A nice Tasmanian coastal cruise…

SO probably by now you’ve all figured out that we are no longer racing in the Sydney – Hobart. But we are all safe and well and are now proceeding gently down the coast of Tasmania. The sun is shining and there’s plenty of time for bird watching, as well as plenty of birds to watch. The StoH rules forbid any mention of weather in any blogs, which made it a bit hard to write anything at all earlier. But we really did have an amzing experience, starting the race in that mass of boats, seeing the big name, big boats up close, and careering with everybody through the spectator fleet and out through the heads. Definitely a once in a lifetime thing. It was unusual for us to be racing against so many boats – the first night we were part of a little galaxy of nav lights, surrounded, it seemed, by boats of all shapes and sizes. By morning, though, we could only see 2 or 3 sails nearby. Friday night was the most beautiful sailing – the winds a bit light, for sure, but it was the kind of warm and starlit night we haven’t had since we left the Atlantic. We were all enjoying being able to get up on deck so quickly after wake-up, without having to pile on the familiar layers of foulies. And of course, as Saturday morning dawned and the winds increased, we were enjoying being in the lead among our CLipper competitors, as well as the fast sailing, surfing the waves at over 20 knots again.
But it wasn’t to last – we cold hear strange noises from one of the rudders – it was no good trying to convince ourelves that buckets and boards were moving about in the lazarette. It was ‘all hands on deck’ to get the kite down, slowing the boat and taking pressure off the rudder. It must have looked very strange on the tracker when we turned in completely the wrong direction for an hour or so. We were trying to heel the boat over as far as possible, to get the affected rudder out of the water so that James and Nick, among others, could try to do something about the rudder-bearing problem. THey ere getting bounced horribly in the lazarette – with full main and backed staysail, the rail was constantly in the water and the spray was flyng spectacularly. Just to prove that **** happens, we had also lost hold of a halyard (jon!) and it was swinging wildly to leeward (we wondered if we might catch a shark with it), and the staysail sheet suddenly broke, too, to add, at least temporarily, to the excitement. Well, you probably know the rest – we can’t solve the issue out here. We had to reduce sail, and head towards the lee of the islands that would give us some shelter form the predicted nasty weather. We’ve had a wet and uncomfortable night (or those on deck did – I was mother, attempting to sleep through it all), but now in the lee of Tasmania thinngs are dryer and calmer. We’re a disappointed bunch, but we’ll fight back. Actually, fighting back and coming from behind might be what we’re best at, after all.

Sydney – finally

Tomorrow we leave for the Sydney-Hobart race, so before I forget everything I'll try to set down something about our arrival in Sydney, and our time here. I think when I left you, we were still in stealth, and had Derry, DLL, and Qingdao in our sights. It was an exciting day, as in the morning we could see 2 tiny clipper sails on the horizon far ahead. “Go get'em”, Eric said, and we did. We seem do well against the others going downwind with the kite up. As the sunny morning progressed we were able to identify Qing Dao by the red on her mainsail, out to sea and ahead. The funny thing was she was not flying a kite, and did not raise one until we had practically passed her. Had the crew just woken Gareth, we wondered?

After a squally afternoon, with impressive purple and grey clouds streaming rain and swooping down on us all from time to time, obscuring one boat or another from view, we spotted another sail, close inshore – this turned out to be Derry, and DLL was furthest ahead, but much closer now. By late afternoon we all converged on Green Cape – Derry still closest to the shore and flying along with her number 1, in the lead I think, with DLL 2nd, and us in third, Qing Dao heading inshore crossing our stern in 4th. Exciting times, we must all have been within 1 mile of each other.

That evening Eric outlined his possibly risky strategy – rather than hugging the coast to keep out of the current, and following Derry and DLL, he wanted to head further out, into the strong contrary current, but with the chance of better wind and better surfing waves. If, as he predicted, the high pressure over the land bubbled out over the coast, we might be able to get round it without getting completely stalled, and benefit eventually from the stronger wind the other side of it. The risk was that we would not be able to sail fast enough, and would instead get stuck in the wind hole ourselves. But in 3rd place there was no point just following the boats ahead – doing something different could bring big rewards.

