Archive for the ‘OSTAR 2009’ Category

A New Start

Monday, June 8th, 2009


While sitting out the worst of the storm I slept twice for an hour each. To date on the race I had’t slept for more than a half hour at a time. So needless to say after two full hours sleep I was up for anything! As soon as the breeze started to veer I was going again, and pushing hard…

The night was extremely tough, with both sea and air temperatures really low, and 30+knts of wind sustained until dawn. When preparing for this race I knew it would be cold. Very cold. But what I wasn’t prepared for was how it could be so cold and so humid. 99% relative humidity all night long. Added to that it was during this dark cold storm I have to navigate the worst of the ice field. There was one stage where it was almost impossible to look upwind as the coldness hurt the skin on my face so much, and I was right in the middle of an area that over the last week recce flights had spotted a dozen or so icebergs.

Thankfully I didn’t see any. I’m not sure whether it was because I just missed them, or it was too dark to make them out, or the seas too rough, or whatever. I don’t care to be honest! By dawn I was rapidly heading for the East side of the limit of known ice and I was glad to see the back of that part of the world. “Inhospitable to humans” is the way I believe the ancient explorers used to describe places like that.

At the same time I crossed that huge psychological barrier of only having 1,000nm left to go to the finish line. I waited anxiously to see how much time I had lost while stopped, but when the 08.00 sched came in I was pleased to find that my losses were minimal, and I was still first in class. Despite having to throttle back for a while, the gamble of going North around the centre of the low had paid off. I was also pleased to come through with no breakages or damage, apart from a few bruises that will definately last a while. When I read today about some of the experiences of the other skippers out there I knew I had made the right decision last night.

As the day progressed, the breeze gradually died, and the temperature gradually rose. My kind of day! Although I was becalmed for a few hours in the late afternoon, that particular area of calms will cross everybodies path, so I decided to enjoy it. I cooked a special meal, cleaned and tidied the boat (things had been thrown everywhere during the storm), took some rest, changed all my clothes as I had been drenched during the night, and then sat back to admire the ocean and have a drink to celebrate the end of
the ice, and less than 1,000nm to go.

As of 16.00 today I have 919 miles to go, and a healthy lead over most of my class. The only wildcard is Oscar Meade on “King of Shaves”, currently further North than me, who has been having electronics problems, and hasn’t been able to report his positions effectively. I’m not sure exactly where he is, but I believe he is very close behind me. I’ve raced against Oscar in the past and he’s one of the best out here, so it will be interesting to see what happens when he appears again.

The next couple of days should bring lighter steadier winds, which suits me down to the ground. I much prefer to race tactically rather than physically, so it should be fun.

Cheers everybody!


You Can Leave Your Hat On…

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Air temperature 4.  Sea temperature 6.

With wind-chill in 30knts breeze the reality has got to be minus something. Hands frozen into inarticulate claws. Fine for steering with, but not much else.

Zippers may as well be straight jackets. I need a pair of those trousers like in the Full Monty!

The North Atlantic Bites Back

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

44°26N    47°46W
As I write this I am warm and dry tucked up snug down below on Dinah. On
deck is a very different story. Outside there is a sustained gale, blowing from the exact direction I want to go. I have temporarily stopped racing, purely by my own decision.

On Friday morning after a long hard battle, I made it up to first in class. Friday also marked the next stage of the course, entering into the foggy ice fields, and all the hazards that they bring. Everybody was aware of the large deep depression building over the Grand Banks. I spent a lot of time and effort studying the evolution of the depression, and I came up with a plan to best deal with it.

Yesterday was a fantastic day, as I headed for a position I estimated would  be just North of the centre of the low I managed to pull out a greater lead over those in my class. Right on schedule late last night the low hit, bringing terrible conditions. Terrible in nature, but at least favourable in direction.

This morning just after dawn I marked down a run of several hours in 40+ knots of breeze. Topping out at 45.3knts. Max batspeed ever of 18.3knts was acheived careering down the front of a wall of green water.It was exciting, it was fast, and it paid handsomely givng me a lead of close to 100m. But truthfully it was not safe, either for me or for the boat.

