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.
Race start day, Sunday 1st September, will forever be deep in my memory as one of the most amazing days in my life. After so much time and planning we were finally presented on stage early on Sunday morning in our respective race team colours to crowds of thousands in and around St Katharine Dock marina basin. Soon to be followed by tens of thousands more lining Tower Bridge & the south bank, 20 deep in places, as we exited and paraded our sails under the bridge which was raised specially for us to pass. To further top it all we were followed down the Thames as far as the Barrier by a massive flotilla of support, media and spectator boats, many of which had crew friends and family aboard, my parents on one waving and cheering us along the way, saying goodbye for a year ahead.
A good many close friends and family visited the marina and race village during the week prior to race start in St Katts, and I took the time out of my work schedule during race preparation to share the race experience with them and show them around our boat. I have said many times before how lucky I feel I am to be able to do this, and it would be selfish of me not to share it wherever I possibly can.
We paraded our way out of London and into the estuary mouth near to Southend for the night, where we anchored overnight and discussed final race tactics, splitting into two watch teams. The skipper allocated watch duties and I was allocated as assistant watch leader. Wow, what an honour, I felt touched and really quite proud to have been given this opportunity for the first leg to Brest and all the way on down to Rio. I had been assistant watch leader on the 300 mile offshore delivery race to London from Gosport, and in the second half of that week, after dropping off our watch leader in Brighton, I was promoted to watch leader for the second half of the delivery. However for all of leg one, all the way to Rio, on my first ocean race crossing, I was stoked to have been given this, and thanked Sean afterwards, promising to work hard and do my best for the team. It was a high level of responsibility at an early stage in the race for me. When the skipper sleeps the watch leaders basically have responsibility over the crew and the boat’s safety. I have never been afraid of taking responsibility in life, and I have worked and trained hard for this, but this is still a big step for me, two years ago I had never sailed before and now, as we rotate over the next few weeks there will be many times when I am singly responsible for the whole boat and the crew.
The watch system on LegenDerry works with two watches of 9/10 people each. You share a bunk with your opposite number in the other watch, as whilst you work opposite shifts you are never both sleeping at the same time. Within each watch of 10 people, there is a nominated media person, bowman, medic and engineer. A watch leader runs the deck work, sailing manoeuvres and trim. The assistant watch leader manages the team, the tactics, navigation, radar and all below deck works and boat systems. The watch leaders and assistant watch leaders deputise for each other in rotation to get some extra rest whenever possible, as once the racing gets going you never really sleep for more than two hours at time, and at times when its full on, we are on deck for extended periods which can be 24+ hours.
Next morning we had a full racing start with all 12 boats jostling for position just off the end of South end pier. We were followed by media chase boats and helicopters for most of the day, and as the racing got close and we hoisted our massive race and sponsor branded spinnakers for the down wind sprint out to sea, the resulting photos and tv live stream from this, I am reliably informed, was a pretty magnificent spectacle.
We raced hard and fast down to Brest, with never a few miles in it between us & Henri Lloyd vying for the lead neck & neck. Then with a dying wind, dangerous closing sea fog to virtually zero visibility and some pretty big corporate commitments awaiting us in Brest port, the race office called the race early with a ‘two hours to finish’ notification to a new finish line. The new finish line was further south of where we were strategically positioned to gain advantage on the original course, and we stood no chance of making it, finishing joint eighth in the pack, a bitter disappointment after leading so clearly and working hard for so long. We did however work really well as a team aboard our new yacht and proved she was a fast contender. We all agreed it was a long race ahead and this had positioned us as a contender to beat.
After a few days stopover in Brest making final adjustments and repairs, plus some final fresh stores loaded including some amazing local garlic & onions from a friend’s Brittany farm close by, we started race two just off the coast of North western France. We absolutely nailed the start and led once again from the outset, totally fired up after our Brest race 1 defeat. We led the pack and crept out a lead across the fleet of nearly 200 miles in the first few days.
