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Posts Tagged ‘Ronnie Simpson’

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Like Webb Chiles, SA’s favorite war veteran/solo ocean racer/disaster magnet Ronnie Simpson does shit you never will, and he takes us along for a ride, just around the corner from Chiles, in Fiji.  Check out Ronnie’s full story at his blog over here.  Photos are all Ronnie’s.

upwind into FijiDespite having racked up quite a few miles on fast offshore racing yachts, ocean sailing has never been quite as much of an adventure as it has been this season for me, cruising the wide Pacific on an engineless Cal 2-27 that I bought in Seattle for 4 grand. In yacht racing, when you set off on an offshore race, you generally have an idea of the outcome (to some reasonable degree): you’ll sail hard with the boys (or girls, or solo), maybe blow up a kite or two and then you’ll get to the club and get on the piss, regardless of your result. It’s a good time.

When you set sail solo in a small engineless 4-knot shitbox to remote parts of the globe, without an organized event, the uncertainty and danger factor goes up just a tick, but it’s a surprisingly good time. Cruising MONGO is the sailing equivalent of cooking meth: It’s cheap, uniquely white trash, and highly addictive, and has the potential to leave me equally fucked in the end. Four months after dismasting near a lee shore on the island of Maui, i’ve slapped a new rig in MONGO and sailed 1-stop to Fiji, some 3,000 reaching miles away. Rocked up to paradise and moored out amongst the blue-water cruisers and mega yachts, it is Sailing Anarchy at it’s finest.

Jokes aside, I take seamanship pretty seriously, and have made every effort to remain safe and self-sufficient during this voyage, which has now reached about 8,000 miles (having started in Seattle, WA). After a picture-perfect early-season passage from San Diego to the big island of Hawai’i and a windy passage to Maui, MONGO lost her rig while sailing out of Kahului Harbor, Maui on April 1 when a 5-month old lower shroud toggle failed. Anchoring in 50 feet of water on a lee shore, I was towed back into port by the Coast Guard an hour later sans rig, fortunate to still own a boat. I wrote a lengthy first-hand account of the ordeal in these very pages, and then the Ed pimped my plight on the Front Page and my PayPal account got hit up to the tune of $1,600 over the following two weeks. A sincere thank you to the SA community for helping me to continue my voyage.

MONGO new mast side viewWith MONGO docked in a commercial harbor with no rig on Maui’s windward side, I ended up finding a new mast on Maui’s leeward side the very day after dismasting. 4 days after dropping the rig, the trades went light and with a boom-jury rig and borrowed outboard engine bracket and 4-horsepower short-shaft outboard, MONGO made the voyage over the top of Maui two-handed and with a cruising boat escort to Lahaina. With the boat on a mooring, I went to work for two months; working on the new mast, prepping the boat, freelancing as a sailing writer and helping with odd jobs in exchange for welding on the mast. In late May, I moved the boat into the harbor and myself and a hearty crew stepped my new turbo Morgan 27 rig using the rig of a 35-foot race boat. With a thoroughly prepped spar, all new rigging and hardware and a sprayed-on AwlGrip paint job, I managed to get going again for about $6,000. A bargain and one of my proudest sailing memories. On a larger boat, this would have been a game-ending dismasting for me. On the 27-footer, and thanks to the SA’ers, it was merely a speed bump. A local welder and sailor named Bob and the rest of the Lahaina sailing community taught me the meaning of ‘aloha’. I would not have been sailing again so soon without the help of others. Thank you.

After shaking the boat down for 300 miles in Maui, Oahu and Kauai and 3 beer can races in Honolulu, I set off solo for American Samoa. After 9 days of windy easterly trades, the American nature preserve of Palmyra Atoll was 5 miles on the beam and it was mid-day, so I sailed towards the pass where I was met by the G-Men. After a Mexican standoff with Uncle Sam in the Northern Line Islands of the central Pacific, I was granted permission to anchor in the lagoon and work on my boat, but having not jumped through the hoops of an intense bureaucracy in Hawaii, I was not allowed to go ashore. Just like they did with firing rockets when I was in the Marines, the government somehow figured out how to make sailing to a remote central-pacific atoll totally un-cool. The silver lining was the 3/4 mile long, 50-meter wide dead-upwind coral reef pass that I had to negotiate before entering the deep-water, protected lagoon.  Another cheap hit of my meth.