As the day progressed, it appears that I cut the corner a little fine and I have actually run too close to the centre of the low, giving me the same unfavourable conditions those to my South had all along.  The boat was crashing over the waves, regularly simply falling out the other side, dropping 20 or 30 ft to the base of the trough beyond. I was making negligible forward progress towards my destination but each crashing crunching wave made me fear ever more for the boats well being.

So a few hours ago, I throttled back. I dropped most of the sails, and put Dinah in a hoolding position to safely ride out the conditions. it is very rare that when racing it is best to slow down, but I believe this is one of those moments. Dinah is a ight dispacement boat, not built to sustain such conditions for as long as would be necessary, so I believe I’m making the right decision.

It means I am effectively handing over the first in class position again, but at least safe in the knowledge that once I start racing again in a few hours time, the boat will be in perfect condition, and I will be well rested myself. This is one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make, and it will be tomorrow morning before I really know the outcome against my competitors. Indeed, I may not know the full extent of this decision until the finish line.

I have to put the safety of the boat before any race. I am not willing to break the boat for the sake of a few miles that may be so easily won or lost again in the coming week. So when the breeze veers in a few hours time I will start a new race. A race of almost exactly 1000m, from here to Newport.
I will be starting with a boat in just as good condition as when I left Plymouth two weeks ago, but with the added knowledge that in normal conditions I can outsail my competitors in my class, and that Dinah has all
the capabiity to beat her competitors. I will go to every effort to regain the lead that rightly belongs to Dinah.

For now I’m going to take one more nap. I can see the breeze already starting to shift, and once I set off again I will not be stopping except to tie up in Newport.  I hope I am not letting anyone down, and I pray that this was the correct decision. Time will tell. But at least both myself and Dinah will be here to fight another day.


A stitch in time…

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

Yesterday was quite frustrating for many in the fleet. Light airs are normally a godsend for light displacement boats like Dinah, as she takes less breeze to get moving than some of her competitors. That said it does take a lot of concentration to make the smallest distance, and out here the sea state doesn’t always correspond with the current conditions. There was one point yesterday where the boat was sitting upright with no breeze but was being knocked about by waves taken straight out of the Guinness ad. Each wave would knock any air out of the sails and make the most horrific slamming noise as the boat crashed through it.

During the night we were hit with an unforecasted strong breeze. Being set up for light airs, and physically tired after a day of concentration, it was a very tough night. Changing sails on the fordeck as it crashes through the afforementioned giant waves in the middle of a black night is not fun.

Dinah is also now inside the limit of known ice, so I need to be a little extra vigilant as I don’t have any electronics to spot icebergs. The
International Ice Patrol (every time I say that I think of Thunderbirds) did some recce flights earlier in the week so we have a fair idea where the big bergs are, but it’s still unnerving, as well as bloody freezing cold!

During all the sail changes I happened to notice some small issues with one of the sails, as well as one of the fitttings on the foredeck. A few hours stitching later and everything is good as new, but I’m a bit annoyed not to have noticed them earlier to be honest. Must do more preventative maintenance!

I did an interview with Tom McSweeney from Seascapes yesterday which went out from the Volvo Ocean Race Village last night. You can download it by podcast if you’re interested. I believe an interview I did for RTE news before the start of the race has also been put up on uTube and apparently is fairly easy to find using OSTAR as a keyword.

After a long day and night we have beautiful stable conditions this morning so I have been catching up on sleep, and making a list of preventative maintenance jobs I must get through every few days with no excuses. Lesson learned! I can’t afford to lose any more miles in this race due to problems that could have been prevented, so that’s a big focus right now in making sure the boat and myself are fully ready for the next big breeze in the coming days.

I’m waiting for a forecast windshift before I have my next nap, which will probably bring the dreaded fog with it. Great! Freezing fog, 99% humidity, icebergs, whales and Russian trawlers. Pure OSTAR!

Dinah out.