Route du Rhum. Donald Alexander Romping Towards the Finish

Donald Alexander.
pic by Alexis Courcoux

by Richard Crockett

Not getting much info from a yachtie while racing is concerning to family and friends, but for an old hack it’s simply an understanding that the man is on a mission and simply too busy sailing his steed to keep up with the pleasantries.

So when my phone started pinging incessantly late one night over the weekend, I knew that Donald was in a good space and happy to share his experiences. In fact he was so happy and relaxed that he took me all the way back to the start of the race!

In brief, he is enjoying himself, sailing hard, and slowly, and surely putting the hard knocks and tough times behind him – and now with just some 625nm to go – he is sailing like a man possessed. Should he finish the race he will as far as I am aware become the first South African singlehanded sailor to finish this race.

His spirits are up as on Saturday evening he said “how my life has changed in the past few days – from dry suit and boots to shorts, hat and sunglasses”. Manna from heaven for every yachtie that change!

He is still lamenting the fact that after leaving La Coruna after repairs his AIS (Automatic Identification System) and Adrena navigation software went on the blink for no apparent reason – so he could not see ships and they in turn could not see him!

“It was an anxious time crossing the Cape Finnistere TSS as I was glued to my radar screen as there were a lot of ships around me. I fortunately had no close calls then, unlike off the coast of France when I had to take avoiding action not to hit a large fishing boat that was steaming into Ushant!”

He says he is also continually concerned about whether he has enough food, water and fuel, whether the boat is fully seaworthy after the repairs. At one point he discovered that after coming out of a monster low pressure system which clubbed him hard he discovered that his liferaft was about to drift off the transom along with other safety gear too!

Power of One.

It was at that point that he came close to considering throwing in the towel – but solo sailors are made of tough stuff and cope admirably with the highs and the lows – especially after a bit of R & R and some food.

Alexander now leads a pack of Class 40 boats all of which went into port for repairs after the very tough opening days of the race. “I was aiming at the group ahead of me, but the gap is too big to close so I am just keeping my eyes on the group behind me which is about 150nm astern. I had a 200nm gap until 2 nights ago when I fell into an almighty hole where the sails slatted and I was going nowhere while those behind were doing 9 – 10 knots. It was seriously unnerving and that hole did not show on the GRIBs as it was a ‘systemic high’ I had fallen into. Immediately the negative thoughts kicked in about water, food, fuel and more as the race has been longer and tougher that expected. It was a helpless feeling”.

Fortunately the wind picked up around mid-morning and he ended up having a quick day despite some very tight fetching conditions. He was later able to bear away and unfurl his favourite sail combo of gennicker/staysail – and with the boat really in the groove he was thoroughly enjoying himself as all that power made it easier on his autopilot as there was no weather helm.

He explained that he has been without instruments for many days, in fact since his last big gale, when the forces of that gale took out his MHU’s (masthead instrument units) so he has had to rely on his compass alone. That brought more pressure as the game changed to becoming a more mental and physical one due to him having to do most of the steering personally and not leaving it to the autopilot.

“It turns out that I seem to have managed quite well and remain competitive as I have gained positions”.

In closing he mentioned another failure that had him very concerned as his brand new batteries have been failing and have needed charging every 4 hours – only possible with sufficient fuel!

His battery management system was on the blink and try as he may he could not get it to work, until assistance from his shore crew and the equipment manufacturers gave him a solution – and it’s back to life with those concerns behind him.

With a good 10 knots of boatspeed he is now romping along and enjoying the ride and pushing hard for the finish line.

Would anyone expect anything less from a yachtie who has always been know to push hard and NEVER slack off !