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Steve in the Vendee Globe
Steve in the Vendee Globe

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

January 2009 Vendee Globe Reports

1 January - Newswire comment - Extract from Vendee editorial.

Quote: White's dogged determination to fulfil his dream to do this race of more than 10 years, his ability to not just make a silk purse of a race from a sow's ear of a shambolic, last minute start has been amazing, but he does so with such a down to earth ego-free frank, and often whimsical approach that he is the 'everyman' racer. Unquote

2 January - Newswire report - Westerly countdown and job progress.

Meantime Steve White is back on top of his jobs list today on Toe in the Water. His autopilots are doing a good job again as he was working upwind in 25-28 knots of breeze today, looking for a window in the weather to complete the repairs to his goose-neck.

11th, Steve White, GBR, Toe in the Water "I spoke to someone from B&G (suppliers) on New Year's Day. We have to wait until it is really, really calm and do a proper calibration. Basically what we did trying to do it in a big swell was upset the whole thing, so when it's calm I'll give it a go and then it should be fine. But it was great to hear it from the 'horse's mouth' as it were, what the problem is. At least we are going in a straight line, reliably. I have the generator lashed down again and have done most of the gooseneck repair and so I am just waiting for it not to be pouring water across the deck, all of the day. At the moment we are bouncing upwind in 25-28 knots of wind."

"I have been close to Campbell Island, passing within about five miles of it, a pretty spectacular, part of the lip of a volcano sticking up, 500 metres above the sea, literally coming straight out the sea. There were millions of albatross - well not 'millions, but I counted 30."

" It is good to be in the western hemisphere and for the numbers to be counting down from 180, it makes you feel like you heading home properly. It is a long, long way we have come, there is a long, long way to go. It is another little milestone to tick off, like the Equator and of course the next one is the Horn, and so I am just happy to be ticking them off my little milestones."

On solitude and the appeal of two handed racing?
"I don't get lonely like that, I never have, but the just sometimes you see stuff which is difficult or impossible to describe over the phone, or in the written word and so sometimes it is not so much that you miss people, just sometimes not having someone there to share the special moments, which happen with a reasonably regularity. And just having someone to describe stuff and discuss stuff with, who better to do that with than your wife?"

2 January - Blog 16 - Campbell Island Albatross

Happy New Year! I am reporting from a nearly completely mended boat! The generator is well and truly lashed down now, all the laminating up of the components and the new internal strongpoints to take the load off the wishbone are completed, all we need is a bit of weather where there is not gallons of water hosing down the deck every few seconds so I can make the holes in the deck and fit it all.
I also spoke to a very helpful chap called Miles from B&G on New Years Day, believe it or not - how's that for service! I am back down to one pilot at the moment after more troubles, but he is convinced that I tried to commission the pilot in a really big swell and keep the boat moving as it steers itself frantically from lock to lock for two minutes, which is quite a workout I can tell you! The commissioning is actually supposed to be performed in flat water tied to the dock, not conditions that is easy to replicate in the Southern Ocean! When it goes light again shortly I'm sure I can make a better job of it, and hopefuly that will be the end of my problems.

At the moment we are in a lovely stable ridge if high pressure which has given us first North Easterlies - I got the gennaker out, I'd almost forgotten I had it because it had been shut away in the front of the boat for so long! - then eventually strong North Easterlies which I have had for the past nearly twenty four hours, which has meant we have been going upwind in some fairly lumpy conditions and over thirty knots, which is plenty enough to slam upwind with in a flat bottomed boat! Over the past couple of hours it has come back and we are reaching again and making good speed towards the Eastern end of the Ice Gate.

I filmed us crossing back into the West, another significant milestone on the voyage, and the good old Maxsea routing software is telling me two weeks to Cape Horn at this speed! In reality we will be a bit longer than that, we are doing fifteen knots at the moment. I took quite a bit of film (for me!) and have been trying to send it back, but the boat has spent the past few days quite well heeled towards the Antarctic and away from the satellites which are up near the equator, so it can't see them for long enough to transmit anything, which is a pain, or I assume that is the problem.

I had another day which was one of those that will stay with me forever - I can still see it clearly now if I close my eyes. I sailed very close by Campbell Island, which is three hundred and fifty miles from New Zealand. I would think that the island and it's outlying rocks form the last part of the cone of a volcanoe; the rocks around rise up vertically like tombstones from the sea, I was five miles away but I would say they were a great deal bigger than the Needles, and much more slab sided. Above about one hundred metres everything was completely blanketed by a thick layer of cloud, but it was spectacular and moody non the less, and the first land I had seen since Madeira. But the best part was the albatross. As I bashed upwind past the island in short, shallow seas, there were dozens and dozens of them, in fact, just by looking behind (it was too wet to look forward!) I counted nearly forty, and if you consider the number in front and those lost behind waves, there were probably a hundred within my five mile range of visibility, and some of each one of all the species I have seen so far. Do you know, apparently for a long time sailors thought that they had no legs or feet and never landed, and sure enough their feet are difficult to spot, but occasionally they must get stiff or someting and so they dangle them down and shake them so they look like they are made of jelly, then they put them away again! It is really quite funny. I have also seen one take off from the water - it requires timing and the help of a few handy waves. It is not the most fitting of manoevers for such a graceful bird, but he quickly recoverd and tucked his rubber feet away, climbed, banked and turned back over the boat at speed as if to say "See, I can fly in a proper fashion!" Maybe that's where they go at night?

