White Ocean Racing

May 23 - Steve's blog Number 12.

Now we're moving!

I was going to write this last night, but I just stood for a while watching the boatspeed, and in the end left the boat to it and went to bed whist we were hurtling along at up to 18 knots, but always more than 16.

Yesterday left me feeling totally drained. It was a real slog getting down to the ice gate. We had wind speed in the high twenties of knots and a horrible sea state caused by the current which runs against us at around 2 to 2.5 knots in places which I find incredible, that such a huge body of water should be moving that fast.

Approaching the icegate the sea was so short and steep with not massive waves, but just really close together with no backs, so the boat just kept falling into massive holes with boat breaking slams, and then being stopped dead by the next crest immediately in front of it. If you sped up by turning slightly away from the wind you slammed worse, if you slowed down to lessen the slamming by turning slightly into the wind you stopped, and I was really concerned that we were going to lose the mast, the shock loads were tremendous. I opted for slower and spent a lot of time on deck, but with 2.5 knots of current against us our speed over the ground was down to 4 knots at times which was absolutely crushing mentally, when you know everyone else is flying away from you.

Anyway, evidently nobody spoke to Percy, the wind stuffed us good and proper and we were going to have to tack to get down the last few miles to the gate, which would mean tuning South East with the wind direction and counter current. Whilst I was on the phone commiserating to Kim as is my want, there was a bang, I looked through the window and the staysail was sliding right up it's stay. I slammed the phone down, rushed out on deck to turn the boat downwind before it stalled, and went forward to inspect the damage (meanwhile going away from the waypoint at 11 knots!) The last time that happened to me the webbing loop on the bottom corner of the sail had pulled out, which meant the end if that sail for a long while, so it could be that agin this time or it could have been the lashing holding the sail down to the deck that had broken, but no, I was really surprised when I got up there, it was one of the very expensive pad eyes (U-bolt things!) which had just broken - 10mm high tensile stainless bar just sheered off due to the slamming! Failure of this fitting cost Pindar their Round Britain race a few years ago, but luckily we have two pad eyes, so I wrestled the sail down, re-lashed it to the good one, re hoisted and was back on course in under half an hour, not bad, but it had cost us 6 miles!

I did tack the boat shortly after to head south to find that the autopilot would NOT steer on starboard tack whatever I did - we finished up head to wind, layed right over, and generally lurching about whilst I sorted out the water ballast, stacked sails and total mayhem upstairs and down from being very heeled over! I am not one for shouting, but I found myself screaming into the wind to give us a break, I had had enough! I called the ice gate and the Gulf Stream lots of things, non of them nice.

The pilot and I settled on a sort of course to get us South, and I thought I'd just as well stay on the losing tack for another half an hour, cross the gate and then immediately head back across it again, this time heading for Boston. I phoned the Race office, checked it was OK to do so, tacked back, unrolled the solent, and it was a beam reach now to Boston! The sense of relief was enormous, I was absolutely knackered. The boat speed was up at around 18 knots at times, and always greater than 16. We were still in that awkward sea state, but now the slams weren't the bone jarring "Oh dear I've stopped" kind, they were "Get out of the way I am coming through" kind, and the water coming down the deck was no longer 50 million ton dropping on you, it was fire hosing down the deck at high speed - the boat was a Finot doing what Finot's do best - wind on the beam, up comes the bow and you're off, MAGIC.

As I stood downstairs I mentally held up a very low number of fingers to the ice gate and the Gulf Stream. I was going to write this last night whilst I was still on a high from making the final turn, but I stood watching the numbers and then fell asleep for a short while - the radar alarm went off continually through the night keeping me awake, set off by rain clouds!

When I went on deck this morning to shake a reef out it was much colder. It seemed so un-natural to have oilskins and only your underwear on underneath; downstairs it was like a steam room, so this is fine with me, proper sailing - plenty of clothes, nice and cool, beam reaching at 15 knots, no nasty Gulf Stream holding us back that is well behind us - perfect, it makes up for yesterday!

And you thought we'd given up here at the back and were on a go-slow; NOT A CHANCE!

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