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Start - November 2008 _|_ December 2008 _|_ January 2009 _|_ Finish - February 2009 _|_ Epilogue

February 2009 Vendee Globe Reports

1 February - Newswire reports - Michel Desjoyeaux wins Vendee Globe.

Sailing more than 28,303 miles, averaging around 13.2 knots, French solo skipper Michel Desjoyeaux has shattered the Vendee Globe race record today by 3 days 7 hours and 39 seconds on his way to becoming the first skipper ever to win the solo non stop around the world race twice. The course is effectively 1150 miles longer than in 2004.

Steve White, in ninth place, is now 390 miles off the Brasilian coast still making a steady nine knots, passing the latitude of Rio. Strategically, like others in these realms of the fleet, White is not getting the level of weather information to judge his best options, to plot the arrival of fronts and so he is keeping well offshore.

3 February - Blog 24 - Warm tranquility and thoughts of home.

If you went on holiday and the weather was like it has been here over the past few days you would not be disappointed - it has been glorious. The water is just the right temperature for bathing babies, the sun is very strong and right overhead at midday, and the breeze is warm and pleasant at night when you go out to look at the stars. I think this must be where the baby flying fish live - I have not seen any that are bigger than half grown but thre are hundreds of them. Birds are a different matter - just one for a hours only as he flew just ahead of the boat looking for flying fish with his beady eye; he was greeny brown with a pointy tail and beak like a needle and about three quaters the size of a gannett. Since then, nothing, no visible company at all.

I have been busy however. The generator needed fiddling with again because as the water and hence the batteries get warmer the way they charge changes, and if you're not careful the generator is overcharging like mad and my nice rectangular batteries are about to become cooked into shapes like egg boxes! A blocked fuel filter was complicating the process of setting it up; I must have had a really dirty fill of fuel from somwhere, but it's OK now. I changed generator engine oil and stopped the water leak from the engine exhaust, so we are a bit drier downstairs now which is a good thing.

It is difficult to sleep at the moment - you can only really turn in a couple of hours after dark as it has just about cooled off enough by then, and as all the hatches are open I get a bit of breeze over the top of my bunk coming through the companionway bulkhead hatch from the back of the boat. It is not easy to eat normally either - I have my porridge and a cup of tea just after first light when it's still cool, but I am really short of cold things to eat - it's hard to summon up the enthusiasm for two hundred and fifty grams of pasta and sauce when it's this hot! However, I'm hardly burning three thousand calories a day or whatever it's supposed to be just moving around and keeping warm like you do in the Southern Ocean!

It is strange to think about my position in the race at the moment. I have to be careful what I say as I haven't finished yet, but if you'd have told me before the start that I'd be in eigth place at any point I'd have said it you were mad - it is more than ten places better than my wildest dreams! I think it is a reflection on how strong and simple the boat is as much as anything though. It is really sad about Bilou after he came to within a stones throw of the finish and had to stop, but he did the right thing and he'll be back in 2012 I'm sure.

Personally I don't feel any different after my adventures but I am looking forward to getting home now and wearing my slippers by the fire, walking the dogs, bike riding with the kids, and getting set up for the future with renewed energy after my adventures, it's just that the South Atlantic doesn't want to release us without a fight.........still, four days to the North East Trades, steady sailing and the last ocean to cross! Keep your fingers crossed for an easy crossing of the Doldrums for us.

4 February - Newswire reports - Pleasant but pedestrian progress.

Steve White may be in some of the most pleasant sailing conditions of the race, a complete counterpoint to the weather at his home in England, but he is certainly feeling that underlying frustration, the inevitable let down after a first venture into the Big South, when 11-12 knots in baking sunshine on Toe in the Water, feels not only pedestrian but - without the challenge of a rival within 500 miles - positively monotonous.

6 February - Blog 25 - Flying fish and fishermen.

This bit of the ocean is to all appearances as close to a desert as I would ever have thought it was possible to get. I don't think I have ever sailed so far or for so long with the same sails up. The days are the same; the sunrises and sunsets are seemingly instant - they are very brightly coloured but only ever for a very few minutes; the afternoon squall clouds disappear after sundown to be replaced with the most staggering display from the stars which stretch uninterupted from a finger above the horizon in all directions, the Milky Way visible clearly and the occasional shooting star topping off a spectacle that you can enjoy for hours whilst sitting in the cockpit in the warm, steady nightime breeze, even in the early hours. When the sun comes up the heat is switched back on instantly and it becomes an oven on deck and a sweatbox downstairs,making it difficult to eat or sleep. Then, after lunch the squalls develop and keep you occupied until dark - and so passes each day.

