Sunday, 20 October 2013

Home Sweet Home

We are now halfway across the Atlantic and our Code 2 spinnaker emblazoned with "JAMAICA"  is flying proudly and driving onwards to Cape Town. This is the first time our spinnaker has been out for an airing since Leg 1, although this Leg is characterised by its fast downwind sailing. While some boats have followed the traditional route and headed south to the Roaring 40's others, like us,  have stayed north, carefully trying to read the unusual weather patterns and plot a more direct route to Cape Town. 

Today we passed within 7 miles of Tristan da Cunha, the largest of a small group of islands about halfway between the continents of S.America and Africa. The island rises to 2,000 metres above sea level and looks utterly inhospitable, with a snow flecked peak dropping dramatically down to the sea and the only settlement, Edinburgh; home from home! We spent the morning imagining life in such a remote spot and identifying business opportunities! At 1,500 miles east or west to Cape Town and Rio respectively it must be one of the most remote islands in the world.

ETA in Cape Town is Sunday 27th and this amazing adventure will be over for me, but there is a lot of water to flow under Jamaica's hull before then and what is increasingly looking like a close race finish as the boats currently spread across a 100 mile north/south band converge on the Cape; let's hope looking at Jamaica's stern again.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Rio to Cape Town

We set off from Rio on Leg 3 in warm sunshine and choppy seas. As usual all 12 boats did a parade of sail around the harbour and then crossed the start line. After rounding a couple of buoys placed just off Copacabana and Ipanema beaches we headed out to sea into a strong wind which meant fairly tough sailing. Heeled over at an angle with waves crashing over the decks, which means water down necks, up boots and sleeves.  Despite neoprene seals on all openings in the foul weather gear the sea always finds a way in!

The first few days have been fairly tough with many of the crew afflicted by seasickness and minor injuries from being thrown about below deck. We have rigged up a rope from one side of the galley to the other so that you can pull yourself up to the high side, as walking unaided is simply impossible.

The weather has eased now and the dreaded seasickness has left the boat so life is a lot easier, and as I write we are bowling along at 11 knots in glorious sunshine. Jamaica was the first boat to reach the scoring gate, beating Quingdao by 13 minutes (we like narrow margins) and so have picked up 3 bonus points. As
we are further north than most of the fleet the weather over he next few days will determine whether the tactic has paid off, or whether we are sailing into the middle of the S. Atlantic high pressure system where there is no wind.

We have not seen any wildlife so far on this leg apart from some albatrosses, recognisable not just by their enormous wingspan, but also by the fact they never flap their wings, soaring and gliding effortlessly across the skies - just amazing.

At present this is Friday Day 7 and we reckon another 10 days to Cape Town, cold beers, flushing toilets and showers..... it's the simple things that become so important.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Jamaica Rocks into Rio

Well finally after 28 days at sea we crossed the finishing line first in the bay outside Rio de Janeiro. PSP were in second place and closing fast so the finish line couldn't come quickly enough and when it did they were only 19 seconds behind.Incredible that after 28 days and nearly 5,000 miles of racing it came down to the narrowest of margins and gave the closest finish in Clipper history.  This has Ben such a roller coaster ride of highs and lows and up to a couple of days out we were still fighting for a podium place never mind line honours.  The last 24 hours haven been gruelling as the wind turned on to our nose and meant upwind sailing in up to 35 knots of wind. It seemed to take forever to reduce our distance to finish and when em finally got the angles to tack for Rio PSP were right there with us. On more than one occasion we thought we had seen them off only for them to come storming back at us. In the end the finish line couldn't come quickly enough. Now resting up in Rio nursing bumps and bruises and preparing for Leg 2 which starts on Saturday when we head for Cape Town which is likely to be a thought physical downwind sprint, but quite a bit quicker than the Atlantic slog we have just finished.

