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..


14 November report for TJV race committee: Crossing the Equator

What more could you want than blue seas, blue skies, 15 knots of wind and a true wind angle of 90 to 110?
Concise 2 is in her element! Gennaker, stay sail and full main as we blast across the equator. This is familiar territory for Pip and I. This is my 3rd time across the equator and Pip’s sixth time across the equator. We have both done this route before too. It is wonderful to be back in the Southern Hemisphere my home. It is hot and muggy on board but the breeze is keeping us cool.
We started today with full main and code zero. But this was not enough for Pip and I so we changed to the gennaker thinking that it was too tight but it was not. Concise 2 was happy sailing a long at 9.5 knots. This afternoon after we crossed the equator in the heat of the day and we put the stay sail up too. Our girl is moving now in the little bit of breeze we have. Pip is still sowing the spinnaker back together as I took the helm and watched the gannets. The Gannets swooped and dived for fish. The flying fish are on form as they fly in schools out from under the boat.
Today we had a look at currents and the weather to come for the final leg of the race. The Brazilian coast is not an easy place to navigate with the oil fields. So the last bit of the race is not going to be easy one at all. But today was a big tick in the box making it into the southern hemisphere once more….
Absolutely devastaing news that we all had to wake up to this morning to hear about what happened in Paris last night. I cannot understand why someone could justify doing such horrible actions. Our thoughts are with all of those that were affected as we sail across the ocean tonight.


Hearts and Thoughts with France

We were stunned and devastated this morning to hear of the terrible murders that were committed across Paris last night. That over 120 people could have gone out last night for a normal evening and been needlessly murdered is so hard to believe and why any living person could want to and feel justified in carrying out such an act is beyond comprehension. This terrorist activity is against every principle of what it is to be a human being there is no justification for the murder of innocent people.

Out here we sail, we eat, we sleep, life is stripped down and simple, we can go about our business with the total freedom that the ocean provides us and are absolutely privileged to do so. Our hearts and thoughts are with all those who have been affected by these crimes and with France.

Concise 2 Blog 13 November 2014

We have nearly been racing for three weeks and the competition is still as hot as it was at the start. Within our own little pack there have been multiple changes of position over the last three days and slowly but surely we are all aiming for the same bit of water and to arrive within a few hours of each other.

It is hard to believe that we still have 2000 miles of this race to go, it feels like the equator is moving away from us as fast as we can chase it. There is still so much more sailing to do.

The last couple of days have been tough, come to think of it this whole race to date has been tough, but coming through the ITCZ is always a challenge and this time was no exception. We burst our way out of the NE trades on Wednesday morning and sailed straight into a wall of impenetrable black and brooding cloud. The light all around was dull and ominous and the wind dropped to nothing, during the rest of the day, each new head of cloud brought it’s own breeze and had us chasing off in different directions, or once even doing a full 360 to absolutely no avail. As night fell it started to rain and blow from the east under a total heavy covering of cloud.

There followed a hideous night of continuous driving rain, mixed up sloppy sea states and wind blowing between 20 and 35 knots.The cloud cover was so dense and so complete that all form or nuance of shade or shape had been removed from our surroundings, you could see nothing at all outside the boat, balancing was impossible as you had no idea of when waves were coming or gusts of wind. It was like sailing with a blind fold on. The night seemed never ending, requiring reefs in and out continuously and all to the beat of the driving rain. At 6am I started to look longingly west for any sign at all of the dawn. Eventually the world turned grey, then blue and we sailed out into an equally murky day but what appeared to be the start of the south east trade winds.

we are further west than the rest of our pack and during the last couple of days have managed to climb from the bottom of the pack to the top, as different teams paid their dues to the doldrums.Today is the first day we have seen the sun in a few and this morning a neat little line of cumulus presented themselves on the horizon, then made their way towards us carrying the new trade winds. The pack of chasing boats is now settled and we are in a white sail drag race to the Brazilian hump off Recife before we drop south. We are desperately trying to hold off the chasing boats but the are coming in at a faster angle and with every position report the take a little it more out of us; our only hope is we hang onto them until we are all in the same patch of water when our courses converge and then the race can begin again.

