Frustrating last miles

As Bernard Stamm closes on the Tauranga finish line PLUS reports from Bruce Schwab and Tim Kent

Wednesday January 8th 2003, Author: James Boyd, Location: Transoceanic
The countdown to the finish in Tauranga is still in progress for Class 1 leader Bernard Stamm on Bobst Group-Armor Lux, as the Swiss skipper battles with extreme weather off the East coast of New Zealand. A helicopter that flew over him yesterday evening reported the boat to be well reefed down in 40 knot headwinds and pounding into rough seas due to the low pressure system descending from the North. Stamm is babying his boat and has slowed right down. At 1400hrs GMT today he was still 80 miles from the finish sailing cautiously at 5 knots and looks likely to finish in the early afternoon local time (around midnight GMT).

Stamm is now without the use of his Standard B or Mini M, and has been sending the short messages to the Race HQ: “It is sheer hell here. My mainsail has started to tear below the 4th reef, in such a way that I have been forced to reef. With four reefs and the ORC (storm jib) I have very little sail up and so can’t make more than 6-7 knots headway when the wind is above 35 knots and the seas so rough. I am actually 60 miles from land and think I will have to tack offshore again and approach from a more northerly angle. I am going to try and get 30 minutes sleep as I am just drenched and exhausted, and then sit on the boom to try and re-sew the sail.”

While Bernard Stamm toughs it out sailing down the coast of New Zealand, Thierry Dubois on Solidaires has not found much to laugh about either. He was slowed right up passing the high pressure system, and had to watch Bernard stay ahead without feeling any effects of the lighter airs. “And to add insult to injury, the guys behind are coming up on me behind the system. I must look forward and simply position myself so I don’t get a thrashing in strong headwinds round the corner.”

Out in the Tasman, Italian sailor Simone Bianchetti on Tiscali has closed to within 20 miles of New Zealander Graham Dalton on Hexagon. Dalton took a gybe to the east and allowed Bianchetti to sail north and east of him in different conditions. Overnight the winds were light for Hexagon while Tiscali remained in good, steady conditions. This morning brought bad news for the Kiwi skipper. Tiscali was closing – and fast. Dalton is finding this stretch of the leg the hardest part: “After the days of battling through the Southern Ocean, physically and mentally driving myself outside my limits, I am stuck in an area of high pressure just 1,000 miles from home, feeling as though I am in the hands of the gods. The wind is blowing between 0 and 5 knots from the NE, exactly the direction I need to travel in. I am working the boat harder than ever; at all costs she must always keep moving.”

Meanwhile, Class 2 leader American Brad Van Liew on Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America has had the pedal down and stretched his lead on the closest Class 2 boat, Tim Kent on Everest Horizontal, to 748 miles. Even more impressive is the fact that for five days Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America has kept pace with Bobst Group-Armor Lux. The separation between the two leaders was 1254.8m on January 1 and now sits at 1253.5 miles.

Life has had too much excitement for Van Liew, who has been steaming along at 15 knots in northerly swells and strong southerly winds of up to 50 knots, creating a whirlpool-like sea state. Not only has he been ‘doing doughnuts’ in the Tasman Sea with too much sail up in fast shifting winds with thunder and lightning all around, but he also reported to have hit a marine mammal of some kind when he went from 14 knots to zero in an instant. “On further inspection I definitely bounced into a whale (or similar mammal) because my keel lost some paint and looks a bit dinged. I am so thankful that this did not happen at a slightly different angle as I could have lost a rudder (or 2).” Kojiro Shiraishi on Spirit of yukoh reported also to have hit a mammal while travelling at 10 knots, however the boat and keel are fine.

American rival Tim Kent on Everest Horizontal is being dealt his fair share of problems. Overcoming on-going autopilot issues for the time being, he has been ‘smokin’ along’ quite literally as his engine has been pumping out its exhaust directly into the cabin due to a faulty injector in the middle cylinder. After deciding not to stop and pick up a new generator to avoid getting a time penalty he can’t afford to have with Derek Hatfield right on his tail, Tim then had to spend hours fixing the engine after it failed to start. “CO is not called the silent killer for nothing, but on Everest Horizontal right now it is a visible, smelly killer, so I stay far away. Cleaning the cabin in New Zealand will take days.”

And finally, back marker in Class 2, Alan Paris on BTC Velocity, sums up the plus side of sailing in the Southern Ocean: “It really is awesome sailing out here. The sky may be grey, the seas may never deliver a consistent direction causing a never ending ' bumpy ' ride, but how to compare the feeling of being in the Southern Ocean. It majestic and powerful yet demands respect and wariness. It's easy to get into a rhythm down here that although generally positive, you have to shake yourself every now and again and soak up what its like to be in this area where so few sailors venture. Otherwise it will pass all too soon and all you will have left is memories.”