Other than the bird I saw a few days ago there have been no others, but I awoke yesterday morning to find a great many calling cards all over the deck which are now burnt on by the sun! I obviously had some company during the night from someone who was flying above and to windward of the boat and probably looking for flying fish. As I emerged from downstairs after dark last night and stood up by the hatch I was hit in the chest by something. I looked down and it was a little flying fish about two inches long - if you bear in mind he must have been over two and a half metres above the water to clear the topsides of the boat as we were quite well heeled over, that was not a bad feat for a little creature! I threw launched him over the side and he spread his fins and flew a short way before dissappearing.

There is, I expect, a lot going on that I don't see - sometimes the water boils as something or things that eat flying fish corall them near the surface and create a mass flypast. It is interesting to watch a large number all fly at once, some fly until they are almost out of sight, perhaps quarter of a mile, and others not so far. I thought to start with that natural selection must favour those that fly furthest, but then if you think about it they are a long way away from what was chasing them that is true, but they plop back into the water and .......no mates! They are alone, which must be a bit disconcerting for a creature who's best chance is in a school. That would make an interesting study to occupy a lifetime for some bearded biologist, are long, short or average distance fliers most favoured by natural selection?

Talking of beards, I got rid of mine again yesterday, and in doing so looked in the mirror which is an unusual event for me either here or at home - I look like a real muppet as I am badly in need of a haircut!.It is curling behind my ears like some bad 1980's footballer and the top blows in my eyes too, something it hasn't been long enough to do for over ten years, but I am forbiden by Kim from doing another DIY haircut after the last one, or I would get rid of the lot - it is pretty hot under here, but not through brain activity! I am under strict instructions to wear a hat upon my arrival!

I have finally run out of gas,so the bodged in gas stove has been replaced by my old faithful alcohol stove which takes ages to boil or cook anything,but makes the place smell homely, somewhat like the meths burning Mamod traction engine I had as a boy that my boys now play with, so I am happy about that.

There are lots of fishermen around here too, all heading east away from Brazil and gabbling constantly on channel 16 on the VHF - if there was an emergency you'd never get a word in edgeways! Talking to Brian I think they are after tuna, which they catch with simple rods with a fixed line on the end that stick out of rod holders all down he sides of the boat. I have seen them often off the coast of Portugal, usually doing nothing, but I did see one once that had got lucky; as the ship lay a-hull they were pulling in big tuna one after another, some of them nearly four feet long! There are evidently enough of some sort of creature out here to keep a lot of fishermen busy anyway. Their boats are interesting - no AIS* even though some are quite large, and they are always appauling radar targets, often they have to be within four miles before my radar alarm goes off. The first one I saw was on a converging course with me - he showed up at under four miles on the radar on a collision course doing about ten knots and I couldn't see his port or starboard lights. I called him by VHF and he altered for me instantly but without answering, and as he passed about half a mile away down my port side I could see he had no navigation lights, only running lights, and after three miles I couldn't see his lights or see him properly on the radar and I wondered if he was smuggling something. There are loads of vessels to be bought from the Customs auction in Gibralter that have been confiscated for smuggling, there are two that I know of in Weymouth alone so it must be common, but we shall never know. Also, Santos is a place they warn you about because of piracy, so all in all I am glad to finally in the eleventh hour get the South East Trades this morning for the run up to the Equator and to be leaving Brazil behind me.

I am still battling with Michele Thomas in preparation for the glorious day when I make a fool of myself in two languages during my Radio Vacation with Andy from the Race Media Centre, but my deck speakers have blown up due to excessive Bob Marley (It keeps the whales away!), so now I have to learn downstairs as I boil - brilliant!! I wish I had kept my mouth shut! By the end of the trip I'll be fluent, but only once the ambient temperture reaches more than 45 degrees........