In of watch time I am frantically sewing up the spinnaker.This sail is going to be vital further down the track and so I have decided to reinforce everyone of the sticky repairs by sewing round the edges. i estimate there is around 12 further hours of sewing to get through, I have already done 6. My fingers are a mess of needle marks. It reminds me a lot of my first single handed voyage across the Atlantic when my sails were so old I had to sew them back together every morning. Times don’t change.

Concise 2 Blog, 10 November 2015 Spinnaker Saga

10th November 2015
Subject: blog Concise 2

Today we have been dealing with the consequences of an overnight disaster in our little world; we ripped our big spinnaker in half!
It happened in quite an innocuous way, the wind had been moderate but nothing special, the sea the same. It was dark with no moon so you could not see the waves on the water but just about make out the outline of the spinnaker with the strips of glow fast showing the shape of the leading edge.

We were both on deck about to change over helms, chatting perhaps not concentrating enough when a wave came from 90 degrees to the rest of the swell, and coincided with slamming into the side of the boat at the same time as we had finished coming off surfing a different wave. The force of the wave hitting us on the side spun us round into a broach leaving us on our side before sheets could be eased. The spinnaker flogged twice before we were able to gain control of the boat and bring it upright again, by which time we could see something was wrong. The sail had torn almost exactly in half with a diagonal rip starting two thirds of the way up the leading edge and finishing at the clew. Oh Dear! or words to that effect.

There was nothing really to say or do other than take the sail down and replace it with the gennaker which has been holding the fort in its absence ever since.

Ripping this sail is a killer blow, it is a vital component to our sail plan offering our largest down wind sail area and we should have been using it all day today and for many other days in the future not least of which the final approaches into Itajai. Without this sail we are not able to sail to our target speeds in the lower wind ranges, we are down the pan.

By the time daylight came we realised we had to try and fix the spinnaker and following an inspection of the damage decided where there’s sticky stuff there’s hope and set about patching it back together using spray on glue, sticky back Dacron, Kevlar patches for the clew and a good old fashioned needle and thread. It was a mammoth task, we set the sail out in the bow of the boat, it was unbelievably hot and there was water slopping around that had come in with the spinnaker foot which ended up in the water when we dropped. The boat despite being under gennaker was still bucking around on the waves, making it all quite difficult to find a dry flat surface, lay out two matching parts of the kite and then stick them together.

There followed five hours of what can best be described as Bikram yoga meets Blue Peter where I contorted my body into all sorts of shapes to pin and hold bits of spinnaker while bracing against the roll of the boat, while Pips cut strips of Dacron, we sprayed glue and stuck bits together all in an excruciatingly hot and wet environment. The piece de resistance was the clew which had partially ripped into the reinforcement and was put back together with some Kevlar patches and Dr Sails epoxy glue which says it works in the wet.

We pushed the boat as hard as we could today with the sails we had but despite slowly reeling in Groupe Setin and Zetra the 6th and 7th place boats we lost our 8th place to Espoir Competition in the 1500 position report, which is not surprising really, it has been perfect A2 spinnaker conditions and assuming they still have the full sail inventory we were there for the taking, limping along under powered.

By sunset we had put the kite back together again and were ready for a test. We hoisted and then gingerly raised the sock to let the spinnaker out and I was half expecting to see all of the patches pull apart one by one as the wind hit the sail but it held. I couldn’t stop laughing looking at the giant pink hedkandi branded spinnaker which now has a jagged white scar slashed through the middle of it. But it worked.

We kept it up for an hour or so and then just when it was dark hear a quiet pop and a zipping sound and knew we had pushed it too far, some of the repairs were coming apart. So we have again dropped the spinnaker into the forepeak and replaced it with our workhorse gennaker to make our way south through the night.

Tomorrow will be a day of more sticking and a lot of sewing to secure the sticky repairs and give the sail a chance of lasting more than a couple of nights. It is not job done by a long way but not game over either.