Have a look at the Island on Wikipedia or something, it has an interesting history, having been a sealing and whaling station, and now a nature reserve with no humans on it, and home to the world's rarest duck, the Campbell Island Teal. If I was cruising, which I have never really done, I would have stopped there, it has a very sheltered looking inlet on it's eastern side; another time maybe.........

5 January - Newswire report - Ideal stable conditions for a change.

11th - Steve White, Toe in the Water (GBR): It's been absolutely ideal, we've just had really stable conditions and been reaching along quite nicely without needing to do anything at all really, it's really easy sailing and eating miles up quite fast too. At the moment the wind's all over the shop, I'm doing a very wiggly course because it can't quite make its mind up. But we're heading roughly in the right direction so I'm happy enough, I'll take it however it comes. It's really quite nice, it makes a very pleasant change from being beaten to death with 50 knots every other day!

I can only see the top bit of the boat, but that looks okay, it's washed fairly clean on a regular basis. Downstairs is a bit in chaos - it's quite like a student flat at the moment, I'm trying to dry out a load of things so there's clothing spread all over the place, bits of the gooseneck repair and I had some plumbing to do, but I'm gradually tidying up. The sails look good as new, other than the fact that some of the branding has got a bit faded, so we're in pretty good shape really.

6 January - Blog 17 - Shrimp, Albatross and Moittessier.

I have had a perfect few days sailing, reaching in stable steady winds from the Northwest, during which time I have hardly had to go on deck. They have been easy miles that should have come to an end today and been replaced with light winds for a few days as we go around this high up by the Ice Gate, but this is not the case at present. All was going as predicted - I put up a gennaker as the breeze dropped and went aft, then gybed, then shook out a reef, and then it built and came forward again, so now I am reaching on the other tack! It is shifting around nearly thirty degrees as we speak, which was making it hard for the pilot to steer as it has not been flat enough to set it up yet, and it is giving me a much wobblier course than the nice straight one that I imagine you can see at home! Still, we are heading in the right direction and have only three thousand six hundred and seven miles to Cape Horn.

It is strange to be torn between wanting to go fast and catch up the others in front, and really needing to slow down to get the pilot calibrated in order to be able to go fast! Everything will happen in it's own good time, and I just couldn't bring myself to sail deliberately into a high to do a few hours work, and then spend days getting out of it again! It is really nice up here at these higher latitudes - quite warm and often sunny. The shrimps seem to think so to, there are countless millions of them, and every wave brings dozens onto the deck, and usually they leave again on the next one, but if not they can survive for ages under a bit of damp string, and they are big enough to pick up and throw back if you find them stranded! They have very large eyes, which makes me wonder whether they go into very deep water where there is no light, or whether they are just active at night too. I bet they make up a good part of the bioluminescence of our wake. Curiously, there are few birds, although today for the first time I have an albatross again, one who is easy to spot because he has a birthmark! On his back on the right where his wing joins there is a patch of black feathers the size of your fist on an otherwise white back for some strange reason - there are so many questions that I can't answer.....

Brian told me to keep an eye out for the Southern Lights last night but it clouded over which was a shame so I didn't see them, but there will be other nights though I'm sure. All the bad weather seems to be lurking around below our latitude at the moment, which is a welcome respite from the beatings we had in the Indian Ocean. I had a good look at the islands in the South Pacific earlier today, and I must admit I can see exactly why Bernard Moittessier decided to go around again and then stop there, they do look ideal and it would be a perfectly natural thing to do. Still, this is not the time and neither is this the ideal boat to go messing about near reefs - I will have to wait until my racing days are over and the kids have left home, not that I want either of those things to happen in a hurry! Whenever I think of Bernard Moittessier, I always think of my favourite picture caption in any book I have ever read - in the "Voyage for Madmen" about the Golden Globe, underneath a picture of his boat it reads "Joshua. Made of boilerplate. Like her skipper." which I think is fantastic and sums the man up for me. In some ways all of those adventures happened in a simpler time I'd have loved to have been around in, but I must admit an IMOCA 60 is more fun and arguably more fit for purpose than a thirty foot plywood trimaran! You can't deny they were a tough lot, all of them.

It is amazing to see how fast we are crossing the lines of longitude. I was just getting used to Australian time which is easy - 0600GMT is 1800 local (or that was what I was doing!) and already it has changed and now it is dark by 0600 GMT. I just have breakfast now if I wake up and it's light outside, I have no watch and Kim has my phone, so I can't keep local time on anything, and it's too complicated to work out every time, so I just don't worry any more as long as I get at least three meals packed into a day! If you change the time on the computer to local time all of your weather forecasts are in GMT, so you can soon get in a muddle, particularly if you are me!

I am going to have an hours doze now and see whether this wind has stabilised a bit, and then make a cunning plan on what to do next over supper!

