Archive for June, 2009

The Foggy Dew

Friday, June 12th, 2009

Average life expectancy of a sailing glove in OSTAR? 19 days apparently!
Just as well my hands underneath are probably tougher than the gloves by now
anyway! And there’s not long to go anyway.

19 days. I can’t believe we’ve been out here 19 days so far. It honestly
feels like a week. 19 days since taking my leave from the balcony of the
Royal Western, where the crew of  “O’Pegasus”, Dinah’s support boat for the
start, were shooting the breeze with the legendary Brian Thompson of Bahrain
Team Pindar. I must still find an excuse good enough to open the bottle they
gave me. 19 days since motoring out past Plymouth Hoe, with “The Holy
Ground” playing loud and proud. It can’t be 19 days… Can it?

Today was another spinnaker day. Breeze building and veering all day. Did a
very neat peel from symmetric to assymetric earlier, and dropped down to a
jib in the late afternoon.

We’ve had thick fog all day, with lots of moisture. I even had a silvery
collection of water droplets form on my OSTAR beard earlier. I must say I’m
looking forward to a shave! Perhaps a beer or two first though…

Shore crew are starting to move West. Tucker Island had a population of of
one last night, and I’m sure it won’t be long before Newport is absolutely
buzzing.

The very nice people at BOSE have offered to completely replace my deck
sound system, which is very good of them. There will be music on the return
trip!

Oscar came out of hiding temporarily at midday today, and I’ve managed to
whittle his lead down to 15 miles. So more steady progress. If I can keep
catching him at this rate it’s going to be a photo finish!

Tonight there’s a bit of a blow forecast, and a return to upwind conditions.
After so much downwind sailing over the last few days it will be strange to
be pounding into waves again instead of surfing down them. I’m sure Dinah
will take it all in her stride, and hopefully she’ll continue her run of
being the fastest boat in class for days now.

Tomorrow we’ll need to start working out how to deal with the shallows of
Georges Bank, and then Nantucket Shoals. Coastal sailing tomorrow, I can’t
believe it!

Barry


Fit for purpose?

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

Today was a straightforward sailing day. The big breeze we had last night
gradually died and backed during the night. Spinnaker went up before dawn,
and has been flying all day with just one gybe after lunch.

I spent a lot of time doing preventative maintenance, checking halyards for
chafe, checking engine oil, lubricating sail hanks and sliders, checking
battens, tightening and seizing shackles,etc, etc. The thought occurred to
me when I was tightening the umpeenth shackle that had mysteriously come
loose that there is a huge amount of equipment out there that is just simply
not fit for the purpose that they are sold!

I’ve lost and broken lots of shackles, snap shackles, blocks, etc, so far on
the trip. They just disappear! My rod kicker exploded under not very
significant load (compared to the loading it would have got on the approach
to the Grand Banks!). Ridiculously expensive “Vectran” un-stretchable
halyards are now several inches longer than when I set out. And all this
despite me insisting whenever a new piece of equipment was coming on the
boat that it be of the specification suitable for a 45 foot boat rather than
a 35 foot boat. Anyway, none of those caused too much hassle, as my
inventory of spares and tools was well thought out. Until today…

One of my BOSE top of the range, ludicrously expensive “marine 131” deck
speakers gave up the ghost this morning. That’s the third one to simply die
in just over a year! They come with a three year warranty, so as far as I’m
concerned BOSE are just going to have to keep giving me replacements. But
that’s not the way it should be. Marine speakers should be able to withstand
existance in a marine environment. They’re obviously meant for use inside a
motor cruiser that never leaves the marina rather than something that might
subject them to “marine” conditions. Anyway… BOSE are going to get a very
snotty letter from me, and I’m quite confident they will happily replace the
speaker under warranty, but what’s annoying is that I have to sail the next
few days, and then the whole way back aqcross the Atlantic with mono sound.
That was not the idea.

Anybody know of a bulletproof great sounding waterproof speaker system? I
have a set of speakers here that I’ll sell to somebody with a motor cruiser!

Barry


A Day Mother Nature Can Be Proud Of…

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

From a naturalists point of view today had it all. David Attenborough
would have given up his ticket to the Galapagos Turtle Ball to see what
the North Atlantic had to offer.

During the night, just on the Eastern edge of the Grand Banks, we sailed
through an enormous electrical storm. Lightening of density and
intensity greater than I’ve ever witnessed, and I’ve seen a few in my
time. We went right through the middle, with bolts going off everywhere
around the boat at the same time. I stood in the companionway looking
out through the hatch thinking “Great! The biggest electrical storm I’ve
ever seen and where am I? Right in the middle of it standing under an
18m metal pole sticking straight up in the air. The only thing in the
water for perhaps 50nm in each direction!”.

Anyway, it brought a favourable wind shift with it, so I was happy in
the end. Making straight for my goal, I went to make breakfast. After a
while you get to know and recognise every single sound on a boat, the
slap of the halyards on the mast, the gentle knocking of the spare parts
moving about in
the tool box, the rhythmic thud of the empty diesel cans moving with
each wave… But there was a new one! A squeeky eeeeky noise like
something rubbing under really high tension. I couldn’t hear it when I
stuck my head outside, which was even more confusing… Then just as I
turned to continue the investigation down below I saw an enormous whale
alongside. I’m not sure what kind it was. It looked like an enormous
very slow dolphin, and was easily the same size as the boat. Down below
again I could hear its call, now that I understood what it was. The big
old fella stayed around for about another ten minutes and then lumbered
off on his business.

The morning developed into a gloriously sunny, windy, flat water,
perfect sailing morning. As the day went on the seas built and I found
myself slabbing in reef after reef as the conditions got more difficult.
By mid afternoon we were pounding into huge seas again, and doing
anything on board was very difficult. I’ve learned how to sleep with one
arm hanging onto the edge of the bunk, which is strange when you think
about it. I guess it’s not real sleep but it certainly works!

Late afternoon a couple of dolphins came to play. I don’t know what it
is about dolphins but you just can’t help smiling at them. They went off
to fetch some friends and came back with what I can only estimate was
quite literally a hundred dolphins. I sat mesmerised by them for well
over an
hour. I have only ever seen anything like it once before, off the coast
of Donegal. It’s a real privilege to get to experience these things.
They are the memories of this race that will stick with me. Not the jib
changes in the middle of the night, or the spinnaker peels in big seas,
but those moments that could only have happened here, today.

Enough narrative I hear you say, what about the race? Well I’ve been
holding my own nicely in the fleet, but as I feared it was confirmed
this morning that Oscar Meade is about 40nm closer to the finish than
myself on “King of Shaves”. So even though the official standings say
that I am first in class, in actual fact that accolade goes to Oscar.
For now. Oscar is a fantastic sailor, in a great boat, and he deserves
to be where he is for the way he tackled the ice fields. But I’m not
going to rest until I’ve done everything in my power to get past him
again. There is still over 800nm to go, and anything can happen in that
distance.

For now conditions don’t allow much opportunity to attack, but still I’d
best get back to the slog of pounding upwind. It’ll be dark soon. More
tomorrow.

Barry


A New Start

Monday, June 8th, 2009

beer

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!

Barry