Horror stories of shredded spinnakers, crash gybes and spinnaker poles ripping out of masts have been making their way around the fleet via the daily Skippers’ Blogs, giving us something to talk about each day during our dog watch (the only time all the crew are awake at the same time).
I thought of our sailmaker, Sarah, when I read Team GB wrapped their spinnaker around their forestay, tearing it to shreds within a few days of leaving Brest. The damage was so severe it took them a week to repair it.
And I cringed when I read PSP Logistics (Ryan’s boat) had crash gybed with their Yankee headsail poled out, causing the pole to come whizzing across the boat, ripping the track clean out of the mast when it hit the other side. And that was on Day 2 of the race, with about 4500 miles to go. And that’s 4500 miles of downwind sailing now made even more difficult for Ryan and his team since they won’t be poling out any more headsails.
As I’ve been doing more and more helming for my watch, I think of PSP every time the boat pulls hard up into the wind and I have to fight the boat with all my might to bear away again. It feels like a desperate battle to keep the boat safe, and to fight for every chance at stepping on the podium in Rio. I don’t want to give anything away to human error, much less my error.
It’s a huge responsibility, being at the helm on a 70-foot racing yacht. Unlike sailing in the Solent, with tame seas and predictable winds, out on the open ocean we’ve had everything from 10–40 knots of wind close hauled, sometimes from behind, sometimes calm seas and sometimes huge, rolling waves that threaten to pitch the boat on its side, putting undue pressure on the preventer and our pole, if we’re sailing downwind.
Any time I have to scream “VANG!”, signaling for the crew to ease the boom vang as the boom is about to dip in the water, my adrenalin levels surge and my muscles tense up, as I’m fighting with every ounce of strength and concentration to not let the boat pitch sideways, causing any damage.
Eric, our skipper, seems to have a good sense of the crew’s capabilities, which is why we sailed a fair while longer than most of the other boats without putting our spinnaker up. He didn’t want us taking on more than we could handle.
So, we watched patiently and a little nervously as most of the fleet passed us in the first few days of the race from Brest. Most of the other boats had raised their kites and pulled ahead of us, leaving us behind in 8th place. But with five crew laid up with seasickness to the point where they were either in bed most of the day, slumped on the stern with Bob (our man overboard dummy) or lying on the floor throwing up into garbage bags, both watches were seriously under-crewed for manning a spinnaker, which requires quite a few hands on deck.
So we waited until we had a fully functioning crew to raise our kite, and then we reigned in each boat mile by mile, until we’d clawed our way up from 8th place to 1st place. And like a flashback to the race to Brest, Derry-Londonderry were hot on our heels in 2nd place when we reached the top of the leaderboard.
It’s true, we could have pushed hard at all costs from the get-go, using what few crew we had and what little experience we had with night sailing, squalls, rolling seas and the four brand new spinnakers we had on board.
But could we have done it without the errors that would have cost us the race in the long run?
By the Skipper’s estimate, no. So, we pushed on with what we knew at the start of the race, waiting for the crew to recover to 100% before we took on more. And then we slowly learned about night navigation, flying spinnakers, helming in rolling seas and working together as a winning team.
Which is what makes our current standing in first place so rewarding. It came with a lot of patience and hard work.
Sure, the race has only just begun and we still have the Doldrums to contend with before we get to Rio. But, you know that they say: Slow and steady wins the 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/