Leg 2 - Punta Del Este, Uruguay to Cape Town, South Africa
Number of souls on board: 21
Distance sailed: 3,700 nm
Number of days at sea: 15
Finish position: 5th
The last few days in Punta were filled with final bits of maintenance work and enjoying the last of the pleasures of dry land but by the time are start came around I was itching to get back on the boat. I think this is a pretty similar feeling for most of the crew, particularly the ones who really enjoy the sailing aspect of all this.
We had a cracking race start, screeching towards the start line on port tack (this is risky as the sailing rules give priority to boats on starboard tack) with Skip on the wheel and myself trying to call the timing and position of other boats. It might be quite a nerve-racking for Skip to do this when from one side of the boat he can’t see behind the sail to any other boats and must trust someone else to get that call right. He must also be an idiot to put that trust in me! This time we got it right and were over the line first. In these long ocean races such a good start really won’t affect the racing it is simply exciting and gets the team pumped for the race ahead.
As we rounded the last mark off the eastern most point of Uruguay we shook out our reefs and set a course for 120 degrees on the compass. The significance of this didn’t dawn on me at the time but throughout the race, and looking through our log book, this was largely the most common bearing we had. It illustrates the nature of this leg as it was a “straight shot” across the bottom of the globe sailing along the great circle line between Punta and Cape Town.
Our game plan was pretty simple for this race. Follow Dale. Dale (skipper on Dare to Lead) would be sailing into his home port having made this crossing 47 times before. Despite its simplicity this seemed like a strong and stable plan. What could go wrong? Well, with the wind largely coming across our port quarter we had the boat rigged with a full main, staysail and the yankee 1. This was a pretty aggressive sail plan at time in the first week and we often found that we weren’t just burying to toe rail (top edge of the hull) but the entirety of the guard wires under water (safety wires running around the boat). This is genuinely a pretty scary way to sail the boat as it is fully heeled over to 45-50 degrees. But this seemed to work for us. We had good boat speed compared to the other boats and after a few days we were in the lead……shit……what now……game plan was ruined and we seriously considered trying to slow down to let Dale catch up!
We decided that with the weather reports we could interpret and our positioning that we would make a play for the scoring gate. This rewards the first three boats through with some extra points. After some exciting sailing against Qingdao and Seattle we nipped through the scoring gate as the second boat snagging 2 extra points. This was a great feeling to know that only 5 days in you already had points on the board however as the scoring gate was slightly off the great circle line we had been pulled out of position and lost a few places.
Life on board was really good. Our new joiners had settled into the groove really well and were making a good contribution to the boat. The crew that were still on for leg 1 were showing the experience they had gained and I saw a lot of people with a significant boost in their own confidence. This was amazing to see and made my life a hell of a lot easier. With my watch happy to go on deck and sail while I stayed below to chat with Lance and Claire about the weather or tactics meant any time was much less stretched. I can’t thank my watch enough for this as it made leg 2 much less stressful experience than leg 1.
Friday 13th October - disaster. If you don’t believe in superstition try this on. On Friday 13th everything went wrong culminating in our steering wheel breaking off just as it went dark. No problem, we shall move to the other steering wheel. Except that the compass light on that side was out. In the dark the compass is our live feed for direction. The electronic instruments suffer from dampening and delay and therefore driving to them usually results in slow reactions or massive over corrections. The compass is key when it is dark out. That is bad luck and if it had happened any other day I would have ignored it.
It was considerably colder on deck and below. When the wind shifted round to the south the drysuits came out. This southerly wind blowing up from the Antarctic was so cold at night that I would regularly be wearing three mid layers beneath the drysuit along with two pairs of socks and hiding deep behind the large collars and hoods of the drysuit. It was time to break out the fisherman's gloves. These are essentially super thick marigolds with a fluffy lining. You can’t bend your fingers once they are on but they do the trick to keep the hands warm and dry.
