AZAB Race 2011 leg one

At last the morning of the race is here; along with all the other competitors we nervously await the start.  To our surprise a friend of ours from Scarborough, Chris Steel pulled alongside us in a rib to wish us good luck.  We cast off with knotted stomachs and made our way to the starting area where we awaited our start time, working out strategies for the start.  We held our ground well and crossed the line in 2nd place but to windward of all other boats and in clear air we tacked in fickle winds past the Manacles and cleared the Lizard by 1930. 

Now sailing our great circle route to our destination of Sao Miguel with faster boats in class 3, hitting good 7 knots plus, we were once again reminded about sailing into total blackness.  Sunday at 0100 and once again our wind instruments stopped working as the wind picked up, by 0500 hours we had the kite up, still in good company with some of the faster class boats visual.  At noon we dropped the kite and put a reef in the main as the wind had shot up, but we were still flying along at 8.6 knots, but now back in control! In the first 24 hours we were pleased to have covered 148.44 miles.  Later during the day a 2nd reef went in the main and we were now sailing in very windy and lumpy conditions, probably brought on by being in the area of the continental shelf.  It was a  rough old night with white phospherescence all around on the breaking waves, 2 reefs in the main and a scrap of genny out. 

 Daybreak came (Monday) and although the wind had died slightly the seas were still very lumpy.  By 1100 we had shaken all the reefs out and were hard on the wind to maintain our course.  By 1300 hours we had covered another 166 miles.  We worked hard all Monday, reef in , reef out whenever necessary and by midnight we were once again sailing with 2 reefs in the main in quite rough conditions. 

Tuesday was a typical grey day, heavy clouds and we had now lost visual contact with all other yachts, but knew that Embla 3, a Norwegian entry, was to leeward of us as we could see her on our AIS.  Still hard on the wind by 1300 our 24 hour run was 162 miles.  Once again a rough grey old day, reefs in, reefs out, still hard on the wind.  

By the early hours of Wednesday morning the wind had died considerably, it is amazing how the seas calm down so quickly, probably aided by the fact that we are now clear of the continental shelf.  At 0730, watch change, Pete noticed that Bojangles had completely stopped, only a couple of minutes later she appeared to be going backwards, followed by a couple of small circles, which on the AIS trace looked like a classic MOB (man overboard) recovery pattern.  We tried to raise them on the VHF, but got no response, we knew we had to go to investigate the situation.  Bojangles is crewed by a father and daughter and my mind instantly recalled an incident when Vicky, Mike Holder’s daughter had gone overboard, Mikes immediate reaction was to dive overboard to save his daughter.  With tiredness and fatigue we wondered if this had been the case on Bojangles.  We continuously called them on the VHF, with no response, as we drove towards them as fast as we could.  When in hailing distance we shouted over, asking if all was ok, to a positive response.  They were just completely shattered and were resting due to having had instrument failure, so they had been hand steering.  They had not heard us calling them on the VHF even though it was switched on and worked while we were close by.  We think that it had a problem over distance as they said they had tried calling a couple of big ships but got no response from them.  We started racing again and quickly left them. 

 By 1300 our daily run had dropped to a disappointing 130 miles. The rest of the day was a damp affair with continuous light rain and drizzle in very little or no wind.  We used this time well to pump out the bilges, refuel the diesel tank which we use five hours a day to recharge the batteries. We had a mid-day meal of Petes Delicious Pancakes!!!!  There was a bit of excitement to this, as when Pete was tossing a pancake, the pan caught fire and a small panic ensued as flames licked the cabin headlining, until the pan was stuck out the companionway hatch and the flame was put out by the rain!  The winds were fickle all day, kite up, kite down, until the wind eventually went forward and once again back on the wind, tempers began to fray slightly! Everything was now wet or damp on the boat, nothing dried properly, and it was very cold and unpleasant putting wet, damp clothes back on to go out on watch.  It is at times like this that we questioned why we were doing this!  By midnight the wind was back up, giving us a fast beam reach, hitting good speeds in the big rolling seas.  Once again we had to work hard, reef in, reef out as we were hit continuously by line squalls.

