An uneventful midnight watch. Never quite dark and dawn very much on the way when we went off duty at 4am. A couple of midnight dolphins. Conditions are getting spicy and it was noticeable when the bucking of the boat set in and the heel increased. Difficult to sleep though as the sensation of sliding out of my bunk triggers emergency wake-up!
On mother watch and it’s our turn to prepare lunch. The conditions are challenging! We’re heeled right over with rodeo bucking thrown in for good measure … cut-up veg are going rogue and the utensils are throwing themselves out of the galley. Seasickness has struck! Even if we keep the food on the stove probably there will not be too many takers.
2pm – watch change. The Yankee 1 (light wind sail) has come down and the Yankee 2 then Yankee 3 (heaviest duty strong winds sail) have gone up in quick succession. Chaos! The conditions are building. It’s kicking off big time and people are having to grapple their way round the boat. It sounds very wet from inside and definitely boisterous and the boat is kicking every which way.
Evening watch – decide to go up (on deck) in my drysuit. A good decision because almost instantly I get drenched by an onboard-coming wave. Big winds – we’re in the 30 knots department – and the sea state has gone from confused and boiling to a big swell coming in from our starboard beam. Difficult to be useful crew in these conditions so I sit on the high rail then when it gets too much the pit just clinging on next to Mike who is also sitting there limpet-like in his drysuit.
Welcome to the Atlantic! This my friends is how I imagined it might be!!
Midnight – amazing what a bit of sleep can do for your state of mind. Glad to be on watch. The air is now decidedly cooler, the moon three-quarters full and very bright swamping out all but the very brightest stars so the sky appears somewhat empty. Slowly motoring our way out to the rendez vous site.
8am – back on watch. Tired but ready to go. The sea around us is full of feeding seabirds and whales. Just wow!!! When do you ever get this lucky? Makes my heart want to burst seeing so many large whales. Feeling pretty proud. Here I am helming our boat out to the start and there are whales all around us …
2pm – the scheduled start has been delayed an hour due to the late appearance of Garmin. We’re wound up. We’re ready to go. We want off! In fact the crew would start racing without Garmin given the choice …
3pm – this is it! The boats come into line … cue tense sound track music! This start I am time keeper. Just about the most important role on the start. What if I screw up??? … I am nervous as hell … But we get it right. 48 seconds to hoist the foresails and we are away, one of the leaders out of the blocks.
It’s a great feeling. I really enjoy the adrenaline-fuelled competitive nature of le mans starts. Feels like real racing – boats in a line (we’ll be generous here!), eye-balling the opposition, every member of the crew primed for the sail hoists, directly measuring ourselves against others …
A purr of satisfaction through the crew. It was a good start. We need a good race. We need to do well to hang onto our overall podium position. We’re a happy, focused boat. We know what we have to do and a good start helps.
Even if I had not been at sea for the last good while New York is so ‘other’ in the experience department that visiting would have been ‘oh wow!’ anyway but the transition from open ocean/few people to serried ranks of highrise/massed crowds just blew my socks off for a while.
The architecture I loved. The self-assuredness of the iconic buildings from the first part of the 20th century (love the Chrysler Building). The world reflected back on itself in the glass coats of the newest structures. The dignity of the 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero … and the memorial museum. I enjoyed walking the length and breadth of Manhattan and Brooklyn. I did the sights (well some of them). Loved every moment of the views from my apartment in New Jersey (an incredibly lucky find from the internet!), the streetscenes, the vibrancy of the city, the food (even though it was eye-wateringly expensive). Had a ball of a time discovering the city alongside crewmate Mike (a legend in his own right). Thank you Mike. Had a totally ace time but now I was ready for the off.
As we motored out of Liberty Landing Marina eleven boats in a row, banners and fighting flags whip-snapping in the building breeze I felt that familiar surge of pride looking back down the column … the boats always impressive en masse parading in front of a magnificent backdrop …
Next up the Atlantic. My time in NY had been so busy that I haven’t really had the time to get nervous. The Atlantic – an ocean due as much respect as the others. Nothing taken for granted. No easing up.