So we gybed and headed out to sea in the gathering darkness, with Qing Dao apparently deciding to follow us, her nav lights clearly in sight. I was quite surprised, next time I came on watch, to find that she had gybed in the darkness and headed inshore again – the offshore strategy was supposed to be an all or nothing thing. I also had a moment of dejection, when waking early in the morning I misheard what Donato was telling us, and thought that Derry was 20 odd miles ahead. I was so relieved to get on deck and find out that they had indeed sailed into a near shore wind hole, and were now that many miles behind!

That last morning we saw another Clipper astern – but her ÀIS was off, and we could not be sure who she was – we thought she was Qingers, in stealth, and that DLL was in shore with Derry. Eventually it became clear that she was DLL, and Qing Dao was close by,but out of sight. We were in the lead! It was quite a tense day of sailing, dealing with the changeable conditions. Eventually the wind settled down, we had made it round the high – but the new wind was coming directly from Sydney, it seemed, so we had a long and weary afternoon and evening of beating, tacking, beating – almost reminiscent of Cabo Frio. But this time we were not goi g to let the others sail past us. We kept a fairly conservative sail plan, but even so, each outward tack resulted in a horrible slamming and juddering motion that made it impossible to get any real rest below. By nightfall we were tired, but it was clear we would not get in until the early hours of he morning. It is amazing how slow progress seems, once the lights of a city are in sight.

Eventually, though, we made it to the Sydney heads. We briefly had a single dolphin, accompanying us as we identified the right leading lights, and were finally able to bear away from the wind and head in. The wind got lighter and lighter, we were moving almost silently as we entered the harbor, the city lights spreading out all around us and reflecting on the water. We heard voices from a headland, shouting indistinctly – drunken 2am revellers, we first thought, until we heard “Go Henri Lloyd!”, and Jon said thought he recognized his brother's voice. “Concentrate on the race” was Eric's mantra – obviously concerned that we could be drifting and becalmed for hours, allowing the others to sail around us. But things weren't that bad – we did raise the wind seeker, and got some long-threatened gybing practice in on our way towards shark island and the finish – we were getting quite good by the last one! And then we were there – not even a RIB from Clipper to witness us crossing the line, we just had to record our finishing time ourselves and call it in to the office.

So there was the usual tired struggle to flake the main (we are BAD at it) and tidy everything up, find our mooring lines, fenders, and white jackets to be photo ready before the Clipper RIB came out to guide us into Rushcutter's Bay. Sam and James, mothers for the day, valiantly cooked up the last of the bacon to sustain us, but I don't think many crew had time to enjoy it. It was pretty much light by the time we tied up – Eric's Mom, Sally, was on the dock waiting, as well as Jon's brother and parents, who had had plenty of time to drive round from their headland viewpoint.

As well as congratulations, our mail, and the usual beer and soft drinks, Gillian from Clipper delivered the news that we had 1 hour to get everything we needed for the next 3 days off the boat, as she was going to be lifted out of the water in an hour! Everything we needed included the sails,so we could work on them, and all poor injured Angus' possessions, as the Clipper insurance sorted out the care he needed. As we'd all been without sleep for at least the last 18 hours, and in Eric's case much longer, you can imagine the chaos that ensued – we really had no time to enjoy our first place finish before Eric and 3 crew set off with Henrietta for the boatyard, and the rest of us wandered into early morning Sydney in search of breakfast and wifi. We were a strangely displaced and rootless crew in that first day after our first race win, with our home taken away for us before we'd even had time to clean it – quite surreal.

Early morning in Rushcutter's Bay

Rushcutter's Bay Arrival

 

Race 5 Photos – turning the corner

Once we rounded the bottom of Tasmania, it became a different race.