9 January - Blog 18 - The Eigion Beam and five trips up the mast.

It was a great start to the day - a bit of steady breeze at last, all six knots of it! Six knots of breeze, six knots of boatspeed on a reach. I cannot describe to you what a pleasure it was to hear the hiss of the water going past the hull again as I lay in bed, it seemed an age since I had heard it last. At least the calm conditions have given me chance to complete the repairs; the gooseneck is now well and truly held in place with a fairly serious piece of composite engineering that has been christened "The Eigion Beam", after Patrick the rigger's company (it was Patrick's idea!) and some fairly serious dyneema lashing wound bar tight with a couple of Spanish windlasses below decks to two strong points on the keel. All the nasty cracking noises have stopped now, and I have a great deal of confidence in the repair. The generator is lashed down to some carbon dowels fitted to the bearers, as one of the mounts had ripped it's bolts out and another had just sheered. That isn't going anywhere now either!

I had a keel moment too - down the side of the empty fuel tank on the starboard side, I caught sight of a dirty great bolt, and had a horrible thought that it must have been one of the draw bolts that go through the keel foil and it's socket inside the boat. After what happened to Jean I am a bit sensitive about anything like that, as I suspect all of us left out here are. In the end I couldn't stand it any more, and I removed the tank and had a look - everything was fine, I think someone had just dropped a load of bolts down the side during the refit - pannick over - phew!

As I write we are finally (touch wood!) escaping the clutches of the world's biggest high pressure - the breeze is now steady at around fourteen knots and the sun has set leaving a bright full moon showing clear skies and glistening on a calm sea with a gentle swell. I will sleep tonight mind you, I have been running around like a headless chicken since sunrise! When the sun came up and the breeze became steady, eventually it became spinnaker time. I got everything rigged and went for a hoist, but I could feel bumps as I pulled on the halliard - I thought I had damaged the top block, so down it came, and up I went instead! It is the one thing I don't like doing alone, but boy do you get a kick out of getting down on deck again afterwards! With a crew it's fun to go flying up and escape them all in complete safety - it is always so quiet up there, and from a tall mast you can see the curvature of the earth. I was not looking today though; the breeze had come up and the boat was pitching and as I clung on for dear life like some sort of pole dancing koala I really began to wish I had worn my crash helmet! All was OK up there, I just think everything had got dry, but on the way up I saw that where we had been sailing with gennaker and staysail, when we only use very little halliard tension, the halliard block had twisted and gradually sawn through the inner forestay! It is about seventy five percent through, so it was a very near thing indeed. So the rest of the day comprised four trips up to the second set of spreaders as we sailed along with full main and "Toe in the Water" kite, as I lashed up a second block to put up a second halliard, then used what was the staysail halliard as a stay and lashed it's two parts and the old stay all together, and knotted and lashed the bitter end at the mast base with a couple of tons of tension! It won't break now, and luckily the staysail hanks are velcro and on the generous side, so they still go up and down around three sixteen millimetre pieces of string!

My arms and legs are like lead after all that I must admit, and my elbow feels like it has been injected with grit, but it will be OK tomorrow. I am going to have some supper now, and try not to do what I did last night - make my banana and apple compote with salt water - I used the wrong tap, I was tired! It took me a few mouthfulls to cotten on the the fact that it had salt in it, and shame on me, I thought all that night and until the following day that it had occured when it was made, then the penny dropped, it was my fault!

All in all, it has been a good few days - the boat is good to go again with all the repairs that I know of finished, we are moving again, and I am learning a bit of patience! At least I can start and look at the rankings again, I haven't dared over the past few days. I got some good film of my albatross with a birth mark too; even in five knots of breeze he didn't need to flap. He wasn't going fast as usual though, so I caught him nice and clearly - he didn't hang around for long, they like a bit more breeze I think, he just came to check up on me, lapped the boat a few times taking long enough for me to do my filming and then was gone. Now we have wind he'll be back tomorrow, and so will we be, back after the boats in front once again.

12 January - Blog 19 - The state of the Bat cave.

My boat is pretty untidy at the moment! After I had finished the repairs here was some mast climbing to do, so there are still a few things out of place.

Basically, I live in the bit between the mast bulkhead and the companionway bulkhead, so a space of about four meters long by over four and a half wide at deck level - the ballast tanks down each side make it quite narrow. In the middle, where I am sitting now is the nav station which faces forward, on a sort of "vee" bunk / seat across the boat. It is too short to stretch out on fully and has no sides, so it is difficult to sleep soundly here because you don't feel secure, but it is therefore ideal for catnaps! When you are typing your feet sit above the main alternator and ballast pump which are driven off the main engine, which is boxed in underneath the seat, along with the watermaker. At the chart table I have a stuck down mouse with a ball in the top - you spin the ball rather than moving the mouse - much easier when the boat is bouncing around. The camera charger and my i-pod sit in an ice cream container glued down with sikaflex. I still have my Christmas CD and a Patty Griffin CD which were both presents, and my elephant pencil case Kim bought me when I did my RYA Day Skipper in 1996!

Another thing which has never left the chart table is my stereo manual, every day I learn something else about it, it is so complicated!

If I spin around and face the other way, so I'm facing aft looking out of the hatch but still on the seat, I have the sink on the port side and the stove on starboard. Next to the stove, right by the door is a deep locker with my camera, nurofen, instant energy things from MX3, nail clippers and a torch, kitchen roll etc all ready for immediate use. Below the stove is a draw of sailory type things - needles and palm, tape, almanac, batteries, mini socket set, passport, binoculars and other stuff like that. Below the sink are my pots and pans and the orange plastic salad servers that I keep taking off the boat and which somehow keep getting back on!

