Three Peaks Race – Final Leg

At 10.49 on Wednesday morning Jo and Lowri ran over the finish line and straight into the arms of our sailing team and the history books of the Three Peaks Yacht Race.  We have won, line honours, overall sailing on handicap, leg three sailing and running combined and would end up second overall on sailing and running combined. We are only the fourth ever female team to finish the race and the first to win.  The final leg from Whitehaven had allowed us to shine, but was not without it’s drama and soul destroying moments.

During Monday afternoon our runners Jo and Lowri, battled their way around the biking and running course from Whitehaven, to the top of Scarfell pike and back while we the sailors slept, organised and fretted back on Nunatak in Whitehaven marina.  We had positioned the boat in a prime berth, right opposite the marina entrance where the lock gates were on free flow, and waited for their return with nervous anticipation.

The girls appeared at the top of the ramp, covered in bruises and blood from multiple tumbles while running on the slippery paths of the lake districts highest peak, our shore crew waited on the corner of the pontoon to direct them, the film crews set up to capture their return and Elin shouted to a group of sailors to clear the way –all eyes were on the runners for a dramatic entrance. Lowri led the way, the cameras were rolling, she came down the ramp, onto the main pontoon and tried to turn the corner up to the boat but her cycling shoes with cleats on the bottom and no grip gave way and she promptly slid over in a heap on the floor.  Jo, not far behind, saw what happened and tried to avoid the same spot but left it too late and wiped out on the same corner, leaving both of them in a pile – a very helpful gentleman watching proceedings from his cockpit, sniffed and loudly conjectured, ‘And that’s why we don’t run on the pontoons!’ Such helpful comments.

With the runners safely on board, ego’s intact we headed straight out through the open lock gates.  We were in fourth position, with a distance of 6 miles between us and the lead boat Wight Rose to catch up the front of the fleet.

The evening was murky and started with light winds, we were chasing the other boats, but with little opportunity to make gains. After a couple of hours the wind started to change direction and soon we were reaching for our spinnaker and Nunatak started racing towards the Mull of Galloway.  Down below the runners were tucked into their bunks, kick starting their recovery from the previous 9.5 hours of effort, and as the speed built they were woken up with the sound of water rushing down Nunatak’s hull, and the occasional squawk of delight from the helm as we started clocking speeds of over 13 knots over the ground.

We approached the Mull of Galloway under spinnaker and with the three of us trimming the boat as hard as we could, Nikki on the helm, Elin managing the pole and me trimming and navigating.  By now we could see the outline of Pure Attitude and knew they did not have their spinnaker up, we were gaining on them fast and decided to pass between them and the shore, right under the cliffs of the mull.

The cockpit was alive with tension as we scraped our way along the shore to keep out of the tide, the wind was blowing down through the gaps in the cliffs, heeling the boat over suddenly and rounding us up, requiring great team work from the three of us to keep moving and to keep safe.  We worked intensely for three or four hours, constantly talking to each other about course, trim, speed – focussed, determined and loving the opportunity to sail hard together.

The strategy paid off and by the time the sun came up on Tuesday morning we were leading the fleet.  Wight Rose and Moby J were over 6 miles behind us and Pure Attitude could be seen on the horizon. But as is the way with sailing among the hills in the Scottish Highlands, not long after the sun came up we sailed into a massive windless hole and sat there helplessly while Pure Attitude sailed up behind us.

Our rowing seats and outriggers had been taken apart and stowed for the spinnaker leg and getting them out of the locker and in position seemed to take for ever – it was stressful as all the while our competitors were effortlessly sailing up to us.  I fumbled with the screws and bolts, put the struts on in the wrong order and couldn’t get them off again, I wanted to swear but the on board camera woman was filming my frustration – these things seem so cruel, after putting in such a lot of effort to get ahead.

The next couple of hours were spent rowing between wind holes, we adopted the mantra – ‘just keep the boat moving’ – in recognition of the fact that we could row Nunatak at a reasonable 1.5knots once she had momentum but trying to get any speed from a standing start was very hard.  The three sailors rotated round, taking it in turns to row on each side and to steer.  The sails stayed set and we rowed to where we could see wind on the water, when we started to sail we shipped the oars but stayed in position and as soon as the speed dropped below 2 knots we would start rowing again.  I was starting to develop blisters on my palms from the rough wooden oar handles, Nikki and Elin’s backs were hurting, but we rowed on determined to keep our lead.  The runners woke up with the commotion on deck and came up to offer help – we were still pretty adamant we did not want them to jeopardise their recovery by rowing a lot but Jo helmed and Lowri did a couple of stints rowing so we could eat or drink or strip off a few layers.

Eventually our diligence paid off – we rowed to a solid breeze and ghosted away, watching our rivals lolling behind.  The experience had been unnerving so we left the rowing seats on deck but the wind built enough for a quick ride past the Mull of Kintyre and into the Sound of Jura.

Following another few hours of playing cat and mouse with the wind, always terrified we would park up in a hole while our rivals slid past in wind not far away – we had at one stage hoisted Nikki up the mast to survey the route ahead looking for calm patches on the water – we finally found a solid breeze and started moving again up the sound.

