Leg 7, Week 6 and a bit: Trimming with Colin

It would seem I’ve  a bit slow putting these up – oooops! May 2016

The brief nature of our Panama stopover means that we’ve all been counting down to New York since this race began. Again and again, conversation turns to what we’ll do there, what we’ll eat, how we will prioritise a duvet day. Despite 44 hours on land in Panama, it still feels like we’ve come straight through from Seattle having suffered all of the adjustment drawbacks from a stopover with none of the refreshment.

As of the beginning of this week though, somehow we’re with the front pack of boats. Miracle! For once, we have boats all around us and visible on our navigation system to compare against. To make sure we stay in the front pack, the focus is now on adjusting the sails constantly (“trimming”) for maximum speed, quite a change from the previous race where sails could be put up and left for days. Now, there are always a couple of us stationed on the grinder, ready to grind like hell whenever required to adjust the code 1 Spinnaker when we’re flying it. Whilst the trimming seems to be paying off for boat speed, the previous harmony of our watch has been disrupted, terse words being exchanged as sail changes and adjustments are debated by the experienced sailors on board. I’m just happy to do what I’m told being still consciously incompetent at this sailing malarkey. 

Over the previous week, we raced up past Jamaica and are now just north of Cuba, the Caribbean Sea darling. Notes from home muse about how beautiful it must be sailing through the Caribbean islands. Have we seen any islands though? Have we hell. It’s like the coast of Mexico all over again, just blue, blue, blue with the occasional bump in the distance pretending to be land. To be fair, we have seen genuine land a couple of times by the end of the week, but it’s mere bumps on the horizon or more often than not, giant ships masquerading as land. The Caribbean Sea is different to the Pacific though. At night, there is more glittering phosphorescence in the wake of the boat. In daylight, there is less wildlife but more seaweed (and boats) bobbing about everywhere. The amount of seaweed proved to be a bit of a problem one day as a large chunk of it accumulated on our keel, slowing us down. Apparently it was nothing that a 360 turn couldn’t rectify and The nights are a little is was true. Round and round in circles…


Slowly, it’s getting a touch cooler too as we progress north, the sweat a little less intense as we lie in our bunks particularly at night. I’ve even cracked out the silk sleeping bag liner on occasion, I’d forgotten what it was. Having said that, I’m now at the point where my bunk it truly disgusting as the nature of sharing means it never really has time to air and dry from the sweat bath it continues to get. I’m hoping to get it up on deck and dry it our during mother watch which will now be with my bunk buddy Jon “The Koala”. The sheets we have on the mattress are a lost cause though, only boiling the life out of them may return them to a state of cleanliness. Thought you would appreciate these grim details!

This week, we’ve finally had stars again like we did during the first week out of Seattle. You’d think that this would be a more common occurrence, but a combination of the moon waxing and waning plus nightly storms meant stars were a rarity on the approach to Panama. They are back out in all of their glory, as have been our vocal chords this week trying to stay away during the night watches. More than once, 4 of us have been singing a diverse array of songs to help the time go by, from hymns to hip hop. What all of the songs are united by is our lack of knowledge around the words, everyone having perhaps a chorus sung before we move onto the next one in search of lyrics we know.

It’s 14.13 boat time on Saturday 4th June and we’ve just crossed the scoring gate line for this race in (fingers crossed!) FIRST PLACE! We’re about 70 miles ahead of most of the other boats, the only boat potentially threatening our position being Garmin who are currently in stealth mode. Sneaky Garmin. This is the first time Visit Seattle has ever crossed a scoring gate line with the potential of scoring and combined with the ocean sprint points we won could make this our most successful leg ever. Woohoo! As we crossed the finish line, I was in the nav station making sure the position and timing was recorded for posterity and then Boom, out with the celebratory tunes on deck. It’s now just 950 miles to New York albeit with some fruitier weather on the way in the form of Tropical Storm Colin (what a brilliant name for a storm!). Time to get back on the Stugeron I think. Gulp.

It was later revealed that sneaky Garmin in had been sneaky and passed the Scoring Gate around 15 miles ahead of us. We’re not ones to complain though – second place = 2 extra points which will make a difference at our end of the leaderboard. Woohoo!

The combination of Colin plus rough weather meant that for the remainder of this race, all energy was focused on keeping the good ship Visit Seattle sailing as fast as possible rather than blogging, taking photos or anything else. That’s why the details will now appears little sparse…

https://youtu.be/Nkt6NHZ5AVU

Tropical Storm Colin (seriously, “Colin?!”) was quite brilliant as a taster storm. At no other point during the leg had we had really rough weather, so in many ways, it was good to experience one in preparation for the Atlantic. The storm hit good and proper whilst I was off watch but matured as we were on deck. What seemed huge to me (nothing compared to Leg 6 Pacific of course) waves rolled across, water spraying off the tops of them. Everything was grey, grey and awesome. What I’ll never forget it how our 35-tonne boat surfed down waves during this storm: we’d have 2 planes of water on either side of the boat of azure blue water as we made the most of each wave. at one point whilst crawling up to the bow, my foot was on the edge of the boat when one of these plumes sprang up, I was convinced this was going to end very, very soggily for me but instead it was a blue wall rising up that never came onto the deck. Very cool. As Colin was a taster storm, he only ended up lasting about 8 hours but we had rough sea states for a good day afterwards as residue.
It was then the final 2/3 days of the race, spent with a sense of nervous apprehension on the boat. We knew we were in 3rd and that we had GB, Lmax and Derry behind, all of which have reputations of going fast and being on the podium. GB was the key threat, first 20 miles behind, then just 15 for the final 2 days, now 15 miles is not much of a gap – could we hold onto our position and stay ahead? Bob kept us positive with brief motivational speaches during happy hour (and peanut butter crackers). Amancio, our navigator as well as victualler, was constantly asked “how are we doing?” By everyone he passed. He should have had his answer recorded so he could just press play. We were all curious as It was now crucial that we did everything we could to maintain our lead, a key tactic being to ensure at helms steered as straight a course as possible to get us to the finish as quickly as possible. Now, I’ve had a couple of occasions where I have done some cracking s-bends whilst steering so I was very conscious that I may not be the best person to be steering. This did really get to me once where after 15 minutes of trying and failing to hold a straight course, I had to call it quits: the pressure was a bit too much at this stage of the race

Finally, at some random point in the ocean, we crossed an imaginary finish line to claim our first ever podium in the entire race. Around 5 miles before hand (so about half an hour) I was woken with the rest of the off-watch for the occasion. Everyone was on deck cheering as we counted down to the final point, a very small cup of prosecco given to each person in celebration. We couldn’t quite believe it: we’d actually claimed 3rd place and we’d done it super speedily. It had taken us just 10 days in the end to complete a course that should have taken at least 2 weeks. To New York!

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