Following a Dream – Another day at the office

11 Jan

For the next few weeks this blog is going to be following a crew racing in the Cape to Rio Race. It’s not just any crew, it’s an extraordinary crew made up of non-white sailors that have come from impoverished backgrounds and are, as their slogan states, “Following a Dream.” It’s a wonderful story of self motivation, determination and hard work that got them to the start of one of the most iconic yacht races in the world. You can read the original story about them here. That particular blog took on a life of it’s own in South Africa and was shared around eventually making it all the way to the top of government who seemed surprised that the crew of The Ullman Challenge had taken upon themselves to get to the start of the race without looking for Government help and were not looking to be part of some kind of quota system.

There is a saying – “Better a bad day at sea than a good day in the office.”

Today has had its ups and downs aboard The Ullman Challenge as we continue on the Cape to Rio Race, and that wasn’t just because of the waves.

Last night was quite uneventful, which is probably a good thing, but at first light we noticed a small tear in the 0.6 spinnaker, so dropped it quickly, made a repair and hoisted it once again.

Occasional rain squalls passed in the distance, sometimes causing the wind to gust over 20 knots – somewhat beyond the design limits of the 0.6, but the sea was flat, so we pushed on regardless, and the wind soon eased off to a more respectable 12 – 18 knots.

I guess the increasing number of Petrels gliding in our wake should have given us some forewarning of things to come.  The Petrels have a preference for gliding in strong and steady winds, and with a dark cloud looming astern of us and a long rolling swell, the scenery was more reminiscent of the Southern Ocean than the tropical Atlantic.

Still we pushed on, with Flying-fishes skittering out of the way, up ahead.  Even a lone Needle-fish made an appearance, skipping across the surface of the sea like a startled rabbit bouncing across a road.

By noon the big black cloud behind us was starting to look more threatening so we changed from the light 0.6 spinnaker to the bigger, but heavier, A2, with the intention of reaching up out of the path of the approaching rain.  Our 24 hour was around 205 miles, indicating that we had passed the first area of light winds and were now into a zone of increasing breeze again, and the daily position report from the Cape to Rio race HQ showed that we were still in 5th place, but seemed to have made some miles on the boats up ahead.

And then it struck…seemingly in an instant the wind increased from 15 knots to 24, then 25 and 26 knots.  The Ullman challenge took off like a rocket, with Theo doing a brilliant job on the helm topping out at a top boat speed of 18.8 knots.  By then the breeze was gusting to near gale force, at 32 knots.  Well in excess of the design range even for the heavier A2 spinnaker, but with a remarkable show of skillful helming Theo kept the boat charging along under full control.  Theo bore the brunt of the waves that swept right across the deck, as can be seen in the accompanying photo, while the rest of the crew huddled as far back as they could, trying to keep the bow up and out of the troughs that loomed up ahead.

Clarence kept up a clear commentary of what was happening behind the boat so that Theo could concentrate on what was going on up ahead.  “Three, two, one…gust on…bow down…”  Next to him Leroy hung onto the spinnaker sheet, ready to dump it in emergency or trim on as required.  Andre held onto the kicker, powering the main sail when needed or dumping it to spill power.  Lorenzo occasionally scuttled forward between the breaking waves to give a few turns to the winch for Leroy.  Marco, Daniel and I just kept our weight as far aft as possible and stood by to assist where needed.  The squall lasted close to two hours, giving us some good miles in the right direction, but all the time we knew we were pushing rather close to the edge.

By early afternoon the centre of the squall had passed to the north of us and the wind backed sharply to the left and started to show signs of decreasing.  The call was made to prepare for a sail change and a gybe.  The first task was to lower the A2 and as crew moved around the deck to prepare to drop the sail it gave one final flap in the last gust of wind and promptly disintegrated!  We all knew that we had pushed the sail beyond its specifications, but it was still disappointing to destroy it as we were trying to drop it!  It will certainly be missed, as it is one of our most useful sails, especially for the conditions that we anticipate over the  next few days.  Well, no use moping about it…we are still racing and will make a plan to push on.
Feeling well chastened we “granny tacked” in the still strong breeze, instead of gybing, and the hoisted the blast reacher until the wind had clearly settled when we went to the heavy 0.9 spinnaker for a short time.  In the trail of the squall the winds quickly eased off and became quite shifty, so we changed again from the 0.9 to the 0.6 as we went through the next gybe.

The rest of the afternoon was actually quite boring, with a steady, but light, breeze and sunshine, but soon after dinner, at sunset, yet another threatening squall appeared.  First we gybed as the wind shifted ahead of the squall again, and then we changed from the 0.6 spinnaker to the Code 3 jib.  A very conservative call but we need to protect our two remaining spinnakers and in the darkness this squall is looking quite evil…it looks like the next few hours, at least until midnight, are going to be busy…

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Brian Hancock – owner Great Circle Sails

This article was syndicated from Great Circle Sails Blog


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