By this time the tide was against us and so we needed to hug the edges of the loch to get out of the tide and make better progress. By now it was a sunny day and the runners –  who had been nicknamed ‘The Meer cats’ as they only normally stuck their heads out of the hatch to look around before going back to their bunks to continue recovery – came out on deck and we worked Nunatak up the Jura shore.  Again we sailed like a fully crewed boat, tacking in and out of a 100m band from the shore, sometimes coming within a few metres of the rocks before tacking out, then heading back in as soon as we saw a drop in our speed over ground.

We tacked around 100 times over that afternoon and evening, our course on the tracker looks like a smooth line heading exactly North and gives no indication to the amount of effort expended to achieve it.

It is hard not to give a blow by blow account of the following 12 hours, I can remember pretty much every tack – we worked our way between rocks and islands, the wind increased to create fairly rough conditions at the beginning of the night and for the first time in the race we had waves crashing over the deck.  We had managed to work our way ahead of Pure Attitude but did not stop trying to gain every knot of speed we could to increase the lead and give our runners a great head start.  They lay down below in their bunks, listening to us working, starting to feel the tension as we drew closer and closer to Fort William – soon it would be their turn.

We came through the Corin narrows with a two hour lead; the cloud cleared from the top of Ben Nevis and we could see the steep ascent speckled with patches of snow. It looked formidable – neither one of the runners could eat as they prepared for their last summit meanwhile on deck we fought for every second of advantage we could gain.

With only a couple of miles to go and in flatter water we had one further  drama to navigate which could still cost us significant time between the finish and dropping the runners.  During the night while charging the engine had stopped.  We had very little fuel and were heeled over and managed to suck air into the fuel system. Half way up the channel we decided to try and bleed the engine and do a test start in neutral to see if we could get it going again, if that did not work we would need to pump up the tender and row the runners ashore which would take a lot of preparation.  While Elin and Nikki tacked their way up the shallows off Fort William I had my head inside the engine bay, trying to brace myself against the heel of the boat and frantically working the fuel lift pump. It took a couple of goes but we managed to bleed all of the air out of the engine, and we hit the finish line then raced towards the dock at the entrance to the Caledonian Canal.

Chris our shore crew was waiting on the dock to catch our lines, we came in with speed and our runners jumped off, all of us feeling sick with nerves.  We had smashed it – the sailing leg was won and the coveted line honours trophy which has been the goal of many a great sailor and adventurer since 1977 was within our grasp.

Jo and Lowri set off up the mountain in worsening conditions, it was cold and raining, the wind was building, we could no longer see the summit and the cloud was hanging low everywhere.  We were elated, to have finished the sailing first but feeling agitated and powerless to do anything further as it was all down to our runners.  So once we had secured Nunatak inside the lock we all jumped in a couple of cars to go and wait on the Ben Nevis foothills.

It was raining and cold on the mountain – there were camera crews dotted up the track waiting for the girls to come past. We split up, some of us climbing up the path, some waiting further down and as soon as the yellow bibs of our runners came into sight we started to cheer.  They looked great, smiling and confident; they had seen the crew of Pure Attitude coming up as they were coming down and were happy they had a good lead.  We ran with them down the final section, chatting and laughing and telling them how amazing we thought they were.

Our second shore support Mike, who was the previous owner of Nunatak and has competed in the Three Peaks Race multiple times was with us and said the last few miles from the foothills back to the lock are tough and sole destroying. They are on roads, through industrial and housing estates, a lonely section of run – so Nikki and I drove with Mike to meet the girls on every corner we could to cheer them on.  It was great for us to see them smiling, and to feel like we were in some way taking some of the pain.  Elin and Chris went ahead to set up at the finish so we had all bases covered.

Jo and Lowri crossed the line, smiling and victorious. We had a group hug which ruined the camera mans finishing photo’s and cracked open the Champaign.  We had achieved what we turned up to do – winning line honours, but not only that we had won the sailing part of the race overall on handicap, and won leg three conclusively on sailing and running combined.  The runners from Pure Attitude put in a phenomenal run and managed to put their team 39 mins ahead of us on corrected sailing and running time combined to win the IRC trophy, for which we dropped into second place.

When Elin suggested the Three peaks race to me earlier this year I jumped at the chance to sail with her and to race this epic course again.  When she showed me her suggested line up for the crew my stomach did flips, I knew we would be competitive.

The race has been an exceptional one and one of the best experiences of my sailing life. I have shared five days of hard physical and mental pressure with four of the most talented, strong and wonderful women I have ever met in my life.  As a team we were hand-picked by Elin, who knew us all but we did not know each other.  We all met for the first time less than two days before the start of the race – we had never practiced sailing Nunatak together before the start gun went, Jo and Lowri first ran together the day before the race.  However, from the moment we met we were a team, we understood what was required of us as individuals and how best to work together. We supported and encouraged each other, were honest, took criticism, endured pain, sleep deprivation and physical discomfort because it was for the good of the team and all the while we laughed.