This sail we will need to be as competitive – in fact if anything more competitive – as ever.
The stay in New York has been awesome. So much walking, so much to see but now I am restless to be on my way across the north Atlantic to Derry.
The Atlantic is another adventure. An ocean not to be underestimated. A long way to the other side … but I feel I have had my fill of the city and long for the taste of sea air.
I am excited, a little nervous too, but now I want to be on my way.
Day 10 started calmly enough for me and crew comrade Mike as the mothers orchestrating breakfast. When you are mother it is your fervent wish only that the conditions are calm – it makes food production and it’s serving so very much easier! This morning – given this would be our last breakfast watch of Race 11 – we had decided to roll out the barrel and sign out with fresh bread for breakfast. Fresh bread … there is nothing better! Such a benign start to the day could not have foretold though of the excitement to come!
Coming up on deck for afternoon watch it was a surprise to discover conditions had transformed completely. Big winds that gave us at its peak 16 knots of speed and big seas that we snaked our way up to pitch over the crest of the wave and plunge with massive wash over the bow down into the void in front of us to slew up the next wave and over the top for another plunge. Again and again and again. More than once the wash spectacularly inundated the entire length of the deck. Standing behind the traveller at the helm you could see – as if in slow motion – the volumes of water coming your way yet be powerless to avoid the inundation. Drenched to the skin the water is warm and the sailing exhilarating as the boat rises and falls, writhing, bucking and quivering alive with the energy of the water.
This is the sailing and excitement that I signed up to the race for – that feeling of being on the edge that makes you feel most alive. Real Yee ha! sailing and a fabulous way to sign out of an otherwise depressingly mundane and tactically mistaken race.
Squalls are part of the territory of sailing through the Caribbean and up the Florida coast and so far we have been lucky this race – nothing too big, wet and overpowering has come our way. However coming up on deck for the first night watch last night this looked like this state of affairs was about to change.
What greeted us, the on-coming watch, was the blackest, angriest, whole-horizon occupying storm system yet to be seen on this race! Black like a black hole, the storm clouds seem to suck the light out of the air to leave us in lightless purgatory. We immediately prepped to drop the kite!!!
And not a moment too soon! As the kite came down the ice cold driving winds of the squall followed it. Dramatic confused wind shifts which grabbed the main and the remaining headsail in an effort to rip them from one side of the boat to the other. And driving cold rain and lightning. Lots of lightning – angry and vivid – accompanied by intense cracks of oppressive overhead thunder. The order went out to unplug all the electronics … and don’t touch any of the metalwork. Deja vue anybody?
Well we didn’t get struck by lightning again is the good news. And when you are meltingly hot and sticky cold rain is an a treat when in limited measure! The not so good news is that the squall stayed over us not only sucking all the light out of the sky but banishing the wind that had kept us sailing all day, leaving us in a complete windless limbo where we languished overtaken even by the poop bags thrown overboard when the heads were spruced. Finally at pre-dawn with the fading-in of the light the wind returned of sorts and once again we are making modest headway.
After yesterday’s rather depressingly perfunctory performance – a steady but unexciting 6-odd knots in near wind hole conditions – the appearance of white horses on the wave tops and some punchy wind has added ‘hope’ back into the mix of emotions for this race. But not much!
Granted scything along at 14 knots, the boat slicing through the waves, the foot of the spinnaker sail occasional kissing the water makes for much more exciting sailing … but this is a race and it is how we are doing relatively to the other boats that counts. The answer to that is ‘not great’.
Yesterday when we were doing 6 knots the others were going faster and today relative to us they are going faster still.
Every navigational decision we have taken this race has with hindsight proved to have been mistaken. Like right now. The decision to take a more westerly route has inadvertantly lead to us discovering the location of the Gulf Stream counter-current – the one which unhelpfully travels from north to south – thereby reducing any speeds we might have achieved by a couple of knots. The worst of it is that the other boats – by sailing further east – have avoided it!
So each position report we find – rather depressingly – that the others are sailing away from us and our hopes of sailing to podium glory are fading as the end of the race draws nigh – this morning now merely 540 or so miles!