In an ITCZ where I was becalmed for less than 8 hours total, MONGO sailed through the most intense squalls that i’ve ever witnessed, both during the night, at 8 North and 3 North latitudes. Bare ass naked with a safety harness on, I helmed MONGO through the constantly changing, still mostly easterly breeze, with a warm beer in hand and stereo pumping as I was treated to one of nature’s most brilliant displays with intense wind, black clouds, an opening of the heavens and lightning strikes in every direction.

fiji flag and moonFrom 2 North to 5 South, MONGO sailed a close-reach to close-hauled course in 25 knots from the south-southeast and big seas, with multiple swells in the water. When the beating stopped, I found that we had sustained mast damage, which had not been there in Palmyra. In what was a stomach-in-your-throat, heart-beating-a-million-miles-per-hour discovery, I discovered two vertical cracks at the base of the mast and that the rig was now moving on the step. The damage occurred precisely in the middle of nowhere. Banding the rig with large hose clamps and sailing the boat more conservatively, I continued towards American Samoa. 200 miles out, I was expecting the breeze to go light and lift to an easterly beam reach. Instead, the wind died died while the barometer steadily declined before I met 15 knots out of the southwest which gradually shifted and built to a sustained 30-35 southeasterly for two days, with 40 knots for 8 hours. On a recently dismasted piece-of-shit boat with more rig damage and a low-grade gale blowing with Samoa upwind, it was clear that  I would not reach my destination. I cracked off and endured a stressful but exhilarating sail to Fiji in 25-30 knots almost the entire way.

MONGO is currently moored out in a surfing/ kite boarding mecca near the famed Cloud Break and conveniently has 4 surfboards and a kiteboard in the engine compartment. If I can manage to not get thumped off the reef too badly, it should be good fun.  And cheap.

Now to pull and repair the mast, Anarchy style, side-tied next to another boat on a mooring, to prepare for the next blue water crossing. I’m ‘Straya bound next month with the hope of sailing in another Sydney- Hobart. Any Anarchists out there need experienced crew for Sydney- Hobart? I’m keen.  drop me a line at ronnie@ronniesimpsonracing.com.

Bula from Fiji,

-Ronnie Simpson, s/v MONGO

 

August 13th, 2014 by admin

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The battle at the back of the Transat AG2R fleet was almost better than at the front with Michel Desjoyeaux and Corentin Horeau on Bretagne- Credit Mutuel Performance just barely nipping 3-time Figaro Champ and 3-time Vendée Globe vet Jean Le Cam to the line for 10th place with a delta of just under 3 minutes after 24 days at sea! Fellow IMOCA star Kito de Pavant sailed into Gustavia less than 40 minutes later on Made in Midi, bringing this 12th AG2R well and fully to a close with just one boat left on course.

_EdouardDouin_LGL_EntrainementFigaro__2014.03__201403032If you have the same tracker-following addiction that we do and you dig the Figaros, don’t despair – the circuit has lined up an encore with the Solo Concarneau- Trophée Guy Cotten beginning today! Sailing a 370-mile course that encompasses much of the Solitaire du Figaro’s third and fourth legs including passage of the notorious current-intensive Raz de Sein, Solo Concarneau is as tactical as it is important. With most of the big Figaro players including VG star Jérémie Beyou, two-time defending ‘Solitaire’ champ Yann Elies, the indomitable Isabelle Joscke and legendary Alain Gautier, the Figaro fleet continues to provide. Combine the cast of regulars with the ever-present contingent of living legends, an Artemis-supported British invasion and the average bloke with a dream, the Solo Concarneau guarantees to be a thriller from start to finish.

Site and Tracker are here.

-Ronnie Simpson, Open Blue Horizon

 

May 1st, 2014 by admin

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Ronnie Simpson continues with the bad luck, as well as with the perseverance that keeps seeing him through.  Another great story from our West Coast (and now world) wanderer.  As always, you can follow Ronnie’s adventures on his page at Open Blue Horizon, and we encourage everyone who’s enjoyed Ronnie’s great writing and enthusiasm for the sport over the past few years to send him a few shekels via Paypal – just go here and type in rsimpson48@yahoo.com as the recipient.  Dig deep, please!   

sailing into Kahului MondayIt’s the thing that every sailor who sails engineless fears most; dismasting or other major problem with a lee shore, big swell running and breeze-on conditions. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the situation that I found myself in yesterday off of Maui’s east side while sailing my cruising boat; the Cal 2-27 MONGO.

While en route from the West coast to Australia, MONGO and I had just completed a picture-perfect early season passage from San Diego to Hilo, Hawai’i and were now cruising downwind through the islands looking for surf. After three days in Hilo, MONGO and I charged the Alenuihaha Channel from Hawai’i to Maui; known as the most treacherous in the Hawaiian Island chain. The little boat reveled in the big breeze and big waves of Hawai’i, averaging 7 knots VMG for hours, deep-reefed and all. After a brief 22-hour passage, MONGO sailed into Kahului Harbor and dropped a hook.

A strong Pacific high and stalled upper atmosphere low threatened the islands with reinforced trade winds, heavy rain and a lot of swell. Anchored in Kahului, I sought the relative safety of a mooring ball on the leeward side of the island (in Lahaina) as opposed to anchoring on the windward side with a beach park serving as a lee shore. I would sail to Lahaina in the morning, hoping to hit the Pailolo Channel in between Maui and Moloka’i in the morning before the trades built to their daily max.

