Sent: Friday, November 04, 2011 5:13 AM
Subject: Arrival in Oz
Hi from Geraldton, Western
Wow, what an amazing trip we have had! From being stuck, with no wind, in the bay outside Cape Town for 2 days to being frightened to death in a Force 10 storm on the Southern Ocean for, what seemed like, days on end.
I have to admit that I underestimated how tough, both physically and mentally, 25 days and 5,000 miles at sea was going to be. Living and working in cramped, basic conditions at an angle of 30 degrees plus for most of the time is incredibly tiring.
We went straight into our watch system upon leaving Cape Town with one watch on deck doing 6 hour periods during the day and 4 hours through the night. Getting in and out of your bunk, with the boat on it's side and bucking violently, in the middle of the night is incredibly difficult. Then getting dressed and undressed into cold, damp clothing is so tiring. After a few attempts you realise that laying down in the 'ghetto' (our living quarters) is the only way to get dressed and not get thrown across the boat into something hard. Once you are dressed, it's out into the night on deck for the 2 to 6am shift. The wind is howling, the waves are crashing over the deck, it's freezing cold and it's dark. It is a scary place to be at 2am in the morning. The problem is that unless we leave the relatively safe and sheltered helm area at the stern of the boat and venture to the bow to change down from the bigger Yankee head sails to the smaller ones then the boat becomes overpowered and impossible to control. So off we go a team of 4 people all pretty scared, tripping over winches and ropes dragging the new sail to the bow to do the change down. The sails are incredibly heavy on the 68 foot yachts. It takes at least 4 people to drag them across the deck. At the bow with waves knocking you off your feet you have to stay on hands and knees to prevent injury. Communication is difficult, the noise during a storm is frightening. Somehow the 4 of us have to open the sail bag find the brass hanks and attach them to the fore stay. The sails are big there are 12 brass hanks that need attaching with freezing cold hands. The sea water pounds your eyes and finds ways through your seals and down the back of your neck. It takes around 20 minutes to get the new sail 'hanked on' by which time you are very tired and wet. It is now time to drop the bigger sail. The halyard is eased and the sail is on it's way down. It is now a race against time we need to un hank the old sail as it drops and drag it onto the fore deck. The sail is still full of wind so dragging it on board and preventing it dragging in the sea is difficult. The pressure is on! We are racing and until the new sail is hoisted speed is reduced. In the early days of the race sails were often dragging in the sea at night it is then a mammoth task to drag them on board whilst racing along at 10 knots. The new sail is hoisted and the boat is back up and running fully powered. The trouble is that 30 minutes later the skipper is back on deck, the wind as eased marginally so he thinks we will get more speed and sufficient stability by changing back to the bigger sail. So off we go again. It really is non-stop. The stress on the boat and sails are immense. The boat is the only thing saving us from the scary ocean so the importance of looking after it is highlighted. In the dark of the night was usually the time when things break. We had snapped shackles on halyards and ropes giving way through wear and tear. Our massive 'medium weight' spinnaker was ripped into 3 pieces during one session. The spinnaker is the size of a tennis court and recovering all the pieces is not easy. After dragging the bits from the sea I thought it was game over for that sail. Rupert, our skipper, thought different. In our cramped living space the bits like on a jigsaw were identified and put together. At an angle, with the boat bucking violently, over 48 hours the sail was sowed back together. During this operation the already cramped living space became impossible to move around. Eating food, sat on the floor, wedged in a corner added to the stress.
When the watch ends you are desperately tired, wet and cold but the boat still needs attention. Each day you are allocated tasks. A rota system of cleaning the heads (toilets), emptying the bilges, 'mother watch' cooking, washing up, making tea and looking after the crew, cleaning the saloon and ghetto, engineering duty, writing a blog, cleaning and servicing winches etc on deck. Duties done only then can you grab a few hours sleep before it's wake up time again and you are off again.
Towards the end we were becalmed off the Australian coast. This was really frustrating we had worked so hard to move through the field to 4th place and were pushing hard on New York's heels for third. We were all really disappointed to be so near yet so far from the finish. Our late arrival left us short of food, cereal and water (ran out of milk powder) for example are not my idea of a nice breakfast. Even the tins of corn beef had run out. We were all so desperate to sample the comforts we take for granted on land, a toilet seat for example, with the knowledge that we had only 6 toilet rolls left adding to the pressure.
I have lost a stone in weight already and am pretty bruised and battered. After 7 days I wanted to get off, I'd had enough. I'd been sea sick for 24 hours, I was struggling to pick up the skills required. There are so many bits of string it really was a foreign language to me. After 14 days I was beginning to come to terms with life on board. The lack of sleep, the rules to follow, coping with the cold and wet, coping with other people. Now, having reached Australia a couple of days ago, it is the high points I remember. Being on the helm during one of the storms during daylight. The boat was picked up by a monster wave, I can remember glancing behind and thinking 'shit' that is big. The boat began to pick up speed I knew if I lost control the boat would broach and serious damage could occur. The excitement was amazing as the boat reached 20 knots with spray everywhere. The sun rising at 5am in the morning at 45 degrees south, I was on the helm in a comfortable force 8 gale with only an Albatross and Petrels for company. The Albatross really are amazing birds so graceful and so big. Coming across pods of Whales, the humpbacks just sprawling around on their backs rolling from side to side. Pods of 100+ dolphins rounding up tuna and swordfish, watching them working together was fascinating. It was 21days sailing before we came across human activity. No boats, no planes just us and the wildlife.
Now we are working frantically to get the boat ready for another 20+ day voyage to New Zealand on Sunday. There is loads to do, the boats really do take a battering. We are expecting to be routed south of Tasmania and south of South Island, New Zealand and up the Eastern side of NZ to Tauranga on North Island. There is however some doubts due to the container ship incident off the coast of Tauranga. Hitting a floating container is not something we wish to experience. The fastest route seems to mean dropping way South again into the Southern Ocean at 45 degrees south. Cold and windy but this seems to be the best way of picking up the strong Westerlies we need to push us round the bottom of New Zealand.
OK it's back to work for me; sowing patches into the Yankee 3 today before being allowed a swim in the warm Indian Ocean here in Geraldton. We are hoping to improve on our 7th place during the next leg so keep following us on the web site and keep your fingers crossed for our safe arrival in Tauranga early rather than late!