We were diligently and wonderfully supported by our shore team, Chris Frost and Mike and Pam Jacques, whose attention to detail did not waver and made transitions easy to handle allowing the sailing team to eat and sleep knowing our runners were well supported on the mountains.

The fact that we are all women really should not and did not make a difference to our result.  Every one of the crew of Team Aparito Digital Health is a serious athlete and when we line up on the start of any event we chose to take part in, it is on equal and respectful terms to everyone else there regardless of gender. When we came to the start of the Three Peaks Race we brought with us a wealth of experience from years of competing in multiple and diverse endurance events. Endurance sports require mental toughness as much as physical strength, this is never more highlighted than in the field of ultra-marathon running and short-handed offshore racing. We have taken on one of Britain’s toughest adventure races and proved that gender is not a factor in winning – you need to train hard, be well prepared, work as a team and never ever stop trying to do better.

Of course I would like to say a massive thank you to all of our supporters – Aparito Digital Health for their headline sponsorship, Sub Zero, Keela, and Spindrift for not only providing fantastic kit for the race but also cheering us on all the way around. Primal pantry and mountain house also provided us with food.  However the biggest thanks of all needs to go to Chris Frost who quite simply we would not have been able to do the race without.  Chris allowed us to use his boat, prepared it for us, delivered it to the start, and then followed us up the coast, never losing and opportunity to cheer us on from the shore or provide some sort of support. He and Mike even came out in a boat to shadow us up the shores of Jura.

The documentary following this year’s Three Peaks race, and featuring our team including on board footage will be available on SC4 in Welsh language as a three part series in July and then a one hour English language version will appear on channel 4 later in the year

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three peaks race legs one and two

I wake up with a start, dehydrated, hot, and confused – ‘Where are the runners? What time is it? Have I over slept?’ Reaching for the phone tucked under my makeshift pillow, I log onto the tracker – it’s fine, the girls have summited Scarfell pike and are in a strong 3rd position – no panic, they should be back to the boat in around four hours.

This has been the first sleep over one hour that any of the sailing crew have had since we left Caernafon yesterday morning – every one of our five crew is being pushed to the absolute limits of endurance.

Since leaving the start line in Barmouth on Saturday we have been plagued by light winds over the whole course.  The leg to Caernafon took nine hours and ended up with an exciting hour as we crossed the bar into the river at midnight, in the dark, racing down the tiny channel, piloting from buoy to buoy at 10 knots over the ground and around 100m behind the boat in second, my stomach was in knots.  We dropped the runners, just as it was getting dark and they ran off to summit Snowdon while we dropped anchor and readied the boat for leg 2.

The running has been tight, competition on the mountain is hot, but our athletes Jo and Lowri have been holding an incredible pace and right now are on their way down from Scarfell pike in third position.  They completed Snowden in 4hr 54 mins, and to put that in perspective it was in the dark, running from the pier to the summit and a distance of over marathon length.

We started leg 2 in 7th position but with only 40 mins separating us and the first placed boat; the course is to sail from Caernafon to Whitehaven via any route chosen.  The whole fleet bar one, chose the shorter distance, to sail through the Menai straits and we were treated to a light wind tussle, against a strong tide, all the way to the Britannia bridge.  We approached the Swelllies with no wind at all and had to navigate this notorious section of water under oars and yet again had my heart was in my mouth as we rowed across an ever building tide dodging rocks.

At the beginning of this race, the team agreed that for the first two legs the runners would do nothing but rest and run – our sailing team made up of myself, Nikki and Elin would take all of the strain, sailing, rowing and organising the boat to ensure we gave the best possible chance for our runners to perform.

The sailing team managed 1.5 hours sleep at Caernafon and since then – we have been on it for 30 hours with only 1 or 2 hours sleep each.  The lighter winds have persisted the whole leg and our J120 Nunatak has required constant attention to keep moving through the water.

Yesterday we rowed and epic 6 miles from the Swellies to the end of the Menai straits, taking it in 20 min shifts on the oars and desperately trying to get out of the channel before the tide turned again. We managed to pull up to third place on leaving the Straits and sailed out into Liverpool Bay and a big flat expanse of no wind.  For the remaining 80 miles we have been coaxing every ounce of speed out of the boat, changing sails frequently to accommodate the slightest change in wind angle, constantly adjusting settings as the breeze built and dropped off again.  As soon as we got on a roll, things would change never allowing any time to turn off and just sail.

Through yesterday we managed to climb up to a decent first place and then fell back to third as the breeze died inshore in the early hours of the morning.  With 7 miles to the finish we were once again becalmed with the rest of the fleet in sight on the horizon and it was time to row.  After 30 hours of sailing and no sleep we dug in to row the final three hours of the race, determined to keep our third position and make it in through the lock gates before the tide made access impossible.

I just woke up from a three hour sleep. Nikki and Elin woke up at exactly the same time, we have had an update from the runners and they will be back on board in around three hours.  We can’t sleep anymore, the tension is enormous, and they are holding a great pace but have been overtaken by a couple of the other teams who have incredibly strong athletes.

