Towards the finish

In true team HL style, once we are through the sprint, instead of kicking back and congratulating ourselves, we just go right on sprinting towards the finish. It might not have looked like that on the tracker, as the wind dropped right away for a while last night. For us, at least. While we were almost dead in the water, and port watch were on deck, DLL and Switzerland came zooming up behind us on their own private wind. THey passed G\b and it seemed they might sail right by us too, but when DLL were only yards away and in shouting distance, they too ran out of breeze.
Sowhen we – Starboard watch – came on at midnight, we had all four boats in line astern, a little array of red port lights trotting along behind us. THere were patchy black clouds everywhere against the general darkness, and the wind was fitful, twitching forward and back, and rising and falling constantly, anywhere between 3 and 18 knots. Helming was all about keeping Henrietta at the best angle and speed relative to whatever wind there was at each moment, so our course over the ground varied constantly. Eric was on deck most of the watch – I think he hardly slept in the last 3 hours – helming himslef or watching over the shoulder of each helmsperson to make sure we didn’t waste an ounce of wind. ANd it must have worked, as by this mornig we had only Switzerland visible astern – their red hull a nice change for us to see!
As the morning wore on, the wind settled down. We’d learned in the very early hours of the morning that the course has been shortened, so it really is just another sprint to the finish now. Spirits reain incredibly hih on board, even though may are very short of sleep. We tacked eventually to find the favorable influence of the GUlf Stream, which we are now thoroughly in. As we are beating, the wind against current effect makes life rather uncomfortable. But we’ve had James and Kevin H in the galley, serving up pancakes for a mid-afternoon treat, and last night we had Anita’s famous flapjacks. THe baking hasn’t quite reached the frenzied levels of our last days on the Pacific crossing, but we’ve plenty of fuel to keep us going. THough, you should have seen the panic on Eric’s face when yesterday’s mothers could not find the dry bag with the coffee in. It was a;most an ‘all hands’ situation. Fortunately, the coffee was found – disaster averted,

A close run sprint

What a day it’s been. We entered the ocean sprint at about five thirty this morning. Looking through the open port opposite from my bunk,  I could see a beautiful sunrise, and the sails of GB against it. We also had DLL really close behind us, and Switzerland and Derry were nearby, though not visible once the sun was up.
The sprint started with light winds, we were flying the windseeker. But as the wind increased, we switched to the big kite, the A1. So the sprint began as a drag race – we were neck and neck with GB all morning, both of us pulling away from DLL.
As we started our afternoon watch, though, things started to change. The wind began to head us, and we peeled to the A3 (the heavy weight kite). The evolution went flawlessly, much to our relief. But dark clouds loomed ahead in a long line – too big to be called a squall, I think. more like a weather front. It became clear that we were going to get rain, and we didn’t know how much wind, but we began preparing to douse the kite and go back to white sails. People were scurrying below to get jackets, too, as the sky darkened ominously.
Because of the way the front curved around, GB hit it first – we saw them do a huge bear way, and then their kite was streaming like a flag as they started to douse it. We hoped that we’d somehow sneak through the squall line untouched – but then we didn’t know how extensive the system was. Just as we prepared to raise the staysail , the first gust hit, and we too had to hastily douse the kite. ‘All hands’ was called to get the yankee and staysail up as the driving rain began. It was cold too – but still better than woolling the kite downstairs, for some – Ryan – for the second time in an hour.
It was very rainy and wild for a while, and we lost sight of DLL and GB completely. After an hour or two – I lost track of time –  the mothers made us all hot chocolate: what a change from the tropical temperatures we were enjoying just this morning! Eventually, we cam through the rain into lighter skies, and the wind moderated and went back towards it’s original direction, We raised the A2 and dropped the yankee – just as we finished GB emerged from the clouds still abeam and far downwind, and now flying their A2 as well.
By now we’d had an updated schedule, and knew that the sprint was going well for us and for GB. We SO didn’t want to let them win it, as the 2 points would almost wipe out the 3 we’d gained from the Scoring Gate. We decided that both watches would stay up until the sprint was done, we had four people grinding, and everyone without a job sat on the rail as heavily as possible. It still looked neck and neck for a long time, then GB gybed and were sailing directly towards us. Well that was all we needed – we waited for them to come down to us, and then gybed in front of them. Now we were between them and the end of the sprint, with 2 miles to go. All we had to do was hold them off. and that’s what we did. We trimmed for all we were worth, and there was jubilation when we ended the sprint just after 5pm. Whew! We might not win the 2 points ourselves, but as we started the day .5 of a mile behind GB, and ended it one and a half ahead, we know THEY won’t get them.  It is fun to have such a close rivalry at this stage of the race.
As if that wasn’t enough excitement for one day, about forty five minutes later,, the active spinnaker sheet snapped with a bang. We quickly got the sail under control, Sean trimming  using the lazy sheet, and set up for a letter-box drop. That was only a temporary solution, and Eric gave the order to drop the kite. But Nick and Morgan had another idea – and in the end we raised Morgan on a halyard, first up the shrouds, and then precariously out along the now active spinnaker sheet, to tie a new sheet on. It worked! But it certainly wasn’t easy. Applause all around. GB gained some as we were forced to sail conservatively while this went on, but we are still neck and neck. With our great rivals a stone’s throw away, and another big weather system expected later, it looks like it will be an exciting night here for Team HLFiftyYOPS.

