So the inevitable happened and the wind died. 6 hours of very light winds and slow progress. On our next watch fortunately the wind gradually increased again from 8 to 18 knots in the end. Time will tell how much of our gains may be lost but we are still well within contact. Our idea is to take an inshore route out of the current and a shorter distance while others have gone wide and long. On a positive note the weather is warm ,the water is warm a balmy 27 degrees.Of course downstairs is now hot.
Just a Nice Day
8 Jan Our 0400 to 0800 watch starts with a nice breeze 18 to 20 knots and us making good ground to windward and nice stars to steer by.Just the odd set of short annoying waves to knock you off course. After an hour or so the wind drops back to 15 knots and knocks us and we’re heading 080 over ground nearly east.I inform the skipper and we tack and are now heading more towards north and parallel with the coast. I wake mid way through my 8 hour sleep,have my first glass of water( we are now rationed to 5 cups a day), and go up on deck. It is just a nice day.Warm tropical temperatures cooled by a light breeze of 8 to 12 knots sun shining and no cloud.If we were cruising in the med or the whitsundays it would just be perfect. We could break out the beers get out the guitar and throw in a line. But we’re racing and trying to keep contact with the the fleet , some are fast and some are slow and only time will tell if our strategies are working. And our watch continued with a pleasant day’s sailing and everyone rotated through the helm and sailed a good course and hopefully learnt something from mine and Dave’s supervision . Now just 15 miles off the coast at Yamba where I have some friends. Heading toward Cape Byron the most Easterly point of Australia. After we have cooked and eaten dinner ,at the start of my 4 hour off period I pop up on deck to see the lights and get a taste of the sub tropical night air ( and get seconded into helping with a tack ). The scheds put us within reach of everyone but much from here could be won or lost.
8 to 9 Jan On our 1600( pre dawn) watch we start with a nice breeze and it looks like one tack ,tack back and we will clear the Cape.But it is like the spirit of Lord Byron has cast his net around us from the top of the lighthouse and thou shalt not escape from it. We make good progress and the Cape cast it’s shadow and knocks us and we tack. But what should now be a lift has disappeared and becomes a knock again and tacking angle goes from 90 to 180 degrees and we go nowhere ,and we tack and we tack back,and still are in the net. Mr Lucky, a yacht returning from the Sydney Hobart to Southport ,whom we passed near Tasmania ,come motor sailing past us inshore ,and bring us some breeze.So two watches after mine we are finally escaping the net and clear the Cape. I go up on deck to get fresh air and finally see the Cape Byron lighthouse astern. Our next watch is blessed with a good breeze and we mostly make ground to the north with one tack out to clear the headland at the Tweed River mouth near Coolongatta. But even with a good breeze we can only make 6 and a bit knots .The inshore currents are playing havoc with us. UNICEF has made ground on the outside and this puts us at the rear of the fleet. This and water rationing in the tropics,as our water maker has failed, makes the mood a bit sombre compared to previously. We are left to chase our friends Punta up the coast who are now only 20 or so miles away having once been 200. Que sera sera ,still a bit of sailing left. There’s always a dolphin or two to cheer one up. At least we hadn’t gone backwards overnight like Punta and Zhuhai,yet
We had now fallen so far behind the fleet that our chances of getting to Airlie in any reasonable time were very much diminished. The inshore currents and fickle winds of the NSW/Queensland cost had done us in. When this news was broken to the crew the yacht was pointing north but going south. Clearly we shouldn’t have come here and chosen this route.The retrospectoscope is a dangerous and wonderful instrument and in this case says had we stayed on the outside route we likely would have won this race. Always easier to make decisions after the facts are known. So we accept 11th place and turn our motor on and escape the southern Queensland coast and will set sail again somewhere closer to Fraser Island when conditions improve. A bitter pill to swallow, especially for those competitive types that never give in, that will only be cured by the beer in Airlie.
