stop making sense
Conrad Colman from Cessna Citation takes you right into the drama in the Global Ocean Race…
With the storm bearing down on us I set myself three goals as skipper and navigator. Most importantly was to keep us and the boat in one piece, important for all the obvious reasons but also because we only need to finish this leg in order to take the race on points. This leads to objective two, route the boat so we don’t see over 40kts TWS and three, keep the boat in racing mode and optimise its performance so long as it doesn’t get in the way of objectives one and two.
Well, one out of three aint bad, is it? It was all going to plan, the center of the low was 300 miles to our north and the warm sector of the system was pretty mild with stable southerlies. As the wind backed and the wind backed around to more to the west, we gybed over onto port to head north and make tracks in the post cold front train. All good, gusting into low 40s with two reefs and staysail so blew one of my goals but still safe and fast.
We had a great morning playing in the cumulus wake of the cold front with bright sunny skies and solid 35 gusting 40 so we figured we were through the worst of it. The waves were building and we were surfing up to 20kts, taking 3 hour watches at the helm as we have done since the start in Charleston. Then the clouds rolled in again, the gusts became stronger and the waves continued to get bigger. Swells were 8 metres by late afternoon when we dropped the staysail and took the third reef when we saw the full fat fifty knots in a gust. But with so little sail I felt we were at risk of being pooped by a wave when we were slow so up went the staysail again when the wind moderated back to the 30s.
By nightfall the seas had become phenomenal. We saw a series go past that were easily 11 metres with breaking crests. VMG running with 3 reefs and staysail was fun and manageable in the moonlight and we could skirt the monsters and surf the smaller ones to safety. Then the clouds covered the moon and it got scary. With sustained 40 kts I barreled down a monster wave and piled into the bottom, soaking the boat in sheets of water just as the wave we had been surfing broke over the stern. I was clipped on but ended up on my knees on the cockpit floor grabbing for the tiller to avoid a Chinese Gybe.
After standing the boat on its bow we took down the jib and ran with only the triple reefed main, again surfing with sustained 40s. I went inside and Scotty took the helm when 50 + kits came out of a cloud and threw us down the face of a huge wave where we came to a sudden stop. Scotty was ejected from the helm and landed on a pit winch and jerrycans, fire extinguishers and bags flew about down below.
While Class 40s are pretty indestructible and with 3 reefs it would be hard to do real damage, we had had enough and hove to with the storm jib to await sunrise and moderating conditions. The difficult thing with these light planing boats is that you can make incredible miles in even severe conditions because its easy to stay fast to aboid the big waves and if you’re doing 20 kts at 160 TWA when its gusting 40 then the loads are pretty small and its still safe. But then when it goes pear shaped, it gets ugly.
We are now cruising along with our boat safe and our healthy lead intact. To have a look at just how complicated the weather is out here, check out this UK Met Office isobaric chart (http://www.oceanskill.fr/fr/Met.htm) to try to make sense of it all.