The treacherous southern seas

The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race is the only event of its type. Anyone, even if they have never stepped on a boat before, can join the adventure and circumnavigate the world in a one year marathon.

Taking part in this year’s race as a full circumnavigator is Andrew Taylor.

Andrew is the former general manager of Wembley Stadium with Delaware North Companies (UK) and project director for the Amadeus Olympic Park North team. He has agreed to share some of his race experiences with us via EP and we will be publishing extracts from his blog and some photos from aboard his yacht during each of the race stopovers.

In his latest blog he explains the team’s intense and precarious journey across the gruelling southern ocean.  

Leaving Rio

I signed off my last blog from Rio in anticipation of race three across the Atlantic 3,800 miles to Cape Town, touching the edges of the southern ocean along the way. After 5 days in Rio we had worked hard on our repairs and both boat and crew were refreshed, clean and ready for the race start. There was the usual media circus and ceremonial start day activity on the marina with DLL and GB teams the centre of attention on stage and in camera lenses. Then a new found friend of ours from the Irish embassy we had entertained whilst in Rio arrived with a four piece Irish jig band in tow. Guitar, fiddle and bodram at the ready they joined us on the dock side and impromptu struck up some great and familiar tunes – Wild Rover, Belfast Girls etc. Most of Team LondonDerry joined in, sang and danced, as did many others and we attracted our own large media attention away from the main activity, much to some of the PR teams dismay! Great fun and a fantastic way to send ourselves off, morale was very high as we slipped lines and set out into a parade of sail under sugarloaf mountain, chased by the helicopters and VIP & media chase boats.

 

We managed a great start line crossing first once again, and were doing really well on the first beat before being cut off and locked out by Henri Lloyd pushing us back to fourth as we headed out to the marks. Positioned just off Ipanema & Copacabana beaches it was a great spectacle to see all 12 boats twisting and turning into wind around the marks just offshore. We rounded the last mark and headed east towards Africa in second place to Old Pultney, catching and passing them after around 50 miles or so offshore.

The remainder of race 3 becomes a sprint between us PSP, Garmin and GB. By the time we get to 3 days out from Cape Town only 60miles separates the top nine boats. The pack splits and we chase down Switzerland and Old Poultney for 5th, 6th & 7th places. As we enter Table Bay we all hit the wind shadow from Table Mountain. Drifting aimlessly for several hours, first Old Pultney then Switzerland drift through the hole and catch some wind finishing only a few minutes ahead of us. We are disappointed to end 7th place. But our strategy had always been for the long game and we pay homage and respect to the winners and all boats ahead and behind us as always once we enter port.

Arriving into Cape Town

Cape Town embraces us and we are extremely well looked after by the city for several days. We also entertain the Deputy Mayor of Derry LondonDerry along with the Irish ambassador and a contingent of travel and tourism delegates hosted by Tourism Ireland. This is great fun and they are all exceptionally good company. We take them all out sailing for a day and whistle them around the bay making sure they all get wet before returning to land for posh presentations and speeches by the ambassadors, deputy mayor and our own skipper Sean MacCarter.

We had a great deal of work to do and several time consuming sail repairs to complete. We do however take a half day out to visit Robben Island and Table Mountain both of which delight.

Over the last few days on land in Cape Town the mood really changes. Crew, Skippers and Race officials all become much more serious about racing than before and focused upon boat prep. Work rates increase upon the boats and everyone talks safety all the time. We check and double check everything. This is 4,900 miles of serious gruelling southern ocean sailing in some of the most dangerous and unpredictable seas in the world. I share many moments with close friends on other boats and family of some of our own crew on land. We are all aware of the dangers and everyone is wished fair winds and safe sails by all, along with hugs and kisses. This race and the North Pacific race in March/April of next year have always played upon my mind since signing my race contract. These are the ‘big school’ oceans of sailing, there is no reason to go to these places, other than some seismic research and round the world yacht races. We know almost certainly some crew will get hurt, it is inevitable, and we will be thousands of miles from any form of help and support, whilst exposed to these risks, we pray for each other and I play down the risks whilst Skype calling home. We can minimise some risk, and wherever we can, we do so with much enthusiasm.