10 November 2015: Report to TJV race committee

Phillippa Hutton-Squire’s report to the race committee
This is our 3rd monday at sea and we are only just half way to Itajai. I cant believe how slow this race has been. I would have thought that by now we would be at the equator.

Yesterday we made a tactical decision to head west again. Having looked at the front runners and our tactiques to cross the doldrums we decided we needed to be further west. Kite up and we blasted along all afternoon. The wind steadily increased and by sunset we made a cautious decision to go bear headed with one reef. The waves were big and the wind was gusty and strong. We still had 3000nm to go so we needed to be careful and look after the boat. By 23H00 there was a strange line of black clouds in the sky. It was like we were going to sail under a bridge. The waves started to break over the back of the boat and down my front. I was now cold and confused as to what was going on. The air was warm and the wind was up again. The boat was cork screwing all of the waves. I could not see any thing as it was very dark. Soon the clouds moved away and the wind eased off. I think we pasted through a front. After the front we gybed south and hoisted the fractional kite again. It was
cold so
we were back in our boots and warm clothes but soon we were too hot for words.

Pip and I took it in turns to helm as it was tricky. You could not see anything, one really had to use their senses. Finally sunrise came and we started the day with oats and tea. We put the pilot on as the wind had dropped so we could chat about the weather and make a plan for the coming days. Happy to be heading south and, both of us happy with the miles we had gained during the night it was a good way to start the day.

Today was my first shower and second time I brushed my hair. We have been so busy on board that Pip and I haven’t really had much time to do these things. With the kite up and going a long at 10 knots or so I poured some sea water over myself. This time is was voluntary. It was not a rogue wave coming and bashing me on the head. I got out the soap and washed my hair. Long hair is not easy to manage at sea but it sure felt good after several buckets of water. Feeling refreshed and the auto pilot doing its trick we are finally heading south.

Concise 2 Blog: 9 November 2015

9 November TJV blog Concise 2
I am exhausted! This race is turning into an epic that no-one predicted, we have been sailing now for 15 days and only today will we cross the half way mileage mark to Itajai. We have had to inventory our food, check water supplies, ration autopilot use to ensure there is enough diesel to charge the batteries for another two weeks. Food is not scarce yet but there will be little to spare.

It is not only the number of days that seem relentless but the conditions themselves have allowed little scope to recharge our own batteries, we are hand steering as much as possible while the other person attends to keeping the boat in order, and sleeping where ever possible, during the day we are able to do longer stints on the helm, at night time we change more frequently and need to be sympathetic to each other’s different needs and levels of concentration in the dark. There is only a very think moon at the moment so when there is cloud cover it is hard to see the spinnaker or waves to steer, you end up squinting through the murk to find the outline of the sail, the instruments glow red close at hand but being fixated on them whilst steering can lead to a disorientation and disengagement with the sea all around you.

for some reason it always seems to kick off at night as well, sail changes galore, wind shifts, squalls. For the following two nights in a row we have gybed at night which takes about an hour from start to finish with both of us working to set the boat up, check and double check ropes and lines, perform the manoeuvre and then tidy up. not to mention of course moving all of that gear down below. The difficulties of doing all this in the dark are not straight forward, we must use head torches to find the right ropes but then that destroys your night vision. When it is cooler on deck we are wearing thermals and foul weather gear but the moment you move around or go below to move equipment it becomes like working in a steam room. Going onto the foredeck wearing a head torch makes you completely blind to the waves coming at you so very unaware of how the boat is going to move. I have given up trying to stand and just like in my mini I just crawl everywhere at night. It is not glamorous
but I am still here!

Yesterday we made another one of those tactical decisions to go West. Yes, I know! stop banging your heads on the table, it didn’t work out so well for us last time but we still have another 600 odd miles to get to the doldrums and just feel that there is more wind over in the west and we will have more options for where to cross the doldrums in a couple of days. The rest of the fleet currently looks to be following the line of the lead boat which is still wallowing while i’m right. Cross your fingers for us!

