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.