Cape to Rio 2020. Battening Down The Hatches

One can see the storm beginning to form close to the Brazilian coast – shown at 11h00 today.

by Richard Crockett

The Race Committee has issued a further weather warning, which we will get to in detail after a brief synopsis of what’s happening out there in the South Atlantic. The fleet is beginning to batten down the hatches and prepare for the storm ahead.

On the tracker one can already see the bad weather forming between the fleet and the finish.

Taking the weather warnings very seriously is ‘Zulu Girl’ whose course has changed radically as she heads north towards latitude 20. This move has certainly cost her dearly as she has dropped to 4th overall on handicap. Her crew is young and planning well ahead and taking the advice offered in terms of the weather warning. One cannot win this race unless one finishes, so while her tactics right now may look detrimental to her overall position, she may well still come out of this okay.

The southern fleet is pointing well north of Rio right now and hoping that their courses will take them over the top of the bad weather before they plan their final course for the finish.

The northern fleet is deploying similar tactics, but don’t have to get in as much “northing”, and in fact some probably none, as their southern rivals. ‘Sulanga’ is the most northern boat by a long way, while ‘Mojie’ is taking similar action to ‘Zulu Girl’ with a definite north-look to her course.

The storm as it is predicted to look like tomorrow at 11h00.

The Weather Advisory
Further to the Race Committee Advisory issued at on 20/01/2020 the Brazilian Navy’s Diretoria De Hidrografia E Navegação has classified the low as a “Sub Tropical Depression”. The prognosis contained in the previous advisories from the Race Committee has been verified by professional meteorologists and oceanographers. Both ECMWF and GFS weather prediction models are in close agreement for the period in question.

Prognosis & Definition: Sub Tropical Depression “Kurumi” with an extended front including secondary lows extending to the North. The system is driven by an upper atmospheric “cut-off” Low at the 500 hPa (5000m) level.

Risks: Possible gusts in excess of 60 knots. Multiple swell directions with periods below 10 seconds leading to steep, breaking seas. Multiple current eddies with speeds up to 1 knot have been identified. Shallowing of the sea bed. Coastal effects, both in terms of wind and swell.

Duration of risk: Thursday morning 23/01/2020 to Sunday morning 26/01/2020.
Possible Area of risk: Area defined by 18S in the North (After Saturday afternoon 25/01/2020 20S could be used), 45W in the west, and 30W in the East for latitudes north of 25S. For latitudes south of 25S and north of 30S, 25W should be considered the Eastern boundary. South of 30S and north of 40S, 15W should be the Eastern boundary. It should be stressed that severe weather and sea conditions could be experienced outside these areas given possible forecast errors.

Ilha Trinidade (20deg 31’S; 29deg 19’W approximately) offers anchorages to yachts electing to avoid the worst of the weather system. Details are charted.

For Landlubbers – The Scenario of “Battening Down the Hatches”
Up front, and without attempting to be dramatic in any way, it needs to be stated that these boats and crew have everything at their disposal on board, including a vast array of safety equipment, to deal with virtually every eventually during this race.

I am pretty certain that all skippers will have taken this weather warning to heart by now, and will be preparing the boat and whole crew for it – well in advance of whatever comes their way. Below is for the landlubbers in the hope that they do not fear the worst, and understand that what is heading their way is all part and parcel of ocean racing.

Much of what I say below is pretty standard practice, and would have been gone through in detail by the crew before departing on this race, but a refresher on board right now is prudent seamanship.

Crew will be checking every single part of both the running and standing rigging, ie. sails, mast, stays, halyards, shackles and more. Any possible weak spots need to be identified now, before the bad weather, and rectified. Shackles will be tightened and re-wrapped with tape, split pins checked, chafe points identified and managed. All loose and unnecessary items on deck will be stowed or securely re-lashed.

Down below all loose items will be stowed, the interior tidied, and everything made shipshape.

The bilge pumps will be checked to ensure they are functioning properly and that nothing is, or could, block them should they take on water.

Most importantly though, skippers will be engaging their crew and going through all the safety procedures and equipment aboard, and the responsibilities each person has in an emergency. Liferaft deployment is likely to be top of this briefing, How they will handle a man-overboard situation, where all the safety equipment is stowed, and how and when it will be used are all discussion topics. This includes flares and even the EPIRB – ALL JUST IN CASE.

This may all sound very dramatic, and crews should know all of this instinctively, but good skippers will keep reinforcing and refreshing the crew on the procedures in case of breakage or worse.

Right now, while still sailing hard and to win, crews will be encouraged to get as much rest as possible so as to be fresh when whatever is thrown at them can be handled in a seamanlike manner.

Bad weather is not for sissies – and hopefully all boats and crew will come through unscathed and richer for the experience. Thanks to modern technology they have been given ample warning of what lies ahead, and have had time to prepare. More importantly, there are many highly competent seamen and women out there who will simply take this in their stride – and add it to their memories of ocean racing.