This clip was during a Force 8 gale on the way to the Gold Coast. As you can see on the video, we reached 20 knots while surfing. My top speed in the whole race!
One more gale on the Tasman sea
The stop over in Tauranga was great to recharge the batteries! In Geraldton, after 28 days of sailing, we only had one free day during 5 days on land. It was too short and it caused some problems later on; crew and skipper were stressed out when crossing the Southern ocean towards Tauranga. In New Zealand we had 9 days on land and 5 free days! I had time to bike around town, visit parks with geothermal lakes and go swim in pools filled with geothermal water and I visited a cave with an underwater river inhabited by the famous glow worms. It was great!
On Sunday December 4th at 1430 the race to Gold Coast started. It was a very short leg, only 1370 nm and I did not expect too much rough weather; we would sail northwest towards subtropical latitudes and warmer temperatures.
Winds up to 20 knots from the NW had us beating along the North island coast for the first 3 days. It was rainy too and not very pleasant. After we cleared the northern tip of the island, the wind backed to the West and we started to reach to Gold Coast, 1000 nm away. The weather cleared up and the sun started to burn. What a difference from sailing in the Southern ocean!
One day I was helming at night with the spinnaker up. Suddenly a loud thump was heard and I lost steering. The boat headed up and we broached. The skipper came on deck in a hurry. I thought that the steering cable had broken but the helm was still working. We checked the steering cables and quadrant and everything was ok. Our conclusion was that we hit a large animal with the rudder! Maybe a shark, maybe a dolphin, maybe a big fish, who knows? I wonder if the poor animal survived.
A low pressure system hit us when we had 800 nm to go. A gale with winds of 30 knots and gusts up to 50 knots made conditions interesting. We were sailing downwind with a full main and yankee 1. We had too much sail and once in a while we broached; the weatherhelm overpowered the steering and the boat headed into the wind. We also had to be careful not to gybe. Basically we had to steer withing a 30 degree range. The sea state was very confusing; very choppy and with some big waves up to 24 feet (8 m). As a consequence of the big waves, we had some big surf once in a while. At one point I reached 21 knots and Loyd reached 26 knots while surfing. This was exciting!
After the gale we were in 4th place. All the boats were packed together a little bit south of the rhumb line. For some reason, not yet clear to me, the skipper decided to tack and head north. I think he was betting on a wind shift that would favor us. This ended up being a bad tactical decision. The wind did not do what he expected and we dropped position to 8th place.
We had one day of sun and fair winds and then another gale came through. Wind became steady at 30 knots with gusts up to 40 knots. Even though we usually do better than the other boats during strong winds, this time we did not gain any positions, since we were so far behind.
After 9 days we arrived in Southport in the Gold Coast. Visit Finland arrived first, finally breaking the winning streak of Gold Coast, who arrived in second. DLL arrived in third and we arrived in eighth, behind Edinburgh.
After 4.5 months and over 17,000 nm I finished my participation in the Clipper race. It was an amazing experience! Racing offshore, helming through storms, changing sails under extreme conditions were moments that I will never forget. However I believe that now is the right time to stop. I have gained the experience that I expected and from now on would be more of the same. Now it is time to relax, enjoy some land traveling in Australia and Southeast Asia before going back to NY in late January 2012.
Squall approaching the coast of New Zealand
This leg has been the toughest one so far! We had a constant stream of low pressure systems through the Southern ocean, with little rest in between, we sailed through some violent squalls and during the last 150 nm we were sailing with a 40 knots gale on our nose.
The race started on a Sunday, November 6th at 1330. The wind was good, around 15 knots and we were first at the start with Gold Coast (GC) coming second. There were a couple of marks close to the beach that we had to pass before heading offshore. We were plotting and getting their bearing on the go and this was a mistake because we missed one of them and when we noticed our mistake it was too late, we fell to third place. Lesson learned; plot all the marks before the start.
The first 24 hs of the race was a reach heading straight south to Cape Leeuwin, the most southwestern point in Autralia, 350 nm away from Geraldton. We stayed more offshore than the other boats, who decided to stay closer to the shore. Later on their tactics payed off because they had a favorable current and had less miles to sail. We were now in 6th place. We should have stayed with the fleet!