My oilskins hang on hooks on the companionway bulkhead on both sides of the hatch, next to the handles for opening and closing the ballast valves. There is a bunk on each side of the boat; you sleep with your head by the companionway bulkhead so you can see the instruments, and your feet go forward and stop level with the chart table. I sleep on the low side and stack my spares on the high side, that way the weight distribution is good, and I don't fall out of bed when the boat heels suddenly. That would be a bad thing as the floor is wet all the time - I have many leaks! I have an Ocean Sleepware sleeping bag too, which has a waterproof breathable outer layer and two fleece inner layers, and is warm and dry enough to sleep on deck - never go sailing without one! Under each bunk are bags for stowing gear - everything from the spare laptops to my big socket set and Christmas presents.

I have some art too; on the ceiling is a mural by Didier Becet which is fantastic! It shows penguins, gulls and flying fish, big ones in the centre and smaller ones all around the edges in little groups wearing sou'westers and other things, some dancing, some "chilling out", and the flying fish have fantastic expressions - some human and some are definitely pure flying fish - they do have expressions believe it or not! I like it best because you see something different every time you look. Also there are little drawings of bats in strategic places - my nickname is Bat, and Kim draws them here and there so that I remember she loves me - very important!

Infront of the chart table are nearly 600 litres of diesel three in fixed tanks, the internal structure of the keel with the generator on top, the batteries, and the best bit - the loo! Luxury!!

14 January - Newswire report - Progress ahead of the storm.

Steve White is setting a roaring pace on Toe in the Water, 15.8 knots. While he was not especially looking forward to the stronger 45-50 knots winds he was expecting, he did make the point today that in many respects such conditions are better and easier for him and his boat, rather than straining everything to get more out of Toe in the Water in 27 or 28 knots.

16 January - Newswire report - Gap closed by 120 miles.

Steve White has been going like a train in the strong winds, he has gained 120 miles on the Cape Horn Three and this morning confirmed he has been musing over his plans for the future. He would like to gain more experience alongside a very well established, good skipper and perhaps involve himself much more in the French 'school' of IMOCA Open 60 learning. He was on the point of changing up to his Solent headsail as winds had eased back from the gusty 28-40 knots he had been seeing.

16 January - Blog 20 - Two days from the Horn.

I have just spent the longest time just gazing out of my door looking at all that is around me. It won't be long now and the Southern Ocean will be behind me, for a while at least, and I shall really miss it, it has been fantastic - bleak, desolate, isolated, powerful, all of those things, but immeasurably beautiful too, with undoubtably the best sailing in the world. As I looked out there were three albatross - two older ones and a spotty brown young one - they are quite sweet really, he was flying round and round the boat, obviously curious and practising his slow flying at the same time. He was doing well, but hobby horsing slightly on the really slow bits where as the adults just fly like they were on rails!

I am ready to leave the South though now; firstly before I break anything else more serious than the loo seat and the kettle handle, both casualties of the last blow, and secondly because then it will be nearer the time when I can come back better prepared and more knowledgable, and as much as I love my old boat, I would like to return in a faster one and keep up with the front runners.As such my thoughts are turning in earnest to looking for a sponsor to take us through to the 2012 Vendee Globe. It will be strange indeed to get back on that treadmill, but I think things will be different for us after this, and people will take us a bit more seriously. I always thought that I would want to do 2012 as well, but now I have experienced most of this race, I know I want to, and there is a big difference.

First, however, I have to get home, and whilst I am undoubtably a dreamer, I am very much in the here and now as the boat picks its way through a funny old sea state and gusty winds that seem to be getting worse rather than better as we get nearer the Horn. I was watching the waves earlier too, the main swell is from the south west, left over from that last blow, and the wind sea on top is from the west, which is where our wind is from at the moment. The result is a sea state something akin to a bath that has a brick dropped in the middle of it - it is very messy! The boat doesn't like it either, no sooner does it start to surf than it gets stopped by an odd wave or the breeze dies. You always seem to get funny weather in the vacuum left by a big blow, but it will stabilise eventually. The breeze has constantly been ranging between fifteen and thirty five knots under some enormous cumulus clouds, which makes sail choices difficult, but we are moving, and I am grateful for that, and we have only two days to go to Cape Horn. The blow we had did us some favours though, it was good fast sailing, downwind and then reaching in strong conditions with a good sea state, and the most wind we saw was about forty eight knots, so not bad at all really and certainly not as bad as forecast, so we made some good time. We were much more fortunate than Dee, Cali and Brian who got hammered at the Horn by the same system which had really wound itself up by that point - not nice, but they are OK as far as I'm aware, which is the main thing.

After the worst of the weather had passed us by and I had just written an e-mail to Dee to that effect, I was drying out my swamp downstairs, bucket and sponge in hand, when there was a big hissing noise, then a thump, and the boat fell over. It seemed for the longest time like water just poured and poured over the boat, shutting out the light, but in reality it probably only lasted a few seconds. I banged my cheekbone on something trying to hold onto a half full bucket of grubby bilge water! I remember thinking "Well that'll teach you to speak too soon!" I don't know if I have a bruise, the only mirror I have is just about good enough to check I haven't chopped my ears off whilst shaving! (Kim was horrified because I asked her to bring some shaving oil to Les Sable when she comes out to the finish as I ran out ages ago, and when I told her I was using cooking oil instead she was horrified! She says she doesn't want me coming home smelling, but the thing is, when I've had a shave I smell like tortellini, and that makes me hungry!) When I went outside all of my normally neatly bagged bits of string were streaming out behind the boat! Luckily the storm staysail in it's bag in the cockpit was tied on! There was no sign of my big wave, it had just blended into the scenery and gone. I was glad I hadn't been on deck.....

