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!