A big low pressure system was forecasted to pass south of Cape Leeuwin around the time we were supposed to round it. After passing the cape, the wind started to pick up and the seas started to get bigger. These were some of the roughest seas we met so far! The waves were big, some as high as 24 feet (8m). The rough seas lasted 48 hs and we used a main sail with 2 reefs plus the staysail. There were many squalls, one in particular had very strong winds for a minute or so, around 60 knots, where the sea was foaming white. During the night I saw a rare phenomena; a moon rainbow! The moon was very bright, almost full, and there was a squall ahead of us. The moon light created a full arched rainbow! I could not distinguish any colors, it just looked silver, just like the moon surface. That was a pretty cool sight!
One tough job we had to do was when we showed up on deck for the 0600 watch and learned that the headsail (yankee 2) was wrapped around the forestay. Earlier during the night the other watch had to drop the yankee and raise the storm jib. Due to the high winds, the yankee kept flying off the deck and it wrapped itself around the forestay. It was now our job to fix this mess. The wind was still high, around 25 knots, and the seas were huge; waves of up to 30 feet (10 m). It took us around 1.5 hs and we had to stop in the middle because a big squall passed by. Another day at the office...
After this rough start the wind and seas calmed down and we were in 4th place racing toward the scoring gate. We usually gain positions on rough weather. I guess we carry more sail and on average helm better than the other boats. Driving in rough seas is not easy! The waves and the wind try to push the boat off course and you have to fight back. If you are sailing downwind you also have to be careful not to accidentally gibe; a dangerous maneuver for the boat and crew. Not everyone is able or feel comfortable driving in these conditions. I was one of the few that could handle and actually I quite enjoyed driving in rough conditions. It is an adrenaline rush, especially when the boat is surfing down a wave.
Even though we were beam reaching making great speed, we decided not to go to the scoring gate. We were more south than the other boats, therefore we concluded we would not be able to be one of the first three boats through the gate. Instead we headed towards the virtual gate south of Tasmania. At the end this was a good move, because we stayed south and had more wind than the other boats that went for the gate. We gained positions and we became 2nd place behind Gold Coast.
Since we rounded Cape Leewinn, we were experiencing the typical Southern ocean weather; a sequence of low pressure systems moving from west to east. We only had one day of high pressure and lower winds in between systems. It was great for our speed! We were averaging 10, 11, 12 knots sailing downwind. It was definitely a rush, however we paid a price for this: we started breaking things. First it was the spinnaker pole track. We were sailing wing-on-wing, poling out the yankee 2. The wind started to pick up and at one gust the boat started to head upwind fast while surfing a wave. The track could not take the pressure; the pole flew off track, sending sparks and denting the other pole on the deck. It was a mess! Later on the skipper was able to get the cars back on whatever remained of the track, so we could fly the spinnaker again.
Another day around 1630 the barometer gave us a gale warning; the pressure was dropping at a rate of 2 mbar/h. We were not expecting any low pressure system and the sky did not have any heavy clouds. We waited half hour and then decided to put up a reef. It was too late! When I was at the mast getting ready to bring down the main sail, the wind picked up very fast! A massive squall came over and the winds topped 50 for more than 8 minutes. The helmsman did not turn the boat into the wind on time and we were caught on the beam. The main sail could not come down, the boat was heeling 60 degrees and I was just holding to the mast. The rail and the boom end were in the water, the main sail was luffing violently. It was not pretty!
After a long 10 minutes the squall passed and we were able to reef. As a consequence we broke three battens and there was a 1.5m rip on the top third of the sail. If we wanted to keep racing, we would have to fix this. We lowered the main sail and set up the third reef. The skipper called all hands on deck and we started to patch the sail and the batten pockets. I was taking turns at the helm with Steph and the whole job took 20 hs. It was not an easy job; the seas were rough, we had 25 knots wind and it was cold, around 8 C. This was the toughest fix we had to do on the boat so far! While the main sail was down, we had the trysail up.
We reached our most southern point on this trip when rounding Stewart island; latitude 47 degrees 50 minutes. We then started heading north along the east coast of New Zealand. No more westerlies or big waves. We had less than 1000 nm to finish and we were estimating 4 days to Tauranga. How wrong we were! The winds became variable; some days they were very light, and sometimes they picked up. When we were about to round the East cape in the North island and start heading west towards Tauranga, a NW gale arrived. We had to tack back and forth to round the cape and to reach our destination, adding miles. There were still some wind holes and sometimes the wind became very light for a couple of minutes and suddenly it picked up to 40, 50 knots. No squalls, clear skies. People later said that this wind was very unusual in this area.