The leg ahead will be tough; more light winds with challenging geography and tides, we estimate the first boat will have a three hour lead on us but we are still very much in the game.  The sailing team need to catch the lead boat and then double that lead to keep our girls ahead on the Ben.  We have tidied and checked every inch of the boat, discussed our planning and are now pacing around with lots of nervous energy, willing the running team on.  By the time they return they will have cycled from Whitehaven into the heart of the Lake District, run up Scarfell pike and then cycled back to us.  I am suffering from the strangest of feelings, watching our team on a tracker, willing them on, desperately wanting to do something to improve their performance and totally unable.  Although we had never all met before the start of this race we could not have gelled better – I have total respect for every member of Team Aparito, there are no passengers, there are no egos we are a team of athletes working together, pushing each other to the limits of endurance and it is a great feeling.

This race is far from over, there will only be hours separating us from the following teams as we head for Fort William and I know the conditions ahead will be changeable providing multiple opportunities for others to get ahead if we make a wrong decision.

 

Three Peaks Yacht Race – Start day

Team Aparito have finally all sat down at the same table less than 24hrs before the start of the three peaks race.  We are all a bunch of very busy women – our team captain Elin Haf Davies, has her profile in ‘Wired’ magazine today , Jo Jackson has flown halfway round the world – but we have put our lives on hold to spend the next five days together competing in the epic Three Peaks Yacht Race.

The common link that runs through our team is our Captain Elin, we were hand-picked by her at the beginning of the year, and yesterday was the very first time we all actually physically sat down in the same place and talked racing.  I have sailed with Elin once in 2012, but we have been rubbing shoulders at sailing events since then, always saying we should sail together again and finally we have the chance.

The Three Peaks Yacht Race flies oddly under the radar of sailing events in the UK, having competed in the event before I don’t understand why; the sailing is about as challenging as it gets and we will take in some of the most spectacular coast line Britain has to offer.

This year there are 17 teams competing some newbies, some old hands and the last couple of days the water taxi’s have been kept busy ferrying, people kit and tools out to boats moored in the middle of the river for last minute preparations.

Most attention this year seems to be on the rowing rigs; the Three Peaks Yacht Race one of only two races in the UK where the competitors are allowed to row the boats if the wish (the other is 2 handed round Britain and Ireland – also epic) and at the beginning of this week the forecast was so bad I was trying to work out how long it would take to row the entire race.

The race starts today at 1400 and you can find our tracker here.  We will sail from Barmouth, to Caenarfon, over the bar following the tiny channel probably in the dark, sailing all the way into the river until we are allowed engines on at the Mussel bank buoy.  We then must motor to the Caenarfon pier where we are briefly allowed alongside to deposit the runners who must then summit Snowden – in the dark.

Sailors may anchor in the vicinity of the pier to catch up on a small amount of sleep of prepare for the next leg.  When the runners are back we will be picking them up and charging up the Menai straits to try and make it through the Swellies before the tide locks up out.  Meanwhile runners should be straight into sleeping bags as short leg to Whitehaven will be their shortest recovery time for the whole race.

The two navigational challenges of the Swellies and Caernafon bar are not to be taken lightly, competitors regularly hit the bar and with the tide peaking at 8 or 9 knots through the Swellies, and channels between rocks that narrow to 100m in places, this is no ordinary place to race.

I need big thanks to Charlie and John at Plas Menai who very kindly set me up with some expert local knowledge about navigating this stretch – Though this is my second time in this race and I have done it before, I have a healthy respect for this stretch of water and local knowledge is everything.

In our first sit down yesterday we really seemed to gel as a team – it didn’t feel like anyone was vying to be on top, we are all focussed on making our best performance in this race and there is a great amount of mutual respect across the team, the list of accomplishments that sits behind each member of our team is equally impressive, we have taken on oceans, deserts and the artic in every manner you can imagine, and we all just come back for more. Check out my previous blog to read about the accomplishments of our team. We do have one man on the team, our shore crew Chris who will be matching our progress up the coast, providing support to our runners at each of the stops and allowing us to swap gear, load on extra food if we need it and make any repairs while the runners are ashore.  This morning we will meet our on board camera woman, who we are carrying for the duration of the race, to film for a documentary which will be shown on channel 4 and SC4 later in the year.

There is no wind out in the river right now; the tide is sloshing past the hull of the boat and the surface of the water is silky smooth.  If you were wondering I calculated once moving we could row our J120 Nunatak at around 2.5 knots so estimated the course time under oars would be around six days…. But let’s hope it doesn’t get to that.

Follow our race on the tracker.

 

Three Peaks Yacht Race

It’s nearly tracker time again folks – and this time I will be having another crack at the epic 3 peaks yacht race, starting 11th June.

Though my heart is well and truly to be found out in the middle of an Ocean there are a couple of UK races that really get me excited because they stretch the mortal sailor to the absolute limits of physical and mental performance.  The 3 Peaks yacht race is one of these events and I am really excited to be competing this year with an INCREDIBLE all female team.