However, counter currents aside, 30 knots of breeze gives you a good run for your money and there is nothing like an on-the-edge fast and furious sleigh ride of a sail to make you feel alive. Add to this this morning’s treat – a visitation by a small gull who effortless glided in our slipstream a couple of feet above the head of the helm. Occasional peeling away and then catching up with not so much as a wing beat – not such a bad day if you ignore the fact we’re not going to win this race!
We are back in the Atlantic and somebody has turned the stars back on. Just like that! The night before there had been stars … in fact all round the world there have been stars … but their intensity has never matched the brightness of the Atlantic stars on leg 1. And now they are back – as intense and multitudenous as before!
A whole hemisphere of stars that go right down to the horizon. And when you look into the blackness between bright stars you can see hundreds of thousands more – ones that lack of light polution lets you see for the first time.
Standing on the bow in the pitch black – ostensibly to make sure the Code 1 doesn’t wrap – gives you the best seat in the house for the stars. Stars from one horizon all the way over the top to the other with the milky way so dense it runs through the night sky like a cloud.
Just quite simply ‘wow!’
This morning we transitioned seemlessly from the Caribbean Sea to the North Atlantic.
Yesterday we were sailing into punchy trade winds that had the boat rocked over. It was sunny and the sea and the sky blue (when not overcast). It was hot. There were medium-sized waves with white caps, the sea state was moderate and living on the boat was testing.
Then this morning the wind shifted and now comes over our beam. It was sunny and the sea and the sky scorching blue (because it wasn’t overcast). It was hot – in fact with the direct sun onto the deck it was baking. Surfing with the now smaller waves made the boat faster and the living on the boat became more level and a jolly site easier.
Down came the Yankee 1 and up went the Code 3 and immediately we were sailing another couple of knots faster.
The mood of the skipper and crew went up … other boats in front we are coming to get you!
960 miles to New York. Everybody was doing the maths in their heads … but sailors are a superstitious lot and you should never jinx the outcome by voicing predictions out loud.
Which way to go? Rhumb line or with the Gulf stream? The skippers of PSP, UNICEF and Sanya have all sailed this race before and they are going Gulf stream … so assuming they know what they are doing so are we. The plan is to join the current further up the coast so as not to add too many extra miles to the grand total … the hope being that the extra speed will more than make up for the extra distance travelled.
In the meanwhile the wind in the immediate vacinity has died a little so the Code 1 has been hoisted and the Code 3 woolled … but we are still bowling along with the sound of water now less turbulently washing along the hull.
Fingers crossed. We remain hopeful that tomorrow’s grib files – which have been pretty accurate for this race – predict reasonable winds from the south.
What a difference some wind makes!
Yesterday we were meandering along – medium pace in a medium breeze … ‘Medium’ is a very frustrating state of affairs! The 6-hourly position reports tell us how the other boats are progressing and we use this information to maximize our progress – a half a knot here or there by adjusting the position of the traveller, trimming the head sails, tensioning the outhaul … If we go faster then great. If slower not so great and back to the previous setting. Racing is not about doing nothing – there are always a large number of bits of string to pull or ease out to get that fraction of a knot edge over the opposition. A little bit faster over a long distance is a big lead!
Anyway there we were meandering along yesterday afternoon making the mark when the wind swung round under the influence of a large black cloud and we found ourselves headed and sailing into slam-dunk seas at 11 knots rather than the previous rather perfunctory 7.
Since then we have been lucky with the wind and have kept up our rocking horse ride overhauling a couple of our near neighbours so that we are now 5th in the fleet.
Reef in, reef out … then straight back in again – having too much wind can leave us over-powered so the area of the main sails needs be reduced to stop us being driven sideways.
The weather we have and the conditions we are sailing in – basically hot, rather too sunny and wind on the nose – were all foretold by the grib (weather) files – so nothing we could not have anticipated … but that doesn’t make the close hauled sailing any the more enjoyable for being expected and the direct sunlight onto the deck – where we have precious little shade – is simply dedicating!