Up came the anchor and within minutes, MONGO was clearing Kahului’s breakwater and heading north up the coast of Maui under single-reefed main. Taking the scenic route, I stayed relatively close in to shore, watching the waves break on the rocky beach, sending white spray high into the air. Having become an avid surfer in the past two years, I am fascinated by viewing different bits of swell-exposed coastline. Engaging my self-steering wind vane “Francois” (named after VG winner Francois Gabart), I made a cup of coffee and then came back on deck to enjoy my private boat tour of Maui and another tropical morning.

With a coffee in one hand and the tiller in the other, I watched on in horror as the mast broke below the spreaders and immediately came crashing down. Why it occurred, I do not know, but all indicators lead to the starboard lower shroud’s toggle failing on my 4-month old standing rigging. The entire dismasting happened in the blink of an eye and was as unexpected as it was brief. Having now put the boat through its paces for 4,000 miles of coastal and offshore cruising, 2 haul-outs and a thorough re-fit that included new standing rigging, new rudder and all of the safety gear amongst many others boat bits, I felt that MONGO was battle tested, well maintained and imminently sea worthy. Why did the mast fail?… I was in disbelief at what had happened.

image (27)Close in to a lee shore with pounding surf and a steady 18-20 knot onshore trade wind blowing, I had no time to ponder what had failed or why. It simply had. I looked at the rig, saw that we weren’t holed and called “mayday” on VHF 16. I then grabbed the hand held VHF and immediately ran to the bow to begin trying to anchor my engineless, dismasted boat. While anchoring, I continued to confer with the Coast Guard on the radio. I dropped the rig in about 80-90 feet of water, unsuccessfully attempted to anchor in 62 feet of water and finally got the hook down in 50 feet of water. Now to gather the rig back on board.

With 9-11 foot pounding surf rolling under the boat and one wave breaking over the bow, MONGO rode the seas like a bucking bronco making the task of recovering the rig exponentially harder, while also inducing a serious rig-on-hull thrashing. I used a couple of halyards led to winches to begin winching the rig back up next to the boat. With the spar full of water and the main sail impeding my efforts, I struggled to get the rig back on board. An hour had passed since the dismasting. My anchor had held, the Coast Guard was on the scene and the rig was secured to the side of the boat. Had I had more time, perhaps another hour, I believe I could have gotten the rig back on board. But I didn’t. The Coast Guard was circling a disabled sailboat that was anchored just outside of big surf. They were ready to get the rescue under way.

With the rig secured to the side of the boat, the Coasties threw over a heaving line with two tow lines on its end. I caught the line and rigged up for tow. The USCG wanted me to cut my anchor rode, but I pleaded for them to help me retrieve my anchor. I was just dismasted; losing my primary ground tackle seemed unnecessary. The Coast Guard indulged me and powered forward so that I could retrieve the anchor and chain. We towed east to get into deeper water and then south towards the harbor. Halfway back to Kahului Harbor, a wave broke into the side of the boat and began ripping the mast away. The bottom section, which was pointed at the sky, swung precariously around the cockpit, missing my head by inches and ripping the front of the stern pulpit off. The top section of the mast began ripping stanchions out of the deck as the bottom section began to threaten not only myself, but my wind vane Francois as well. The port side of the boat was oil-canning and flexing horribly and there were already two holes in the boat by the hull-deck joint. I feared being holed worse, so I grabbed a rigging knife, cut the halyards and jettisoned the entire rig and the main sail. The man had been kicked while he was down.

With no rig over the side, we could tow at 5 knots, the helm was neutral and MONGO felt like a boat again. I cracked a luke warm Coors Light. It was the first thing to go right all morning. Back into Kahului Harbor, we towed up to the commercial wharf next to the harbor’s lone Pilot Boat and tied up. I was boarded by the Coasties, cleared and then we moved the boat to its own side-tie. My boat had been dismasted, but all’s well that ends well and we were back in port safely with minimal injury to myself, and despite MONGO getting pretty trashed, she’s salvageable. This hectic morning was finally starting to normalize. I began cleaning up the boat in an effort to restore order. An hour and a half later, an 8.2 earthquake hit Chile. Tsunami alerts were issued and the port began buzzing with activity. I was informed that the harbor closed at 6 pm and that if the tsunami posed a real threat, the area would be evacuated. The man was getting kicked again while he was down!

Side-tied to the leeward side of the wharf, I inflated my kayak (my dinghy) and rowed two anchors, chain and rode out to leeward about 40 feet. I then tied two old halyards to massive tires that acted as fenders on the wharf. I eased off on the halyards and took up slack on the anchor rode. MONGO was now secured at four corners some twelve feet to leeward of the wharf and 20 feet to windward of two anchors. Theoretically, she could rise up and down ten feet if need be. Whether or not she would push her keel through the hull remained uncertain. “Be brave, MONGO”, I whispered to the boat as I left. I took one last look and then pushed off with my skate board headed for the nearest bus stop.