If you are not familiar with the race the concept is simple enough, you sail to the closest port to each of the three highest peaks in Scotland, England and Wales, then two of your crew must summit the peaks. But don’t be fooled, this race is not simple; it involves navigation through some of the most challenging waters in the UK, encountering up to 8 knot tide in the Swellies, wind holes, rocks and currents in the Scottish Lochs and of course the dreaded Caernafon bar.

It is not just the sailors who must navigate but also the runners who at some point will find themselves hurtling down a mountainside in the dark or even knee deep in snow at the top of Ben Nevis.

I was lucky enough to be part of the winning crew in 2013 on the beautiful yacht ‘Dido’ and even now I look back at that race with a smile on my face.  It was and is an EPIC race.

Our team is Team Aperito, follow the links below to find out more about these women; they are inspiring. We are led by Elin Haf Davies – It would probably be easier to mention things that this lady had not achieved the list is so long – the sailors on the team are myself and Nikki Curwen, fellow mini transat sailor – and running we have TV presenter and Ultra racer Lowri Morgan and Jo Jackson who is flying in from Australia to be part of the team.

Our team is sponsored by medical innovation company Aparito and we will be raising money for the Find a Cure charity who work with suffers of long term and terminal illnesses to find acceptable ways to help them manage or cure their conditions.  If you are inspired by what we are doing then please do make a donation.  We are also being very proudly supported by British outdoor clothing specialists, Keela and SubZero

Finally, there will be an opportunity to see first-hand the real challenges of this epic race as we will have on board with us a camera person who will be documenting our race for programmes to be shown on Channel 4 and Welsh language SC4 later in the year.

 

 

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TJV Finish

We finished the TJV in the morning of the 22nd November, in 9th position overall.  We were battling to the end and finish only 1.5 hrs behind 7th position Groupe Setin, and 19 minutes behind 8th placed SNBSM. Right up until we heard SBBSM cross the line we believed we still had a chance of catching them.

It has been a full on epic race, incredibly demanding, never easy and very very long.  When we set off we did not imagine it would be four weeks before we set foot on the land again and certainly did not imagine we would be racing within sight of our other competitors so close to the finish.

Before the race as I am new to this fleet the other boats were just names, I did not know the skippers and had no idea how the course would play out.  Over the last three weeks of the race our group of four boats have got to know each other intimately on the water, we have been watching each other’s every moves, speaking often about what the others may be doing, the boats have developed their own personas but still the skippers remained faceless.

When we arrived on the dock the first people to shake our hands and welcome us were the skippers from Groupe Setin and SNBSM, it was a great moment for me to meet these guys for the first time having been locked into competition with them for so long.  Later the Brazilian skippers from Zetra joined us and all three teams had the same thing to say – ‘you were pushing us really hard, we sailed faster because of you’ – it seems no one wants to be beaten by the girls.

I am of course gutted that having been ahead for so long we ended up coming in 9th place but our competitors were worthy; we sailed as hard as we could, overcame what problems we had and at the end of the day lost out by what is a tiny margin over such a large distance.  Our competitors did not try and less hard than us, they deserved their positions and it has been an absolute honour to have raced against such great, dedicated sailors.

Last night we had our post race party and a chance to catch up with all of the other teams (bar two which have already left) we sat in a bar on the beach, swapped stories, made plans and promises about what and where we would be next and generally revelled in our achievements.

Phillippa and I came into this race with in reality very little time on the water together.  We both have a lot of different experience behind us which has held us in good stead. As the race has gone on we have started to perform better and better as a team, we have pushed harder, sailed faster and made the most of every minute spent out there; at no time has either one of us let the other down, we have learned when to and how to support each other in the best way and always with the end goal of how can we make this boat go faster.  For me, gender is not relevant to what we have achieved – we can both come out of this race with our heads held up as sailors exactly the same as our other competitors.

A massive thank you to Tony Lawson and Team Concise for the opportunity, support and belief in our ability to compete in this race; Team Concise continues to offer great opportunities to young up and coming British sailors and is a wonderful platform in developing our offshore talent of the future. But most of all thank you to Phillippa for choosing to sail with me as her co-skipper and for  taking on the Atlantic and all that it has thrown at us with equal determination and passion to do well.

22nd November 2015 TJV Concise 2 Blog

22nd November 2015  TJV Concise 2 Pip Hare’s Blog

 

I haven’t written a blog for a few days now, the  pace in this final phase of the race has been as intense as ever, hours and days have merged and been totally absorbed by steering, trimming, navigating and sail changes.  Precious down time has been for sleeping only to recharge ready for the next burst of activity. Now with less than 200 miles to the finish of the TJV I have managed to snatch half and hour in the early morning sun to take stock.

