Clipper by numbers: 48 hours into the race to Rio

in Clipper Tales / Life at Sea / Sailing the World
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Clipper Race 13-14 to Rio

If the purpose of the Clipper Race to Brazil was to show this fleet that our 380-mile race to Brest was mere child’s play, then the smack-down we got in the first 48 hours of our 4800-mile Race to Rio certainly set the tone.

On board the Henri Lloyd yacht, we are a little data-obsessed, analyzing position reports every six hours and relentlessly asking our navigation officers to provide stats on the distance between us and our competition, who is averaging more miles per day and what route each boat is taking. Amazingly, the crew’s hunger for constant updates hasn’t yet seemed to annoy our navigators, who have been incredibly patient with the crew’s constant stream of questions.

But, perhaps our navigators are more annoyed than they let on, as they have now taken to posting and updating a leaderboard in our galley each day in an effort to minimize the barrage of repeated questions.

Henri Lloyd Clipper Race Leader Board

Henri Lloyd Clipper Race Leader Board.

 

So, in the spirit of continuing my obsession with Clipper Race stats, I’ve decided to use the numbers produced on board Henri Lloyd so far to reflect on my first 48 hours in the Clipper Race to Rio.

Record wind speed: 48 knots
Record boat speed (on Henri Lloyd): 30.7 knots
Clipper all-time speed record: 30.7 knots
Most miles covered by HL in a 24-hour period: 247 miles
Injuries: 2 (Pete – smacked in the eye with spinnaker sheet; Kevin – severe rope burn from releasing a riding turn on the winch)
Seasickness casualties: 5
Gear broken: 2 stanchions, 1 GoPro mount, 2 winches, 2 spinnaker halyards
Number of sails on board: 11
Number of sails torn (on HL): 0
Boats ahead of HL 24 hours into race: 7
Boats ahead of HL 48 hours into race: 0
Record number of spinnaker changes in a 4-hour watch (on HL): 3

Record boat speeds

“Everyone GET DOWN!” Our watch leader shouts as the stern is suddenly lifted into the air, pointing the bow straight down a steep cliff of water. No one is sure what will happen once the boat bottoms out in the massive trough before us, so everyone ducks, including the helmsman, Jo, who’s visibly concerned about keeping his pants dry and the boat steady as it screams forward.

For the last 12 hours, the ocean swells have grown progressively larger, pushing the boat’s surfing speed up to 21 knots when I was at the helm, then 24.5 knots with the skipper at the helm, until finally we struck the oh-shit chord with 30.7 knots surfing down a mammoth wave, as my crew mate Jo grits his teeth and clings to the helm.

Having poured buckets of blood, sweat and tears into the production of the new fleet of 70-foot Clipper racing yachts, the Clipper team have been standing by with chewed up nails, no doubt, hoping to see their expensive new boats smash their previous boats’ records.

The speed record for the previous fleet of 68-foot Clipper boats was 28 knots, and that was surfing down waves in the Southern Ocean. So, I imagine raucous cheers sounded from the Clipper office when news hit the grapevine that the Henri Lloyd boat smashed the Clipper all-time record just two days into their second race. And off the coast of France, no less. Which begs the question: What will these boats do when they hit the 50-foot swells of the Southern Ocean?

I’ll let you know when I get there….

Crew and boat preservation

“GRIND!!!” Someone screams as the spinnaker sheet whips the boom with a sickening “CRACK!”

We all duck our heads in the cockpit, instinctively, as the sheet snaps over our heads.

Buzzz. CRACK! Buzzz. CRACK!

The helm drifts off course in gusts of 40 knots, and the trimmer reacts, yelling “GRIND!” a little too late, as the sheets are already flogging the paint off the boat. The buzz of the grinder punctuates the deafening snap of the sheets as the cockpit is a hive of movement and nerves, desperately trying to stop the damaging noise.

Sparks fly like fireworks from the starboard side as the spinnaker sheet whips the stanchions so violently that one of them explodes in orange fire.

“BAM! BAM! SNAP!”

The impact of the sheet whipping against our starboard aft stanchion sheers it clean off its base until all we hear is clanking metal and see the stanchion now hanging limply from the side of the boat.

Pete, one of our crew, is doubled over in pain, holding his hand over his left eye. He’s been hit in the face with the flying sheet.

Pete would later turn out to be okay, and would even earn the nickname “Pirate Pete” because of his eye patch. But the blood on deck is a clear warning to us that we need to work on our spinnaker skills and get our technique under control, or we will find ourselves down both equipment and crew.

It’s one thing to train on these Clipper boats while sailing in the mild conditions of the English Solent, as beginner errors have minor consequences when winds are light, seas are calm and the boats are not actually racing.

But, 2 days into the race to Rio, ocean squalls kick the wind speeds up to 48 knots, which means every line, sheet and halyard on board is suddenly under immense pressure, making precision and technique especially important for keeping the crew and the boat safe.

Of course, we want to push the boat and ourselves hard to win. But there are limits to everything. If we push so hard that we break our equipment, hurt our crew and lose valuable time trying to make up for our losses to both boat and crew, then we will lose out in the long run.

Unlike the race to Brest, the race to Rio is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to make sure we pace ourselves and our boat for the long haul. Every mile counts in this race.

But then so does every mistake.

post-line-divide

The Clipper Round the World Race

Tasha and Ryan are competing in Legs 1 and 3 of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, which started September 1st, 2013 in London, UK. Tasha is competing on CV21 (the Henri Lloyd boat) with Skipper Eric Holden and Ryan is competing on CV28 (the PSP Logistics boat) with Skipper Chris Hollis. You can read more about the crew and the boats here at www.clipperroundtheworld.com/crew

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