This has been a truly extraordinary experience which will stay in my memory forever, but for now it is time to gear up for the next challenge of the race and hopefully another podium finish.  Lots of photos and videos on the Clipper website and my Facebook page and here is one of my favourites.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Tropical Squalls

We are now in the Doldrums or the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) to give it its full title. The place where the prevailing winds in the north meet those in the south and cancel each other out.  It is a strange place of breeze followed by no wond at all except that caused by the yacht rolling around in the ocean swell. Coupled with sweltering hear it is not a pleasant place and puts a strain on the concentration and good nature of the crew. On the plus side we see amazing cloud formations rising vertically into the sky, great stacks of blackened meringue floating on the horizon.  We need to keep a watch out for  rain which means a squall which is quite an experience. One minute it is windless then about 2 minutes before the squall hits the air temperature  drops and the downpour begins; huge heavy intense rain that soaks you to the skin in 10 seconds flat.  Sometimes you can see and hear it coming, the noise of a wall of rain hitting the sea as it gets nearer and nearer.  And then, the wind will rise from nothing to 30 to 40 knots in the space of a minute or so. This is serious wind and if it catches you unaware it will blow the boat over  and start breaking things.  The other night we were unexpectedly hit by a squall at night and it was fairly terrifying (Terrifying Moment No. 3). We had to heave to and drop the yankee as fast as possible. Unfortunately a knot had formed in the halyard so three of us spent about 20 minutes on the foredeck bouncing up and down and hanging on for grim death trying to get half a sail out of the water.  There is so much noise from the wind and rain that you can’t hear each other speak, and are only aware of the skipper screaming his lungs out at the other end of the boat, at who I had no idea so we just hung on hoping it would come to an end before someone went over the side, which it did as quickly as it had come, and we were back to floating around with hardly a breath of wind.  Soaking wet clothes and bruises the proof that it wasn’t just a nightmare, glad to have experienced it but happy not to repeat.


The racing is relentless, as shift follows shift, sometimes sunny and sometimes pitch black. One of the rare changes to the routine is the sighting of wildlife bearing in mind we haven’t seen any other vessels or people since the day after we left Brest. Flying fish are in abundance and scared by the unexpected arrival of Jamaica, they glide across the sea rising and falling on the air over the uneven ocean, travelling considerable distances before dropping back into the sea. At night they are attracted to the boat and we regularly have to clear the decks and cockpit of fish in the morning. Sometimes they arrive with a slap, or even hit  the crew  sitting on deck but often are unheard visitors who quietly perish in the bottom of the boat.  It is rather sad especially when they have made the enormous effort of leaping into a boat that is at least 1 metre above the sea.  Other  visitors include birds that follow the boat waiting for the startled flying fish to emerge so they can dive down and enjoy a snack.

Other sights include dolphins who come alongside for a look and to splash around the boat and we came across a school of pilot whales about 50 m off the port side, languidly rolling over the surface, giving a great view of their unusual dorsal fins. One baby was more enthusiastic leaping out of the water repeatedly.  It is rather strange and humbling to encounter these animals in such a massive expanse of water, and seems such a lucky coincidence that our paths should have crossed.

A couple of days ago we came across three turtles on the water within a couple of hours, who slowly dived below the surface as we approached.  Again I find myself asking what are the chances of our paths crossing out here but perhaps there is a huge abundance of life out here, invisibly going about its business just below the surface.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Sailing By Night

Steering a boat by night is quite a different experience. If there is moonlight or stars then at least you have points of reference to maintain a course by, but when you have neither you have to rely on instruments even when these counter all your instincts.  Tonight we are taking 30 minute sessions on the helm as we speed downwind with our yankee (big triangular in front of the mast) poled out on the opposite side of the boat from the mainsail.  The range of safe steering is quite narrow which all adds to the tension and requires total concentration, hence the short  helming spells of only 30 minutes.  The good ship Jamaica knows when your concentration slips for even only half a second and she will mischievously throw in an unanticipated change of direction for fun; or the sea will come at you with a side swipe wave and  if you don’t respond immediately the consequences can be dear, but more of that later.

So the technical bit is that the mainsail is fully out at almost 90 degrees to the direction of the boat. It is held in place by sheets (ropes) which add tension from behind and additionally is held forward for safety by a preventer which runs from the end of the boom to the bow and back to the cockpit.  This means that if the wind gets on the wrong side of the sail and tries to flip it across to the other side – 180 degrees – the preventer should do what it says and stop it happening. Also known as the dreaded crash gybe.