The Clipper fleet enters into there second week of racing, sailing from Qingdao, China to San Francisco, USA as they compete in the Clipper 2011/12 Round the World Yacht Race. The crew on-board Gold Coast Australia have been experiencing many challenges as we sail across the infamous North Pacific Ocean. Of these challenges one of the most noticeable has been the early gear breakages that are happening where anything from our spinnaker pole to our snap shackles to our sheets and halyards (ropes) are breaking and with the prospect of three more weeks at sea gear conservation is a must. There is no hardware store down the road out here when we are 3,000 nautical miles from land.
Gear breakages aside, day 8 dawned with a lovely following sea reaching an impressive 7 meters at times offering up some fantastic surfing opportunities and the nearest boat a great 33 nautical miles behind us as we hold the first place position. Allowing us to increase this lead is the regular speeds of 15-18 knots with my best being a fun 19.1 knots. Our days run was a Gold Coast Australia personal best of 280 nautical miles for this race giving us an average of 14 knots. By the end of that day our lead on Singapore the closest boat was 68 nautical miles.
Even with these fun sailing conditions the air temperature on deck is a very cold 4 degrees Celsius making a 4 hour watch system very challenging. Although we were sailing in 3-4 meter swell with 30-40 knots of winds screaming past our ears ripping off the tops of the waves and sending all that spray straight into our eyes and face striking us so hard it feels like a slap in the face, these things were all very difficult but it was the cold that was the worst. Once your gloves were wet you would loose all feeling in your hands, during the next stage you felt like you had placed your hands in a tub of burning cinders and stood by while they burn with a fiery pain. If you are unfortunate enough to have to take your gloves off to do something like undo a snap shackle and were double unfortunate to get splashed by a wave then you will loose all movement as they cramp into a tight ball making it near impossible to complete your task anyway. Now imagine this for 4 hours at a time with your toes going equally numb and keeping it up for a few days at a minimum.
Thankfully for us by day 11 the winds finally abated as we come out of the Low Pressure system offering conditions of a balmy 8 degrees Celsius on deck, blue sky’s and the most wonderful thing in the world, SUNSHINE. This is a great opportunity repair our broken spinnaker pole and to try to dry ourselves out a little bit and defrost our fingers and toes for a day but this is the only respite that we get as there is yet another Low Pressure System coming our way with predicted winds up to 40 knots by tomorrow evening. Storm preparations are underway and we all are bracing our selves for head winds and large rolling seas to offer up even more challenges.
On Day 12 we began making our way through the sail wardrobe from our largest to our smallest sails testing the strength of a very exhausted crew with one particularly rough watch from 4am to 8am in the morning when the seas are still freezing with winds blowing up to 33 knots we went for a sail change from the Yankee 2 (our medium sail) down to the Yankee 3 (our smallest head sail). This was a really tough sail change because the boat healed over on a 45 degree angle bashing into 4 meters of swell so there is constantly a wave trying to rip the sail out of your hands and over the side on top of this you are quite often getting air time as the boat falls off the back of a wave quicker than you do so you hang suspended until gravity takes over. If you are not getting airtime you are getting washed all around the deck. I was at one stage facing aft on my knees as I tried to free up some of the sail as the boat ploughed through a wave washing my knee right into the end of the broken spinnaker pole causing a considerable amount of pain. Later that same day I was washed again along the deck only to have the same damaged knee collide with a cleat on the deck.
Once this very rough sail change was complete we set up to put in reef 3 making our main sail as small as it will go without dropping it. I thought that the reef went okay but when I got back to the helm Skipper Richard Hewson said that we had broken the top three battens in the main sail. A batten is a fiberglass stick that is fitted in the sail to help hold the shape of the sail, now that these were broken the sail was flogging relentlessly in the increased 35-40 knots of wind. Richard made the decision that we would drop the Yankee 3 and hoist the Storm Jib and for this we would need our main sail up but as soon as this was done we would drop the main sail and hoist the Tri Sail until the winds abated enough to allow us to replace the broken battens. The sail change, as usual, took a lot longer that expected forcing us to continue to sail with the main sail up for longer than we would like. We also needed to wait until the next watch was on deck to help with the drop. Just as everyone arrived on deck and we were completing the pre-drop brief on the main sail the top slider (the piece that feeds the sail up the track) on the main broke free of the sail allowing the main sail to pull away from the mast track. A minuet later and the main had torn a good two-meter section of the track from the mast. I climbed up the mast steps to pull down the sail as we went for the drop, slowly easing the rest of the sliders down the broken section of the track so that we didn’t rip any more off. With the sail safely down there was not much that we could do about the track with the present weather conditions so we hoisted the storm Tri Sail and continued on our way. Even with all of these dramas and breakages our lead had now increased to 86 nautical miles with New York as the second boat having overtaken Singapore.
The winds of 30-40 knots held for the next few days making helming conditions very difficult. There was no moon showing it’s self through the dense clouds so you could not see anything, even the bow of the boat. On top of this we were sailing close hauled so the wind was whipping all the spray directly into your face so that as a necessity you needed to wear safety goggles or ski goggles just to be able to see the instruments that were your only guide for sailing direction. Blindly we would bash day and night gradually opening our lead on the rest of the fleet so that by day 14 at sea we held a fantastic 130 nautical mile lead on the Singapore who were in second place with Derry Londonderry in third place at a impressive 230 nautical miles behind. Go Gold Coast Australia.