Race start day has all the ceremonial media attention as ever, with helicopters and chase boats all snapping away and live feeding pictures whilst they can. We put on a great show in a double chevron formation at first, then round up and line astern fly past with table mountain as our back drop for the cameras. Then it’s down to serious racing time. Rounding up, over the start line, round a few markers to make it an interesting spectacle for the VIP boat spectators, before setting off south in sprinting procession with us in fourth place this time. Not such a great start, but we have a long way to go and we quickly settle into our watch routine on board.

The power of the seas

Wave

We beat south and start to gather the first of the trade winds after only a day or so at sea. The seas get bigger and the winds stronger, soon we find ourselves surfing at 20+ knots due south and bang on course to our strategy race plan. Then on the 7th November at around 07:15AM whilst surfing we ride up onto a big wave front which turns on us and breaks as it rolls across our port side stern. It pushes the boat sideways and onto the wave front. 70 foot racing yachts are not designed to sail sideways and so over we go with a slap of horrid speed and proportion. Just like being lifted up and thrown judo style over onto our side. The inertia of the roll destroys some of our guard rails and rips off a lot of our safety equipment from the stern. The crew on deck initially hang like puppets on their safety lines, thanking The Lord they are all clipped on, before being crashed back onto deck as the boat rights itself. Down below, the galley empties its contents onto those in the saloon, some crew sleeping are thrown from their bunks, and all but a few of the floor boards fly around bashing off walls, floors and crew! Crew are narrowly missed by all kinds of flying objects, pots, pans, spanners, boots and floor boards. Miraculously below decks a quick check shows no one is badly hurt.

roll

Conversely we have a quick and loud call for ‘Medic’ up on deck, which fills us all with fear at first. Susie our boat medic, treats round the world crew member Michelle for a suspected dislocated, possibly broken shoulder. In the process of going to help Michelle, Susie also hurts her arm, possibly broken. After 12 hours, Michelle shows no sign of improvement and we witness further deterioration of her condition we really have no option but to get her to proper medical assistance, we divert to Port Elizabeth, just over 280 miles north of our current position, where we are met by the coast guard just offshore who transfer her directly to hospital. We turn around and head back south to rejoin the race with a really sombre and pensive mood now on board. We cross the Aghulas shelf, where some of the most dangerous seas in the world are found, without major incident and after around 36 hours we are back in the race.

We de-brief what happened and try to talk about it as much as we can, but losing a crew member is really tough and affects many of us for some time to follow. We start to realise the level of media attention our knock down is getting back home, so I send a satellite email home to parents letting them know I am OK and they communicate out to friends and family for me. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that people back home actually tend to know more than we do about the race, as the media machine plays it out, and our disaster is getting loads of press attention, there’s even a camera crew on the coast guard boat that comes out to pick up Michelle. It will make good TV, but many of us really didn’t like this at the time. The mood continues to be down as we receive race scheds showing us 600+ miles behind the leaders and 200+ behind our nearest competitor. We discuss and agree this is a good place to be, as there is no pressure so we agree to relax and enjoy the sailing whilst going as fast as we can safely. This seems to have a remarkable effect upon the boat speed and we race back into contention with the boats ahead of us, taking double figure distances out of their lead day after day.

medic

The southern ocean continues not to disappoint us with its reputation with huge waves and high winds driving us onwards but testing our resolve and sailing skills. Helming our boat along below 43degrees south at 20+ knots surfing down waves accelerating at breakneck speeds in winds gusting to 30+knots is an experience I will truly cherish and never forget, a mixture between terrified and over excited, requiring concentration levels such that anyone can really only helm for about 30-40 minutes before needing to change, physically and mentally exhausted. We broach many times and become quite adept at dealing with this as the days start to merge into one continuous looping eat-sleep-work blur. We receive warning of a storm 2-3 days out, as the grim file weather reports from the race office are updated each 6 hours. This becomes a real concern and we start full storm preparation. Working our way ‘down through the gears’ on sail patterns progressively lower and smaller as the storm approaches. We stow everything down below, prepare storm rations to remove cooking requirements, remove everything from deck we don’t require and tie everything else down securely. I prepare the emergency water pumps leaving them set up and on standby, then service and double check water tight doors. Others plot and communicate our position, rig emergency lights and prepare survival kits.

