TJV Day 17 – Doldrums and Ripped Spinnakers

Pip Hare repairing the torn spinnaker.

Pip Hare repairing the torn spinnaker.

Repaired - and back in business.

Repaired – and back in business.

by Matthew Thomas

As our duo continue south into the start of the doldrums, they’re sailing hard and pushing to gain back the lost miles from crossing the ridge.

Late yesterday, (our time) Phillippa summed up their progress and the conditions onboard with this email:

“This is our 3rd monday at sea and we are only just half way to Itajai. I cant believe how slow this race has been. I would have thought that by now we would be at the equator.

‘Yesterday we made a tactical decision to head west again. Having looked at the front runners and our tactiques to cross the doldrums we decided we needed to be further west. Kite up and we blasted along all afternoon. The wind steadily increased and by sunset we made a cautious decision to go bear headed with one reef. The waves were big and the wind was gusty and strong. We still had 3000nm to go so we needed to be careful and look after the boat. By 23H00 there was a strange line of black clouds in the sky. It was like we were going to sail under a bridge. The waves started to break over the back of the boat and down my front. I was now cold and confused as to what was going on. The air was warm and the wind was up again. The boat was cork screwing off all the waves. I could not see any thing as it was very dark. Soon the clouds moved away and the wind eased off. I think we passed through a front. After the front we gybed south and hoisted the fractional kite again.

‘It was cold so we were back in our boots and warm clothes, but soon we were too hot for words.

‘Pip and I took it in turns to helm as it was tricky. You could not see anything, one really had to use their senses. Finally sunrise came and we started the day with oats and tea. We put the pilot on as the wind had dropped so we could chat about the weather and make a plan for the coming days. Happy to be heading south and, both of us happy with the miles we had gained during the night it was a good way to start the day.

‘Today was my first shower and second time I brushed my hair. We have been so busy on board that Pip and I haven’t really had much time to do these things. With the kite up and going a long at 10 knots or so I poured some sea water over myself. This time is was voluntary. It was not a rogue wave coming and bashing me on the head. I got out the soap and washed my hair. Long hair is not easy to manage at sea, but it sure felt good after several buckets of water. Feeling refreshed and the auto pilot doing its trick we are finally heading south.”

Clearly their spirits are soaring and they’re back in the hunt, but they’ve had a major issue, tearing their big pink lady!

“Today we have been dealing with the consequences of an overnight disaster in our little world; we ripped our big spinnaker in half!

“It happened in quite an innocuous way, the wind had been moderate but nothing special, the sea the same. It was dark with no moon so you could not see the waves on the water but just about make out the outline of the spinnaker with the strips of glow fast showing the shape of the leading edge.

“We were both on deck about to change over helms, chatting perhaps not concentrating enough when a wave came from 90 degrees to the rest of the swell, and coincided with slamming into the side of the boat at the same time as we had finished coming off surfing a different wave. The force of the wave hitting us on the side spun us round into a broach leaving us on our side before sheets could be eased. The spinnaker flogged twice before we were able to gain control of the boat and bring it upright again, by which time we could see something was wrong. The sail had torn almost exactly in half with a diagonal rip starting two thirds of the way up the leading edge and finishing at the clew. Oh Dear! or words to that effect.

“There was nothing really to say or do other than take the sail down and replace it with the gennicker which has been holding the fort in its absence ever since.

“Ripping this sail is a killer blow, it is a vital component to our sail plan offering our largest down wind sail area and we should have been using it all day today and for many other days in the future not least of which the final approaches into Itajai. Without this sail we are not able to sail to our target speeds in the lower wind ranges, we are down the pan.

“By the time daylight came we realised we had to try and fix the spinnaker and following an inspection of the damage decided where there’s sticky stuff there’s hope and set about patching it back together using spray on glue, sticky back Dacron, kevlar patches for the clew and a good old fashioned needle and thread. It was a mammoth task, we set the sail out in the bow of the boat, it was unbelievably hot and there was water slopping around that had come in with the spinnaker foot which ended up in the water when we dropped. The boat despite being under gennicker was still bucking around on the waves, making it all quite difficult to find a dry flat surface, lay out two matching parts of the kite and then stick them together.

“There followed five hours of what can best be described as Bikram yoga meets Blue Peter where I contorted my body into all sorts of shapes to pin and hold bits of spinnaker while bracing against the roll of the boat, while Pips cut strips of Dacron, we sprayed glue and stuck bits together all in an excruciatingly hot and wet environment. The piece de resistance was the clew which had partially ripped into the reinforcement and was put back together with some Kevlar patches and Dr Sails epoxy glue which says it works in the wet.

“We pushed the boat as hard as we could today with the sails we had but despite slowly reeling in Groupe Setin and Zetra the 6th and 7th place boats we lost our 8th place to Espoir Competition in the 1500 position report, which is not surprising really, it has been perfect A2 spinnaker conditions and assuming they still have the full sail inventory we were there for the taking, limping along under powered.

“By sunset we had put the kite back together again and were ready for a test. We hoisted and then gingerly raised the sock to let the spinnaker out and I was half expecting to see all of the patches pull apart one by one as the wind hit the sail, but it held. I couldn’t stop laughing looking at the giant pink hedkandi branded spinnaker which now has a jagged white scar slashed through the middle of it. But it worked.

“We kept it up for an hour or so and then just when it was dark we heard a quiet pop and a zipping sound and knew we had pushed it too far, some of the repairs were coming apart. So we have again dropped the spinnaker into the forepeak and replaced it with our workhorse gennicker to make our way south through the night.

“Tomorrow will be a day of more sticking and a lot of sewing to secure the sticky repairs and give the sail a chance of lasting more than a couple of nights. It is not job done by a long way but not game over either.”

They’re now starting to enter the doldrums and have worked their way back into 8th. With the wind now starting to die, the strain on the sail repair will lessen and as it dies away, it will offer them a good chance to make the needed repairs without losing to much distance to their competitors, so all is not lost by any means.

Out front though, the leading three Class40’s are out of the Doldrums and streaking towards Fernando de Noronha which will be the first land they see. ‘Le Conservateur’ still leads ‘V and B’ but only by a mere 25nm, a far cry from when they entered the Doldrums and the lead was over 300nm!

Closing in on the finish line, the Multi50 ‘FenêtréA Prysmian’ has less than 50nm to go and at an average speed of 11 knots, will finish as dawn breaks on Itajaï. 50nm behind, ‘PRB’ is still leading, but 179nm behind, ‘Banque Populaire VIII’ is in her element and ailing nearly 3 knots faster.

With the weather forecast suggesting that the wind will die as they close the final miles to the coast, Vincent Riou and Sébastien Col on ‘PRB’ are covering ‘Banque Populaire VIII’ and have held their course to make sure they gybe directly in front of Armel Le Cléac’h and Erwan Tabarly to ensure they defend their position. As all good coaches say: “Stay directly between your opponent and the finish line…..”

Riou is on track to win his second Transat Jacques Vabre in a row and it was in 2013 that he was in the same position as he closed the coast, so experience is definitely on his side and with Col as his team mate, they have a wealth of knowledge and tactical prowess that should help them stay ahead as the wind dies away, however, the ‘Jackal’ is a fierce and wily competitor and you can rest assured if he gets shown a single weakness, he will pounce and take away any advantage.