Tauranga is located in the northern part of the Bay of Plenty. This bay has a couple of islands, one of them is called the White island and it is the only marine volcano in New Zealand. It is active and there is always a plume of white vapor coming out. We have sailed by it on our way and it was an interesting sight.
After 19 days of sailing we finally arrived in Tauranga; everyone was very tired but happy to be back on land in Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud, also known as New Zealand.
Arriving in Geraldton, WA
The next destination was Geraldton in Western Australia, 4800 NM away. The race started at 1430 on Wednesday, October 5th. It was a sunny, beautiful day in Cape Town! The start was at Table bay and the winds were light. We and a couple of other boats decided to stay close to shore and ended up stuck in a big wind hole! We were drifting until night with Cape Town still a couple of miles away. Meanwhile Gold Coast, Xingdao, Geraldton and DLL went around Robeen island and caught better wind. Bad start! Later at night the wind finally picked up and we started to move.
One of the reasons we did not do well on the previous leg was because we did not have a clear racing strategy. This time we decided to come up with a plan before the start. We were going to sail straight south until we hit latitude 40 S and then go east towards the scoring gate located between lat. 40 S and 45 S at long. 55 E. We needed the points! We would keep heading east until around longitude 95 E where we would start heading NE towards Geraldton.
The reason we had to sail straight south and not southeast from Cape Town is due to the Agulhas bank, a very large sandbar located at the southern tip of Africa that extends up to 150 NM into the sea. The ocean depth drops from thousands of meters to just tens of meters in some places and as a consequence very large waves can be formed in rough weather . The local charts warn of "Abnormal waves" in this region! The worse situation is if you have a SW wind that goes right against the Agulhas current. This is a very strong warm current (2 to 4 knots) that runs along the South Africa shore from NE to SW. In order to avoid meeting these abnormal waves, we had to sail around the bank. No wonder it took a couple of years until the Portuguese could sail around the Cape of Good Hope.
On the second day we were heading NE just outside the bank. We were sailing well, making 10 knots over water but only 6 knots over ground; we were sailing against the Agulhas current! We checked that by measuring the water temperature, it was 23 C. Later we tacked and started heading SE and soon the water temperature dropped to 19 C. We were free from the current and moving fast again over ground.
One of the main features of this leg is that we were going to cross the famous Southern Ocean; the seas below latitude 40 S. This ocean is famous because it surrounds the globe without any major landmass blocking it. As a consequence weather systems and waves run across it without any interruption. Very strong winds and big waves are common. Among sailors these latitudes are known as the roaring 40s, furious 50s and the screaming 60s!
Around the 4th day we did a very good run, 72 NM in 6 hours, a speed average of 12 knots! As a consequence we jumped from 5th to 2nd place! We believe an ocean current gave us a 4 knots boost!
A couple of days later we met our first low pressure system. We had winds of 35 knots with gusts up to 60 knots. We sailed well and guaranteed a second place at the scoring gate, giving us 2 points.
One day one of the boats, DLL, reported seeing two icebergs! They were 30 NM south of us and that prompted the race comitee to ask all the boats to head north. We were extra cautious that night during our watch. If we hit an iceberg it would be a serious issue! Luckily no more icebergs were reported and it seemed to be an isolated incident.
We kept heading east and a second weather system caught us. This one had 40 knots winds from the NW with gusts up to 60 knots. It lasted 30 hours and it left us quite tired! There were some big waves and some breakers. During the night a very large wave hit the side of the boat and I was almost thrown overboard! I had just transferred the helm to the skipper and I wanted to go downstairs to get a drink. I unhooked my lifeline and then suddenly a huge amount of water pushed me over. I was holding the binnacle frame for dear life! I hit the skipper's leg and I was holding to him. I was not attached to the boat and if I went overboard it would be game over! It was dark, windy and there were large waves; it would be almost impossible to find me and bringing me back onboard would be very difficult. It would have been a nightmare situation! Everyone else on deck was also thrown around, but I was the only one unhooked at the time. This was a close one.
After this system passed we had a couple of days with good wind and good weather. We were heading east on a tight race with DLL and Gold Coast. We were close to each other fighting for positions. The next tactical decision was to decide when to start heading NE towards Geraldton. At this point we had jut passed the Kerguelen islands, half the way into the race, still 2400 NM to go. We had been at sea for 2 weeks.
The GRIBS files showed a very large high pressure system developing right on the path to Geraldton. We started heading NE around longitude 86 E. We had nice breeze the first couple of days but soon we reached the center of the high and the wind dropped and became very variable. We still had 1000 NM to go and it was a tight race among the boats for position.