As we made our way further offshore into the North Atlantic, across the Bay of Biscay out to the north west of the Canary Islands we picked up some bigger Atlantic swells and a good strong reliable force 4/5 north westerly, our first chance to really wind up CV30 LegenDerry properly offshore and see how she performed. We lined her up, trimmed the sail pattern to match perfectly the conditions, and then set about balancing her on the swell. With each progressively larger wave and steady breeze we surfed her along at 15-16 then 17 knots, she felt absolutely amazing, so perfectly balanced and true, starting to hum and vibrate gently above 15 knots. We moved some weight around both above and below decks, shifting our emergency water supplies and all other heavy stores into central locations primarily around the keel and mast base to help with the balance, all crew not involved in sail trim and helming moved up and sat on the high side rail. Not long after this the big cheer went up – she topped 20 knots for the first time. To put this into perspective, consider that she is 24m long and 5.5m wide at her widest point, with a mast almost 30m high supporting a main sail bigger than a tennis court and a set of fore sails almost the size of a football field, and right now you could very easily water ski behind her. She is kicking up a small rooster tail at the transom and her bow is slicing through all but the really big waves ahead which crash over her and rinse us all thoroughly on their way over the deck to spill off the aft. We continued to race her hard all afternoon eventually squeezing a magical top speed of 24.8 knots by the end of the afternoon. This set us thinking about the potential speeds ahead later in the race, we have previously speculated about 35-40 knots in the Southern ocean, and based upon these early results this appears comfortably achievable.
We raced hard onwards to the first scoring gate and in a last minute play out with Henri Lloyd we popped them for the three bonus race points and passed through the gate well to the west and a few miles ahead of them, which gave us a great point of sail out back towards the rhum line south west and onwards towards Rio.
Still holding the lead we arrived at the dreaded doldrums and lay becalmed on and off for nearly seven days. Totally frustrating and hard work staying alert to make use of every single breath of wind 24 hours a day and constantly changing our sail set to maximise whatever we could. Amazing experience to go from absolute flat calm with no breeze to 20 knot wind and heeled right over doing 15 knots plus, then right back to nothing again as the conditions circulated around us. The frustrations of this, coupled with the at times unbearable heat, 40+ degrees below deck 24 hours a day and 85% humidity above, making it virtually impossible to sleep, dripping with sweat, sapping energy levels. We increased our liquid intake up to 6 litres a day, and were still dehydrated. On occasion during the big storms we showered on deck using the rain water running off the main sail which was extremely welcome and refreshing after a week at sea. We also collected some of this water in buckets and once becalmed again used it for washing and rinsing our clothes, our limited fresh water supplies aboard are far too precious for this use, then drying them in the sun & heat in seconds.
After some seven days of fighting with drifts, squalls and the slight & erratic doldrum wind we picked up the first of the south west trade winds and turned to head for Rio. Some beautiful sailing, very much appreciated after spending what seemed like an age becalmed. A few days later we crossed the equator, at 06:00 local time on the 29th September, to a beautiful sunrise. All 20 crew held the helm together as one as we crossed over from Northern hemisphere to Southern Hemisphere finally becoming a ‘shellback’ no longer a ‘polywog’. These are the mythical names given to those whom have, and have not, sailed across the equator. Later that afternoon we were visited by ‘king Neptune’ himself and his assistant ‘Davy Jones’ (aka our skipper and a crew member shellback dressed up as them) for a ceremonial completion of our crossing. We offered up a toast to Neptune, made up of anything red and spicy, Tabasco, chilli, tomato sauce and marmite were apparently the key ingredients! Then followed this with king Neptune’s pancakes, a raw egg mixture poured over us, then dusted with flour. Finally a lock of hair from us each, cut deep with hair clippers by Neptune, leaving a bald exposed white patch on each crew members head. Those that know me well, will know there is not much to cut deep into here, so to much joyous crew laughter, I now have a deep cut bald patch equator scar on my chest, which still itches now!