*AIS - Automatic Identification System - mandatory for all vessels over 300 tons but a brilliant idea for anyone going to sea in a vessel of any size, it transmits your name, callsign and course, speed and position plus cargo if you have one to any other similarly equipped vessel that is within VHF range - sometimes nearly forty miles for digital information. No longer when you are about to be squashed do you call "Big black ship on my bow that is about to run me down....!, it is now "Such and such a vessel in position so and so, course x, this is yacht on your bow...." they can't ignore you when called by name and if they do you know who they are; it has saved my bacon a few times as you also show up independantly of your radar target which may be poor for a yacht.

February 8 - Newswire reports - Toe in the Water back in the North.

Steve White crossed back into the Northern Hemisphere in the early hours of this morning on Toe in the Water as he continues with a comparatively straightforward Doldrums crossing.

He had a nominal slowdown last night making only two to three knots, a matter of two or three hours before he crossed the line, but White has mostly continued to return solid averages as he pushes on towards completing his first solo round the world race.

White, who was on the brink of losing his family house and his IMOCA Open 60 before a private backer rescued his dream of doing the Vendee Globe at the very last minute. The financial package provided was contingent on White publicizing Toe in the Water.

Toe in the Water is a British charity set up last year which utilizes the environment of competitive sailing as an attraction to motivate, rehabilitate and give back some enjoyment to injured servicmen and women working with the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Service in Surrey, England.

The charity works with Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force and seeks to inspire men and women who have sustained traumatic injuries to move on from their disability and be re-inspired by their potential to enjoy active and fulfilling lives, not least by taking part in competitive sailing.

In the manner that White has seized his Vendee Globe opportunity and continually delivered his race to the wider public in his typically upbeat, often humorous but totally down to earth style, he has been a great ambassador for the charity, proving what can be achieved with his subtle blend of gritty determination, good seamanship, and a healthy dollop of self effacing good spirits.

The British skipper was making good speeds northwards, with around 100-110 miles of Doldrums still to cross although this morning he seems to be making over 10 knots at times and is forecast to be seeing 10-15 knots of NE'ly breeze.

February 10 - Newswire reports - Planning the course to the finish.

Steve White, GBR, (Toe in the Water): " Everything is good, it is clocking round to the east at the moment which is good . I am at 70 degrees true, and doing between 350 degrees and North and so I am getting a nice little bit of a lift really. I am trying to shave the corner off a little bit but at the moment I am not quite sure what is going to happen over the next few days, but I'll just keep plugging away at this and see what develops. Everything is quite well at the moment."

"I am not going to catch him significantly and I suppose he will get going again. I am not completely clear on what is going to happen. It looks pretty complicated and what I am doing is downloading these forecasts from the Tropical Prediction Center in Florida which is more relevant to me and where I am at the moment, but they do go all go all way up to Ushant, but it does look a little bit of a mess at the moment.

I am sort of thinking that by the time I get up there that the worst of the lows will have gone through, and the high will have re-established itself over the Azores and I can do a sort of traditional rounding. I am not entirely sure about that, and I have a couple of days before I have to consider making any real decisions, at the moment I am getting some easting in, because it is an awful lot easier to bear away to go round the high if it pops up again than."

"Food? Oh, crikey....I've got stacks. Masses and masses of porridge, freeze dried I am down to rice dishes which I am not so keen on, I have loads curries left but I have eaten all my favourite ones, no tortellini left, a couple of pastas with tomato sauce which I like, dozens and dozens of pasta vesto, Isaac's favourite packet pasta, baked beans, squeezy tubes of apple and custard, cake and custard and loads of freeze dried puddings, so I am not going to starve. In fact I was having a day of fasting because I am hardly using any calories at all propping up the chart table, just sitting here getting fat really."

11 February - Blog 26 - The fishmonger's boat.

The boat regularly looks like a fishmongers at the moment - no matter how many times I get up in the night to throw flying fish back as they flail around on deck making a noise like small pnuematic drills and waking me up, in the morning there are always some that I haven't heard land who have not fared so well, which is quite sad. I took fifteen out of the boom bag yesterday, which is above head hight, so they must be reaching quite an altitude to get up there! I found them as I was putting a reef in yesterday - the first reef one since the Falklands, which is incredible I think; that would be like driving across America without changing gear! I was beginning to think I was getting weak for a second, then I realised that the mast winch had seized solid! It is really exposed to the salt up forward where it is, and when I eventually levered the drum off all of the grease had mixed with the salt and become like green concrete, baked dry in the heat and solid through lack of use. I had to do a quick bear away to level the boat off so I didn't loose any bits, then stripped and cleaned the bits in the sink with the washing up scrubby sponge and some fresh water (I can't spare the diesel, I am really low!), dried them off, gave them a quick squirt of WD 40 and grease and slapped it back together, good as new! By the time I had finished mucking about I didn't need the reef after all it turned out, but at least it was easier taking it out with a winch that actually now goes round freely.

