Race to Rio Week 3: The pain, the gain and the final push

in Clipper Tales / Life at Sea / Sailing the World
clipper race to rio nick helm

Day 20: The pain

“The Doldrums is essentially a race restart,” says the Skipper. “The boats that break away first could easily find themselves hundreds of miles ahead of the whole fleet in just a day or two.”

I am thinking about this statement when I wake up to the news that three boats have broken out of the east, clearing the Doldrums and gaining the lead quickly. The boats to the west of us seem to have been cursed with even less wind, showing a pathetic twenty or thirty-mile gain in twenty-four hours. And then there’s the middle pack – Henri Lloyd and the boats on our tails — moving along at a slow but slightly quicker pace, which is no comfort whatsoever as we watch the boats to the east gain over 60 miles on us in just a few hours. We know that every hour we sit still is another hour that widens the gap between us and the podium.

Jamaica has climbed to first and – to my pride and horror – Ryan’s boat, PSP Logistics, has bounced suddenly from eleventh place to second place overall. And there’s absolutely nothing the crew on board Henri Lloyd can do about it. We are drifting, watching, cursing and waiting for each position report as well as any change in the weather forecast while the lead boats sail farther away from our reach.

As I’m now back on a steady coffee drip after our water rationing is raised to a more reasonable 3 liters per person per day following our successful rainwater harvest, I am unable to sleep at all anymore, checking the AIS on the chart plotter and tapping my foot while trying not to stress about the thing things I can’t control. Like the damned wind.

But it’s impossible. I’m picturing Ryan running back and forth on the foredeck calling for better trim on the headsail and staysail, all the while shouting, “C’mon, people! My wife’s boat is catching up!”

So, to take our minds off the excruciating wait for the calm winds to lift, Jo, the Skipper and I take to mid-morning plank-offs and push-up challenges to keep our minds and bodies distracted from the fact that we are falling behind in a race that we’ve dominated up until now.

henri lloyd plank off clipper race to rio

The crew challenges our unbeatable skipper to a daily “plank off” (Photo credit: Maaike Wassenaar)

Day 22: The gain

We’ve crossed the Equator and therefore have been transformed from Pollywogs to Shellbacks by Neptune himself with a fair bit of ceremony but none of the shenanigans like being covered in galley slop or being forced to kiss a flying fish that I’ve heard about on the other boats. Which is a relief because I’m not exactly in a celebratory mood, knowing that PSP Logistics is now 130 miles ahead of us and swiftly widening the gap.

But just as I begin to think morale is at an all-time low, we spot the faint glow of Derry-Londonderry-Doire’s mast light on the horizon and, suddenly, my night watch is alive and scurrying to trim sails, check Derry’s speed on the chart plotter and change from the Yankee 2 to the larger Yankee 1 headsail to eke another knot of speed out of our boat.

The carrot on the horizon appears at just the right time, as we hit 5 degrees south, which is where the Clipper Ocean Sprint starts. The Ocean Sprint is a challenge within the Race to Rio to see which boat can sail the fastest between 5 degrees south and 10 degrees south, earning 2 points towards their overall round-the-world score.

I’ve drunk my second coffee and fixed the Skipper a strong one with my specialty touch – a heap of hot chocolate mixed in for an extra sugar kick. Ryan and PSP may be securing their podium spot as they climb further ahead, but Henri Lloyd will not go down without a fight.

As I swig the last of my coffee and take the helm, I have Derry in my sights and I’m thinking about Qingdao in third place. There’s still 1000 miles to go; the strategy is simply to reel them in, one boat at a time.

equator crossing clipper race to rio

All hands on deck to take photos of the Equator, which isn’t much to see?

tasha turf to surf equator crossing ceremony

Me, transforming from a pollywog to a shellback. (Photo credit: Maaike Wassenaar)

team henri lloyd clipper race equator crossing ceremony

Jo, getting a good douse from Neptune. (Photo credit: Maaike Wassenaar)

Day 27: The final push

When the Doldrums finally leave us, it’s like a switch is thrown. We go from floating flat for nearly two weeks to having our world thrown on its side, racing alongside squalls and dodging whales with panicked screams from the helm of “TELL ME WHICH WAY TO STEER SO I DON’T HIT THE F@#$ING THING!”

The whale sightings are a dose of welcome fun when they are jumping and playing about three miles away from the boat, evoking oohs and aahhs from the crew like a good fireworks display.

But when they turn up just 100 meters off the bow, or 50 meters off the starboard side, swimming alongside the boat, they FREAK people out. We’ve all heard the horror stories of whales breaching under boats and ripping off keels or capsizing ships, so we shout and veer and panic, hoping the whales will go back to playing far away on the horizon, where they are much better appreciated.

As if this isn’t enough of a challenge, after a week of lolling sleepily in the Doldrums, night watch now brings 30 knots of wind on a reach in a feisty, squirrelly blast, making the boat hard to helm steadily. As Watch Leader Nick says, as he takes the helm from me after my shoulder-aching battle with the wheel, “Oooh, she’s got her slag boots on tonight, hasn’t she?!”

The roar of the wake blasting the sides of the boat as we accelerate to speeds of 21 knots, 23 knots and a pants-wetting 26 knots is so loud, Nick has to scream a thunderous “RELEASE VANG!” to be heard at all, as the boat is heeling over so far the boom is now dragging in the water, steering us in an arc like a third rudder.

The crew in the cockpit are all ducking, holding their hands over their heads, half expecting the boom to snap and come crashing down into the cockpit. Bits of yellow and black plastic are flying out of the wake and into the cockpit, an indicator that we’re now essentially pressure washing the Henri Lloyd graphics off the side of the boat, we’re going so fast.

We ease the sails as Nick sweats and fights the boat flat again, pulling the boom out of the water, and a collective sigh of relief is heard when we realize we haven’t snapped the boom after all.

“Okay, let’s get ready to drop the Yankee,” the Skipper shouts, seemingly unfazed by the boom washing. Indeed, it would appear we are a tad over-powered, so no one hesitates in their rush to the foredeck.

With the Yankee down on deck, we only have the mainsail and staysail up, and yet we’re still doing 17 knots with the wake roaring in our ears.

The question now, from our position about 600 miles from the race finish in Rio, is what sail plan are the lead boats using and can we still catch them? The latest position report tells us that we are only 60 miles behind the lead boat, yet we also know they are in the same weather system, so they are matching our speeds in these high winds.

It is the final push to Rio. We are tired, we’re grumpy, we’re dreaming of Caipirinhas on the beach and hot showers. But we’re still fighting.

But the question hanging over us in this exhausting last stretch of the Race to Rio is: Who can fight harder?


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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