 

The day plays out like a scene from a disaster movie when there is time to prepare for the impending disaster. We have a safety briefing and discuss the next three days sailing and how we will approach it. As the winds and seas build the storm gradually takes hold. At its peak the winds are in excess of 80knots, that’s over 100mph, with waves 30m+ high are regular. No-one spends more than about 40 minutes on deck at a time, and helming even less so, with a standby back up helm in place at all times. We are down to full storm sails now. On the first night the blackness is extreme on deck, there are no visual references, no horizon even, waves crash over the deck with no warning washing us off our feet. The salt rain really stings your face and its difficult to see anyway. Anyone more than a few feet away cannot be seen or heard which makes working on deck really dangerous as temperatures plummet to below 5degrees on deck with sea temperatures falling to below 7degrees we also try and keep a watch look out for ice. Several times I pause and take a big breath on the stairs before exiting onto deck from the relative comfort of the dimly red light of below. The following night there is a bright moonlight, I wonder whilst on deck which I prefer as now I can clearly see the waves coming and the full scale of the storm we are locked in, I am really not so sure if I don’t prefer the darkness! All of us whom work the deck on these two nights wear full dry suits, most of us also carry personal AIS radar beacons, anyone going over the side in this would probably not be recovered without one of these, and several times I take some comfort from my decision around a year ago to purchase one of these at a little over £100, good decision fella! The three days of storm seem to last forever, again blurring into one, I sleep in wet weather gear and several times just snooze in the saloon still in dry suit and life jacket before going back onto deck. A few of those not going topside, through injury, fatigue or illness keep the hot drinks flowing as much as they can in the conditions and a hot chocolate with honey in it tastes so much the sweeter in this situation.

After a few days the winds die back to a manageable 30knots with gusts of 40+ and we start to manage our racing line course more accurately. In a twist of luck the storm has driven us further up the racing pack, we are now less than 100 miles from three boats ahead of us and the race is on once again.

We start spinnaker flying down wind and get ourselves back into surfing which continues for the next week or so. Gusts and rouge waves continue to haunt us and at least once every day there is an ‘all hands’ call to assist with recovery of a situation or drop a spinnaker. We damage and repair spinnakers almost every day and have a semi-permanent sail repair workshop established in the saloon. Broaching is common place still and passes without major concern, everyone playing their part in recovery when it occurs.

As the distance to WA drops below 1,000 miles, thoughts of arriving and getting back onto dry land lift the mood aboard. Everyone is carrying an injury of some sort from this race, all are battered and bruised, fatigue is a big issue aboard and at times our watch team is down to only 4 people, barely enough to sail the yacht. On one day we find ourselves unable to rotate roles on deck as no one can leave what they are doing, whilst potentially dangerous, this really makes us laugh and we call for help which as always arrives double quickly. Gradually the temperature increases and after three weeks I remove two layers of merino thermals and three pairs of socks for the first time, having a decent wet wipes wash all over which is a great sense of relief and makes me feel good. We all shave down to moustaches in support of ‘Movember’ and send off some media photos of this, which also helps lift the mood. Watching the mileage tick down is painfully pleasurable, 900-800-700 still seems so slow, even averaging 11knots + as we are. We set a 1 hour challenge; seeing who can cover the most milage VMG (velocity made good) towards Albany during each hour, which become much fun and competitive, also makes the boat go faster which is good news to everyone.

At around 60 miles out from Albany we realise its going to be really close and we turn up the heat to max for the last 10 hours sailing. We get visuals on other boats at around 50 miles out and by 30 miles out we are actually alongside speaking across to the crew of PSP we are so closely racing. At the finish line only 5 minutes separates 4 boats, with two of them only 2 seconds apart. Amazing finish after over 5,000 miles and three weeks at sea. We finish Ninth, which after a 600mile plus divert is an incredible achievement and we celebrate. A short stopover of five days before we depart for the race to Sydney, is barely enough for us to regroup and restock, but we take a short breather and allow crew some down time to recover. Everyone is exhausted, battered and bruised after this one, looking forward to our two week stopover in Sydney, we really need a rest now.

Much love and hugs to all at home, thank you so much for all the great messages and notes of support, they are most grateful. It is a pleasure to share the experience and I look forward to more of the same as we continue on our epic race journey.

Check out our new web site: www.derrygoround.co.uk for yet another way to follow the race, or email your name and country of origin to: dailyupdate@clipper-ventures.com for daily newsletters all the time we are at sea racing.

Bon chance tout le monde

Andrew

 

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