Full of stars

Last night the wind died away almost completely. We were surrounded by a low haze, so there was no horizon, but the stars were dazzlngly clear overhead – it was like being inside an upside down goblet, with stars painted on the inside. It wss easy to believe our mast would soon bump into the sky, just like in ‘The Truman Show’.
There was no moon, and through our quiet 4 hours on deck we could watch satellites sailing overhead, and the stars wheeling round us and plunging towards the western sea. Ursa Major is bright overhead, and Scorpio, with it’s amber colored star Antares, is very clear to the south. Just before dawn Venus rises so brightly that it makes a path on the sea, and we are still seeing shooting stars so feirce they leave a trail.
We also had dim glimmers of some of the other boats, sharing our light wind misery. ANd today we have had GB visible on the horizon downwind, and DLL a little behind and upwind. THe racing is still close, but we’d all be happy to get some proper wind soon!
It was a beautiful evening, so still and calm. Spaghetti bolognaise was eaten on the low side of the foredeck, the better to keep Henrietta moving forward. It looks as if we are entering a second light wind night – the A1 and the Windseeker are alternating, up and down, which means there’s been a lot of wooling to do in the heat. Mike and I have been mothering today, and I baked cupcakes for his birthday celebration. I’m waiting now for my experimental raisin walnut bread to finish cooking – it’s taking forever, with the oven going on and off. THe first loaf has some structural integrity problems, but it tastes good anyway. I’m hoping, once the A1 is up again, that I’ll get a chance to have a fresh water bucket bath, and to cool off a bit in the night air.

In the Atlantic again

Well, obviously there wasn’t really any drinking and carousing last night – unless there is a secret rum supply somewhere, this is a dry boat. But we did have a gorgeous night of sailing – during the first night watch the sky was velvety and the stars were so clear you could see that the spaces between them are filled with ever fainter ones. Everyone was happy and relaxed – that’s the first time we’ve collected 3 points for a scoring gate. As we slipped smoothly through the water, we could just make out the lights of the five closest CV’s behind us, and enjoy the lead for a while. We still feel like the hare, with the hounds snapping at our heels. DUring our early morning watch, Starboard watch celebrated with toast and marmalade – Fiona, ANita and I all enjoyed toast cooked to James’ favorite recipe – butter both sides and cook in the frying pan, add marmalade, and enoy! THe aroma must have woken Eric, who emerged wondering why the smoke alarm had not gone off yet. But our smoke alarm only seems to reacts to steam from the rice-cooker, it ignores smoke and actual flames (as in the incinerated bread incident on the way to Panama.
Overnight Pulteny, Derry and Switzerland slipped away over the horizon, but we have had GB ad DLL in sight all day, as the wind has lightened and we get closer to the ‘randomizer’ – the patch of light wind we all have to get through before we find the westerlies, with the possibility for the familiar game of snakes and ladders that calms can bring.

Another day, another scoring gate

Well, we passed through the scoring gate – just as I sat down to write this. Yay, we’re first through! Now we just hope that ANYBODY except GB gets through next.
We’ve had another lovely day and night of sailing – we saw the lights of Haiti and could smell it overnight. Then this morning, three sails appeared behind us – like the Indians appearing over the skyline in an old cowboy movie – with appropriate dramatic music. The ones we could see were DLL, Derry and Pulteny, hopefully still just ahead of GB and Switzerland, who went the other side of the island we spent the morning passing. One of the Bahamas. is all I know.
we got to fly th A3 all afternoon – that hasn’t been out since the first day or so out of San Francisco. SO that was fun – if a little edgy as we tried to stay clnce we tred to stay close to the wind. In the end it had to come down, and we swapped back to the yankee.
On wildlife, one tropicbird, and one booby. Not much to report! well back to drinking and carousing to celebrate the scoring gate – yeah right!

