What can I say about this race? Well we had a little of everything thrown in. The morning starting with raising anchor only to find that the boat must have moved around a bit during the night as the anchor rode was now solidly wrapped and wedged in around one of our rudders. Took lots of effort and problem solving to undo that. We did manage to get that sorted and make it to the start one time. Was this a foreboding of the rough sail ahead?
We had a conservative start with head sails up. Some other boats opted for Spinnakers right from the start. Not long after we also had spinnaker up and settled into racing. By the time we turned the corner and started sailing up the English Channel it was clear that we were in for a multiple day’s long upwind slog before we could pass out into the Atlantic and make the turn towards the Bay of Biscay. These Clipper 70 boats just don’t like to sail up wind. The going is slow, the angle of heel is quite steep and at times especially when the wind is opposing the current the waves get quite difficult to sail thru. So the days and nights of pounding up wind took it’s wrath out on our crew with almost everyone getting seasick for multiple days. I was among the lucky few who escaped that.
But I had another problem. With winds building and sailing into the beginning of darkness the call was made to get the Yankee ( large headsail ) down and people were needed immediately on the bow. I prefer not to be up there but I go anyway. I was comfortable in the back of the boat and at the time it was warm enough for me that I had no foul weather gear on. Once on the bow the waves were crashing over and I immediately got soaked. When three of us were positioned for the sail drop our helmsperson, Rick was instructed by Skipper to luff up to weather a bit to make the drop for us bow people easier to pull the sail down on deck. Unfortunately what actually ensued was a crash tack with the sail coming down upon us and trapping all three underneath with our tethers locking us further stuck under this monster sail which weighs hundreds of pounds. Our brilliant AQP Jorge was quickly up to the bow to help us out of the jam. At some point one of my feet also punched thru the life netting and was stuck there as I could not extract it. On top of all this I suddenly saw Go To Bermuda boat on a very close collision course with us and I honestly don’t know how the helm at the back of the boat sorted that but under expert guidance from skipper Seumas they avoided collision. I evntually had to get my sailing knife out and make the long reach down thru and opening in the pile of sail and cut the lifeline net to extract my foot. We still had to get his monster sail unhanked from the forestry and dragged back and stuffed into it’s sail bag. Under the best circumstances this is a many person task. In the next morning when I got up for 4am to 8am on deck shift it was clear that the evening drama had left me with very sore a most probably cracked ribs on my left back side. I informed skipper and Rick who is also our medic checked me out. Probably not serious but I got some pain meds to deal with it. It is still sore but I am working thru it. It is not the first time I have had cracked ribs so I know what I am in for.
After days of upwind misery It was into the bay of Biscay and then sailing down the Portuguese Coast. We knew the winds were forecasted for 30 to 35 knots but favorable direction for downwind sailing which should ease the comfort on the boat. We don’t have the the large angle of heel or pounding on waves when going downwind.
For the first part of this downwind we still had headsails up and were learning how to deal with broaching or rounding up. This is when the wind gusts too much and the helm can’t keep the boat in control. The boat leans over with the main boom which is sheeted out comes very close to or actually drags in the water. The only remedy to regain control is to quickly release the vang and ease the main sheet. We were getting on with this learning but the wind and waves kept building. I was helming when we hit a 46 knot gust of wind that I could not control. Skipper Seamus quickly took control of the helm and called for all support crew on deck as to take two reefs in the mainsail effectively reducing it’s size to make sailing more manageable.
Later the conditions finally allowed us to replace headsails with code 2 spinnaker and we were flying down the bay. But during one sail change to spinnaker we had an issue. When changing from yankee headsail to spinnaker the sequence is rig spinnaker, launch spinnaker, immediately get the yankee down, and finally launch the anti-wrapped the forestay previously occupied by the yankee. This blocks the area between outer and inner forestay. The net looks something like a volleyball net but with wide spacing between lines. It’s purpose is to prevent any brief spinnaker collapse from pushing the spinnaker into the fore triangle where it can quickly tangle with the inner forestay and get hopelessly wrapped up there. It happened very quick but and we could not escape the eventual wrap as we did not have the net fully deployed in time.
We spent the entire afternoon trying to get this beast down. Many people up the mast and lot of folks on foredeck including me. Ultimately it was just to tightly wrapped and the conditions still too windy so we gave it up for the night and resolved to fix it early the next morning when we would have less wind and waves.
Morning arrived and another ~2 hours of fighting with many more trips up the mast and people on fordeack. I had the helm during this time. We finally got it down and were back to sailing full speed. Conditions were grand and I got some photos of the evening into darkness.
Our last challenge of the race was soon upon us. The turn around the southern tip of Portugal into the Algarve and the Portimao finish. Winds were quite light and fickle in this region allowing some of us lagging boats to catch right up to the leading boats who were mostly stalled and doing nothing. When my watch shift ended at 8 pm and would not be back on deck tell 4 am I secretly predicted that we would not finish in the night. Night shift took on the challenge and with AQP Jorge’s expert tutelage they mastered the light winds and gut us to finish just around 4 am. Media photos and free beer and hot dogs on shore ensued before we had to clear this pontoon and make way for later finishing boats. We had secured a 5th place finish. Not bad considering all we went through.
Race one in the bag. Portimao to delight us for the next week.