A short race (equivalent length to 2 Sydney Hobarts) was going to give us a taste of everything. We set off 1st September this first bit being a procession down the Thames to Southend .Tower bridge is opened for us and we parade around for a while. After several hours we anchor at Southend. It is a crowded yacht with 21 on board. There are not enough bunks .I sleep in the sail locker on top of one of the sails. In the morning we find our anchor line wrapped round therudder. Eventually we get it free with12 of us
hauling on the bridle line.
It’s a downwind race start in light breezes .We were a bit behind at race start but on high side of line . The code 2 spinnaker is launched , on premise of sailing deeper .
Qingdao ends up well clear with us in the next 5 jockeying for position. The breeze dies and it is like a parking lot. The wind is finally too close for the kite and the windseeker is launched for a short time . Halong Bay seems to get private breeze and sails from 10th into 1st. Finally the Westerly breeze freshens and we are beating toward the English channel.
With too much sail up we have to drop our yankee1. I am on the helm and in trying to luff up to help the crew I accidentally tack the yacht. It is a scary moment as we gybe around back to course as Zhuhai goes past and we go between Date to lead and Bermuda ,We lose 3 places in 30 seconds.
After dark in 15 to 25 knots we are under full main and staysail and make up ground and tack back ahead of Halong Bay .
Now begins a relentless couple of days with life at 35 degrees tacking up the English channel.
Support watches become difficult with sometimes 1 or 2 out of 3 people ill.
The relentless upwind sailing continues in 15 to 30 knots . UNICEF and Bermuda take a southerly cause and pass the whole fleet. We’re under double reefed main and yankee 2 ,smashing into the steepening English channel chop. If this is what it’s like what will 40 knots be like. At one moment while on the helm the yacht is literally launched of a wave comes crashing down ,everyone on deck is briefly in the air , one of the life raft mounts at the stern breaks. Seumas comments ,I didn’t think we were a plane Rick.
Half the crew are sick , the heads are not functioning ,cooking is nearly impossible.
Eventually we are onto a very long starboard tack for about 12 hours .
Went to bed after we tacked onto but then after an hour we turned left out of the English channel. The heeling and crashing is replaced by rolling and humming of the hull going down the waves,I am lulled to sleep by the new motion of the yacht , what a relief from the previous 2 days. Back on watch at 0400gmt we have a yankee2 and full main and see the light of Zhuhai ahead . We gradually make ground under Ollie and my helming let Seumas know when they are close. He says you’ll need to go above to avoid their lee I said I reckon we can drive under them he says go for it. Finally they gybe away and we cross close behind. Seumas now says do you think you(Sanya watch)can carry a kite,I say yes,we get the code 3 up it is now champagne sailing and feeling great both on deck and below. We now are sitting in 4th and are going for the scoring gate Zhuhai is now 15 miles behind! The first 3 appear to be sticking to the rhumb line.
Came on watch 4pm , we’re going for the scoring gate ,code 3 up ,surfing waves Ollie on helm .Thought we were the only one and suddenly Qingdao pops up crossing to it under white sails on a higher course . It was going to be close .Took the helm at 5pm .We’re hitting speeds of 14 -17 knots down waves ,we were just pipped by them for the 3 points by 1.7 miles but we get the 2 bonus points.
The yacht is surging and surfing overnight , the guys continuing under the code 3 ,woke to the sound of the kite being dropped though the soft shackle on the tack blew . Got up and helped the guys pack the kite down below then on watch 4 am we have gained on Qingdao overnight ,we continue to gain and they gybe away miles astern
The weather continues with 20 to 30 knots and higher .Now under full main and yankee2 and the boat rolling and surfing on the 2 to 4 metres swells , it is like a roller coaster ride and great fun
though cooking in the conditions is interesting .
After our watch the wind and sea state just steadily increased, interesting watching the other watches from below, somehow we made cake for lunch.
By the time we got on watch wind was now over 30 Seumas was at the helm pure poetry in motion .
Took the helm ,had the yacht hit 21.5 knots down a wave,then broached,ie the rudder stalls and the yacht turns violently to windward and you have no control. Recovery is by
dumping the vang and mansheet then straightening the rudder to stop the stall then get back on course then grind everything back on
Then another broach and jseemed after that was able to steer a better course .Handed over to steady Ollie,was steering beautifully then 3 broaches in fairly short succession.Helm to Carl another broach ,now Seumas has wheel and takes a long while to recover it. We are clearly way overpowered with still a full main in 40 knots. We double reef the main.
Seumas steady strong voice from the helm “the boat is going to heel a lot and it is going to be very noisy ‘ 3 of us at the mast Vad,up the side of the mast trying pull down the sail ,me standing on the vang pushing into Vad and pulling down sail as he grabs it anyway some sort of improvisation with hands and a boat hook to get the reefing eye for reef 2 Scott pushing into me and Vad to make sure we don’t fall off the mast and pulling on the handy Billy, the crew in the cockpit coordinating easing the main halyard and depowering the main and all the while Seumas strong voice at the helm shouting instructions and encouragement so we get it done. Now the boat is much better balanced and the 4 helms on our watch are able to better control the boat in the 30 to 45 knot winds and up to 5 metre sea .As she surges down the waves it is a lot of fun
After watch and back in my bunk it is like a roller coaster downstairs . Just before midnight I wake to a crashing and feeling like she’s on her side -a broach .
New watch on deck,the rolling lulls me back to sleep
Up on deck at 4 wind has lightened now peaking at 30 knots and continues to drop ,we shake out both reefs In the main ,it’s amazing how light 20 knots feels .
Boat still feels sluggish ,we prepare the code 2 to be hoisted at watch change. Kite goes up and boat feels great. While prepping the anti wrap net the spinnaker gets wrapped round the inner forestay it is a mess.
Seumas up the mast Jorge up the mast no avail now we’re limping our way into Portugal ,somehow us on support we manage to cook frittata and cake in between trying to unwrap the kite .
Spent a day sailing slowly downwind with spinnaker wrapped round inner forestay , yankee 2 up yachts passing us,daybreak all on deck Will up the mast,Dennis up,Seumas upforestay,all untwisitng it a little,finally a combination of on deck work and Jorge up mast and spinnaker falling to deck and toward water and whole crew pulling it over guard rail before it hits sea
now back on course under white sails and now gaining on yachts ahead ,windseeker up in light airs . The finish become a lottery .Punta who were several miles behind us find an inshore breeze and sail past the whole fleet to win. We finish at 3 in the morning with Unicef,who lead most of the race,back in 6th.First 9 yachts all finish within a few hours after almost 1500 miles of sailing . A bit of everything to whet the appetite for what is to come and a week long stay in the beautiful town of Portimao to recharge.