Explora arrived safely in Rio at 14h00 local time on the 21 Jan. Everyone onboard was in fine spirits and we all arrived in good health and looking forward to some time relaxing and recovering in Rio.
The welcome from the Rio Yacht club and race committee was fantastic as well as our fellow competitors as both Scarlet Runner and Maserati crews were there to welcome us. Even though on the water we are fierce competitors, we all share the ocean and acknowledge the energy and skill to cross an ocean safely.
It was certainly an eventful trip onboard Explora. We achieved some of the sailing goals we set as a team, being the first SA boat home and getting a podium place. From our planning and race preparations with the weather models from the last 30 years we had about a 25% chance of breaking the old race record, but when the high pressure ridged in after 8 days at sea it blocked our record attempt.
The last week was certainly frustrating as the only ‘get out of jail’ card we had to play to avoid stopping in the high pressure was to head north toward Trindade island and hope that our boat speed kept us ahead of the moving high. For 4 days we sailed north on an unfavourable heading all the time looking over our shoulders to make sure the clear skies of the high pressure did not overtake us. It was certainly the hardest sailing of the trip as it was not Explora’s optimal sailing angles so we needed a lot of hard work and sail changes to keep the speed up and away from the clutches of the high pressure.
The last 4 days into Rio was also hard, again sailing unfavourable angles and using every rain cloud, and their associated wind, to make headway towards Rio. Again the high pressure dictated things on the road into Rio from the islands and as much as we hoped for a fast trip it never transpired.
From a navigators perspective this was a very hard race. The 5 different weather models we got, when we had communications, differed greatly as the air pressures ‘flattened’ out and the models differed widely in their forecast. For a 4 day period we had weather models, and optimum course projections that differed by several hundred miles from each other.
Our original strategy was to cross the ocean on the fastest path, and our routing planning did not project the high pressure building as fast or as big as it eventually did. We adopted a southerly routing in order to take advantage of Exploras speed at a slightly tighter sailing angle. At those angles we sail faster than wind speed! After 7 days the weather closed that option with a very hard slam and we were forced to step up to a more traditional northern route.
Overall it was a great race and it seems we were not alone in dealing with boat ‘admin’ issues. Both Scarlet Runner and Maserati had to deal with their own maintenance and breakages. On day two we lost both our engines and after some hard work managed to get the main engine running again. It was not an easy job, but it was a game changer. Without that repair we would have changed course to Walvis Bay as it was not safe to continue.
We blew up 3 sails on the crossing. Our biggest sail, the A2, could only be fixed in a sail loft. The A1 and Code 3 we attempted repairs onboard. The A1 took 48 hrs to fix and lasted another 24hrs and the Code 3 took 3 days to repair and lasted 45mins. Damaged sails on their own are not usually a major issue, they are the collateral damage of sail boat racing, and you usually plan for it and have other sails to cover for a damaged sail. In this case the three sails that covered for each other in the 12-18kt wind range were all taken out of the game. It was a another game changer and part of what prolonged our eventual arrival as we had to use the remaining sails outside their optimal areas and at times we could not sail as fast as the boat was capable of with the right sails.
As you can hear certainly not an uneventful trip and the memories I take away are more about the stunning star filled skies, the morning sunrise that blew red light over the tradewind clouds and the fantastic sailing in the storm out of Cape Town. I would not change any moment of the trip, even with the frustration with the weather. That is the joy of sailing a major ocean passage. You learn to be resourceful and adaptable and make the most of the opportunities and options you get every day.
We certainly were given a lot of challenges by the elements and our equipment and in terms of that goal we won that race by miles. It is easy to give up when the elements and equipment transpire against you and we never once stopped racing and competing!
I certainly have not been cured of ocean racing and will be back sometime in the future, maybe not this year or next year, but the call of the ocean still pulls strong.
From the Nav desk of Explora thanks for all the support and coverage. You really did our team proud!