I grabbed a bus and went to Lahaina; in part to get away from the boat, in part to head for the hills in light of a potential tsunami and in part to begin sorting out the logistics of what will come next. The tsunami never materialized in Hawai’i, much to my relief. A million thoughts ran through my mind as I tried to evaluate the situation and come up with a plan to move forward. I thought of the one thing that I didn’t have on board that I needed; a hacksaw. I realized I didn’t have one on board halfway between Cali and Hawai’i and added it to my list of things to buy in Honolulu. Not having this saw nearly caused me to lose the boat as the mast was pinned to the port side at a precarious angle and threatened to be holed more severely than she was, as I couldn’t remove the port lower shroud. I eventually managed to break the turnbuckle, freeing the rig.

dismasted Kahului tuesdayI thought of the irony of sailing 4,000 miles (originating in Tacoma, WA) on my boat that I purchased for $4,000 only to lose the rig in 18 knots of breeze with only a reefed main up, less than a mile from land. I also thought of the irony that my friend Ruben and I left Kahului in 2012 and rescued the abandoned Bela Bartok and sailed her to Honolulu, only to be rescued myself two years later and towed into the very same harbor we had left from; Kahului Harbor, Maui. I thought of the fact that I had lost the rig on April Fool’s Day. Murphy was clearly a sailor although his sense of humor fell on deaf ears this time.

After much thought and reflection, I realize that MONGO and I were dealt a serious blow and my journey to Australia has run into its first major roadblock. Rather than throwing in the towel and abandoning the voyage, my resolve has been solidified. I will continue to sail my boat to more land falls, both near and far.

First things first, I will source an outboard motor bracket and bolt on a borrowed 4-horse outboard from the Alameda-based Valiant 32 Horizon. I then plan to head to Home Depot to purchase wood, screws and glue to build a temporary box-section mast and then set sail for Honolulu next week. Once in Honolulu, I will re-build. I will re-rig and continue on my journey, stronger than before.  Hopefully you’ll follow along, and of course if you want to send any mail, I’d love to hear from you at rsimpson48@yahoo.com.

I also want to extend my sincerest gratitude to the US Coast Guard out of Ma’alea Bay, Maui, the Kahului harbor masters, Zach Streitz of s/v Horizon, my friend Leah whose couch I crashed on last night, and everyone else that has sent me messages of support. Let the next phase of this journey begin.

Aloha and mahalo,

Ronnie Simpson, s/v MONGO

April 3rd, 2014 by admin

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crowd on wharf Hobart

Ronnie Simpson checks back in with Part 2 of his Sydney-Hobart adventure.  You can read Part One here, and check back on this page for a final and probably debaucherous Hobart wrap-up later this week from the inimitable Mr. Clean.

Back to a non-poled out jib top in 40 knots, I remained on the helm and we managed more 16-18 knot surfs, but at horrible angles with the poor reaching jib flogging itself to death in the lee of the main. As the breeze dropped slightly, we hoisted the A3 and eventually chose to go back to the A2 around dinner time. I was off watch and down below when I heard the crew preparing for the peel. With just one tack line on the bow-sprit, we can not do proper kite peels and must douse and then re-hoist the new kite. Hoisting bareheaded the A2 wrapped itself around the headstay in what became the worst kite wrap i’ve ever personally seen. In one of those moments when a racing sailor sheds a tear of compassion for both the boat and the owner, we sent Ben up the rig to cut away the kite while myself and Rod “Fergo” Ferguson cut away the kite at the bottom. Eventually, we got the remains of the kite down into the forward hatch. More time lost. Things were going from bad to worse and the wheels were falling off for One for the Road and her crew. Back into the A3, we were under-wicked and slow, gybing dead downwind to remain where we thought we wanted to be.

Watching the barometer continue its rapid decline, we were expecting the breeze to go light and then instantly shift to the W-SW and quickly build with a forecast 50-60 knots on the leading edge of the front. Ben spotted the quickly approaching cloud line around sunset. Light refracted by the approaching moisture lit up the sky into a million fiery shades of pink and orange shrouded in an ominous grey cloud cover. It looked nothing like the lead-colored, cigar-shaped cloud line that I had read would indicate a southerly buster. Watch leader Jeff Shute made the call “kite down now! #4 jib on deck, deep reef the main!”. In a scene straight out of Rob Mundle’s book “Fatal Storm” (about the ’98 Hobart race), we were all on deck for our chinese fire drill, which we pulled off in just 3 minutes. The main was double, then triple-reefed as we expected the blow. The shift was immediate and with 20 knots we sailed slowly for half an hour before it built to 30. Then 35. Then 40.