Leaving thenSouther Ocean behind:

Will at the helm

Leaving the Southern Ocean behind

In the evening, headed towards the Bay of Storms:

Qing Dao in the morning – after we caught them they woke up, and finally raised the kite
Another evening – our shadows as we perch on the rail:

Nick G trims in the fickle conditions:

You can just see Derrry-Londonderry ahead, under the sail:

 

Sam and Islagh, Green Cape in the background

Qing Dao astern, near Green Cape

All eyes on the competition:

 

The Santa incident – on our last night at sea, port watch gave starboard watch 30 extra minutes in bed, as an early surprise Christmas gift. Then we wore our Santa hats for 4.5 hours through dawn to the watch change:

 

Debs discarded hers, but she made GREAT hot chocolate. I think will has a future as Santa if the financial world fails him:

 

Race 5 Photos Albany

Albany was amazing – the people so generous, the sound and beaches so beautiful, what a great stopover.

Just one of the beaches – white sand and blue surf, and miles of it all to yourself:

DLL out doing a training sail, or a corporate one :

We left Albany in style, with the fleet behind us. Splendid light, and as always, a safe place to be!

 

 

 

Across the Bass Strait and into Stealth

Whoever came up with the idea of a yacht race across the Bass Straitm was clearly a bit of a sadist. Last night was mostly cold, wet, and uncomfortable. The winds were gusting into the high 30s, and the swell was enough to make helming difficult, as well as sleeping. Easy to understand how Sydney-Hobart races get into trouble in the Bass Strait. It was strange to pass a yacht sailing in the opposite direction – except at ports, we have not seen anybody other than Clipper vessels out sailing since we left Brest!
But eventually we made it across – the wind gradually eased and we were able to shake out reefs and eventually raise a yankee. We even had dolphins briefly as we came up into the lee of land, and handed over to the other watch at breakfast time.
Waking at noon it was like a whole new world – warm, sunny, and the wind in the right direction to raise our A2 (the medium spinnaker). Even better, we could see two distant sails – and over the 4 hours of the watch we were able to grind down the distance between us and them, and to pick out the 4th competitor we care about, closer to shore.
We’ve just had close racing as we have all rounded Green Cape within about 1 mile. It has certainly brought energy and smiles to our tired crew, to see everyone so close, and distances up to 11 miles or so whittled down to about half a mile. The funny thing is, we are in stealth, so the people who we would like to know where we are – you, basically – cannot know it, but the people we would prefer not to know, our competitors, can see our position EXACTLY. At the next sched you’ll see us, so no worries. I predict some close and interesting competition between here and Sydney. Stay tuned!

From the Bay of Storms to the Bass Strait in 200 simple sail changes

Well Eric wasn’t kidding when he said things would get more complicated in the phase of this race. Yesterday evening found us gliding along the south coast of Tasmania – it was strangely spooky, with the combination of swells from behind and wind from ahead, looming grey clouds over Tassie’s rocky headlands, and dozens of large pink and amber jellyfish drifting by in the smooth dark water as darkeness fell. I could smell Tasmania in the wind – the complex land smells we miss at sea. I’d swear it smelled of sheep and gorse flowers last night.
We caught sight of both Derry and DLL before dark – and after dark we were VERY close toDLL at times, as you’ve probably seen fro the tracker. We got separated from them when the Bay of Storms decided to give us a taste of its wares, with a sudden strong squall out of the blackness, pinning us at a crazy angle of heel as Debs struggled to release the mainsheet. Releasing the mainsheet in moments of stress has always struck me as a job designed for 7ft giants – if you are average height or less it is so difficult to brace yourself back there, and you have to spend so much energy NOT falling onto the mainsheet winch your self, that letting the sheet out in a hurry is a very difficult thing to do.
A second gust after we recovered was just as big or bigger, and in the middle of it Will lost control and we went head to wind – ending up accidentally hove to. THe only problem was that we went from a huge heel to starboard to a huge heel to port in just a few seconds – so everybody who had been perched on the rail on the high side was suddenly on the low side, and engulfed in white water. A frightening few moments, but everybody was fine in the end, and the heave to let us get the yankee down in relative sanity.
At dawn this morning we woke to more dramatic rocks and headlands, and the smell of pine trees in the wind. When we eventually turned the corner to head towards Sydney and start the ocean sprint, things started to go crazy – there was so much water coming in through our leaky forward hatch that it set of bilge level alarms, and we had a problem witht he engine impeller, causing it to overheat – somehow the two problems were related, so we had to reduce sail so that there’d be fewer waves over the front and less spray. We did have dolphins again in one of the sunny spells, and we could see 3 sails – Derry and DLL ahead we believe, and Qing Dao flying a kite (some of the time) far off on the beam.
THe wind got lighter and tricker, and we had several big dark threatening looking squalls to contend with, bringing rain and strong gusty winds – so we’ve had a day of sails up and down, reefs in and out. finally leaving Tasmania and entering the Bass Strait the wind kicked up to 30 knots anf more – a pretty average introduction to the area, Eric says. We were pounding so hard that our mattresses felt like they were jumping off our bunks (with us on them), and the just-dropped Yankee 2 was threatening to jump off the foredeck. But it was a sunny and beautiful afternoon. Everyone is tired, we’ve been working hard, but fuelled by Team HL Special pasta with chicken and artichokes, we’ll make it through this strait and into the interesting coastal weather ahead.
From Team Henri Lloyd 50YOPS, somewhere in the Bass Strait, goodnight.