In the windward passage

We are about 28 hours ito the race now, and we’re in the Windard Passage between Cuba and Haiti. We came withing 13 mile of CUba before tacking – close enough to see it, and as close as we are going to get. The water is gorgeously blue, the temperature is about perfect (on deck at leas – just what trade wind sailing should be, exceptthat of course we are beating directly into the wind. We’ve not seen much life at all, but we do see plenty of plastic. The mostfrequent object seems to be little white plastic spoons, as from ice-crea cups. THe blue surface of the water is littered with little flakes of white polystyrene fast food containers, like petals. As for the racing – well we had a fabulous start. We were’nt first through the line, and we were on the downwind end of it, and then we all had to tack for a windward mark close to the shore. Some boats – including the Great Enemy, tacked too early, while a few, including Derry and DLL seemed to make the tack fine, but then they all arrived at the mark at the same time and got in eachother’s way – at least that’s how it looked to me. We wen ounnd after the confusion, and before ong we were leaving Jamaica with 11 boats visible behind us. THank you, Eric!
SO the racing since then has been about keeping ahead – tacing to cover the boats behind as necessary, and balancing boat speed and wind agle as best we can. Last night many of the boats were really close – a constellation of nav lights, mostly red, and a few gren Old Pulteny seemed to be sailing particularly fast – there was a time, during a shifty patch of wind as a new breeze setted in, when they were definitely ahead, but with Meg on the helm it didn’t take long to pull away from them again.ANd now we ca see I think CVs strung out behind us in a line – I guess we’ll have to get used to this leading from the front. Nerve racking as it is.
We’ve also celebrate Keving B’s birthday today – cake with chocolate frsoting, and singing in the cockpit. Not bad for the first 24 hours of racing.

Pictures – Panama to Jamaica

It was a sprint, mostly on starboard tack. We did a lot of sitting on the rail

Ryan and Fiona, doing what needs to be done

We worked hard at it. (Really)

The final day dawns

Sean at dawn

And there's Jamaica

Land Ho Jamaica!

Looming on the horizon on our other side – GB.

Bogies at 3 o'clock (more like 8:30)

And they are getting closer

Bogies, getting closer

Nick trimming for the race

It was close!

GB tries to pass upwind

Simon congratulates Braveheart Eric

Winning face

Beautiful Port Antonio, Jamaica

Port Antonio sunset

 

Pictures – Panama

Panama City – so many contrasts

Panama City - old and new

Fishing bynthencauseway

We spent our day in the canal behind BF Copacabana

BF Copacabana

An anniversary

Panama Canal - 100 years young

Line handlers

It's a long way down when they pull the plug

A long day for the line handlers too

From Gatun Lake, it rained, and rained, and rained. But our pilot Elliot was determined to get us through in one day

The crew is happy - no camping overnight on the lake

Caribbean ho! And sunny skies ahead

Catching the rest of the fleet

Leading the charge from the last lock to Shelter Bay – gotta get there in time for happy hour

We're ready for our next ocean

Mosquito Coast

Charges River from Fort San Lorenzo

A sprinting sloth

Why did the sloth cross the road?

 

Pictures – San Francisco to Panama

Leaving the Bay behind, next stop Panama (probably)

Holding our breath, raising the A2

Raising the A2

Our go faster stripe – beautiful

Our go faster stripe

Intrepid Meg, cutting kelp of the rudder

Meg trolls for kelp

Pirate Princess

Pirate Princess

Little ship on a big sea – we crossed paths with Jamaica

Crossing paths with Jamaica

King's Day celebration – bobbing for muffins, Sean and Ryan in their regalia

Bobbing for muffins on kings day

 

Sean trims in Kings Day regalia

Ryan - looking good in orange

Our visitor – a collared dove?

Visitor - collared dove

Sunsets and sunrises – different every time

Sky blue pink

 

Squalls again – and rain

Rain squall

Jules chilling in the rain

Chilled Jules

The intense final hours of racing (!)

Ocean racing

Another avian visitor

Visitor from Costa Rica

Evening swim with Garmin and Jamaica

Sunset swim

We could see Costa Rica

Near Banana Bay

Thanks, Pulteny and OneDLL – we love you too

Thank you!

DLL waits of Banana Bay

Arriving in Panama with our haul of Jerry cans

Panama with Jerry cans

 

Spirit of Jamaica Chase Finish

Since a couple of you have asked for it, here is a rather long account of the race finish, as far as I can remember it through the excitement (not to mention the rum).

When I last wrote it was early morning on the last day of the race, and we could see GB more or less on our beam, upwind and on the horizon. We could also see Jamaica, and the point we had to claw our way around before we'd be able to bear away towards the finish. It was agonizing, sitting on the rail – from the high side we could only watch as their sails got bigger and closer. They did not seem to be drawing ahead, but we knew they had a better wind angle, and should be able to sail a little more free and fast than we could, and still make it round the point.

