Spinlock Brand Ambassador Blog
Race 3 by Timothy Morgan
They say everything is a matter of perspective. To change a perspective though, it seems you must sometimes pass all your known barriers, limits and breaking points.
I was massively apprehensive going into Leg 2. When talking to new crew on Zhuhai over a pint in Punta del Este they couldn’t understand why after sailing across both Atlantics that I would consider this short hop back over the South Atlantic anything other than a walk in the park. But in the last few days before arrival, the weather had taken a noticeable turn on a trend I expected to continue - and indeed it did: Cold, Wet and Grey. Admittedly this is perhaps a personal problem, I'm one of those people that always struggles with the cold. Still, better get used to it. The Southern and Pacific Oceans would bring much worse.
We left Punta del Este for the start of Race 3: The Spinlock South Atlantic Showdown with another brilliant match race around a course in the bay before going our separate ways; or maybe not so separate. For the first five days, we were sailing downwind in good breeze with spinnakers flying and jostled for position with the fleet rarely out of visual range. All very similar to Race 2 but always much cooler. Night watches required several layers to keep warm and the extra time needed to don these caught others and me out making us late for watch change more than once.
What kept us on our toes the most in this first week however, was the ever-present danger of the sail repair teams worst nightmare - a spinnaker wrap. In the event the helm allows the boat to wander off course too far downwind, of course, the sail collapses and throws itself around the forestays in a tight knot that is extremely difficult to undo and often results in torn fabric. Our worst encounter happened (as with every disaster) at night.
Just minutes before watch change shouting from on deck indicated all was not well. We scrambled upstairs to be presented with the sight of our Code 1 half its normal size and now at one with the forestay. A team of us pulling on sheets (the controlling lines) with all our body weight could do nothing and in fact, watched it wrap twice more before our first mate Lyndsay appeared in a climbing harness planning to go up the mast and physically pull the sail down. What could possibly go wrong? Half an hour or so later down, she flew once more out of the night sky like some sort of superhero bringing the sail with her. Miraculously this time no damage was found to the sail! On other occasions, we weren't so lucky with members of the team spending days below deck repairing tears.
Day 7 bought a briefing from skipper Dave that the weather was going to build. Our days of kite flying for this race were behind us as we made the switch to heavier, more durable sails. In one watch we gradually reduced sail from full Main to reef 3 (its smallest setup) with winds building to match. On the next watch the sea state had built to match. In every advertisement of the Clipper Race we are told about 'waves the size of houses', but nothing can prepare you for watching 10-metre walls slide towards the boat and now or then breaking over it. The prospect of helming in these conditions was too much and I all but broke down to one of my crewmates. I crawled back into my bunk, soaked to the skin and freezing cold six hours later having done very little that watch.
Over a few days and with a brief lull in the wind, we became accustomed to our new way of life. The whole boat rolled continuously meaning anything not pinned down flew around and went missing very quickly. Imagine trying to prepare a meal inside a washing machine. Life below decks was a grim existence that certainly didn't bring any respite. Condensation on the walls and ceiling dripped continuously soaking everything; I didn't leave my bunk without a drysuit for days and still was damp. On deck, however, everything was suddenly worth it. I had regained my confidence on the helm and the boat was absolutely flying. Surfing waves at 20+ knots brings an adrenaline rush like nothing else as you wrestle for control. Freak waves continued breaking over the boat without warning. I misjudged one wave and watched a wall of water the height of our boom unleashed itself over the deck throwing the cockpit crew and myself at helm sideways. Amazingly it was laughed off, but we were all very glad to be tethered on, myself doubled.
It was in the last 48 hours of Race 3 as Cape Town neared that we commented on deck; "Such great weather today". But when I look back it was still similar conditions, if not worse than that first week where I had longed to go back to the warmer latitudes. In some ways I'm glad that Leg 2 has been so rough as it has prepared us a little for what the Southern Ocean has to throw at us. Famous last words, I know. We'll see.
Read more about Timothy Morgan here.