AZAB Race 2011 leg two

The morning of the race restart, everyone was taking time out of their busy pre start preparations  to wish good luck and say farewell to newly made friends and there was a fabulous atmosphere of friendship all around.

The predicted no wind start was completely the opposite with 20 to 25knots of wind.  The restart  was once again with the Portuguese warship along the sea front at Ponta Delgada and back to Falmouth with crews electing whether to go east or west of the island. 

As our class start approached we unfurled the genny and blasted our way to the start line on port tack, only to be foiled by Sandy on Slippery K, charging down on starboard, whilst running around the foredeck retrieving a genoa sheet!  A big bear-away was called for, which gave us possibly the worst restart we have ever had.  We rounded the buoy and settled into a fast reach having decided to travel west, along with most other boats. 

A high pitched scream from an alarm inside the boat sent Emma below to investigate, to find that the gas alarm had been activated by about 9 inches of water in the bottom of the boat!  Frantic investigations by Pete into where the water was coming from, and manic pumping of the bilge, both manual and electric followed until Pete discovered that the raw water intake pipe had vibrated loose on the engine and was filling the boat quite quickly with water!  Turning the sea cock off didn’t help; it was the only one we hadn’t replaced throughout the winter.  But pulling the pipe off completely and tying it up above the waterline stemmed the flow. 

 We made the decision that we could make a repair on this, and so we would carry on racing.   For the next four hours both of us were needed out on deck, to cope with the strong gusting conditions.  We gradually pulled back the rest of the fleet, overtaking some.  Once we cleared the island, the conditions moderated somewhat and the sea became less lumpy, so Pete went below the make the repair and Emma stayed on the helm, with instructions to follow the blue boat in front, Whistledown  III.  It took Pete 3 hours to refasten the water pipe bracket, which was in the most awkward of positions, but once achieved the repair was sound, Pete stuck his head out to see that we had overtaken Whistledown III, and we still had a reef in!!  We shook the reef out and left Whistledown III in our wake and dirty air.  By nightfall we could still count 26 lights around us, which was encouraging because the faster classes had started first and it meant that we were still in contact with the fleet. 

We had made a decision that our strategy would be to travel as far north as practical to give us a good sailing angle if the winds did what they were supposed to do.  We had achieved about 75 miles to the north before the winds started to veer and decrease, taking us in the direction of Falmouth.   It was slow going but we were still moving and the course improving slowly all the time.  At midday on Wednesday, Embla 3 had reported that they had to retire with steering problems and shortly afterwards Equilibrium retired due to loss of power.  They both returned to Ponta Delgada. 

Our 24 hour run after the fast start had been a disappointing 120 nautical miles.  As the wind went further round the asymmetric spinnaker was hoisted enabling us to sail parallel to the rhumb line.  In the distance we could see a white sail but did not know who it was.  We carried the kite all night until 0400 Thursday when conditions became untenable for the kite.  We continued to maintain good speeds under white sail.  By noon we were chuffed to have achieved 165 miles in our 24 hour run.   By 1600 the wind had gone aft and we were able to rehoist the asymmetric kite, giving us consistent speeds of around 8 knots and providing us with a wild, wild sail until at 1900 we received great news from Keith Worsel that we were in the lead, both on corrected time and on the water with only 890 miles to go!   

We carried the kite all night until 0200 on Friday morning, when once again conditions overpowered us.  The nights are so dark, you cannot see the kite only hear it cracking like a gunshot as it collapses and refills in the rolling waves.  It is really strange as it gets darker between about 0400 to 0600, with dawn not breaking until around 0700.  A text from Keith Worsel,  a call home and a quick recap on the last grib file we downloaded before we left the Azores  prompted us to once again turn north for another  30 miles  to avoid the area of no wind.   Our 24 hour total run had been 161 nautical miles.  We gybed and put up the small kite and once again got back on course.  Pete saw a huge whale rise 100 meters from the boat, send out a spout of water and disappear not to be seen again.   By 1800 we had caught up Gertha 4, one of the faster boats not in our class.  She was the first and last boat we saw after the first day or two. 

We once again carried the kite most of the night, dropping it at 0400 after a wild ride, reaching speeds of 9 and even 10 knots.  Whilst we were back in control we did not have the stability that the kite provided and on a grey, grey morning we rehoisted the asymmetric spinnaker until the wind decreased sufficiently to peel to the big spinnaker.    By noon Saturday our total days run had been our best so far achieving 166.5 nautical miles. 

 We were flying along surrounded by dolphins who had come to visit us and swam with us for about an hour.  The weather had been fabulously warm during the days and cold at night.  Shorts and t-shirts being the order for the day, and full oilies and thermals at night!  At midnight we saw Bojangles on AIS and caught sight of his tricolour, we watched on AIS as he had a near miss with a big ship and disappeared into the dark, dark night. 

By daybreak on Sunday everything on the boat felt damp as we were shrouded in fine drizzle.  Later that morning when the rain had ceased, there had been a massive wind shift and we sailed the same course but on the opposite gybe. 