POSITIONS AT 14:00GMT 08th JANUARY 2003

Class 1
Boat Lat Lon AvgBsp AvgHeading DTF
1. Bobst Group-Armor Lux 36 17.140 S 175 57.380 E 4.94 kt 134 °T 79.50 nm
2. Solidaires 36 24.170 S 171 08.410 E 11.14 kt 34 °T 433.97 nm
3. Hexagon 41 14.280 S 165 32.460 E 5.68 kt 19 °T 822.47 nm
4. Tiscali 40 53.020 S 164 25.000 E 9.14 kt 81 °T 842.37 nm
5. Pindar 43 31.240 S 161 41.190 E 9.35 kt 73 °T 1039.37 nm
6. Ocean Planet 42 53.410 S 155 35.000 E 9.80 kt 72 °T 1235.12 nm

Class 2
Boat Lat Lon AvgBsp AvgHeading DTF
1. Tommy Hilfiger 41 40.120 S 155 31.190 E 11.34 kt 71 °T 1206.17 nm
2. Everest Horizontal 46 49.660 S 139 52.750 E 11.16 kt 77 °T 1954.16 nm
3. Spirit of Canada 45 37.650 S 134 09.370 E 10.90 kt 75 °T 2160.27 nm
4. Spirit of yukoh 45 26.170 S 129 46.190 E 8.82 kt 80 °T 2343.24 nm
5. BTC Velocity 44 32.500 S 115 13.190 E 6.83 kt 92 °T 2962.02 nm

Tim Kent reports from Everest Horizontal ...

It's one thing after another! Having made the decision not to stop and pick up a generator because I can run the damaged engine, it then decided not to start! Two hours of working on it over the course of six hours finally got it running again. I sat up on deck in the dark as the engine filled the cabin with smoke, soot and carbon monoxide. CO is not called the silent killer for nothing, but on EVEREST HORIZONTAL
right now it is a visible, smelly killer, so I stay far away.

I am hand-steering as much as I can to relieve the load on the electrical system. I spent the last two and a half hours before dark last night at the helm and plan to drive at least half of the daylight hours every day. That way the solar panels can work on the batteries without any significant drain on them. Driving at night is not difficult, but it's darned cold out! I will drive at night as little as possible to conserve my own energy.

Speaking of which, after finally getting the engine running last night, and then clearing the cabin of smoke, I hit the rack for three hours with my alarm set. And slept right through it. For the first time since the start of this race, I got five straight hours of sleep. I must have been more tired than I thought!

In the midst of all these problems, we are still sailing. We are supposed to have 30 knots of wind right now and we have only around 20, with confused seas bouncing us all over. I need to get on deck and gybe, as we are experiencing a bit of a wind shift right now - and I will probably need to gybe back again later today. We are keeping our speeds up just a hair higher than our pursuers, which given the fact that the genoa and solent are both out of commission seems pretty good to me.

Tim

While Ocean Planet's Bruce Schwab sends up this report...

Wednesday, January 8, 2003 1100gmt Position: 43 00S, 155 03E
Speed 8-11kts, wind SSE @ 25-35kts

The other day I was saying how important it is to have a sense of humour out here. Well, that's especially true given our current situation. Looking at the weather predicted for the next week, we will be going quite slowly as some damage occurred a few days ago.

We can no longer use the water ballast on starboard tack, as in an accident, we blew the tank bulkhead up. Not fun at all! I won't go into much detail, but the old saying is true: no bilge pump is as effective as a motivated person with a bucket. There was a lot of water inside the boat, but fortunately all the electronics seem ok.

I wasn't going to bring it up as I didn't want our supporters to worry about my safety (and there was the possibility that the conditions wouldn't expose it since on port tack we're fine). But the wind has swung south and east, and we are going very slow without the weight of the nearly 5000 lbs of ballast on the starboard side. Imagine sailing along with 25 good sized football players sitting on the rail, and if they all hopped off....you would suddenly heel WAY over! So without the ballast, I can't put up as much sail as usual or we get overpowered and spin out.

The last 24 hours have provided some excessively thrilling weather to boot. Big squalls, lightning, and just a few hours ago we had 50-60 knots of wind. An unpredicted strong low pressure cell was imbedded in a big front passing through. We knew about the front coming but had no mention of this intense local low (surprise!) with the barometer going
down to 997mb.

The sea conditions were wild as the new southerly blast smashed into the northerly swell from the big blow that was just in front of us. I kept reducing sail as we careened about, eventually rolling up the headsails and dropping the mainsail entirely. There was so much wind the main didn't want to come down so I had to repeatedly climb up the rig a little way to hook in a small block and tackle to help lower it. While clinging to the mast above the halyard stoppers, I once looked to windward into the spray and noticed what looked like smoke on the water off the tops of the waves. I realized that this was "spindrift" the fine mist that happens when it blows really hard. I said out loud: "Yep, it's pretty windy now!" to no one in particular...

Under bare poles, we surfed to 15kts a few times, but the average speed wasn't very good. We were also heading too far north, so after it lightened up to 40kts I put up the staysail and headed up to course. We are only going 9-11kts when normally it would be 12-15kts, but without the ballast that's all we can carry within reason. But it's better than not moving and we are headed for New Zealand!

Surprisingly Brad has not caught up, and has been going through the same weather nearby. We check up on each other every few hours on the Iridium phones and to monitor the weather. We are in total agreement that it sucks.

Clawing away to the northeast,
Bruce on Ocean Planet

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