Breaking free from the equator we were the lead boat in the second pack of three, putting us fourth or fifth on course to Rio, once again fighting it out with Henri Lloyd, our nemesis so far on the first two races. We extended a lead and headed deeper west. Then as we turned and prepared for the ocean sprint, Henri Lloyd appeared on the horizon east of us, over the next few hours our respective courses converged and they passed behind us by no more than 100m. Over 2,000 miles of ocean racing and now mid Atlantic, it was quite something to be this close to them. We worked extremely hard for the ocean sprint, 300 miles from 5 degrees south to 10 degrees south, with little or no sleep for several days, around 75 miles from the finish of the sprint we realised we would have a chance to catch the lead pack if we broke away west and sacrificed the sprint for overall race position. This was a tough decision after 3 nights with no sleep during the sprinting. We broke away west and cracked our code 2 spinnaker for some amazing downwind port tack sailing for the next 3-4 days, and a chance to recover slightly as the team were now really feeling the effects of the heat of the doldrums followed by the scoring gate & sprint workloads now. We rested in rotation and 4 days out from Rio, we turned the heat back up and raced our hardest forward and onwards again. We were ,otivated by a possible podium place and the thoughts of arrival in Rio for a shower, some good food & drink, and an opportunity to catch up with family & friends after being at sea for nearly a month now.
We saw a number of small pods of dolphin along the way and a few different birds, my favourite of which were the various Petrels which often followed us for hours, individually or occasionally in pairs. They would dive in from behind the boat, cruise around forward to one side then back to the other, then back away and start the whole cycle again. They had obviously evolved to learn boats were a meal ticket to the thousands of flying fish we saw along the entire route. The flying fish occasionally broke the surface in huge flocks of several hundred at a time, swooping and twisting along the surface before burying themselves in the next big wave. The Petrels were hunting these fish and would wait for ever until an opportunity arose to swoop, then they were like fighter planes zipping across the waves twisting and turning behind the flying fish and occasionally catching one. The most spectacular wildlife sight was the bioluminescence in the waters at night. Sometimes this was just small flecks barely visible. Once or twice it was a mass of hundreds of large ballon shapes, obviously a ‘flock’ of jelly fish, apparently known as a ‘smack’, cascading away behind the boat like balloons being released to the wind but lighting up the darkness with a soft green/blue hue. Then the very best show, which is thousands upon thousands of small flecks within the bow waves of the boat on both sides, like a welders sparks flying away from the wake as we crashed forwards, the light this omitted was sufficient to light the darkest of nights and illuminate the whole deck. I would have so loved to have filmed or photographed this spectacle but all attempts failed with my limited camera equipment, and it shall now be confined to memory, but oh what a memory.
As we headed further and further south, the trade winds picked us up and we some of the very best sailing so far on this race, endless hours of trim trim trim on the same sail set to make the boat go faster. Great time to review our strategy again and see how we could best use the weather and wind to our advantage. A few days out from Rio and yet again it’s our nemesis Henri Lloyd directly next to us and we are called to step up again to push ahead, thousands of miles of ocean racing and they are still in sight, great competition between us two boats. We pulled away and set our sights on OneDLL and despite our very best efforts we could not catch them and finished about 3.5 miles behind them for an admirable 6th place, plus 3 bonus points for the scoring gate, after 5,350 miles travelled. Pulling into Rio over the finish line at shortly after 10pm local time was amazing, right under the lights of the city, Christ the redeemer and sugarloaf mountain, awesome skyline and a warm welcome from many friends and family waiting to greet us in. Wonderful to see recognisable faces on the dock as we slip into our moorings, and some great hugs and welcomes all around.
We are very happy with the result, we do feel like we missed out a little being about a day late released from the dreaded doldrums, but great racing all the way here, all crew and the boat are fit and well which is the best great news. Much work now to do as ever whilst here in Rio, 5 crew are leaving us and 6 joining so orientation training with them, plus a couple of corporate sailing days which leaves us little or no time for sightseeing. We will however take a half day out and go to see Christ the redeemer and sugarloaf mountain briefly before we leave on Saturday 12th for the race down south and across the southern Atlantic to Cape Town. Look out Henri Lloyd and OneDLL we are on the case again. 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.
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Bon chance tout le monde