Less than two hours after dropping the kite, we were in the full force of the front with breeze in the mid-40’s puffing into the 50’s. Adrian was driving as I began thinking to myself that it must be hard to drive as his normally spot-on helming was up and down of course. Handing me the wheel, I was confronted with the reality of how challenging the driving was. Driving half my shift 4-hour shift with 3 reefs in the main and #4 jib up, it was some of the most full-on, gnarly sailing i’ve ever experienced. Waves slammed into and broke over the boat with a spray that made it nearly impossible to keep my eyes open. Driving almost entirely by feel, I merely tried to keep the boat on course and avoid upwind wipeouts.

Exhausted from both physical and mental exertion, I fell asleep in my soaked foulies as soon as I got off watch. When I came back up on deck a couple of hours later, we were sailing bald-headed with the #4 lashed to the rail. I was not happy to see this as it meant we had continued to bleed miles to our rivals for an untold number of hours. I called for the storm jib. The boys agreed, so Ben and I went to the foredeck to tee it up. Coming out of the bag twisted and with the long pennant wrapped around the sail, Ben and I faced a monumental struggle just merely getting the sail ready to hoist. 50 knots of breeze, intense saltwater spray and breaking waves battered the two of us for what felt like an eternity before we were ready to put it up. Once we got the storm jib hoisted, boat speed went from 4 knots to 7+. We were racing again. Back in the cockpit, Ben clenched his fists and grunted “ahhh!!!, I live for this shit!!!”. A kindred spirit…

With the new sail configuration, the boat drove like a Cadillac while she tore through the building seas like a race horse on crack, leaping up and over each wave. With no light pollution and the strong clearing breeze, the stars were amongst the most brilliant i’ve ever seen while every wave that broke over the boat brought a million bright green specks of bio-illuminescence. It was beautiful heavy-weather sailing and while the breeze remained in the 40’s, the seas stopped building as we sailed into the lee of Flinders Island, just north of Tasmania.

I went off watch and when I came back up, the sun was up and the breeze had moderated significantly, now down into the high 20’s and low 30’s. Back to the #4 and we started shaking reefs. Within another hour, we were reaching along in champagne conditions about 13 miles east of land. By 9 am, we hit a transition in the breeze and became almost becalmed in a lumpy, confused sea state with residual slop that had rounded the corner from the west only to meet several variations of southerly swell coming up from the Southern Ocean. We chased the breeze, attempting to sail from wind line to wind line; not an easy task when nearly becalmed in lumpy seas. Big John Searle the rugby player and dinghy sailor shined in the tricky tactical conditions and kept the bus rolling.

With our bottled drinking water nearly gone, we prepared to make the switch to the water tank. In a race where even the easiest of tasks turned into monumental struggles, even this normally mundane chore became an arduous ordeal. With no manual water pump, pumping water would require electricity. Electricity that we barely had. After a brief debate, we flipped the water pump switch and began filling water bottles. The water came out brown. Our lone water bladder that we left full before leaving Sydney had ruptured during the rough night and become contaminated by the endless procession of water that ran through the boat in the hectic crossing of Bass Strait. We were now faced with a grim reality: 6 liters of bottled water now had to last 10 people more than 24 hours.

In what was one of the most challenging days of sailing in my recent memory, we had to fight highly variable, shifty conditions all the way down the coast of Tasmania. Were we too far inshore? I don’t know. None of us knew as we were on very limited weather data, with only the electrical capacity to receive verbal forecasts via the SSB radio sched’s. With 4 knots of breeze gusting to 25 out of every possible variation of south, we soldiered on in a tack – tack – sail change – tack – sail change fashion with up to half a dozen other boats in sight at times. Boats inshore would catch a puff lift and put a mile or two on us, while the boats outside would die off. The scenario would then exactly reverse itself in this navigator’s nightmare.

The breeze began to fill and solidify from the west during the very early morning and by day break, we were reaching along with a full main and #3. The jib top would have been the right call, but it was still on strike after it’s massive flogging in the strait. Things felt a bit cruisy, so we put up the #2. Things still felt a bit cruisy so we put up the A1, which we knew would be a bit dicey as the angle and pressure would put us on the edge. Kym drove us on the ragged edge of control. I was off watch, so after the kite was up and the jib was back down, I went down below. A few minutes later, I heard a sail flogging and a lot of yelling, so I jumped on deck to see the A1 coming down behind the boat. The tack line’s block on the end of the retractable bow-sprit had broken off the sprit. The design is that of a threaded pad eye attached into the end of the sprit and the pad eye broke flush with the sprit. The kite partially went into the water, but we managed to get everything back on board while the #2 was re-hoisted. With a freshening breeze, we were back in the #3 within a few minutes. So much for my final off watch, which I was desperately hoping for so that I could be rested for the final approach to the finish.