0200 UtC 2nd January and a call of land ahoy awakes me in my bunk.The crew have spotted needle rocks off the South Coast of Tassy. The crew then gybe back onto Starboard toward the virtual mark South of Tasmania. We come on watch at 0400 UTC with the code 2 up and 17 to 22 knots of breeze. Helming the yacht is a delight with mininal tendency to round up and nice surfs along the way.At one point hitting 17 knots in 21 knots of breeze. It was just a pleasure to sail downwind under spinnaker in nice weather and a contrast to most of the Southern Ocean. My co helmsman Dave just didn’t seem to get the same enjoyment when he took over and I went forward to rig the sheet for a gybe. Seumas came up and we made our final gybe toward Tasmania. After the gybe things became a little spicy and we dropped the code 2.Without a code 3 we hoisted the yankee 1. The wind dropped and on support we re hoisted the code 2. We reached the waters off Bruny island before sunset .It was great to see some familiar landmarks.
The Odd Sight of Land
3rd Jan We spend so much time at sea a long way from the coast in these ocean crossing and the sight of land usually heralds the end of a crossing. So seeing land for such a long period like 48 hours is rather . It became longer as the wind dropped out as we came past Tasman Island. It was great to see this landmark a that is famous in Australian yachting as the last turn in Sydney Hobart .The lighthouse is at height of over 250 m above sea level with magnificent cliffs plunging straight to the water. Would have been great to see these close up but race rules require us to be a minimum of 2 miles offshore. And also I get to see Bruny island from the seaward side . And a bonus we got to encounter the famous Kialoa 2,at a distance , returning from the Sydney Hobart race. We are enjoying some comfortable conditions at present which is about to change to some bashing upwind.Strong northerlies are predicted that will turn South Eastern Australia into a furnace.We had some news that whole towns on the Southern nsw coast are being evacuated with the state still having multiple fires burning.
Upwind off Tassy
We tacked inshore halfway up the coast to avoid unfavourable currents then headed north east as the wind built from the north.As the wind increased we changed the yankee 1 out for the yankee 3. In the end on our watch we ended up putting in 2 reefs in the main. This type of sailing is the most uncomfortable downstairs due to the constant heel making things difficult.It is often however the easiest conditions to helm in. We are approaching the ocean sprint which starts level with the north Tasmanian coast and the wind is predicted to turn west then south. This will give us a good chance of picking up some points .
The wind gradually turned behind as we reached the Tasman sea and the sprint zone .We entered in good breeze under white sails which continues on our dawn watch . The wind gradually dropped but being without a code 3 now we were not able to set a kite. Soon after that on the next watch the code 2 was launched and feels like the boat has been humming along nicely overnight. The smoke from the Australian fires which had been blown out to sea had been blown back with the wind turning south east. On another note our watermaker has broken down so we are now rationing our water to get to Airlie.
On watch for the last part of the sprint zone .We launch the code 3. Seumas after a period of time hands the wheel to me. Prior to this watch the discussions with the other watch leaders was only our best helms on till the end of the sprint. Code 3 in 18 to 21 knots ,even my other very good helm is not confident and particularly in the dark. Again the stars are scarce.I stay on the helm for the next 2 hours till we are through the sprint. A collapse a rare event The watch are finally getting the idea of trimming the kite as we surge down waves.Our time through the sprint looks like it will be the quickest. I hand over the helm and things go Ok though our course ends up somewhat lower than ideal.On the support watch following we go up to drop the kite as there are now multiple round ups in an increasing breeze.
On our following watch we are beam reaching in moderate conditions and I am able to get everyone other than myself to the helm.
We have been rapidly catching the fleet ahead ,now only 50 miles ahead ,whereas once it was 200. The question as always will be how long does the breeze last
28 December Went on watch 0400 , code 3 up in 18 to 20 knots and a tricky sea . Was about to take helm from Vad when Seamus came up and said we were going to gybe .Rather than take the helm I went and rigged the drop line for a gybe then went to the leeward side by the mast to get ready to release the foreguys. Next thing we feel the boat heeling and our feet are now in the water as the boat rounds up and broaches . I grabbed the shrouds and moved closer to the mast. Next thing there is the typical loud noise of the spinnaker sheets hitting the deck as the spinnaker reinflates ,followed by the spinnaker appearing beside us in the water. We look up and realise it has torn in two several metres from the head. Eventually a team of us retrieve it from the water and I go forward and detach the tack. We then send Afshin up the mast to tie a rope to the head of the kite. Then three of us pull the line down to retrieve the head of the spinnaker and the halyards. Finally we hoist the yankee 2 and get back under way . An hour later we gybe and now are heading east ,having come further south than most of the fleet. With the wind dropping we are a little underpowered ,but not enough to set the code 2 . Our support watch we cooked pasta Bolognaise for lunch . The guitar came out for us to sing a song for the coming Chinese New Year and Jorge and I provided some pre lunchtime entertainment. Never a dull moment aboard Sanya.
