Too close for comfort...Paul Cayard... helming on the edge
The antithesis of Volvo...completely irresponsible. That is how we behaved last night and so did most of the fleet I imagine.
Our case in point went as follows. With second place in our hands and a nice gain on the fleet having been made, the winds steadily built during the afternoon and backed to the southwest making it desirable to gybe and sail on starboard tack. As there was 35 knots +, we did this manoeuvre by taking the spinnaker down, putting in the first reef, and rehoisting on the other board...careful and safe. By the time we rehoisted, got all the gear restacked and got the house sorted out and got dinner made and eaten, we had missed a few watch rotations.
As night approached the winds maintained the 35+knots when actually they were forecast to moderate. At the same time, the iceberg and growler count was growing by 10 per hour. We were sailing with one reef and the smallest spinnaker we have, so we felt fairly prudent about that. However, while watching the radar and seeing nothing, we sailed just 100 feet away from a growler that was 10 feet out of water. It was an ominous realization.
As there were only three of us capable of driving in these conditions, we decided to rotate every two hours. The first term went well with 36 knots top-speed and black darkness for just the last half hour. When I came up it was black dark and blowing 30-35knots. Within 10 minutes of taking the helm a squall hit us with 40 knots. Very intense in the pitch black with huge, sloppy waves as you get down here. Then 15 minutes later I got a blast of 45 knots for three minutes. This was absolutely crazy. Hanging on until it passed, I told Grant [Dalton] that I could not do my full two hours of that intensity without serious chance of wiping out. I should have said that no one could but I did not want to speak for the others. That was a mistake and not using my experience.
As the next helmsman prepared to come up I got two more squalls of 45+. Southern ocean 45+. With the temperature down here that is 50+ everywhere else. I managed to hang on to this beast which was hurtling through the pitch black of night, doing 30+ knots at one moment, running into large objects at random (waves that I could not see), as we caromed off these waves they would alter my course up to 15 degrees in a situation where degrees of course change can throw the whole boat out of balance. On top of all this, the growlers were still out there, we just did not happen to hit any. What if we did at 30 knots of boat speed? Maybe News Corp can tell us.
All three of us, Amer Sports One drivers, have strong cases of tendonitis in our hands now. Three fingers of my left hand are tingling numb constantly. I have lost 50% of my grip strength in that hand. Yet on we went. We just wanted to get to daylight and it would all be much easier. We needed about another hour and a half. An hour and a half after I grabbed the wheel I was so happy to give it up. I should have said, let’s slow this bus down, we are in great shape, our house is neat and dry, no damage, etc. I failed to say that. So did everyone else.
30 minutes into that last driver, onto our side we went. The gyration was so violent, that downstairs where I was sitting recovering, the engine box cover, which doubles as the companion way stairs, simply left its mount and landed on me. We got up on deck and found the kite was shredded. No sooner had we gotten the kite down and Roger [Nilson] yells up, two icebergs ahead, four miles. It was a blessing to have the kite down but the width of the two bergs forced us to sail between them. This is not recommended in any book. Needless to say we had a few tense moments there but we got through it unscathed. We pulled out a blast reacher and just chilled out for a few hours and took the 20-mile hit on the sked.
Now we are back on our bike at full capacity, back in the watch system, house back in order. Are we any wiser? Hard to say. I think we have made these mistakes before and we made them again last night.
The difficulty is that the further away an experience like that gets from you, the more your competitive instincts take over your judgement. I think it is safe to say we won't do that again on this leg.
But one thing we are stuck with is the icebergs. The whole fleet is. We will not be out of the zone for at least 24 hours.