The mysterious birds that had previously left calling cards on the deck came back and made a mess all over the sails this time, which I hope will wash off before I get in, but I did catch them in the act, and got some video too whilst dodging their missiles! They were boobys I think - like slim-line gannets but with bright blue beaks and blue around their eyes. They were hunting flying fish with some real zest, but not a great deal of luck; I didn't see them catch one, despite them going into some serious dives and watching for hours. They obviously do get lucky, the results are all over my nice white sails!

Now, as I am seriously into my Michele Thomas learn French course, spending a few hours a day on it sometimes. I am aware of actually how much time I spend trimming and watching the numbers - boat speed, wind speed, course and so on. There are constant small changes in the sea state and wind that require a trip up on deck to adjust sails and the pilot which make it difficult to concentrate properly on my schoolwork, but I am getting there slowly......

I can tell the race is nearly over, I have come to the end of the pre-bagged porridge and this morning I have started on the sacks! If Kim has an obsession it is only with plastic bags - any plastic bag anwhere with anything at all in it must be knotted, but not just an ordinairy knot, it must be so tight that it reaches the density of the centre of the sun, and consequently they take quite a time to get undone - my average boatspeed should go up now, because I don't have to undo them every morning and I have all that extra time to spend on keeping the boat going!

I have been trying to work out when I'll get in, and it seems to be dependant on the Azores High - I think I will be following Marc around the outside of it, and it looks at the moment, touch wood, that we should get around it without stopping, but the high and the waypoint I have imaginatively named "Where everyone else went" are still just under three days away, which is a long time in weather terms, particularly when things are as fickle as they have been, plus we will arrive there on Friday the thirteenth which could throw the whole thing into chaos, but I am hoping I will be in late on the 21st, or the 22nd which is more likely, but I am pulling out all the stops at the moment and we'll see.

17 February - Blog 27 - The brainless flying fish and spinnaker woes.

We are officially out of flying fish territory now, and the last occupants who had somewhat outstayed their welcome under the staysail deckbag have now been evicted! It is a bit of a relief actually; although they are a real triumph of the creature creation department, to be throwing them back many times per night when I should be sleeping is an activity that will not be missed. Even though the have mastery of two elements, someone forgot to install brains, which was a shame, but I reckon one had a crash helmet to protect what little brain it had - there is a small head shaped dent in the cockpit side which was not there before. At fourteen inches long for a big flying fish it is possible........

It is gradually getting cooler, and I have broken out socks and boots for the nightime, and for the first time today, during the day as well. It's nice that it is a bit cooler, we just need some wind to go with it now. At night all the stars look familiar again, and if I look behind me, almost due south, the star that flashes red, white and green is clearly visible a hands width above the horizon - if you don't believe me, find a dark place where there's no light pollution on a clear night and have a look, it is there flashing away!

I had a bit of a nightmare morning. After being up and down all night with fairly mild squalls, trimming to try to keep sailing deep to get north, (or that was how it started, with a course of twenty degrees, but before dawn my course was seventy degrees - straight back at the Azores again!) so I thought I'd get some weather and then gybe, but my e-mails had gone down; they would send but not recieve, which meant no weather information which would have been a real disaster. I had a ship coming straight at me at twenty knots who was not answering his VHF and I would not have shown up on his radar in the torrential rain, plus I was sitting waiting for a call from the press that just didnt happen. At that point I suddenly noticed we were going slow, and switched on the deck light to see my lovely new Toe in the Water spinnaker hanging against the windows having ripped from top to bottom. I think the rip stemmed from a small repair I had done in haste which may have washed off with all the rain but I didn't have time to inspect it, I just needed to get it down whilest I had all the bits. If you aren't quick about it they can go in the water, under the boat and round the keel or wrap around the rig, so I got it down and rapidly away below. Plus I couldn't gybe out of the way of the ship with that still up there, and he was by now at four miles with me only doing six knots. I called him again, luckily he answered, altered slightly and went round me. I haven't a clue what the bloke said, he was very foreign and sounded like he smoked a million fags a day, but at least he didn't squash me, so that was fine. Everything always happens at once!

