Cape to Rio Race – Rotary Scout – the end game

Rotary Scout pic by Trevor Wilkins

Rotary Scout
pic by Trevor Wilkins

Day 25 – Thursday 30 January
By Grant Chapman.

Everyone woke for their respective shifts well rested from a good night’s sleep and our feast for dinner. Sadly we had not enjoyed the wind that our GRIB files had said we would have during the night and we had made little progress. It had been another 24 hours of underperforming in fluky winds that couldn’t make up their mind as to whether to strengthen to a sailable 10 knots plus. Mid-morning the wind died totally and Rotary Scout bobbed about directionless in a very flat sea. At one stage she executed a complete 1800 pointing back the way we had come for the past 2 weeks, the Windex at the top of the mast rotating freely. We needed to make a decision. We still had over 230 miles to go to Rio and time was running out with only 34 hours left to get there. This meant that we would need to achieve a boat speed of 6.8 knots to beat the cut-off time and every minute spent going nowhere with flogging sails resulted in our required boat speed climbing gradually. We had already calculated two days before that we needed to be at no less than 400 W by midnight last night so as to catch the better wind beyond this longitude and be in with a chance of making it and yet we were still sitting at 390 40’ W with no obvious prospect of digging ourselves out of the hole were in. Rotary Scout’s top speed in constant 15 knot plus winds was 6.5 knots. We started the engine and in doing so took ourselves out of the race. The race rules stipulated that there was to be no motoring for our class. Unlike the catamarans that had unanimously agreed that as cruising boats they were allowed to motor up to a maximum of 350 miles during the race, there were several boats in our cruising class that had voted not to. It was a cruel twist of fate that most, if not all, the boats in our class that had voted not to motor had been knocked out of the race in the first 2 days with storm damage when leaving Cape Town. We had asked the race committee if they could put the option of motoring to the remaining 3 other boats in our class in the race and they had acknowledged our request but not said whether the request had been put to them. The race committee had instead extended the race cut-off time by 19 hours. We had led our class on handicap throughout the race to this point but we had now simply been beaten by the clock. Everyone on board was gutted. Peter took on the difficult task of informing the race committee of our actions and also communicating our situation to Mark Jennings back home to inform our families. We couldn’t face talking about it to anyone else at this stage.

Prior to making the decision to motor Peter had asked everyone what their thoughts were after explaining how we hadn’t a hope in Hades of making the cut off if we continued to sail. The crew were unanimous in voting that we needed to motor and do the honourable thing by contacting the race committee immediately with our decision.

Making the decision to motor and in doing so disqualify us from the race was the hardest thing to do after we had sailed our hearts out for the last 3 and a half weeks. While Rotary Scout motored along at 6.5 knots in totally windless conditions for the next couple of hours we discussed at length the reasons why we had embarked on this journey across the Atlantic. We all agreed that we had done it primarily for the adventure of crossing the ocean, none of us other than Peter having attempted such a feat before, and that the amazing things we had experienced as our tight-knit group under the scouts umbrella would remain with us for the rest of our lives. We realized that we were extremely privileged to have had the opportunity of having crossed the Atlantic in a sailing boat and that we were all in good health and spirits, having done so safely with minimal damage to the boat. We had participated in this race to take part in an amazing adventure first and foremost with the prospect of getting a good placing as a bonus on top. We gave tribute to Peter for having had the vision to achieve what we had done and for all the hard work and countless hours that he had put into Rotary Scout to get her and her crew across the ocean in one piece. We had certainly had our trials and tribulations with the elements and Mother Nature had both spared us hardship in the storms off Cape Town but had also not been too kind with the wind in the last week of the race. Although we hadn’t wanted to say so in order not to cause alarm we had also nearly run out of water after discovering a week ago that the front tank was mysteriously empty. We had been on very strict rations for the last 7 days so as not to deplete our remaining supplies that were in separate 25 litre containers. Drinking only 10 litres per day for all 8 of us, we had somehow managed to make it through the week but were all looking forward to quenching our thirsts properly when in Rio.

We picked up 15 knot winds at approximately 410 W after several hours of motoring. H0isting the big purple spinnaker we cut the engine and set sail for the last 100 miles to Rio, hoping that we wouldn’t need to use our engine again. The countless oil rigs that dotted the coastline of Brazil fascinating us as the cooks prepared yet another delicious meal of sushi and pan seared Tuna in the galley as the sun set, dipping below the horizon off our brave little boat’s bow for the last time on our journey west.