By Thursday 1300 we had covered a miserable 125 miles, at 1430 with the asymmetric poled out we were hitting speeds of 10 knots, until the spinnaker pole decided it had had enough, and the bridle attachment parted company with the pole.  A clever repair with webbing and a shackle soon had us back in action, flying along with the hull purring as she slides down the big rolling waves.  At 1700 we turned the engine on to the charge the batteries, only to find that the water temperature light and the alternator light did not go out.  Investigation found the water filter was blocked with debris and the alternator wiring had a loose connection, probably brought on by the slamming in the rough conditions. Whilst we were discovering what the problems were a couple of dolphins came to see if we were ok, which lifted our spirits, and when the repair was done, the engine started to charge, they left us. Thursday night and Friday morning were spent wallowing around in windless conditions. We decided there was nothing for it, but to play loud music on the iPod and play cards. 26 and a half hours run was another miserable 139.8 miles. 

Friday afternoon was beautiful and sunny, but once again hard on the wind, tacking every two hours down the rhumb line.  Most of the time at very poor tacking angles.The early hours of Saturday morning at battery recharging time, the alternator failed again and the magic of the ‘tighten the nut trick’ didn’t work.  So we switched off all unnecessary power (the big screen tv, only joking) and Pete took the alternator off to strip it down to investigate further.  The seas were now lumpy again, so this was not an easy task.  He discovered that with the loose wiring the insulated terminal had burnt out and was now causing a short.  After taking out a short piece of rubber pipe from the fuel line, and filing the casting of the alternator to fit over it, we were hopeful we had made a good and sound repair. I cannot stress enough, how difficult this repair was to do in the conditions, boat heeled at 30 degrees and slamming off waves.  Unfortunately all the effort that had gone into the repair did not work.  We now had no way to recharge the half flattened batteries.  We turned everything off apart from the AIS, See-med, VHF and speed, as we hand steered into gale or near gale conditions, all the time knowing that the power we had left was not going to last us to our destination.  With no tricolour, to illuminate the wind hawk at the mast head at night, and the helm being unable to see the compass for the ever increasing waves sending spray flying back and reducing vision, the only course of action was for one of us to steer, whilst the other held a torch to the compass relaying our heading.  This meant no sleep for either of us during dark hours and surviving on large amounts of flapjack and Red Bull. Due to the difficult conditions, we were struggling to get caught up with our sleep during the day, existing on about 2 hours sleep every 24 hours. Exhaustion eventually took its toll and we even lost the ability to tack the boat properly!

By 1100 on Sunday the batteries read zero percent.  We still had two starting batteries and elected to disconnect the 75 amp one and retain that for starting the engine for completion of the race and so now had one full battery at our disposal, which we would use very sparingly for the rest of the duration of the race.  By Sunday at 1300 we had covered 1078.2 miles, covering only 224.8 miles in the last 48 hours. The batteries were now completely flat and so taking our last fixed position it was back to traditional navigation, and with no log, the distance covered was pure guess work… As the wind was south easterly we decided if we tacked every 2 hours we shouldn’t be far away from the rhumb line.  Our next decision was whether to go north or south of the island to get to Ponta Delgado.  With the winds from the south east we decided that to go south of the island would be the better option and carried on a southerly tack which we hoped would clear the notorious windless zone at the eastern end of the island. We struggled to maintain a course and in poor visibility tacked towards the island seeing the light on the eastern end. In extremely light airs and total darkness, Pete helmed all night whilst Emma was the talking compass! 

Daybreak brought total doom and despair as the wind died totally and we used this time well as we drifted westward towards our destination, doing boat maintenance and trying to dry her up as much as possible.  It took fifteen hours to sail the next 20 miles and depression grew even deeper when we could see two yachts behind slowly catching and overtaking us.  The first one was Embla 3, who had the lightest of light airs asymmetric spinnaker, crackling like a crisp bag as they sailed past us.  Only to stop when they hit a wind hole and we caught them up again.  It was back to light airs white sail, as all 3 boats cross tacked for the last few miles of this leg.  Strategem went off on a long tack miles out to sea in search of stronger winds, whilst we continued cross tacking with Embla 3 until we eventually left them behind, picked up some real good wind and blast reached across the finishing line at 2130, Wednesday 15th June