For the first time I am aware of how cold it is here.The sun is warm during the day when you see it, but it is cold when you can't see it and bitter at night, and the water, well, that is pretty raw I can tell you! When I wash up in seawater it is very cold, and my fresh water, sitting in a jerry can next to the hull is a bit parky too - it makes my face washing even more brief than usual, but it does wake you up pretty quick! A session on deck makes my hands red, they don't feel the cold but just change colour, and you can easily see why there is ice about, the ropes feel like icicles. There are some icebergs around the Horn, but I am more worried about Reid Stowe, the American "artist" who is spending a thousand days at sea in a ferro cement schooner, and who was last reported somewhere on the track I will take and that everyone before me has taken, so I will have to keep an eye open for him shortly, I think we'd come off worse if we hit him!

I have just done a tour of the deck before dark, in which time the breeze has gone from nineteen to thirty six knots, and back down to twenty three, but the sea state has magically sorted itself out, and we are now mooving smoothly and easily! Supper time now - soup and bread, freeze dried pasta and veg, then a pint of instant custard and fresh fruit in a sachet! Excellent!!

18 January - Newswire reports - Not far to the Horn.

Steve White, GBR, (Toe in the Water) is sailing at reduced speeds as he makes his final 430 miles towards Cape Horn for the first time. White reported yesterday that his mainsail headboard car had parted company with the sail and is stuck at the top spreaders. He will wait until the sea state improves and the winds drop before attempting to retrieve it, but meantime he is still making a regular eight to nine knots average.

Steve will become a 'Cape Horner' probably on Monday afternoon or evening on his 13 years vintage Open 60 Toe in the Water. White has been making mental plans for the next four years to try and ensure that the next time he goes around Cape Horn he is with the leading pack on a faster, more modern boat.

18 January - Newsflash - Masthead car becomes detached.

Steve reported in todays audio clip that the masthead car had come detached from the mainsail and has stuck at the top of the mast. The mainsail is attached to the mast by series of small trolleys or cars that run in in a track in the mast. To reduce friction when raising or lowering the sail, the cars run on a number of recirculating ball bearings Steve has had to lower the mainsail and disassemble all the lower sail cars, releasing dozens of ball bearings in the process, so that he could fit a replacement top car. Then he had to re-assemble and refit all the lower cars and their balls. A daunting job in the confused seas he is currently in. Click here for the Audio Clips

19 January - Blog 21 - The mainsail car story - Dealing with lots of small plastic balls in a lumpy sea.

I am sitting here "clock watching", or watching the time to the waypoint on the electronic chart to be more accurate - not something I ever do when at sea except for when I'm doing corporate sailing days and your timing has to be perfect. Ninety four miles to the Horn.

The sea state here is pretty grim, it's like giant version of Portland Race - the depth goes from over four thousand metres to two hundred in around thirty miles, but just a bit further round the shelf it is even steeper and makes the same transition in twelve miles - that would be quite a hill if it was on dry land! All the uninterupted might of the Southern Ocean, its winds and current, banks up here and gives an odd "heaped" sea state. The poor old pilot is working overtime as the boat gets screwed around by the waves, (I just had one break in the cockpit!) and the wind is gusting from twenty two to thirty four knots, with shifts in the gusts. On top of it all, seawater has just got into the pilot remote controls on the tillers, making the autopilot continually change course of it's own accord, only in one degree increments, but pretty rapidly, which is really very alarming! Every time I turned around it was tryng to gybe - I got to a true wind angle 179 degrees at one point! I had to head up, rush through the boat into the lazerette, open the junction box, cut the wires one at a time to the remotes, and get back to the pilot controls to change course again! Hectic! Luckily I knew what it was straight away as it has happened before, but it still made me nervous - you don't need pilot problems here I can tell you. I was still pretty wired when the BBC called for an interview ten minutes later, I had to phone back and explain myself afterwards, I was talking pretty quickly like some sort of gabbling cartoon character and still nervously watching the pilot!

Last time I wrote I thought I was in the clear and on the last lap, but there were a couple of what I hope will be the final twists before I round Cape Horn at about 2100 GMT tonight; the first was when I looked up out of my window at first light and saw the rig twisting. Normally this is because when you go downwind with the sails eased too far they can push on the spreaders which is a bad thing, but I don't sail like that, and when I saw some really funny saggy creases in the main as well then I knew I had a problem. I dashed out on deck to look and the main was not attached to the track at the top, the top car, the headboard car, had broken! I got the main down in a hurry because once one car goes, they can all go like a broken zip. There are fifteen cars that run up and down the track on the back of the mast which the mainsail goes up and down on. Each car has sixty to eighty little plastic ball bearings in to help it run smoothly, but the headboard cars remained jammed on the track up at the top spreaders. The sea state was really chaotic, and it was actually difficult to stand up on deck with no main to steady the boat, so after some delibertion I decided a mast climb could wait until after Cape Horn and flat water. I tried to rig up various things to snag the cars from on deck but they are designed to be smooth and snag free, so that wasn't going to happen, so then I pulled another car up on the halliard and tried to tap them and see if they would come down - all that happened was I sent them further up the mast, above the top spreader and into the real "No-mans Land" where it is difficult to climb because there's nothing to hold on to. I was pretty despairing at that point....then I had some inspiration! After trying to get them down all day, why didn't I just send them up out of the way? There is spare track at the top, so that's what I did, and there they will stay. There is no damage to the track itself luckily, I think the cars had got distorted and pinched the balls onto the track tightly enough to stop gravity doing its thing! I spent the rest of the night taking the main off, taking all the cars off, and putting two new cars on at the top for the headboard, and putting them all back on again. The boat was rolling like a pig, and no matter how careful I was there were balls everywhere - it was a bit like one of those games you used to get at Christmas where you have to get several balls into several holes all at once!