29 December Woke before my watch to the sound of a flogging main with the boat heeled over severely ,sure signs of a broach. The wind had come up overnight and now gusting to over 40 knots. When I looked outside soon after Seumas had taken the wheel. The sea state had increased but at times the waves were at an odd angle causing the boat to round up. Up on watch at 0400 and Seumas had the wheel for the first 45 minutes. The wind continued to increase and we had a squall come through that topped 50 knots.In general the boat was under control though shortly after the 50 knot gust we had a round up that took quite a time to wrest control.As usual it is a pleasure to watch him in action although he did mention he may be a bit rusty , I guess a result of having a well trained bunch of amateurs doing the steering. I took the helm with the breeze varying from 32 to 42 knots, and in general the boat was behaving but we had the odd round up. The wind was gradually easing so that by the morning watch change we took a reef out of the main. Anyway still heading mainly east at reasonable speed.
Night of 29 December Went on watch 1600 UTC which is now 0100 local with the words of the off going watch leader urging the skipper that we should shake out the reef. Indeed I got to the helm and yacht did feel a little underpowered but still doing 11 knots. The night was beautifully star lit and the helm was light . I gave the helm to someone who should be able to handle the conditions but unfortunately they steered too high and copped the rather cold spray of a wave which detracted somewhat from the experience and also hit me in the face knocking my glasses off. I took back the helm . Chris managed to find my glasses on the aft deck for me before they washed overboard. Within 2 minutes a dark cloud of a squall covered the sky and wind hit us hard going suddenly from 20 to 40 knots. I was unable to stop the boat rounding up in a broach. The scene I saw ahead was eerie. The sky was now pitch black ,the sight of the yacht now sitting half on its side illuminated by the cabin lights ,the Windex at the top of the mast at a now 50 degree angle ,all interrupted by the fluorescence of small sea creatures emerging from the spray. I called for the main to be eased and on the third attempt was able to get the yacht to bear away. In the darkness it was then a matter of making sure we didnt now crash gybe ,which we did avoid. Pretty much it was dark for the next 40 minutes with the wind in the low 30 s before the stars again made their appearance. I got Dave to the helm and debriefed the earlier helmsman in the cockpit. Later in the watch with our COG( course overground) of 50 Seumas came up and we gybed and were now making a COG of 120 ,nearer to the rhumb line toward the Southern tip of Tassy. A short while after we were greeted to a glorious pre dawn light and then the dawn before we handed over to the new watch.
Ice and Hail
30 December Went up on watch to a single reefed main and yankee 2 with 25 to 32 knots ,140 degree wind angle. Speed demon Carl was at the wheel and plunged the boat down a wave at 20.2 knots just before he hands over the helm. The conditions were just perfect downwind white sail surfing conditions. I hit 18 knots plus several times during the first hour but only managed a19.7 Max. I took back the helm around 25 minutes before watch change. Seumas commented about shaking out the reef but I said there was a rather large black cloud approaching. As this comes over there is some rain followed by a wind increase to 28 knots. Next the wind shifts 20 degrees the air goes cold and it starts hailing. Followed by a flash of lightning a little ahead of the boat and the clap of thunder. Fortunately the hail stones were small in size . The view was surreal with the yacht pointing straight down the waves into a boiling sea created by the hail . I suggested to the crew we were still underpowered and we should get the skipper up. It all lasted about 5 minutes; then we shook out the reef. As we were now approaching the ice limit of 45 degrees South we gybed back to a more northerly course on the subsequent watch.
