40 knot surfing

Orange packs on the miles in conditions for which she was built

Saturday March 23rd 2002, Author: James Boyd, Location: Transoceanic
Position at 0800 this morning.
Day 21 Lat Lat Distance in last 24 hours Distance since start Average speed last 24 hours Instant speed
ORANGE 40°15 S 38°26 E 366 M 9002 M 15,25 N 19 N
SPORT ELEC 46°30 S 12°39 E 434 M 6901 M 18,08 N
Orange has been receiving a thrashing over the past 24 hours and conditions look set to continue to be lively in the world's most inhospitable seas now that she is into the Indian Ocean section of the Southern Ocean.

At present she is surrounded by a complex system of lows and has been experiencing winds of up to 55 knots. One of the advantages of a giant catamaran is that they are so fast that they are supposed to be able dictate the part of a weather they want to in. In the Southern Ocean this would be the north west or less ideally the north east quadrant to maintain favourable reaching conditions. Unfortunately this theory hasn't been going Orange's way since being dogged by an unusual positions of the South Atlantic high pressure.

Now they are in the north west quadrant of a giant low 970mb), with another equally powerful depression astern of them at 0degW. Gilles Chiorri, Orange's on board meteorologist commented: "I don't think the situation is going to change much. We're now in the tail end of the low. We mustn't be overtaken by it — we have to get away from this system. This should take us east towards the Kerguelen Islands (lying about 1300 miles off at 13h00)".

Breaking waves submerge the cockpits, big dipper type waves, the winds whistle and sea spray stings the crew's faces. On Friday/Saturday night Orange was running bare pole - impressive on a 34m racing catamaran and certainly not the conditions Peyron and his crew are looking for in the Southern Ocean.

"Even crew who have done The Race have never seen that before," commented skipper Bruno Peyron during the daily radio chat session earlier. "We only shortened sail gradually. One reef in the main, then two, three until finally there was nothing left at all. Same thing with the foresails. None of this stopped us from making 20 knots with just the mast ! What surprised us most of all was the force of the sea. Some of the series of waves really were best avoided. We managed to have a life raft torn away from the aft beam overnight!"

Imagine a wave as high as a three storey building catching up with you from behind, picking you up and carrying you in a surf for a while, as knowing that the survival of the boat and the crew depends on the helmsman's concentration. Tackle a wave badly and the boat will accelerate both bows will bury and even a catamaran are large as Orange has the potential to capsize.

"Easier said than done," continues Peyron. "We can see the wave coming about 500-700 metres off. We take avoiding action, which turns out not to work and we find ourselves at the foot of a wall of water. Speed, no speed, go through it, cut across it ? You have to make your mind up quickly. Once you have decided what you're going to do, there's no going back on it. You're generally in for a wet, violent downhill ride. With no guarantee as to how you're going to land."

"I've never sailed down waves so fast," added Chiorri. "The speedometer had freaked but we must have been doing not far off 40 knots in those surfs! Right now, with our ski goggles on, we look more like characters out of Star Wars than sailors!"

Luckily, during the daily radio chat session, the deepest part of the low had passed over and the wind had "dropped to 30 knots from the south west. Orange was sailing with two reefs in her main and her staysail up, and the waves were still large. The wind should remain S/SW at 30 knots and should lessen before Monday.

Bruno Peyron's storm trooper's. Full foul weather gear, breathing apparatus and skiing goggles are de rigeur



Sunshine - normally conditions in the Southern Ocean are perpetually grey and monotone. Under storm jib alone in the strong winds.



Orange sets off down a wave. They never look as big in photos... One hopes there is someone on the wheel in the starboard hull. Note the rather substantial winches.


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