We rounded Tasman Island at about 10:30 in the morning, hardened up on the breeze and began beating into Storm Bay. We each took a sip of Drambuie and toasted to the Newcastle-based 40-footer Aurora, who donated the bottle to us after missing their first Hobart in 15 years. Throwing in a couple of tacks, we were again disheartened to find another problem. A mainsail batten was working it’s way out of it’s pocket and moving forward with half the batten in the pocket and the other half working forward towards the mast. We contemplated sending Ben up the rig but it would be doubtful that one man aloft could fix the problem. We dropped the main, shoved the batten back in it’s pocket and re-hoisted, which is always a difficult chore on a bolt-rope main. More boats slipped by and more time was lost.

Sailing upwind on starboard tack, famed Tassie photographer Richard Bennett flew by in his airplane less than a hundred meters over the water to capture an image of One for the Road. We approaching hobarttucked in and shook a reef twice before the breeze shut off again. Becalmed in the middle of Storm Bay, we scanned the clouds over head and watched other boats sail in different breeze as we created a strategy. Big John again shined as inshore tactician. We worked to a wind line and saw another boat sailing 90 degrees higher than us on port tack, about a mile away. Our angle was atrocious and we all wanted to tack to starboard and try to get into the same breeze. Kym urged us to wait a moment longer before tacking and as we stuck our nose further into the pressure we were initially knocked and then the lift came. Pressure again increased, and we had a beautiful port tack beat straight towards the River Derwent.

We threw in a couple quick tacks to clear the Iron Pot and then passed a bottle of Pusser’s Rum down the rail. Our third sip of the liquor in 4 days. One for the Road was almost home. We cracked sheets as the river turned right, as I again longed for the jib top. Approaching Hobart, I got a proper introduction to the River Derwent. There were holes everywhere, powerful gusts coming down and contradictory current that built as we made our way deeper into the river. We chased a Beneteau the entire time until they picked up a lift and sailed across the finish line. Minutes later, our private puff came down, we took a major lift on port and hardened back up towards the line. The puff tapered off, but before it died completely, we crossed the finish line just before 7 pm.

It was over. I mentally broke out a black marker and added a large check to my bucket list, just as I added “do ten more Hobarts” and “win division in Hobart” to the ever-growing list. (Sail in the Vendée Globe is still written in 100-font bold print at the top…) Life is like working on a race boat, I suppose. Every time that I cross something off the list, I have to add two more and the process repeats itself as the work is never actually done.

We achieved another goal of ours after the finish as we had enough electricity to use the engine to motor into the harbor and not require outside assistance. We dropped the main and lashed down the two headsails that were on deck. Motoring into the harbor, we cruised past the wharf which was filled to capacity with the annual “Taste of Tassie” festival. The lead singer of the band that was performing stopped his song early and recognized One for the Road for completing the journey from Sydney. The massive crowd on the wharf stopped what they were doing, put down their food and drink and stood to clap and cheer for us. A lone voice yelled “hip hip” and the crowd would respond “hooray!”. It was the most beautiful and heartwarming reception i’ve ever received at the end of a yacht race.

pre race crew shotWe placed 17th out of 21 boats in our division, and about two thirds of the way down in the overall standings. It’s one of the worst results i’ve ever achieved in an ocean race and while the competitor in me is upset with our result, the sailor in me deeply proud and grateful to have sailed, and finished, this great race. Things don’t always go your way when you set to sea, but by working together, we all achieved something that is much more important than any poor result on paper. No two people on the boat ever argued with one another and all ten of us got off the boat much better friends than when we started. In my mind, we are all champions.

As an American who has done quite a bit of sailing on the west coast, traveling to Australia to sail in the Sydney- Hobart has been one of the best experiences of my life and only increases my love for the sport and my resolve to constantly learn more and improve as a sailor. There were a million lessons learned and lessons reinforced during this race, but that constant learning curve is what keeps sailing fresh and exciting. This race was not just a race, it was a beautiful adventure that released the emotions that only true adventure can. That feeling that compels us to undertake challenging races; when you’re profoundly grateful for simple things like seeing the sun rise after a rough night at sea, when a sip of water tastes like fine wine, when a $6 meat pie on the street tastes like a gourmet 5-star meal.

If I still have your attention after this marathon recap, I want to thank Kym Butler for this incredible experience and all of the crew on One for the Road. Rockstar sailors we were not, as we found ourselves thoroughly tested, but even if I were to hand-pick a crew I could not pick a more enjoyable bunch to spend four days with than the nine strangers that i’m now honored to call friends.

It’s the Sydney-Hobart, and whether you are a boat owner, crew, or just a random guy or gal looking for a great adventure; put it on your bucket list and make it happen.  You will never regret it.