The chase down to Cabo Frio was wet and wild, we chose a route inside the oil fields and heading into the night of the 20th November were flying with the small spinnaker up and sea state starting to build as the wind increased to 30 knots.  As the waves started to build Concise 2 made the most of them surfing regularly at 16 or 17 knots and easily making our course between the land and the oil fields and we counted down the miles. Night fell and we discussed what should be our cut off point for dropping the spinnaker, we still had no reliable use of autopilot on starboard tack and could we really hand steer it through the night without incident? We set our dropping parameters to be one of us not able to steer, no moonlight or a consistent wind over 33 knots, the latter came first and though it was so tempting just to carry on as we were doing fine we resolutely dropped when we had a consistent wind speed of 34 knots and continued the rest of the night under staysail and reefed main.  This turned out to be a good call as the moon disappeared not long after and the wind through the second half of the night was a consistent 36 to 37 knots.  We desperately needed to try and get some energy back for the morning.

By morning and after a couple of hours sleep I was feeling like a new woman, we hoisted the kite as sun rose in the ‘moderated’ 28 knots and Pip did the first shift, as we swapped the breeze again increased to 33-34 knots but in the daylight we held our nerve and I then took all the pleasure from a five hour helming session which has been already logged as one of my all time best sails.

The times when sailing an asymmetric spinnaker that it is generally beneficial to arc the boat up and sail like an absolute lunatic are actually few and far between. Normally downwind VMG with it’s sensible shoes and clip board reminds you that though you might be going really fast in that direction, where you want to go is actually over there so fun is not always on the agenda.

For a couple of hours on Saturday morning the course the wind and the waves allowed me some proper lunatic helming. The boat was on fire as I was properly able to surf off one wave, then steer up increasing my speed to catch the next, which our bow would skip off with a gentle slap, bursting over the crest into thin air and chasing the next. Speeds of 17 knots became the cruising average and while making breakfast Pip started to set me challenges saying,’ you can’t have coffee unless you are going at over 19 knots’. With that I hunted the first wave, surfed, bounced to the next then jumped and skipped between crests with the bow continuously in thin air and the lightest of slaps as we made contact with our next victim. The boat speed ramped up and up, the humming and screaming from the foils got louder and louder, the helm felt electric and as torrents of water burst down the deck covering me, I was locked in, adrenaline pumping, biggest grin ever on my face; we broke through 19 knots at the third wave, then carried on to 20, 21.2 knots with me screaming over the noise of the boat,’ GIVE ME COFFEE’. Both of us were crying with laughter and the boat still charged on at 18 knots.

My new speed record that morning came in at 23.2 knots. That is my kind of sailing. As predicted the richness of this last race to Cabo Frio died with the wind later that day, and we sat in a windless hole, waiting for the others to catch up and restart this 5400 mile race with only 450 miles to go.  The contrast in conditions was the same in emotions, how could we go in a matter of hours from full on flying and pulling away from the competition to sitting with sails flogging while we literally watch Espoir sail up behind us in their own personal wind destroying a lead we had been fighting for days to keep.

Since Cabo Frio we have been at the back of this pack now in 9th place. We spent a lot of the day yesterday in sight of Espoir but finally lost them late afternoon.  We are pretty much sailing blind at the moment.  We have two possible systems to gain weather information onboard, one is via a satellite broadband connection which would allow us to access any weather source on the web, the other is via iridium email which confines us to requesting GFS model gribs via the sail docs service. A problem with our computer has meant we are not able at all to contact to the internet so can only use sail docs as our weather source. This has done us well to date however the further south we travel the less reliable these files are and we have now got to the stage where after at least three days of completely incorrect weather information we would probably be better off splitting open one of our teabags in the bottom of a bucket and reading the weather that way.

Yesterday our routing told us to go far South, with the wind we had that didn’t seem right so we did the only sensible thing which was to stay close to the rum line.  During the morning a 30 knot weather front passed over us, we had no indication this might be coming the grib had suggested 10 knots from the south east not 30 from the south west.  Like this we feel lame, we can’t really plan, we don’t know what is ahead there is very little strategy available to us other than sailing the shortest course we can.
It’s a strange set of circumstances, less than 200 miles to go, 4 miles between us and our coveted 8th position and 20 to 7th. All we can do is keep focussed on sailing fast and on the right gybe, maybe cross fingers for a bit of luck but I am willing to bet there are others in the fleet also with crossed fingers too.

19th November Concise 2 Blog

it’s hot and humid, the sky is heavy with cloud and over the last 36hrs everything has become very intense on this our final 1000 miles of the TJV.

We have ended up slogging it out mile for mile with two other boats, Groupe Setin and Espoir Competition and it has been down to the mile. What had been a virtual race played out with 6hrly position reports from the race committee became a reality in the early hours of Wednesday morning we spotted what looked like a mast head light on the horizon to the East of us.  We checked the AIS but nothing there, and decided in all likelihood it was Groupe Setin. Sure enough as the sun rose the outline of a spinnaker led class 40 appeared still nothing on the AIS though – isn’t it funny how so many of them work in port but just conk out at sea?? A decent marine electrician could make a fortune in the racing world….

Slowly over the previous night our lead had been eroded by both boats largely due to our reticence to use the newly repaired A2 big spinnaker, however with the stark reality of a competitor in sight we resolved firmly it is better to go down fighting than to take a slow defeat through not having the right sail up the mast.  From now on we use the A2 like there is nothing wrong with it.  So far it is holding.