Then I found that the aluminium plate which forms the bottom bearing of the gooseneck had broken free where it is welded to the mast base, so I had to winch and beat that back into place and bolt it through the deck (drilling through 10mm of aluminium and 15mm of solid carbon with a blunt drill from underneath with the boat rolling was not easy!) but by 0600 we were up and running with two reefs in again, and I went to bed! I was pretty tired by then because I had been up a lot of the previous night after having to jump start the engine from the domestic batteries to charge the flat engine and generator start battery, so I could then start the generator! The generator was not charging the start battery because an important component had not been wired up, but first I had to faut find, and there was no mention of this part in the manual. Only occasional use of the engine to pump water ballast had been keeping the shared start battery charged!s

To top it all, I had a really bad stomach - there's a funny story in that though; when I bought the boat, the watermaker had been left with seawater in it, and they are supposed to be stored with a biocide and cleaner to keep them in good condition. I thought after two years it would be a bin job, but Jim MacDonald from Mactra said it would be fine, just run it! Phew, what a smell! Rotten eggs!! I bought it a new membrane, and bought a brand new watermaker as a spare and thought that would see me round the world. Twenty four hours before the start, the watermaker was untouched. When Chris Ross who owns SpecDepot, one of our sponsors, came on board our conversation went something like, "Hi, I'm Chris, what can I do to help?" "Ah" said I, "What do you know about watermakers? This membrane needs to go in here somehow...." and the rest is history. He sorted it, I got a working watermaker but some very unclean pipes! I was bad all the way down the Atlantic until I finally told Kim - she said "Are you boiling your water?" - I told her I didn't need to as watermaker water was pure.... as soon as started drinking boiled water I was fine of course. A mass sterilisation ensued, and several billion algea and bacteria were evicted - they came out in lumps, yuck, but I must have missed one, just one, and an a-sexual one too unfortunately, so I am back on boiled water again but feeling fine!

19 January - Newswire reports - Steve White a Cape Horner.

Steve White passed Cape Horn this evening at around 2030hrs GMT, and while his race is far from over it is a remarkable achievement, the high point so far of a project which has beaten the odds in terms of finance, time and in many respects experience.

"I am so happy to be here, happy to have made, happy to all the troubles we had behind us, happy to have got here in one piece." Said White tonight off Cape Horn, "When I was thinking about it before this was really just a mark of the course I was looking to get to as quickly as possible, but now I am here it is living up to its reputation. I have 43 knots of wind and have seen 58, but it has moderated a little. When you get to the shelf it was amazing. Just big vertical walls of water. You go up one and just smash straight back inot the back of the next one. And when I came to gybe it was the first time that I have gone done the full round up broaching straight upwind and having to let everything off to get the boat back on her feet."

"And, yes, there is that ominous feeling, it is oppressive and lonely and you can't help but reflect on all those square riggers years and years back. It must have been really incredibly miserable going past here on them, you kind of wonder if it was worth it for a ship load of tea-bags!" "I guess you probably would feel short changed to be here if it was calm or easy, but I am certainly looking forward to getting round the corner into some flatter water and getting the foot down after them in front. That is the aim and I really want to catch them and I really think I can do it. With a bit of luck they'll be caught in the Doldrums."

White only started sailing by chance 14 years ago, and only then because he had a towbar on his car. A friend bought a 17 foot plywood Lysander centre-board pocket cruiser and Steve and his wife Kim were coerced to tow their friend's pride and joy to the water. Of course a wheel bearing went on the trip and Steve's mechanical skills saved the day.

They were quickly hooked and soon bought their own little 23 foot Robert Tucker designed Ballerina which Steve refitted to go anywhere. "For me it was real case of kill or cure from the beginning, but Steve has loved it from the beginning." Says Kim tonight, "Then we both did our RYA Day Skipper certificates with Bob Wilkins at Shelbourne School. Then we found out about the Challenge Business and Steve went with them, and then he looked after the kids whilst I went away with them."

Nine years ago Steve then went to work with Pete Goss and helped on the re-fitting of Team Philips, helping out on deliveries including helping deliver the 50 footer Aqua Quorum to Patrice Carpentier.

But it was only after his first OSTAR that Steve and Kim decided that he could make a living from racing professionally, and since then it has never been easy. Indeed Kim recalls having to sell a corporate charter the day after Steve came back from the Artemis Challenge so that they could eat. A group of Polish individuals wanted a day charter, which developed into a sail to Cherbourg and then to Brighton where they were not allowed in, before finally dropping them three days later in Gosport. To this day the group are known as the Polish Pirates!

