Albany, WA and Reflecting on Leg 3
Reflecting on Leg 3 now that I’m enjoying the welcome hospitality of Albany it is by far and away the toughest sailing I have done, or likely to ever do again; but also the most enjoyable.
The Southern Ocean certainly lived up to its reputation as the toughest ocean on the planet! We sailed through mountainous seas, sometimes 40 foot high, hurricane force winds and rain and spray that tried to remove your skin. It was relentless at times.
To add to the challenge we were short handed for the leg. After the medivac of our crew mate, Dave Griffin, 2 days in we were down to 15; 8 on Mick’s watch and 7 on mine. Other boats had the luxury of 21 crew. This meant that to cope with the larger evolutions like a Yankee change we had to run a standby system for the off-watch. Each off-watch 2 people were on standby to be called back on deck if the on-watch required additional hands to carry out an evolution. Perversely this actually benefited us towards the end as the goal was to try and not call on the standby crew, so we altered how we did various steps in an evolution so that it could be done by less people. Sometimes this was achieved by one person doing multiple jobs, or using winches for jobs where previously we had just thrown muscle at it; for example kite recovery. An example of how efficient we became was a kite evolution towards the end. Due to equipment failure we were unable to do a standard ‘peel’ – flying 2 kites at once to keep the pace up. So we were forced to either do bare headed changes, where the old kite was dropped first, then the new kite hoisted. Or a ‘kite faff’ as we called it; drop the anti-wrap net, hoist the Yankee, drop the old kite, hoist the new kite, drop the Yankee, hoist the kite wrap. The first method meant the boat lost pace for the period it was bare headed, the second method meant that the standby were required, and the boat still lost pace. However by using the new tricks we had worked out we managed to do a bare headed kite change in 6 minutes with only 7 people and no need to use the standby. By far and away our fastest ever kite evolution!
Another challenge were the constant failures, particularly with the whole kite system. The record has to be flying the kite for 10 minutes before the block at the top of the mast exploded! The photo shows the remnants of the block. We have got quite efficient now at retrieving kites from the water!
However it was also some of the best sailing I’ve experienced. The boat racing along at 20knots plus under kite for long periods, we also managed these sorts of speeds when close reaching under white sails. The boat was on the plane for long periods and down below you could hear the water cavitating under the hull as it planed. We also had some fantastic sunrises and sunsets and there were some crystal clear rainbows. On a few occasions these were complete and it was if the yacht was going to sail directly under them.
The highlight has to be the finish; after 5,000 miles of racing 4 boats were engaged in a tacking dual during the course of the last day as we worked our way down the Australian Coast towards Albany, sometimes crossing within feet of each other. Unfortunately we did not far well in this dual, rounding the headland for the last 3 mile run downwind in the narrow channel to Albany. So with nothing to lose we got the kite out for the also time, the 3 in front of us erring on the side of caution. This lead to a thrilling finish as we charged up behind the 3rd boat, Invest Africa, doing twice their speed to pip them at the finish by less than half a boat length. The 4 boats finished within 4 minutes of each other after 5,000 miles and gave the locals a real spectacle. Apparently that is the first time they have seen a spinnaker flown down the channel. Check out the video footage on YouTube:
Sadly, on the last morning another of our crew, Mick was injured when he tore the medial ligaments in his knee. Unfortunately this means that he can longer continue on his round the world trip. His dynamism around the boat will be missed! It was a last reminder from the Southern Ocean who is in charge!
The boat and crew both are now in sore need of some R&R and TLC and the people of Albany are certainly going out of their way to provide this in abundance!