DLL was south of us and got better wind and took the second place. The boats behind had more wind and they could see in advance where the holes were. Visit Finland (VF) took advantage and headed north, taking the northern side of the high pressure system. They caugth up with us and became a threat to our third place.
On the night before arriving at Geraldton, there was a gale with 30 knots winds and we sailed pretty well. We gained 14 miles on VF and we were more secure of our position. Around 10 AM on November 2nd we were 12 miles away from Geraldton when the wind died. We could not wait to arrive and after 1.5 hs drifting we see VF flying their spinnaker south of us. They caught the sea breeze first, but minutes later it hit us. We sailed as fast as we could and we crossed the finish line 20 minutes ahead of them. It was a tense and close finish!
After sailing 5000 NM in 27 days we finally arrived in Terra Australis Incognita in third place. The Geraldton Yacht Club had cold beer and a BBQ waiting for us. Beer never tasted so good!
As mentioned on my previous post, we had some rough days when crossing the South Atlantic. In this video you can see Raghu falling over when the boat heads up during a strong gust and I show up driving at 1:26 when a big wave hits the boat. On the video below you can see some of the big sweells we were heading. So
A friendly white shark swimming by me.
One of the great attractions of Cape Town is Nature. Not only the landscape is amazing, with lots of beaches and mountains by the sea, but also the wildlife. I went cage diving with white sharks in Gansbaai, 2hs by car east of Cape Town. It was great, just like on TV! They use fish heads as bait to attract the sharks right close to the cage. I also climbed Table mountain, where you have amazing views of the city, the cape and the sea. Unfortunately I did not have much free time for sightseeing, due to race preparations. I also really enjoyed the food here. There are great restaurants! I have to come back to Cape Town!
View of Madeira island
On August 31st at 1630 we started the race. There was a big boat parade down the Southampton bay with dozens of private boats and yachts following us plus the navy ship HMS Intrepid just behind us. The starting line was in front of Cowes on the Island of Wight. The wind was strong, around 20 knots and we started heading east on the Solent.
On the first night the winds got very light. We were off the coast of France and we had to anchor to avoid being pushed back by the tide current. We put out over 100 feet of rode and luckily the anchor set. We hold ground until the tide reversed.
On the Bay of Biscay we met our first depression. This bay is famous for its storms because it is the final destination of most low pressure systems crossing the North Atlantic. For 24 hs we had winds up to 35 knots and waves up to 3 meters. It was not comfortable in the boat! It was the same day that I had to be a mother (galley and cleaning duties) and I felt sick most of the day.
Cape Finisterre marks the southern tip of the Bay of Biscay and we were happy to arrive there. We thought we would not meet another storm until Madeira, but another low pressure system came over. Not as severe as the first one, but we still had 30 knots of wind and big seas. After this storm we had only sunny, warm days and starry nights, downwind sailing with the kite all the way to Madeira. Happy sailing!
We were match racing Visit Finland down the Spanish coast. They decided to stay close to shore while we tacked and headed offshore. They got lifted along the shore and got better wind and gained on us. Later GC headed for the shore also and eventually took over VF. We had two days of light wind and lost position to both of them. Derry was 50 NM behind us and we had to watch out not to lose our 3rd place.
We spent 2 days in Madeira. It is a beautiful volcanic island, with lots of hills and mountains.The airport is built on a gigantic bridge along the water due to the lack of flat space! Their seafood is very good and a famous dish is Espada fish with banana. It is a great place worth a visit when crossing the Atlantic.
I arrived yesterday at noon at the Clipper marina and started working right away: checking lifejackets, changing all the lines, cleaning the boards, checking the rig, etc. Lots of things to do before we start racing. Today some people are doing the victualing; buying all the food. They have to separate all the meals in bags, in order to be easier to find what we have to cook each day. We have already gotten a few kilograms of free chocolate from Mars!
Another interesting bit: They are shooting a reality show and our boat will be featured on the first leg. A journalist will be part of the crew and they are fitting cameras in the galley and the saloon. It will be Big Brother on the high seas!
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My boat is called New York, so as a crew uniform we chose the classic "I love NY" logo. Since I am the only NYC resident among the crew, I volunteered to buy the uniform.
I spent Saturday afternoon in Times Square looking like a tourist and bargaining for the best price. I managed to get a t-shirt + hat for $12/person. Not bad! Now I have to figure it out how to pack and carry 48 hats and t-shirts all the way to England.