New Year’s Eve from Hell
After 2 days of pleasant downwind sailing we came up on deck on New Year’s Eve for our watch. A second reef had just been put in the main. Wind was 35 knots plus ,no stars were visble ,no moon, just blackness ahead. Seumas was at the wheel and it looked like steering was difficult. He handed me the wheel and said we just have to steer a 60 degree compass course. Our compass on this tack ,at this point in time, is difficult to read due to a misplaced light and housing that doesn’t remain In place. 60 Degree compass aligned with a Windex(wind indicator at top of the mast) angle of 90 degrees so that’s what I steered or tried to. When you were on course it was possible for short periods to steer a straight course. Then a wave would kick the stern around and the yacht would round up . This was difficult to prevent and the crew were usually dowsed by an oncoming wave. Things continued like this for a couple of hours till we were treated to first light. We could now see the waves and were treated to some nice surfing conditions.
New Year’s Day
Went up to blue skies and following breeze 20 to 24 knots and a cooperative sea. All of my watch got to the helm including Su who had been stuck in the sail locker for days repairing the code 3..
Night time we came to the view of the Southern Cross and 15 minutes later all stars we’re gone and again just dark clouds to follow till dawn.
Post dawn we gybed then set the code 2 spinnaker . The yacht was now moving nicely along with not long till we reach the waters off the South Coast of Tasmania.
On a typical Perth summer day we slipped lines at1 pm along with Punta and UNICEF for our race start 2 days after the rest of the fleet.The Fremantle doctor was blowing and was at 20 knots plus when we got to the start area .After the MOB drills we hoisted both headsails as we approached the start but with 1 reef in the main. . Just behind UNICEF at the start. Punta were initially catching us but we pulled away after shaking out the reef. , As we approached the first mark we re set the first reef in the main. As we hardened up on the breeze we passed the mark well clear of both yachts. We continued to gradually edge ahead as we tacked down the WA coast. Xmas Eve treated us a spectacular night sky.Southern Cross and milky way to port and Orion to Starboard. With the wind gradually dropping we shook out the reef. We sailed south parallel to the coast and parallel to Punta who were a little further out to sea. My new watch seems blessed at this point with people who can steer with all but one helming during the shift. Being on support next we prepared a meal of salad plus a choice of prawn ,salmon or ham plus half a mango .Guess we won’t have fresh food for too long.
Xmas certainly an interesting day bashing upwind in 25 to 35 knots, 1 reef in main and staysail. Just not pleasant sailing. We are a few miles ahead of Punta and well ahead of Unicef. At one point our yankee which is on the deck is trying to blow away. I manage to go to the bow and get it down and put the outhaul on to hold it but doing anything else is impossible in the upwind conditions . Shortly after it blows over the side. We bear away to flatten the boat and Chris Bruce and I get it tied down. We unfortunately lose significant ground while doing so. That evening the wind reduces and we put up the yankee 2 and finally at the end of our watch shake out the reef in the main.
Just a pleasant days sailing . Warmish temperatures so attire is shorts and jacket rather than foulies. Overnight the yankee 1 had been hoisted in place of the 2. 9 to 15 knots initially hard on the breeze to maintain a course to the scoring gate.The breeze comes around during our watch enough to rig spinnaker sheets and set foreguys. Down on support we cook beef casserole and rice which is a hit but go up on Deck at end of watch to hoist the code 3. The heat from downstairs is enough that I go up bare chested under the life jacket so I can cool down. Punta had made significant ground but now we are going along a little faster . 27 December En route to scoring gate under code 3 in 17 to 22 knots. Seas were slowly building b it at this point yacht was handling well. Punta has made ground and is just ahead and to leeward. .We have a secret Santa on board and as I am at the helm ,I get the last Prize which is a floating key ring Holder. We make some gains on Punta during the watch but not enough and on the following watch they cross the gate ahead . Still we are both quicker than the yachts ahead. So we will get 2 points from it. That night I awake to a commotion shortly before our watch.The spinnaker has been dropped and is in the corridor being folded . The starboard steering gear has broken and being repaired. During all this I feel a change in the boats motion that indicates we have crash gybed. With boat headless and the foreguys pinned on the shrouds it is a process to gybe back on course. On watch change we hoist the yankee 2 . I take over the wheel from Jorge . His words are it is tricky it is easy to bear away and crash gybe. And tricky it was ; a dark night with no stars and a confused sea state make it hard to keep on course. I soon find our watch has only 2 helms that can handle the conditions.