I was upset about my spinnaker. I've blown a few up on this boat because I've had so many old ones, some came with the boat but the rest were donated by Dee and Alex. Normally you really know about it when they go; one minute you're barrelling along, then there's a bang and the boat pops up and you slow down, to the accompaniment of a noise like a roll of tissue paper rustling in the wind as the bits blow around like streamers. Now all I have left is an old Group 4 one left that Dee gave me. It's got to be nearly ten years old, and while it's not pretty it is built like a brick outhouse and will do the job - let's hope it's not a spinnaker finish or they won't know who I am!

With Dee safely in, we have, she promises, seen the last of her jokes. Some will say that mine were worse I'm sure, but they all gave us something to have a groan about! It is, however, pretty odd to have everyone else tied up whilst I'm still out here, but if the Azores Highs (multiple) stop messing about and let me through it won't be long and I'll be in too. I had a really strong feeling that I should have followed Marc Guillemot's track when I was at the point where I could have, but everything looked good for an easy crossing back then. Now I am older and wiser in the ways of the Azores High, the next time I shall listen to my little voices and never go near the Azores again. Ever. If the Vendee Globe was twice around then that would be fine so it's not the mileage, but pyschologically when you get near the finish, that and all it entails becomes the focus and you become ready to, and then really want to get in, and to to be messed around by the weather at the eleventh hour is always going to be hard. Give me a good honest low pressure any day.......

I've been thinking a lot about canting keels too, and the designs for the new boat. It's funny how you can throw a battery on any thirty year old JCB that has been sitting in a field and it will fire up and the bucket will go up and down without any trouble. Put that in a boat and it all seems to fall apart however, it should all work fine but never seems to....so soon hopefully I'll be on e-bay looking for a second hand digger to canibalise for my canting keel hydraulics!

23 February - Blog 28 - The slow slog to the finish.

Since I added Flores in the Azores to the list of islands I have seen on my little tour progress has been pretty slow. Sam sent me an e-mail as she went through the Azores and said she was going well in thirty five knots of breeze, but why was there always an island in the way? It's true though, I've seen or had to avoid Madeira, the Canaries, the Kerguelens, Staten Island, Cape Horn which is an island, Fernando de Norohna and then the Azores - three months and not a continent to be seen, just about one island a week though!

I got another fishy visitor not long after leaving he Azores who was really unusual. He was obviously tuna family from the pyramidal ridges down his back behind his dorsal fin, but he was really thin like a garfish, and had a very long beak which was like a sailmakers needle at it's tip and pretty fine all the way down too, and about as long as my index finger and gently curving upwards. The whole fish was about a foot long. I suppose he used it for spearfishing like a mini marlin or something, curious anyway. Something else to look up when I get home - I took some photos.

I am really looking forwards togetting in now. I'm currently pounding down towards Cape Finisterre where it is always windier than everywhere else, and sure enugh I have just had twenty eight knots on the nose - not ideal with a broken inner forestay from which the staysail is currently flying, a repaired gooseneck and generally lots of other bits that have now done nearly twenty six thousand miles or whatever it is, and could do without being slammed about. Where the bottom of the boat is so flat, it slams like a tea tray and you do actually get a headache from the sudden stop that the boat comes to every few seconds and the bang that accompanies it.

I can't quite win though weatherwise, we have a good wind angle down here but a bad seastate for the boat at this point in the race, and if we tack to the north east, the breeze slowly dies as we approach the high, particularly at night, and then in light airs my tacking angles become huge - over one hundred and twenty degrees, so it's really frustratingly slow progress - a seven hundred mile dead beat to windward for the finish, who'd have though it!

The weather is definitely giving me a hard time, still, maybe it's because I need to learn more patience, but I could do with that lesson after the race! It is frustrating with the clan all gathered in Les Sable and me under four hundred miles away - in the South we'd have done that distance in just over a day, but here........it won't be until Thursday morning now I think....aaaaaargh! Being dead downwind of Les Sable I can smell the beer and pizzas, or maybe it's my imagination; not long now though, not long.

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