The rest of yesterday was a blur, we steered, trimmed, monitored the breeze but still they remained on our hip, finally the opportunity came to gybe away and we took it just to try and break the cycle of having them there.  Both of us understand at this stage how important it is not to let things slip, we need to stack the boat well, change between spinnakers with diligence, to be lazy will cost us places. Down below moving all of the kit from one side to the other after a gybe is excruciating, it is unbearably hot to climb down under the cockpit and place our stacking bags, the inside of the boat is salty and you are drenched in sweat before even one tenth of the job is done.

Yesterday was one of those days when sleep went by the wayside as there was always a sail change of manoeuvre to be done and by the afternoon we were both starting to feel the strain of the heat and lack of sleep, this is when mistakes can happen and of course if they can they will.  We had changed between the little and big spinnakers multiple times yesterday with no problem, by now we are a slick team, Pips on the helm and me battling it out on the foredeck; but in the afternoon when changing up we just got our timing a bit wrong and the spinnaker tack let go with and sent the whole sail flying and flogging wildly before I could pull the snuffer down. As an open target on the foredeck a spinnaker sheet compete with metal shackle whipped across and caught me on the corner of my face and I dropped to the deck with my hands over my head.  It was over in an instant, the boat back under control and me crouched down pulling down the snuffer and battling with a stabbing pain in the face. I
resolved to finish the change and methodically went through the motions of unplugging one sail and then hoisting the next, when I got back to the cockpit I could already see out of the corner of my eye a huge swelling had appeared and Pips face told me it wasn’t pretty.  After some strong anti-inflammatories and a large dose of painkillers and a sleep the egg has disappeared and I am left quite rightly with a blackening eye; I would feel cheated to have had such a painful injury with no war wounds to prove it.

Last night we knew we needed to take care, the balance between pushing the boat to stay ahead and making mistakes through exhaustion was on the verge of tipping and we needed to keep it the right way. Overnight we settled for using the smaller spinnaker in marginal conditions and trying to each bank a decent four hour sleep.  Mercifully it has been cooler for sleeping and we were allowed an uneventful night. We both woke recharged and ready for another day of action.

Today is exactly that, again we are no holds barred with the big spinnaker, ignoring the big scar across it and pushing as hard as we can. Anything still goes, we have just over 24 hours to Cabo Frio and then the final chapter of this race will play out in the light an fickle winds for the final 300 miles to Itajai.  We are not counting the days or hours, there is no point in pinning our hopes on a finish time, we just need to sail fast and stay in the game, just like our competitors.

18 November 2015 report for TJV race committee

The sea is black with the milky way over head and big black clouds on the horizon while the pink kite sails us on. I am driving and trying my utmost best to make the boat sail down the messy sea while the boat whobbles in the breeze that is trying to die down as dawn approachs. Suddenly I got a warm splat on my hand and then next to me on the sail lying on the deck. I jumped and it started to smell very fishy. It was not a flying fish but a bird that had come to say hello. After several attempts the bird landed on the spredder. I think it was a Nody bird, they love to sit on boats at night time and enjoy the ride. We havent seen much wild life recently at all except for the flying fish and some birds when we sailed past Fernando de Noronha 3 days ago. Fernando de Noronha is a group of rocks off the buldge of South America this was the first mark of the course for the Global Ocean Race. I cant believe that it was 4 years ago that we sailed around those rocks and headed to Cape
Town fo
r the first stop over. Thankfully this time we are going to be stopping in Brazil on the TJV.

Later today we will have less than a 1000nm to the finish in Itajai. This is goig to be another mile stone for this race. Our bodies are begining to take their toll now. My hands are peeling as the skin sheds off in layers, our bums hurt from being salty for days and the sun is being to get the best of us. It is hot now and its tricky to eat enough to keep ourselves going. We still have a fair way to go so we must keep sleeping, eating and maintaining Concise 2.

Yesterday morning as the sun rose I saided under a big black cloud. I was not sure what it was going to do but there was a shift and the wind increased to 22knots. Almost instantly we were flying. Gennaker, stay sail and full main stacked aft and no ballast we took off.This is the most fun I have had all race. we were sailing at a true wind angle of 110 and doing 14knots and surfing faster, jumping from one wave to the next. The wind increased and stayed with us all morning. in the afternoon we flew the small spinaker and then it was time to get our pink spinaker out again. Pip had sown it back together and we just held our breaths as we opened up the sock.There it was all in one piece. Pip had done a great job! We were a bit nervous last night of blowing it up so went to the gennaker for a while. Unfortunately we lost so valueable miles here as a green mast head light followed us for ages and when the sun rose we thought that it may be a Class 40. On the position report we h
ave note
d that it is Group Setin. 4400nm of sailing and we can still see our competitors. What an amazing race this race and Class is. The pink spinaker has been back up since well before sunrise.

We thought that we may finish today when we loaded the boat, 25 days at sea. We were wrong as we are still out here. We loaded 25 days of food, water, gas, diesel and all the essential items. As we have been doing lots of driving our diesel is going to be tight but just fine.  Food and water we have lots of left but the gas we are a bit short on. We have one bottle left in the spares bag so we have been rationing tea and cooking together.