-Ronnie Simpson

January 7th, 2014 by admin

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Update: the TJV is postponed to now start Monday at 2:15pm France time – Hannah Jenner took us through the weather here

As ocean racing classes get more and more powerful, their wind range continues to shrink; first the ‘bulletproof’ minis lose an entire month to ‘waiting for the weather’ only to see their race abandoned after the start and a total clusterfuck of minis spread across Biscay.  Now, a TJV organization already feeling the pinch after JP Dick’s MOD went over has thrown in the towel for the Saturday start of the world’s biggest double handed race, hoping for a Tuesday reprieve, while the MODs are doing some kind of ‘coastal’ thing while they wait for something less than terrifying for the ultra-fast trimarans to sail off in.  The start was already kind of strange; the huge Classe 40 fleet lobbied the TJV organization for a much earlier start than the rest of the fleet for this edition; finally they might get to the finish in time to see the faster boats.  

It was a nice dream, anyway!  Most of the skippers are happy with the call, but a million-odd fans and hundreds of French media that help keep this event at the forefront of French sport won’t be.  Is this the new reality of the French shorthanded scene, or just an incredibly unlucky autumn for North Atlantic racing?  We don’t know, but we do know that you now have time to read Ronnie Simpson’s excellent form guide to the TJV, which follows.  Photos from Christophe Launay, with a gallery here.

With no Vendée Globe, Barcelona World Race or Volvo Ocean Race this winter it would be easy to think that there’s not much going on in the world of top-flight professional ocean racing right now. Fortunately for all of us Anarchists, you would be sorely mistaken with this assumption as the Transat Jacques Vabre is preparing to begin its thrilling 11th edition on Sunday. With a fleet of 44 boats spread out amongst four one-design and box rule classes, this classic Transatlantic throwdown is celebrating it’s 20th anniversary with twenty-six class 40’s, ten IMOCA 60’s, six Multi 50 trimarans and two MOD 70’s racing doublehanded from Le Havre, France to Itajal, Brazil.

One of the premier offshore yacht races on the planet, this year’s TJV fleet reads like a who’s who of sailing while boasting one of the most technical, challenging and tactical courses in all of ocean racing. Beginning from the famed Paul Vatine Basin in Le Havre, France, the course takes sailors first through the English Channel which can be downright gnarly this time of year with intense weather, massive tides and fully one-fifth of all the world’s shipping traffic all positioned within one narrow, confined passage between two major coastlines. If the fleet manages to survive this first daunting test, they must next brave the often treacherous and boat-breaking Bay of Biscay, which has been battered by intense gales and low-pressure systems all season long, with more on the way as the fleet heads out. Once rounding Cape Finisterre, if they’re lucky, the fleet can turn downwind and begin running before the Portuguese trades.

Don’t assume it’s all fun and games from here on out though. Not only must the fleet navigate more heavily-trafficked waters, but they must do it in what is often a carnage filled heavy-air downwind romp, all the while battling their competitors through the first major tactical challenge of the race; negotiating the Azores High. After this first major battle of wit and strategy, the fleet will finally see some tradewind sailing before entering the doldrums near the equator, which is oftentimes a complete crap shoot. If the boys and girls in the race are lucky enough to escape without losing, or even better yet, gaining positions, then they will lock into a tradewind drag race in the southeast trades south of the equator.

Concentrating on boat speed, boat speed, boat speed, this fleet of nearly four dozen boats will then face one final challenge from Cabo Freo to Rio and beyond to the finish in Itajal as small low-pressure systems oftentimes rip across these waters, wreaking havoc on competitors both due to challenging conditions and the painfully slow glass-off calms left in their wake. Only one thing is for sure in this 11th edition of the Transat Jacques Vabre; there will be drama, action and suspense from start to finish. Here’s SA’s class by class guide of who to watch and why.

IMOCA/Open 60

There is a clearly defined “A” fleet and “B” fleet in the TJV. The top 5 programs (MACIF, Maitre Coq, PRB, Safran, Cheminees Poujoulat) have all been training doublehanded out of Port La Foret over the past couple of months and the class winner will almost surely come out of this group. Of these 5 boats, 4 are VPLP’s with Cheminees Poujoulat being the exception. (Juan K design)

MACIF: With two Vendée Globe winning sailors on one Vendée Globe winning boat, MACIF is the boat to beat in the premier IMOCA 60 fleet. Reigning VG champ Francois Gabart has again teamed up with his Barcelona World Race partner and mentor Michel Desjoyeaux onboard the VPLP designed rocket. The duo recently won the Open 60 division in the Rolex Fastnet and have been training their asses off with 4 other boats out of Port La Foret (PRB, Maitre Coq, Safran, Cheminees Poujoulat).

Maitre Coq: Having acquired Armel Le Cleac’h’s VG runner-up Banque Populaire as the new Maitre Coq, Jeremie Beyou has a point to prove in this race. The two-time Figaro winner now has a sistership to MACIF and is keen to prove that he can win in the IMOCA class. Finishing an über-close second in the Fastnet race and putting in some solid work during the “pre-season”, Jeremie looks to exorcise the demons that have plagued hims since entering the class.