White has been adept at solving mechanical and engineering problems since he was tiny. His father is a trouble shooter for Rolls Royce and so young Steve has always been fascinated with engines. Even before he was at Primary school he was tinkering with old lawn mowers and very soon fixing them to earn money. He graduated to be fixing up motor-bikes at 11 or 12 and moved on to restoring classic cars.

"On the boat he has always been quite at home. He is like a monkey and just goes at it." Says Kim. "His catch phrase has always been 'it'll be alright."

"I have worked so hard to make sure he gets where he is, but he has worked twice as hard. So many times he has just carried on working through the night, just not bothering going to bed, whether it is doing paper work or fixing problem. He has never let anything get in his way."

23 January - Newswire report - Upwind up the Atlantic.

Steve White, GBR, (Toe in the Water): "It's been more upwind than it has been forecast to be, it is pretty painful really from the North East and just in the wind range this boat does not really like, sort of 20-22 knots until the staysail really gets hold and so 23 knots and above it is not so bad. But, yes it has been pretty grim, slamming away into a short sea. We are reaching now but we have some big clouds which are messing the breeze about a bit, but we are heading in the right direction."

" It looks like a low is going to pop up on the Brasilian coast which is going to give me more wind if I am not careful but it seems like guesswork down here. The forecasts seem to change on a daily basis."

"It is all completely new to me down here. What I was recommended to do by various people was to route myself around the world in the preceding winters and see what sort of job I did of it, but I just never had the time with doing so many other things to keep home and family afloat and hang on to the boat, and raise sponsorship and that sort of thing.

"When the whole thing is finished and when all is said and done I am sure I will be happy with my race but at the moment, it is just the sort of person I am, then I am never satisfied, particularly with my own performance."

25 January - Newswire reports - Working in a difficult wind range.

Steve White, GBR, (Toe in the Water): "I am absolutely hard on the wind. It is pretty painful stuff really. It doesn't seem like there is an end in sight. We are in that weather that the boat does not work very well. 16-22 knots upwind. It seemed like through the night we were hideously under powered or hideously overpowered. I settled for one reef and a staysail and am just plugging away.

" I am being lifted at the moment quite nicely which is good, because if not I would have to make a nasty tack to the west to avoid this high pressure in front of us, but here I am being lifted and so I won't have to do that."

I don't think this boat has ever worked very well in this wind range upwind. It is a short stumpy rig and all the sails are very low aspect ratio. The headsails are tacked a very long way forwards, they are quite short and don't go up the mast very far. And so for reaching and running, but the centre of effort is quite low, the heeling moment is low, and so it is ideal for running and reaching . Upwind with the headsails tacked so far forwards, all that happens is that the bow blows off, and then as the wind builds the boat makes more and more leeway. Then the staysail is really small compared to the Solent to stop generating leeway, but the compromise seems to be to use the staysail and one reef, but that is one of the reasons that the boats with daggerboards work so much better, like Calli (Arnaud Boissiere)'s boat which has daggerboards and much higher aspect sails. If it was blowing 30 knots we would be fine.

27 January - Blog 22 - The Horn and the Falklands.

Our rounding of the Horn was done rather appropriately in forty to fifty knots of breeze and large steep seas which were very close together. I gybed and completely rounded up, the first one of the entire race, as I came on to the shelf. The wind had increased and the seas were very short, crossed and now breaking, and I wouldn't have wanted to go around in too much more wind than that I can tell you - there was quite a bit of current too, nearly a couple of knots at times to add to the entertainment by further worsening the sea state. I finished up going around with three reefs and staysail because it was easier on the pilot, and there was less strain on deck gear from the staysail as it collapsed and filled as the boat was slewed around by the waves. I remember being on deck and watching the bow trying to force it's way through the wave in front, and a wave behind just curling and trying to break into the cockpit behind, that's how short some of them were! The island of Cape Horn actually became a lea shore as I got closer, so I had to gybe out and finished up so far offshore that I thought I was not going to see it as the visibility was so bad! I did in the end get some shots and some video of it through the murk, but I'm not sure how well they turned out, I'll have to wait and see. Cape Horn was just a mark of the course to me up until that point, but when I was actually there I felt it did represent a lot more than that for us - it was the culmination of ten years of hard work to get here, the end of the Southern Ocean which had spared us, and the start of the last leg home. In many ways to have gone around in less wind would have left me feeling cheated, it was a proper rounding and I had my moneys worth. As soon as I was around I had dolphins, black and white ones of a kind that I don't remember seeing before, which really was the crowning glory of a fairly emotional moment and a time for a huge sigh of relief.

After the Horn it was straight on to Staten Island, which rises up almost vertically out of the sea giving one of the most spectacular coastlines that I have ever seen. With its peaks shrouded in mist most of the time it was like something out of Boy's Own, little sheltered inlets and coves all probably with deep water and dying to be explored. Under any other circumstances wild horses could not have kept me away and I'd have gone ashore to wander around, and I imagined it would feel like I was the first person ever to have set foot there, that's what kind of place it was. All of the points, bays and other landmarks were obviously named for the most part by the sailors of many different nationalities who first went there. When you pass a place like that you can see what the attraction to people like Bill Tillman was and is, there are so many empty lonely places where nobody goes just crying out to be explored. I was called up by the Argentinian Navy who popped out from behind the island. They were desperate to do something, anything to help! They spoke very good English and French, and were really polite, and the first voices I had heard over the VHF since passing Madeira on the way down. I didn't have the heart to tell them that if they helped me I would be disqualified! I should have asked them who's permission I needed to ask if I wanted to go ashore.