We are pushing hard as we have Setin and SNBSN so close to us. We have to becareful with our sail choices and keep our pink spinaker in tact all the way to the finish line….

Here is a peom my Mum wrote for us a few days ago:
Did you stop to think
When the colour pink
Made you go crazy
But you weren’t lazy
When it needed a stitch
What a pity, such a glitch
Stitch and glue, stitch and glue
You know who
Not so much fun
But had to be done
Lets hope it holds
In between the folds
Until the race end
At Itajai my friend
Will it pay
I cannot say
To creep up the shore
What’s in store?
Or out to sea
Or in the lea?
We wish you luck
The wind will suck
You along, along, along!

16th November 2015 TJV Concise 2 Blog

16th November 2015 Concise 2 blog

At lunch time today I put the final stitch into our huge pink spinnaker. At an estimation I have completed 43 metres of stitching to make this repair, which include sticking and sewing along the tear lines and then covering this with sticky dacron and sewing the edges of the sticky dacron. It is not going to be pretty when it goes up, some sort of hideous halloween mask gone wrong in pink. But all hopes are pinned on it staying together and getting us to the end of the race. In total I have spent over 16 hours fixing this spinnaker while Pips has been in charge of sailing the boat at least if we use it and it blows up we can say we did everything to get this show back on the road.  The haggard ends of my fingers from pushing and pulling the needle through the material are testament to this effort.

The drag race meanwhile continues down the Brazilian coast and today fortune does not appear to be on our side we are about 20 miles further inshore than the rest of the pack and no matter what we do have been a knot slower than them all day, I guess we just have less wind.   Like this the miles are creeping off our lead and we are being forced to play it out and hope things will get better soon.

We can’t quite see the coast but the waters around us are starting to fill up with other vessels (well fill relatively to a big empty ocean and seeing no sign of life for days) tonight and from now on we will have to be extra vigilant for the Brazilian fishing boats one of which I have had to dodge today already.

Our routing is currently showing the wind finally freeing us up enough to use the spinnaker at some point later this afternoon or this evening. This will be a tricky transition for us and we need to set some parameters about how far we are going to push the hideous pink creation which will be tough.  What we really want to do is stay in the game and to do that we need to use the sail in the same way everyone else around us will be using theirs – it will be hard to hold off hoisting if conditions are marginal and we know it will make a difference. So what is the strategy to be? sensible sailing and hope for the best or go for broke with the risk of failing in a bright pink blaze of glory…. that decision hasn’t been officially made yet but as I feel the pain through the ends of my fingers with every keyboard stroke I know which way I am leaning.

Pip with Pips

 

Concise 2 Blog 15 November 2015

15th November 2015  Concise 2 Blog

We have definitely now entered the drag race phase of the Transat Jacques Vabre.  Our routing shows us a 949nm straight line south, with little variation in wind direction along the track.

There is only one tactic here, put up as much sail as you possibly dare and then keep steering hard, he who breaks boat, sails, crew or bottles out loses. That is a lot of pressure on over a near 1000 mile track, and with our competitors just a stones throw away from us on the water the heat is on to stay in the game. It’ll be interesting to see how this all pans out.  Theoretically the 3rd generation boats should show us their heels now and we will be pretty powerless, literally, to stay in touch with them. Groupe Setin are our closest rival now, being a similar aged boat but even then who has the most power at their fingertips will also rely on what sails we each have onboard to cover this wind range. At the moment we are pushing it with the biggest sails we can, there is water flying everywhere and during the gusts the boat is trying to wrestle itself from our control. Conventional seamanship at this stage is screaming at us to take some sail down but putting in a reef though
leading to a much more manageable boat also loses us a knot of boat speed so we need to lock in for the wild ride.

Meanwhile in the sweatbox down below the big spinnaker repairs are coming along. I have been steering in the morning and sewing in the afternoon, the sewing is harder going than the steering, it is so hot down below my head starts to go foggy quite quickly and my eyes smart from starring at that garish pink for hours at a time.  I will have an estimate of how many metres of sewing I will have completed at the end.  Answers on a postcard?

Along with our on the water race we are now racing against time to get in as fast as possible.  We received news yesterday that the cargo ship which is supposed to be taking Concise 2 back to the UK will be loading on the 24th.  Current routing does not put us there on the 24th and this ship may well be steaming out of the harbour as we are crossing the finish line.  We are trying not to get stressed about this situation now as the 24th is still a long day off, though seldom have I known routing to go down in time.

We are running low on cooking gas onboard now too so are starting to come up with ingenious ways to cook our food.  We tried making porridge on the engine with not much luck but are going to have a stab at heating ready cooked packet of rice and stew on there tonight.

At the moment we are barrelling along with great speed towards the Brazilian coast which we will converge with tomorrow.  We can feel the presence of the other boats, it is making me nervous with the competition still being so hot and when I am not steering every other glance is a furtive one at the instruments to check our progress.  Only four days of this intense pressure to deal with..