Land Ho! Tassie Ho!

Will at the helm

Leaving the Southern Ocean behind

Cheers and claps from port watch this afternoon as we first set eyes on Tasmania. We were bowling along, surfing the swell in the bright blue and white sunshine when Herb, at the helm, asked ‘Now is that cloud, or is it a mountain?’ – and sure enough it turned out to be Tassie. ALmost immediately we were surrounded by large dolphins, surfing and leaping spectacularly all around us, obviously an escort sent by the local authorities. We also had many albatrosses, shearwaters, and the small gadfly petrels – clearly we had entered a rich feeding ground for our oceanic companions. We’ve been carrying the same sail-plan, yankee 2 and full main, for at least 24 hours now, under moonlight, starlight, high cirrus and showers, as well as blue skies. Time and time again the wind seemed to ease, the surfing speeds dropped from high teens to low teens, and the watch leaders wondered if we should raise the A3 (the smallest spinnaker) instead, and time and time again Eric said no, we are fine as we are. It was probably a good thing, as the wind was blustery at times and the helm was heavy in the confused waves – all us helms are complaining of neck, shoulder, and arm overuse, and in our watch at least we are taking shorter turns at the helm, switching more oftern, in an attempt to prevent our arms from falling off. We have also just heard over the radio that DLL were flying the A3, and managed to drop it in the water and run over it, making quite a mess of it. It seems Eric’s hunch that we should all rest a bit before the next, more complicated phase of the race, as well as saving our sails for the Sydney- Hobart, was well founded.
The afternoon has become cloudier and more moody as we pass the rugged mountains and rocky islets of the SOuth of Tasmania – we can still see bright sunshine behind, where we have come from, as we move towards the grey and gloomy weather ahead. Eric did finally give as the go-ahead to get the A3 up about 45 minutes ago, but before we could even set the tack-line and start the hoist, the wind changed right around to come from the north- east instead of the north west, and we quickly packed it back up and sent it below again. We now have swells from behind and wind from ahead – a disconcerting combination. Apparently we will soon be crossing the Bay of Storms, and negotiating a wind hole up ahead.
I am strangely sad to be saying farewell to the real Southern Ocean portion of our race. Gruelling though it has been, it is an amazing and beautiful place to be, in its own stark way, and it’s unlikely I’ll ever be sailing down here again. San Francisco Bay will seem a little tamer after these endless horizons.