We continue our watch system day and night with Emma benefiting from extra sleep when the ships clock had stopped (nice trick, don’t know how she did it but she got an extra hour!) and the time was always 0730! By noon the wind had gone round a little further and upon dropping the big kite, to our dismay we found it had caught on something causing multiple tears in it which we repaired whilst continuing on our way under white sail, covering a 24 hour distance of 155 nautical miles.  It’s unbelievable to think that in all that sea space, at 1900 we had to make a call to a big ship to ask them to alter course to avoid us, which they willingly did.  Sunday night was a cold, cold night, very dark and damp and we once again reverted to hot water bottles to keep warm!  It was so very dark with no stars at all as we crashed on, now hard on the wind and after a squall had blown through providing a small wind shift which allowed us to free off.  By morning the wind was up and we were reefing the main, rolling the genoa away and once again it was raining very heavily.  We were now both wet, cold and miserable and it wasn’t until midday when the rain stopped we were able to free off a little bit in the very lumpy sea.  We covered only 143 nautical miles in our 24 hour run.  By tea time we were shaking out the reefs and in more settled wind had a very pleasant evening playing cards as Ruffian sailed on under autopilot. 

On Monday at midnight Pete saw the light of another yacht far in the distance ahead, from all the reports from Keith Worsel, we wondered if we were finally making ground on class 2 leader Vela Fresca, sadly this was not so.  At 0200 at watch change we noticed 4 other boats within 15 miles of us on the AIS screen signalling we were nearing land.  On a clear, clear night Ruffian is once again purring happily as she charges on.  The increasing winds see good speeds as we dodge through the French and Spanish fishing fleet and only just cross in front of one particular boat, who seemed determined to head at us, whatever course we chose. (Slightly stressy moment!)  We continued on, reef in, reef out as conditions required and to our great delight our midday run had been our best ever 169.4 nautical miles.  With only 179 nm to the Lizard, we started gradually reducing our cross track error of 12 miles from the rumb line, buoyed on by the knowledge that one more night at sea would see us back to the finish line.  For the rest of the day and all that night our speed rarely dropped below 6.8 knots often maintaining 8 knots until once again in the early hours of Wednesday morning we made contact with the fishing fleets and now the continuing stream of larger container ships and tankers exiting the English channel and heading towards the Scilly traffic separation scheme. 

It was a chilly morning, and with the sun coming up we once again hoisted the asymmetric kite in slightly too much wind, sailing on the edge with both of us staying up to tend to it, but we were both in good form  as we closed on the Lizard in the knowledge that we were almost at the finish.  Tidal calculations gave us further encouragement, as if we continued at the rate we were we would not be knocking the strong adverse tides at the Lizard and would have them in our favour for the rest of the race.  By 12 noon the call of Land Ho! was made and once again we had achieved a good 24 hour run of 167 nm.   With only just over 21 nm to go and under white sail we each took it in turns to have a good wash and change of clothes so that our reunion with friends and family would be a less smelly affair!

We were cheered across the finishing line by Sam on Comedy of Errors on his way home at 16.48.31 BST knowing that we had done well in the second leg.  Our total recorded distance sailed in the race was 2535.6 nm, this did not include the last 3 days of leg one when we had no instruments.  Ironically the time taken on this leg was only 11 minutes different to our outward leg in 2007.

We got our sails down and motored into the Visitors Yacht Haven, to be wonderfully welcomed in by Paul, Helen & Gareth, bearing gin & crisps!  And once again met up with the other competitors who had finished in front of us, and those arriving after us.

In conclusion, we have learnt a lot from this race.  Firstly it confirmed the fact that one has to be self-sufficient; if you can’t fix it then you have to live without it.   The  list of breakages  included:  the loss of the wind instruments, the spinnaker pole,  broken sea toilet, sail repairs, blocked bilge pumps (to help with this not happening Emma has to have her head shaved for the next big race)  steering problems, the raw water pipe coming loose and last but not least the loss of battery charging capability, subsequently leading to the loss of battery power which in turn led to loss of auto pilot, all navigational equipment and worst of all at night, no navigation lights which illuminate the wind hawk at the top of the mast from which you can tell the wind direction to sail to, and adding increased stress  as we were invisible to any other vessel around.  Without a light to illuminate the compass the stress levels and tiredness were sent even higher, when we both had to be on watch one with a torch illuminating the compass, whilst the other helmed throughout all hours of darkness.  

It did amplify one thing, and that is the need to back up all electronic  equipment with sound traditional navigation techniques, let down by the fact that the distance run without a mechanical log can only be a guesstimate, but with honesty that proved to be sufficient  to make a land fall where and when we had estimated.   It is too easy to rely totally on electronic navigation but it has always been our practice to completely fill in a log book on an hourly basis, and on a long passage like this, plot on a paper chart every 4 hours.  This meant that when we lost everything, we knew exactly where we were and roughly what speeds we had been doing so reverting to trad nav was not so difficult.  For passages longer than this an alternative means of battery charging in the form of a spare alternator, or a wind generator and perhaps an alternative power free autopilot would be advantageous.

Our final placing for the outward leg was a very disappointing 6th place, but we had an encouraging 2nd place in the return leg, giving us 4th overall in class.