The tactic for more wind paid off in spades in latter part of yesterday afternoon and overnight as we were flying with our little kite up in 30 knots of wind. The ride was incredible with the boat regularly surfing and holding 17 or 18 knots of wind for a time and bursting out of waves, bow completely in mid air only to leap from the next wave and carry on in mid air beyond that. the steering required a huge amount of concentration, I got two 20 knot surfs but all the time with a knot in my stomach knowing if I get it wrong we will wipe out in a big way. We sustained the pace for a good few hours and made the best mileage we could, but as the sun set and we contemplated a night of on the edge extreme sailing in over 30 knots, neither of us having slept much in the last 24hrs we discussed whether we should take the kite

8 November 2015: Report to the TJV Race Committee

8 November 2015 Report for the TJV Race Committee
Change of Scene on Concise 2
Its Sunday afternoon and we are flying downwind to the west of the Cape Verde Islands. Sun is out, kite is up and there is white water rushing out from under the boat and we surf from one wave to the next. We are having fun, pushing the boat and making some good miles to Itajai.
Since Thursday life on board has changed a lot. We have escaped the high pressure where we had very little wind. We where getting very frustrated not knowing what sail to have up when and which forecast to believe in. We had been stuck in the high for way to long. On Friday afternoon a steady breeze started to fill in. We had the gennaker up and then the A2 (the big pink kite) and then we would swap them over we did this a few time before we really started to move. Each time we got more and more hot and bothered. Happy to escape the high as night set in. Friday night was the first night at sea since the start where we did not make a sail change. Pip and I took it in turns helming and making Concise 2 go fast. We started to eat up the miles.
Now we are sailing downwind with white water spraying everywhere. Life on board has changed a lot since Thursday! We are A) moving a long at over 10 knots constantly B) we have wet bums again with all of the water coming over the deck(it is too hot to wear water proof trousers) and C) we both have smiles on our faces. We are starting to close in on our competitors. Pip and I are taking it in turns to helm to make the most of our speed and to save diesel. We have been at sea for 2 weeks today and we think that we are going to be a bit short on diesel for charging so we are hand steering to save on fuel and push the boat harder. This however comes with side effects – You have a wet bum all the time. I have a pair of dry shorts down below and a pair of shorts for on deck that are always wet. It is well worth it. When you are on the helm and suddenly the bow is higher than the horizon and you are surfing at 17 knots down a wave. The challenge is to not get the water to come down
the deck
towards you. Which is almost impossible. The nights are hard. It is dark as the moon is very small now and you can not really see the waves. It is a bit like driving blind folded. You have to feel the waves and feel the boat watching the kite to maximize the speed.
The dolphins still come to play with us in the early hours of the morning. This morning they looked like torpedoes in the sea. Phosphoresance lighting them up as they surfed the waves and jumped next to the boat. It is a spectacular sight.
We are now trying to set ourselves up for the doldrums and to cross the equator. This is a very important part of the race. Today we are lining Concise 2 up to come in at the right angle. We have a game plan and we will watch the leaders and the weather over the next few days very carefully before we finalize our strategy.

Concise 2 Blog. 7 November 2015

Concise 2 blog: 7th November 2015

After another excruciating day of not quite getting the boat going yesterday, we finally found our trade winds just after the sun set and spirits were instantly lifted with the hoisting of our big pink spinnaker.

It had been a tough day, we sailed and sailed but never seemed to catch up with the wind that everyone else seemed to have. Like running for a bus but never ever making it. There were a couple of false starts where a promising uplift in the wind strength had us clambering to hoist the spinnaker, only for it to flog uselessly when up and have to be taken back down again. As the heat is building each one of these manoeuvres leave you in a hot and irritable state afterwards.

