable by winning first in IRC – beating the bigger, more powerful yachts in Flyer Class.

At 07:16 UTC in light winds and calm seas, after 34 days and six hours of intense racing, they took the coveted first in IRC and fifth in line honours.

After the Champagne celebration on the pontoon in Punta del Este, Skipper Jean d’Arthuys spoke to Don McIntyre, OGR Founder about his feelings towards the race and the achievements, and like all the skippers, spoke of his pride in his crew and their work ethic.

“It’s incredible, one year ago I called you (Don) and you allowed me to enter the race after registration had closed and I was the last entrant. Back then I couldn’t imagine this. The first goal was to be on the start line and I never dreamed of winning the Cape Horn leg. It’s the Sayula story all over again, winning against the big fish. But I have an amazing crew. Just amazing. They are perfect.” JEAN D’ARTHUYS, SKIPPER OF TRIANA.

Meanwhile the rest of the fleet fight on towards Punta del Este, slowly. Galiana WithSecure FI (06) and L’Esprit d’équipe FR (85) are now engaged in a Spirit of Helsinki and Maiden type battle – just miles separating the two. They are due to arrive early Sunday morning, with Outlaw AU (06) following close behind.

Galiana WithSecure while racing hard but still recognising entertaining their adoring fans is just as important.

“Beautiful summer sailing day on the continental shelf with less than 100m water, Mar Del Plata abeam. Humpback whales, dolphins, seals, birds. Ville has closed the submarine door and stayed in the GW/S Recording Studios with his guitar and harmonica for hours. Stay tuned!” tweeted Galiana WithSecure.

While former Whitbread winners L’Esprit d’équipe are clearly enjoying their last few days.

“The wind is in the right direction, with the right strength for foiling, no waves, the lights are green.” tweeted L’Esprit d’équipe.

White Shadow ESP (17) sailing without a forestay and Evrika FR (07) are facing fickle winds – but are predicted to arrive Monday. Meanwhile Translated 9 ITL (09) continue frantic repairs in the Falkland Islands – and need to be back in the water by 19th February to make way to Punta del Este for race start on March 5th.

And finally, the last yacht in the fleet Explorer AU (28) passed Cape Horn on 15th February 15th at 00:35 UTC sailing 3.3 miles off the coast. The Swan 57, skippered by Mark Sinclair, AKA Captain Coconut who has previously sailed around the horn in 80 knots winds during the 2018 GGR.

They are now making slow progress to Punta del Este.

“Weather forecast from Falklands Radio has winds from EVERY direction over the next 24 hrs, ranging from gentle breeze to gale! #helpful.” tweeted Explorer.

Sterna’s Mellisa Du Toit reported on her weekly satellite call that she’s beginning to get paranoid that Neptune (not the yacht) might have something against Sterna seeing they’ve been having such a rough ride. Broken spinnaker poles, unpredictable winds and waves in the Strait of La Maire, dramatic unpredictable wind shifts and wind over tide, and then, speed-killing wind holes have made things challenging for the crew.

“ACDC would have had a party! Passed through a thunderstorm at night with variable wind direction and force. Hard work. Amazing lightning all around us.” tweeted Sterna.

But despite their issues, they are now underway again with under 800 nm to Punta del Este. They celebrated their passage a little due to the unpredictable weather they experienced just after the Cape.

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