We were quickly flushed onwards around to the Falklands by the current. Yet more shelving, and quite a lot of breeze, once again thirty to forty knots as we approached. The outlying Islands were on the wrong place on the electronic charts which lead to a few anxious moments, and as they are for the most part are fairly low lying, they didn't show up that well on the radar either. Partly out of curiosity, and partly because there was so much wind I thought I'd be safe, I finished up too close to Stanley and the weather changed suddenly, left me in the lea of the island and pretty well parked up for hours in a large swell that meant I couldn't keep the sails in shape. It was really frustrating, and I cursed myself for coming within twenty miles, let alone eight! It did give me chance, however, to have a look at a place which has fascinated me since it was in the news when I was small, and it was really strange to ponder then whys and where-for's of what had happened there whilst actually looking at the place for real. The dolphins came back, the same type as before, playing around the boat - I got some good video of them for once, and the birds changed too. There were lots of albatross still, but even more skuas, big brown birds that are the equivelant of hyenas, with short wings, powerful bodies and a beak which looks like it could open tins! I did see two of them mobbing an albatross. There were also very strange brown and white birds that I thought were ducks to start with, but once they were air-bourne, which looked like a struggle, they were obviously some sort of cormorant. Flying really was not natural for them, and they were made to look worse after watching the albatross for so long, their short wings going ten to the dozen, little fat bodies that looked like stuffed toys, and a head that stayed perfectly level and motionless despite everything else flapping like mad! As I watched, I suddenly heard a deafening noise; two fighters went overhead at full bore seemingly a hundred feet above the mast. I thought the end of the world had come and gone! It was the first man made sound I had heard since the ninth of November, and having been used only to the noise of wind and water it was a real shock! I was pretty tired by that point too - a combination of relief at getting out of the South in one piece, rounding the Horn and the close proximity of land and the constant work on deck required by light winds had meant I had very little sleep for a few days.

I gradually broke free of the Falklands; the kelp which I had caught around the keel and refused to come off despite repeatedly going into reverse, decided just to fall off and we were gone, and we have been upwind on the same tack ever since, but now the sun is shining, the water is warm and it is shorts weather on deck once more. I even had a flying fish on deck last night. Just wish me luck as I negotiate the high pressure in-front of me over the next twenty four hours and hope I don't park up again........

28 January - Blog 23 - Becalmed.

It is eerily quiet on the boat as I write. It is never silent at sea, there is always the wind, the waves lapping and the buzz of the autopilot, but now, when the pilot stops for a few seconds or if you stand at the front where you are too far away to hear it there is only deafening silence..........there is not even any swell to slat the sails back and forth. The sea is like glass, and the sun is so bright you can't look to the horizon because of the glare.

These conditions are not condusive to happy sailing, particularly if you are racing, but if you take the time to look a whole other world opens up. The water is the most indescribable blue with the sun directly overhead, and it illuminates the top few metres very well. If you look over the side you can see millions of small creatures, mainly simple animals, worms and creatures like free swimming (or drifting!) coral polyps, with bodies about an inch long and then inch long tentacles. They pass by in their millions, and at night when the stars are out in all their glory as we near the equator, they put on their own lightshow to match. If the boat is stopped, they just flash all around you, and if you are moving, they flash furiously as they are churned up by the wake.

When it is as flat as it is now, you also become aware of all the jellyfish that are around - hundreds of them, mainly small Portugese Man-O-War, but other kinds with small sails too, which puts me off swimming I can tell you! Today though I had a treat, as we trundled along at about two knots, I looked up and saw something floating which I first thought was a wooden box, then I thought it was a dead animal, but it turned out to be a turtle! It was very near the boat, about as big as a dustbin lid, with a beard of red slimy looking weed around its shell. The top of its shell was clear of weed however, and brown but whitened with salt as it basked in the sun, raising its flippers out of the water to warm them too. It raised it's head to look at us as we went by, and then was gone. Magic!

When I looked over the back of the boat earlier when we were actually moving, I saw what I thought was some fishing line around one of the rudders, and not wanting it to leave it there to finish up killing some poor creature I grabbed the boathook and fished it off to put it in the bin, but it wouldn't come free - it was very strong. When it did come and I dragged it aboard it turned out not to be fishing line, but the tentacle of a Portugese Man-O-War, about five feet long! I threw it back and hurriedly washed my hands!

I have these two slightly potty birds as well; they fly infront of the boat for about quarter of a mile, land near each other and wait. As the boat goes past, they either move out of the way if they are about to get run down, or just watch it go past. When they are a quarter of mile behind they repeat the procedure, and have been doing so since yesterday. They are fairly sizeable, brown with back eyes and beaks, but white markings on their heads which look like glasses frames! They don't want my leftover porridge scrapings, so I don't know what they are playing at, but we are all quite used to each other now, and I can get within two feet of them!

I have been doing lots of mending the boat and a bit of washing of things (much to Kim's amusement) and myself, so I am all ready now for the next step and onto the Doldrums proper. Tonight the wind should fill in I hope and we'll be off - wish me luck! Oh mabe this is it now, we're moving............

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