The downwind rollercoaster

Front runners in both Transat Jacques Vabre fleets now basking in the trade winds conditions

Tuesday November 11th 2003, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom


Sam Davies reports from on board Team Cowes

So, we had a bit on this night! We were sailing nicely in the building trade winds with all the gear up. So, that continued into the night - just PERFECT sailing (better than chocolate again!) in 15-17 knots wind, little surfs, boat speed from 12 -20. The only small problem is that our pilots are struggling to work when we have the big spinnaker up (we have been hand steering for 95% of the race anyway.) This, as you can imagine,
creates a few issues (!) - you need the second person to do all kinds of small things (battery charge, get any food, gear etc.) Sometimes you can't even get there to wake them up! (great if you are the one sleeping, very serious if you are the one on the helm busting for a pee!)

So, my story of our evening (so far - it's not over yet!) starts as I came up on deck (having woken myself up), armed with three hours supplies for my stint stuck on the helm. Nick was helming, with his arms in his jacket, but he hadn't managed to get it over his head! It was quite fresh by this time and he had managed to make a dash for the jacket when he saw an approaching rain squall, but not quite had enough time to get it fully on. This turned out to be two hours ago, and he had continued helming half tied up in jacket since then - in case of another squall!

So, I took over and Nick went to sleep. In my watch, the wind had increased to 22 and headed us off course, so we needed to change to gennaker... In this kind of breeze, the pilot was struggling to handle the conditions so I decided to stay on the helm as Nick tackled getting the big kite down...

Anyway, we see it as good practise for Nick for his singlehanded race back, so he got to work on the foredeck and I carried on helming (slightly more out of control in the building breeze!) So, all was going well until the snuffer line failed to perform the task it is named for. Great. 22 knots, massive spinnaker (now tripped from the tack), no snuffer, me on the helm and Nick (by this time very vocal!) stuck on the foredeck!

Anyway, it wasn't pretty, but we got it down. I should say, Nick got it down, because I felt completely useless stuck on the tiller, trying to get the sail to fly in the right place, that we didn't damage it and it was easy to drop, and releasing halyards, sheets etc.

I am normally the one wrestling on the foredeck, and I am not used to not being able to help. So, now we have the gennaker up, we are doing 17 knots in the right direction, I am about to get some sleep and Nick is on the helm! (with the gennaker the pilots work enough to do vital trimming, etc.)

There is a big blue spinnaker in a complete mess in its bag - a nice surprise for the morning . And Nick won the foredeck award today, and if we had a swear box, it'd be looking pretty well off right now!

Sam x

A report from on board Ecover

It's certainly been a frustrating few days on Ecover. We knew that in entering such a new boat we would likely as not face some relibilty problems and so it has proved. What is ironic is the fact that we began the race in conditions which would challenge the most race hardened boat - and shone!

Our problems occurred after just 24 hours of spinnaker work in relatively gentle conditions 12-16kts of wind when our spinnaker halyard failed due to chafe from what seems like a bad exit from the mast. The result is that our brand new #10000 spinnaker into the water at speed which ripped it into pieces in seconds. After a lengthy clear up unwrapping the shredded sail we hoisted, on a different halyard, a second spinnaker and an hour later that to was in a similar state! What were left with is just one good spinnaker and no halyards on which to hoist it.

12 hours later we had rearranged the whole halyard system and were again back up to full speed, but position on the race track is everything. This delay meant that we fell off the routing schedule we had planned and into a ridge of high pressure. Virbac who had been more than 40 miles astern and shrinking was by now ahead and managed to avoid entrapment - as did those behind who simply sailed up to us on the old breeze - sail racing is a cruel game.

The upshot is that the loss of position has cost us more dearly than seems entirely fair. We are now third and 200 miles behind the Virbac over the course of three days. Fortunately for us the TJV is a long race and we have only just crossed the halfway mark so there is still some hope for us.

Our closest rival is Sill who now lies in second and in a further sacrifice now has potentially advantageous position to the west of us. Still she is only 30 miles away and we believe we can catch her by the Doldrums where anything could happen - we could even find the leader Virbac waiting in a calm for us to resume the race we were enjoying.

Now we are well into the Trades winds and fair steaming south at speeds of more than 20 knots. It's a warm, wet and occasionally wild ride. The flying fish and feel of the Tropics is here conditions which most sailors would want most of the time, but whilst enjoyable, in the racing sense it is a frustrating conveyor belt along which we all must ride until we get to the next place where conditions will provide opportunities for either catchups or overtaking.

That's not to say that we are not enjoying the respite from the gales and headwinds of the earlier part of the race as well as the rigours of ur recent problems. Brian and I are steering all the time now - maximising the potential of what we have, but we are also catching up on the sleep and meals which we have missed - even to the extent that alongside our freeze dried meals we able to safely enjoy the civility of a glass (ok a plastic mug) of red wine we have as a treat.

Mike and Brian

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