The nightmare is over

Carnage in the Volvo Ocean 60 fleet, but they are now thankfully out of the ice. James Boyd reports

Thursday February 7th 2002, Author: James Boyd, Location: Transoceanic
Hanging on to the rags - Knut Frostad reports from on board djuice

We've had a bit on tonight! At about midnight local time down here, I crawled on deck to give Thomas [Coville] a break behind the wheel. We had about 40 knots of wind, the code five spinnaker flying and djuice was just taking off on every wave.

I knew it was going to pick up, as the barometer was dropping like rock and Jean Yves [Bernot] was pretty confident about the low [pressure] to the south of us deepening and intensifying. The question is always how quickly will it move southeast. We felt that Assa Abloy took a risk going that close to the low as we thought we were only about 75 nm north of the centre.

Anyway, behind the wheel, the waves started to get bigger and steeper, probably to around 10m high. We had decided to get the spinnaker down at 45 knots, but normally it's more the waves than the wind that stops you.

Suddenly a big gust came from behind and we had ‘466’ knots of wind. The speedometer stops reading at 29-30 as the hull is too far out of the water. It's just a constant spray from the bow out to each side. We were on fire.

My focus was on one thing: the true wind angle [readout display]. In darkness that's the only guideline to the wind you have. And most critical, is to make sure you don't end up in the bottom of a wave too low [in heading]. The more wind we have with a spinnaker up, the narrower the angle we can play with.

At this stage, I had to keep the boat between 152 and 160 degrees true wind angle. [We were] now averaging about 28 knots of boat speed. Everyone in the cockpit was just so focused on his job - absolutely no time for any small talk. The wind seemed to pick up more and more. Should we take it down? It might drop again soon, you know. Okay, let's keep it.

Suddenly Jean-Yves appeared in the hatch. "There is a large iceberg right in front of us, about eight milesaway. You need to come up ten degrees." S***. How the hell were we going to sail ten degrees higher when I already only had about eight to play with? We already had the boat ballasted with 80% of the water in. "Fill up the last tank."

We tried our best, but as I heated up five more degrees but we only went faster, and had to come down in the waves as the wind swung forward in the surf.

Jean-Yves came back up in the hatch, "less than six miles now, and you are still aiming at the berg!" Wow. Those two miles went fast. I ran through a quick calculation in my head. "Five miles to go, 28 knots average speed, that gave us over ten minutes to clear it." This was just too risky. We always try to pass to
weather of the icebergs as the small and dangerous growlers normally are positioned to leeward of them. Bearing away was therefore not an option, especially at night.

"Okay guys. Let's get rid of the spinnaker." It took us eight minutes to get it down, as the drop line had twinned itself with a sheet. With no spinnaker and a double-reefed mainsail, we then had to come up 35 degrees off course to avoid the berg. An hour later, we could get going again and with a reaching jib, as the wind was constantly above the limit for a chute.

So there you go - the result: we lost quite a few miles to some [of the boats] in the fleet after having been the fastest boat for the two last position reports. Damned iceberg.

Talking about staying to weather of the ice. Half an hour ago we passed to weather of a small berg, and sailed straight into a minefield of growlers the size of a bus. So much for the golden rule. Have never seen that before, to weather of the bergs. On the other hand we can't see much anyway, as it is either dark, foggy, raining or snowing like hell. Might be the better option.

Knut [Frostad]

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