Our watch was over at 8am, but it was hard to contemplate going below to sleep with the race hanging in the balance. It was clear it would be a long day though, so I eventually went down at about 9:30 just to get out of the sun, and to try to read a book and think about something – anything – other than the race for a couple of hours. Jules, as mother, was getting ready to make bread, she said in case we didn't get in before dinner time, but I think she was trying to distract herself too. By the time I'd helped her find a recipe for a raisin and walnut loaf, the word came from upstairs to sleep on the low side, as the wind had lightened so much. Probably not good news.

To my surprise, I actually slept for an hour or so. I woke up to the familiar sound of a winch rotating on deck. I thought it was a running back stay, which could only mean we were preparing for the dreaded and very costly tack to clear Point Moran. Definitely not good news. I was puzzled though, in my half asleep state, as Henrietta's angle of heel did not change. And looking through the open port above my head, I could see a curious line leading across the cockpit. It took me quite a while to realize that Port watch had raised the wiindseeker as we'd hit winds so light that GB and the boats behind were all making gains on us.

But at least we hadn't tacked. There was still a lot of activity up on deck, and then I heard Eric talking to the race office, reporting our position and telling them that we had GB neck and neck and Switzerland about 4 miles behind. iI gave up the idea of sleep and went up. The first thing I saw was GB, on the starboard side, now just about ahead, and using their free-er wind angle to fly their A1. The second thing was land – the point now long , low, and green, and VERY close on the port side. We just had to clear the shallows, then we too would be able to raise the spinnaker. You can guess it was pretty tense on board as we pushed the boat as close to the wind as the sail could go, while watching GB pulling away from us with their bigger sail. Morgan and the rest of Port watch had everything set up for the peel (when we raise the new sail before we drop the old one), and we just had to wait – checking and double checking that every line was run right and everybody knew what their job would be – until we could make the turn.

Soon enough the time came, and we managed a flawless peel – huge relief all round, but we still had to catch GB, clear ahead and flying along. Eric came up from the nav station and said we now had 20 miles to make up half a mile. That actually didn't sound so bad – one thing we know we're good at is coming from behind, especially when we're flying a kite. So we settled down to do it. For an hour I trimmed for all I was worth, squinting into the sun directly overhead, concentrating so hard on the curl in the sail that I had no time to see if first Nick, then Eric, on the helm was making any ground on the boat ahead. At first we had to sail the kite as close to the wind as it would go without collapsing, – something it was never designed for – until,we turned another corner and were able, at last, to sail down wind. When Nick took over trim and I became a piece of moveable ballast, I could see we were gaining, bit by bitt, although the distance between us was expanding and contracting like a rubber band with every puff or lull in the breeze.

We were gaining, but as Eric always says, it is easy to catch up with another boat, but very hard to actually pass them. Eric had a plan though, and we sat ourselves on their leeward quarter, and watched them like hawks for the first sign that they were about to gybe. We were set up to gybe the instant they did, so that we'd get inside them in the turn. In the end, with bearings to the finish confirmed by Ryan and Chris down in the nav station, we gybed first. GB followed, but we were now inside, between them and the finish – about 2 miles to,go, and we were no longer behind!

It was still neck and neck though, and now, as the windward boat, we were bound by the racing rules,of sailing to keep clear of GB. As we hurtled in towards Jamaica's dramatic jungly coastline, It was comforting to know that the same rules also forbade GB from running us right up onto the beach. It soon became apparent that we were not going to make the finish on our current course. That meant another 2 gybes, with GB matching us move for move, and trying to snatch back the inside position. If we hadn't been working so hard we'd have held our collective breath through each gybe, but the teamwork was great and they went smoothly. There was some tense back and forth between Eric and the navigators as they established the bearings to each end of the line, the courses we could sail on each gybe, and which end of the line was actually closest. On the out-to-sea gybe, GB were windward, meaning we could hold our course and have a little time to think. But on that last gybe back towards Folly Point and the finish, GB did manage to get inside us. They were still behind, but so close we were sometimes overlapped. Now we could hear their trimmer's voice, and practically see the whites of their eyes. We sat on the rail, hiking out as hard as we could as they made repeated attempts to lunge upwind and overtake on our windward side. It was not good for,our collective blood pressure!

By now we could see the lighthouse, and try to pinpoint the imaginary line stretching from it. We also,had a small white sport-fishing boat dead ahead – at least a few of us did not realize it was the Clipper media boat, and wondered if we'd be disqualified if we ran it down! GB suddenly gave up their attempts to pass us, and headed off towards the north end of the line. Another flurry of consternation – Chris and Ryan had to confirm that yes, the south end was still closest, and no, the line had not been altered or lengthened to make GB''s course the optimal one. There was an almost plaintive 'we must be close' from Eric, seconds of silence from the nav station, and then, 'we're over!' With the rocky shoreline of Port Antonio rushing towards us there was scarcely time for a few whoops of delight before we had to get the kite down. But we'd done it – 31 seconds ahead, our most satisfying finish so far!