A thriller to the line

Saturday 7 September 2013
CATEGORY: Expedition
TAGS: Sailing

Day 4 of the race – I dragged myself very tired out of the at bunk at half past one in the morning, yet another night watch to start. As mentioned earlier we are running our boat in a two watch system, which means half the crew is at any point in time working to run the boat, the other one is “off-watch”, trying their best to sleep, eat or do any other jobs necessary on the boat. Six hour watches during daytime, four hour at nighttime. In addition two crew are always on “mother watch”, responsible for tea and coffee, baking bread, making the meals and cleaning below deck.
Most of my early morning watch I spent wrapping (or “wooling”) the Spinnaker sail – I mentioned before that the Spi is our largest sail, so when its brought down we move it below deck where it needs to be packed. Its so big, that once down below, there is basically no space to move. It then needs to be rolled into to small sausages and tied together by small little woollen strings – a job for six to eight people, and in rough seas almost guarantees sea sickness.
This morning I found myself doing the job just with Mona, from Norway – it took forever and when 90minutes later we finally had the dragon in its bag I was exhausted. Thick fog had pulled up over the channel and the visibility was reduced to less than fifty metres. Lyndsey was sent to the nav station to watch the radar and I was given the responsible job of manning the fog horn (nicknamed Vuvuzela!). Thankfully we could hit the bunk shortly after six, happy to wrap myself back into my sleeping bag.
When I came back up on deck six hours later we were given a surprise – the race officials had announced that the our race from London to Brest will be shortened.
Instead of racing all the way to Brest harbour the race winner would now be the boat closest to the Ile d’Ouessant lighthouse at 15:00 UTC (16:00 our time). Switzerland entered into full race mode – all hands on deck! The new finish meant that we were thrown into a battle with four other boats – with us being the last of the pack. However Paolo, a physics professor from Oxford and acting navigator on our boat, was already plotting a course that should give us an advantage. Vicky was shifting people around on the boat to keep the yacht as flat in the water and minimise drag and Jonathan, our best helmsman took over the steering. I found myself on the coffee grinder (the big winch) to tighten the Spinnaker – for the next 180minutes I would just listen to the words “Grind!” – on which i would start grinding like a madman – and then stop on the commando “Ease!” – a truly intellectual job!
Frequent updates from the NAV station provided us with the status on the other boats- within the hour we had Londonderry and Henri Lloyd behind us, leaving us with a hunt for OneDLL – 1.3miles – 1mile – 0.8 mile. We were reducing the distance steadily… everybody focused to get us one more point on the scoring table. Thick fog was still wrapping us in, with visibility less than fifty metres – a truly ghostly atmosphere.…. About fifteen minutes to race finish, Paolos voice came over the radio – only one cable (=0.1miles) to One DLL. Our boat went into stealth mode – the commandos purely given by hand signal. Five minutes to the finish we suddenly could see our opponent appear in the fog, their crew standing on deck biting their nails on whether their lead is enough … it was – GPS analysis (we were required to shoot a picture of our coordinates exactly at race finishing time) would show that we were about 20metres behind them when the clock ran off.
Nevertheless cheers and our battle cry “Hopp Schwiiz”erupted, the team even closer bonded together then before by the last few hours of the race
For final results we had to wait until midday next day, as the race officials took some time to analyse the data and apply penalties – two boats crossed into the traffic separation zone in the Channel for which a six hour penalty was applied. When they number finally came in, we found ourselves in seventh place! We celebrated like winners – happy to have squeezed the maximum out of the boat! Seeing the leader board (Invest Africa first, followed by Team GB and Qingdao) made us hope for the next race. We had been battling most of these boats over the last few days and the final ranking was very influenced by the very short noticed change of finish.
Meanwhile a long hundred mile motoring stretch started – boring time, that was spent with tiding the boat, more repairs and my first session of deck aerobics (which still need a bit of improvement). To share a bit of the fun on the boat – check out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ftrkmFWYNUA. Our navigator Paolo is preparing Risotto 🙂

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