A good day to be mother

Yesterday, Islagh and I spent a cosy day in the galley, cooking up porridge, ‘bubble and squeak'(sort of) and split pea soup with home made bread. We missed all the excitement of a Southern Ocean frontal system passing over – we missed the consecutive sail changes from the A3 (the smallest spinnaker) to the Yankee 1 (the biggest jib), then to the Yankee 2, then the Yankee 3, all in the space of about 2 hours. While were were inside washing dishes and making yogurt for the morning, we heard the wind begin to moan and scream through the rigging, but we missed the cold spray, the pitch black night, and the rain squalls reducing visibility to almost nothing.
We also missed the ‘whale slalom’ yesterday morning, and the close racing with Derry just a few hundred yards away. We had been working hard the previous night, gradually grinding down the distance to Derry and DLL, visible as white nav lights ahead.
We did not miss Eric’s telling us at the evening meeting that he has been named Sail Canada’s sailor of the month for December. Well deserved – he modestly said it is thanks to all of us crew, and I’m pretty sure he also said that if he were to be their sailor of the year he’d buy us each a Rolex watch. (Maybe I got that bit wrong?). Just as we all cheered the announcement, Father Neptune also commented by chucking a gob of freezing sea water over Eric’s head – luckily as a Canadian sailor (especially a December one) he must be well used to the cold.
Click here to see the announcement on YouTube
So last night I attempted to enjoy my unbroken 12 hours sleep (earned by mothering for the day) while listening to the 40+ knot winds, waves crashing over the deck, monster surfs, a bilge level alarm going off, and the usual bangs, crashes and yells that make any kind of weather sound like Armageddon from below decks. But the carnage was limited to the vang fitting that holds it down to the deck, and all was well. Sometime early this morning we gybed, and now we are enjoying the sunny blue and white weather that follows the passage of a cold front.
Donato especially asked me to say ‘Hi’ to Luciana, and to let you know that he is thoroughly enjoying his first Southern Ocean experience. THat was easy to see from his big smiles at the helm this morning, as Henrietta romped down the waves in the sunshine at speeds up to 23 knots. Now the wind has died down to about 25 knots, and everyone is enjoying the relative warmth and drying out a bit. It’s time for my afternoon nap – from Team Henri Lloyd 50YOPS, Tasmania bound in the Southern Ocean, sweet dreams.

Through the gate and into the south

So much has happened in the last couple of days, it’s hard to remember it all. We had a couple of very dark nights since I
last wrote, making the helming very difficult. There neither moon, nor stars, but we had our own little constellation of
Clipper boats, with 5 sets of nav lights visible around us at times. Yesterday was the first day with the kite up, and we
had dolphins playing alongside for a good 15 minutes as we scooted along at 14 and 14 knots.
The night brought the final push for the scoring gate – and THREE ‘all hands’ calls in one night, (2 in one watch!), all
interrupting the peaceful slumbers of my (port) watch. We were SO close to Derry when a gybe in the flukey winds caused an
ineluctable spinnaker wrap – and all we could do was pull it down and watch them sail through the mythical gate ahead.
Their skipper, Sean, asked Eric to thank the crew for letting Derry get a couple of points, with the aside that we
certainly have plenty to spare. He also asked us to be careful not to sail into the back of him, something we have successfully avoided so far.
Another high point yesterday was the visit of Sinter Klaus’ Dutch/Moorish helper, Scary Pete, to our evening meeting.
Surely not the most politically correct of Dutch traditions, as represented by Maaike in blackface with a scary Afro wig
on. Pete brought us all personalized rhymes, spice cookies, and candy canes, bringing laughter and smiles in the middle of the tough, close fought race for the gate points.
Today we’ve had a champagne sailing day – windy and smooth and sunny, bowling along with the A3 up, surfing up to 16 knots,
a reward for all our hard work. Eric might have said some foolish thing, about ‘so much for the roaring forties’ – no doubt
they’ll get us back soon – and this evening has brought clouds and rain, the wind is stronger and more gusty, so we are
expecting reefs and sail changes as a weak trough passes over during the night. I have little doubt it will manage to do so
just when port watch should be asleep… and tomorrow I have the bad mother shift to look forward to.
Sad news from the outside world, the death of Nelson Mandela, reached us for the evening meeting – a strange feeling for those of us who were in Cape Town such a short time ago.