The relief when we finally got the spinnaker up and filled was immense, we had become unstuck from the windless gloom of the last few days and were ready to head south for real now. We have lost a lot of ground, over 100 miles to everyone of our closest competitors which is going to be hard for us to win back now, as conditions appear to be similar and the boats performing at similar speeds. Solidaires en Peleton which had made a stop over for repairs in the Cape Verde islands is back on the course again, meanwhile SNBSM have caught up to within 20 miles of us on the rankings and their 3rd generation shape will be loving these downwind conditions. La Conservateur has an unassailable lead and is currently lining up to take on the doldrums, it will be interesting to see what they have in store for him and doubtless the rest of the fleet will be keenly watching as they make their decisions about where to cross. Again we are suffering slightly from a lack of information around this
with only grib files to aid our decision. We will have the benefit of learning from other mistakes as we watch the front runners go through though in reality, they will be a few days ahead of us, conditions will undoubtedly change and tactically we need to commit to our spot from quite a way off. Last minute changing of minds is not something that works down there.

Last night was excellent for a sailing junky like me, the breeze grew and grew and by the early hours of the morning I was surfing down waves at 13 knots, a full set of stars on the horizon and that exhilarating, rushing amazing feeling. We are now up to pace and working our way south, the chase is on. Phillippa and I are taking it in turns to hand steer to ensure we make the most of every opportunity to ride a wave and work our way down wind. The weather is now properly hot, this is perfect trade wind conditions, sun on your back and the wind in your face; what could be better? Doubtless the way ahead will have more sticky patches but at the moment we are relishing the simplicity of this part of the course, there is nothing to do but sail fast. This is the prize.

Concise 2 Blog: 5 November 2015

Concise 2 : Blog 5 November

I didn’t want to write yesterday. it was a dark day and I had no inclination of sharing it with anyone in the outside world. We made a bad tactical decision many days ago and yesterday we really paid the price for this bad thinking. Not only have we had to endure two days of wallowing with no wind and all of the torture that goes with that but we have had to watch the rest of the fleet in slow time catching up and then over taking us while we were powerless to do anything about it. The pain has been a bit like having a plaster ripped off real slowly one hair at a time.

In our wind hole we have chased every prospect of wind, every tiny zephyr we have hunted down and sailed in what ever direction it might take us, just anywhere but here. Each time a new waft of breeze has come our way we have sincerely believed it was our ticket out of hell, the boat has leapt forward often at 10 knots, ‘this is it’ we have said, ‘here we come Brazil’ only to be dumped back in to nothing some half an hour later and wallowing again.

One of the reasons I have often cited for the attraction of short handed sailing is that the fewer people there are on the boat the fewer options there are to apportion blame. Your own effort directly brings you reward and your own mistakes must be taken on the chin. In the mini fleet we had no outside comms, when I sailed into a wind hole there it was only my imagination that made me conjour up the conditions the rest of the fleet were experiencing, but as we have outside comms available on this race I can see for real just as anyone else watching the tracker the cost of mistakes. The race now truly is in two halves, the first four boats through this high pressure are gone. We have no chance of catching them, La Conservatour the lead boat is the rich man that just keeps getting richer, they have sailed and outstanding race and are streaking ahead.

Pips and I have been dealing with the conditions as best as we can, always hand steering the boat, changing sails even for the tiniest glimmer of hope, eating, sleeping, just getting on with it. Di’s fruit cake has been offering us words of wisdom and consolation in the dark hours of the night – last night’s quote was ‘In sport integrity is everything.’

We still have the back half of the fleet to fight with. Overnight tonight we fell from 6th to 8th place and the two boats ahead of us are eating up the miles while we wallow. We are moving today, we have 3-5 knots of wind from the East and are ghosting our way south to try and find anything better. I can’t say the last couple of days have been enjoyable, I have been choking down and enormous urge to throw all of my toys out of the pram and just not play anymore. I endlessly replay the tactical decisions made, when and why. Every mental time frame I have put on how much longer we will be wallowing has been broken, then I make endless mental calculations of how far back we are falling on the fleet every hour we are struggling to move. At one stage the ETA to Itajai on the GPS said 55 days. When the breeze comes it will be relief I don’t think I need to spend anymore time beating myself up.

Despite all that the dolphins did try to come and cheer us up…..