The down side to this cold was the limit it put on the social interaction between the two watches. We were generally pretty desperate to get off deck and down to the warmth below and our sleeping bags, As opposed to the first leg where the heat downstairs forced people up on deck into the breeze. It was also harder to have our team meetings as we didn’t all want to be sat on deck in the cold.
So I shouldn’t really describe this next part as I will get an earful from my mother. During the race there was a need to replace our reef 3 line. This is the one furthest up the sail that shorten the sail down the most. Not wanting to lower the mainsail for fear of slowing down too much we decided it would be best for me to go up in a harness and re-thread a new line. Trouble is there isn’t much to hang on to up there. We were still sailing fast and at one point clocked 18 knots while I was up in there. Wozza on the helm also had a few waves to deal with and these would send me catapulting away from the sail. Some of the videos we took shows the violence of this. It is the only time I have felt scared on this boat. Although ultimately still very safe and I had an easy way out, there was a thought that this might be the way I would get injured and have to drop out the race. And that can’t happen.
We continued trucking along doing pretty well. We were mostly happy with how the boat was performing as we rode out the different weather patterns. With all the weather approaching from behind there was very little that could be done to avoid or manoeuvre away from it.
As we drew in towards Cape Town it all started to get really exciting. With the boats narrowing in on the finish line and a final few days left the pressure mounted…..and we caved. We made two calls to our detriment. The first was being a little too scared to fly the spinnaker on one night. This allowed the other boats to put some miles on us. We went from being the back of the leading pack (4th) to the head of the chasing pack (4th). This also meant we had gone from chasing with nothing to lose to defending our position with everything to lose. Mistake two came a on the final night. We got caught in a bad patch of wind that was gusting heavily and causing the boat to repeatedly broach. As we struggled to get the boat under control and were heading in the right direction it gave our nearest rials, Seattle, time to sneak up on us,. As we recovered we decided to drop the kite and continue under white sails only. However, Seattle had seen our kite so decided to put theirs up. While we fought hard to keep up our boat speed and sail the same deep angles we couldn’t manage it and they edged away from us as the glow from Cape Town grew on the horizon. With a last ditch attempt we turned dead downwind and goose-winged the main and yankee (this is not a common approach on a race boat) meaning we could aim directly for the finials line. The idea was that with Seattle having to sail gybe angles back and forth and us going straight we night be able to make up the distance albeit at a slower pace. It worked…..but not well enough. We crossed the line 1.6miles and 27 minutes behind in 5th.
Such mixed emotions. On one hand we had drastically improved from 9th to 5th without damaging the boat or sustaining any major injuries. We had learnt a lot about our sail plans and pushing the boat. But I was gutted to give away a place on the final hurdle. Does call into question what leg will suit us best to play our joker card…..but I’m not giving anything away. The enemy might be watching.
Cape Town has been absolutely awesome. This is really one of my favourite cities and having just been here in December last year I feel quite comfortable. Thanks to Kiara and Rich for an epic day trip through Beau and Groot Cosntantia and a little boogie at Cafe Caprice. I now have a couple days off to surf with the sharks and do a few cultural things. All suggestions welcome.
Huge thank you to all have donated so generously particularly since the last leg - Wolfies and Gillian. And to Peripheral Life and Style Sunglasses and Elliot Brown Watches. If you want to buy a pair of Peripheral sunglasses please go online and “add me” to your basket before checkout, 50% of the proceeds will go to the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation with my support.
Now I am keen to enjoy the last week here but absolutely beside myself with excitement for the next leg. Bring me the southern ocean. Our most direct route from here to Freemantle will take us well below the 40th parallel and therefore into the Southern Ocean. The Southern Ocean is uninhibited by any land mass. Therefore the weather systems and waves build to mammoth sizes. This is not sailing for the faint hearted and I am told it separates the men from the boys. How hard can it be? How cold can it be? How big can the waves really be? For now all I have is stories and gossip from previous racers so we will have to go find out for ourselves.