Past Recife

The Volvo fleet has turned to head for Barbuda

Saturday March 16th 2002, Author: Peter Bentley, Location: Transoceanic
Through The Minefield reports Emma Westmacott from Amer Sports Too

I couldn't resist but to write a quick email. This is truly unbelievable sailing. It is a cloud lottery; we have Lizzy [Liz Wardley] up the rig, just directing us through the light patches. The clouds are everywhere and to be avoided with haste. I have just been driving for a couple of hours and the mix of emotions that well up with this kind of sailing is amazing.

Picture this; helm in your hand, daybreak, and the clouds on the horizon look ominous, but is it a squall line or is it just the contrast between them and the rising sun. The sky is clear for now, it has had patches of clouds which have brought breeze, but unlike yesterday when a low cloud bank engulfed us all and left no room for escape, no room for ups or downs, just straight through. It engulfed us and Amer Sports One, plus djuice and SEB. There was no way out, definitely not wanting to experience those unfair losses again. A knot forms in the stomach and anxiety runs rapidly through ones head what is going to happen. 'Please don't let SEB get by, we have already lost to djuice and let the boys go, we don't want to loose any more.'

But what use is anxiety? All it does is clogs the mind, stops you from thinking straight, back to the sound of Ellie's [Eleanor Hay] voice "puff on the bow", traveller goes down, sheets are eased on we move surging forward at 12 knots, but how long will it last, 'never you mind, just keep the boat rolling, no slower than 11 knots'. The clouds are breaking up it is not a mammoth squall just daybreak and a succession of puffy cumulus.

On we go, no longer iceberg on the bow, now we have rain on the bow, come up, up we go, 20 off course. Are we mad, is everyone driving around them like this? So many extra miles, but if we keep up the momentum then that is what it is all about.

Doing nicely, SEB is bearing 140 degrees to us, another boat at 2 o'clock, and another on the bow, djuice and Amer Sports One. Fantastic, there they are, don't get carried away, we are not at them yet, last sked they were six miles and 12 ahead respectively. Unbelievable, see, it does work both ways. It is not always us out of luck, relative bearings are changing we are moving forwards, then slop, "too high", good grief ... in fact words a bit stronger. 'Velocity header', breeze has crapped out on us, terrific, why now, there they all are ... within reach ... so close.

Out of reach, we slump. Up with the windseaker and furl the [Code] zero. The Windex [wind indicator on the top of the mast] spins, boat speed goes 6 knots, 5.6, 4.8, 3.3, 4.5, 2.3, 1.4, 0.7, 1.2, 0.0, 1.2. So infuriating. Frustration shoots through my veins. I start to curse, what good is that? Concentrate, look at the water listen to the girls.

Melissa's [Purdy] voice says, "breeze coming in, small puff 20 up, I'm voting come up a bit". Up I come, it swings 50 heading up, have we tacked, is it really from astern? Where is it coming from? No clouds above, nothing to weather, only the great a darky that we thought was nothing to leeward that is now pouring rain. We are miles from it, what is the story. "Stick it up, breeze is filling in to weather," so up we go, and feel the puffs on our faces, concentration all the while. There are the other two boats within our sights.

Another cloud in front, which way to go? "Which way what do you reckon?" No answer, "okay," I say, "lets bang through it," that should get a response, "no" comes back from everyone fearing yesterday's sail, we are never going to make it below, so up we come.

Lizzy up the rig, find us some breeze. She has been up there three hours now. In the heat of the sun, legs probably numb from the harness, she directs the traffic, picking and choosing the way through the minefield. The others are very upright, djuice has a wind seeker up, sails are wallowing, as is Amer Sports One, we can see in the distance through the binoculars.

We sail up, boat speed stays at three knots, but we are moving and that is what it is all about. Just listening to voices and keeping a steady helm, 'course is good don't come down', excellent we ghost along, and wrap around the top of djuice The bearing on Amer Sports One goes from 310, 300, 290, 275. djuice is flopping behind. We feel for them, but are ecstatic for ourselves, roll on past, then it is time to tell Katie [Pettibone] about the joys of the last four hours. Think of the roller coaster of emotions, crew eager to keep moving, waiting for the next sked to see where we are at.

The front-runners have stopped too, we have gained 32 on News Corp, 18 on the others, excellent, so hand over in 4 knots of breeze. "Keep up the good work," we grin at each other. But how long will it last?

djuice infuriated, starts to move then attempts to go back over us, what to do? There are other boats than us two. We are gaining on Amer Sports One but losing to SEB, do we let them go or go up too? The plot unravels as we jostle out here and wrestle with clouds in the sweltering heat of the morning sun.

Breeze on, and as fast as it went it has come back too, 6, 8, 10, 14 knots of breeze, we flatten out the boat and truck on to the next on the list, News Corp.

Page three...The view from Amer Sports One by Chris Nicholson
Page four... A philosophical Mark Rudiger

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