Cheminees Poujoulat: Just like in last year’s Vendée predictions, Bernard Stamm and “the sooty pussy” are again our dark horse pick. (The boat’s logo is a black cat sponsored by a chimney company…) The Juan K-designed boat was hampered by hydrogenerator problems in the last VG, but aside from that, has shown some serious potential. In the extreme and gnarly upwind and close-reaching conditions of the English Channel and Biscay, CP could excel and may prove to have an advantage over the VPLP’s, while also being notoriously fast when the shit hits the fan in the potentially heavy-air downwind Portuguese trades. Besides, Stamm is the man and an avowed Anarchist. Gut instincts tell us that Bernard likes the heavy air forecast for the start and may be able to push extra hard where other boats are throttling back a bit.

PRB: Many in the IMOCA scene believe PRB to be the fastest boat in the fleet, owing much to its light weight. The big question remains whether or not the boat is “too” light and fragile; a question we asked in Les Sables d’Olonne last year and are still asking after PRB broke in the VG. Skipper Vincent Riou is a tactical genius and Vendée Globe winner, and in teaming up with Jean Le Cam and his incredible hair, the duo may present the single biggest challenge to MACIF. If they can keep the boat together, watch for them to seriously contend for the win.

Multi 50

One of the most exciting divisions in this year’s TJV will be that of the Multi 50’s. With their biggest fleet for a major race in a while; six boats on the startling line; any of three or four could realistically win, making this fleet a fantastic one to track. Picking a favorite is no easy task in this class. The newest and arguably fastest boat in the fleet is Arkema-Région Aquitaine. A 2013 build in which Guillame Verdier had a hand, Arkema won the inaugural Route des Princes, besting three of the other Multi 50’s that will contest the TJV. Defending TJV champ Actual is also in it to win it. Skipper Yves Le Blevec has teamed up with VG star Kito de Pavant to form a formidable challenge at a title defense onboard their four year old boat. The third major contender is that of FenêtréA Cardinal. Also a 2009 build, the crew consists of skipper Erwan La Roux and two-time Figaro winner Yann Elies. Having mounted one of the greatest comebacks in all of sport to win two consecutive Solitaire du Figaro’s (2012 and 2013) just a few years after breaking his femur in the Southern Ocean and being rescued in the 2008-09 VG, Elies is an SA sentimental favorite any time he shows up to a starting line.

MOD 70

Arguably the most high-profile boat in the race is the one that won’t be sailing, after JP Dick and Roland Jourdain’s dramatic capsize onboard Virbac Paprec 70 a few weeks back. With their capsize, dismasting and resulting withdrawal from the race, just two MOD 70’s will be taking to the start in Le Havre on Sunday. No worries, if this summer’s AC taught us anything, it’s that two 70 foot multihulls can provide incredibly close racing and the TJV should be no different. The two MOD’s in this race are fortunately the cream of the crop, having finished 1-2 in the Route des Princes this summer. Skipper Sébastian Josse and crew Charles Caudrelier just won the TJV prologue onboard Edmond de Rothschild while their sole competitor OMAN AIR-MUSANDAM need no introduction. Skipper Sidney Gavignet and co-skipper Damian Foxall are arguably the two most accomplished ocean-going multihull sailors in the entire TJV. While short on boats, the MOD 70 class may ironically end up being the most exciting.

Class 40

Not only is the Class 40 division big, but it’s also full of quality. Boasting the biggest fleet in the race and with any of probably twelve or more boats that could win, expect the leading Class 40’s to gross gybes all the way to Itajal. The odds-on favorite certainly has to be Sebastian Rogues and his current generation Manuard designed GDF SUEZ. The former Minista has been on an absolute tear this season, winning five of the last six Class 40 events leading up to the TJV. But don’t count out class standouts like last year’s Atlantic Cup winner Jorg Reichers aboard MARE, who is likely sailing in one of his final Class 40 events before moving into the IMOCA class. Another SA favorite will be that of 11th Hour Racing. Skipper Hannah Jenner is not only one of the most beautiful women in all of sailing, but she is also one hell of an ocean sailor. Having teamed up with an American to claim a hard-fought podium in the last TJV, she is using that same recipe for success this year in teaming up with another American; Rob Windsor. Windsor has established himself as a Class 40 guru and top-tier ocean sailor. We expect big things from them. Another one to watch will be the entry of DUNKERQUE – PLANETE ENFANTS. Winner of the last Route du Rhum in a 44-boat Class 40 fleet and ’09 Mini Transat winner Thomas Ruyant is co-skipper alongside skipper Bruno Jourdren and the duo will present a major challenge from the get go. The slowest fleet in the race, the Class 40’s will likely be battling a major incoming tide with up to 7 knots of current during the first night in the English Channel. Blink and you may miss a world class 26-boat navigational face off before Biscay. Stay tuned to SA for all your updates over the next three weeks as the drama and suspense unfolds in real-time. -

Ronnie Simpson

November 2nd, 2013 by admin

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