by Matthew Thomas
It’s been nearly a month since our ‘Two Pips’ set off from Le Havre on this adventure and adventure it has been. They’re now only 14nm from the finish and about 2 hours out, which will have them finish just before sunrise.
It’s been a challenging sail down the Brazilian coast as Pip brings us up to date:
“I haven’t written a blog for a few days now, the pace in this final phase of the race has been as intense as ever, hours and days have merged and been totally absorbed by steering, trimming, navigating and sail changes. Precious down time has been for sleeping only to recharge ready for the next burst of activity.
“Now with less than 200 miles to the finish of the TJV I have managed to snatch half an hour in the early morning sun to take stock.
“The chase down to Cabo Frio was wet and wild, we chose a route inside the oil fields and heading into the night of the 20th November were flying with the small spinnaker up and sea state starting to build as the wind increased to 30 knots. As the waves started to build ‘Concise 2′ made the most of them surfing regularly at 16 or 17 knots and easily making our course between the land and the oil fields and we counted down the miles. Night fell and we discussed what should be our cut off point for dropping the spinnaker, we still had no reliable use of autopilot on stbd tack and could we really hand steer it through the night without incident?
“We set our dropping parameters to be one of us not able to steer, no moonlight or a consistent wind over 33 knots, the latter came first and though it was so tempting just to carry on as we were doing fine we resolutely dropped when we had a consistent wind speed of 34 knots and continued the rest of the night under staysail and reefed main. This turned out to be a good call as the moon disappeared not long after and the wind through the second half of the night was a consistent 36 to 37 knots. We desperately needed to try and get some energy back for the morning.
“By morning, and after a couple of hours sleep, I was feeling like a new woman, we hoisted the kite as the sun rose in the ‘moderated’ 28 knots and Pips did the first shift and as we swapped, the breeze again increased to 33-34 knots, but in the daylight we held our nerve and I then took all the pleasure from a five hour helming session which has been already logged as one of my all-time best sails.
“The times when sailing an asymmetric spinnaker that it is generally beneficial to arc the boat up and sail like an absolute lunatic are actually few and far between. Normally downwind VMG with its sensible shoes and clipboard reminds you that though you might be going really fast in that direction, where you want to go is actually over there, so fun is not always on the agenda.
“For a couple of hours on Saturday morning the course the wind and the waves allowed me some proper lunatic helming. The boat was on fire as I was properly able to surf off one wave, then steer up increasing my speed to catch the next, which our bow would skip off with a gentle slap, bursting over the crest into thin air and chasing the next. Speeds of 17 knots became the cruising average and while making breakfast Pip started to set me challenges saying,’ you can’t have coffee unless you are going at over 19 knots’.
“With that I hunted the first wave, surfed, bounced to the next then jumped and skipped between crests with the bow continuously in thin air and the lightest of slaps as we made contact with our next victim. The boat speed ramped up and up, the humming and screaming from the foils got louder and louder, the helm felt electric and as torrents of water burst down the deck covering me, I was locked in, adrenaline pumping, biggest grin ever on my face; we broke through 19 knots at the third wave, then carried on to 20, 21.2 knots with me screaming over the noise of the boat,’ GIVE ME COFFEE’. Both of us were crying with laughter and the boat still charged on at 18 knots!
“My new speed record that morning came in at 23.2 knots. That is my kind of sailing!
“As predicted the richness of this last race to Cabo Frio died with the wind later that day, and we sat in a windless hole, waiting for the others to catch up and restart this 5400 mile race with only 450 miles to go. The contrast in conditions was the same in emotions, how could we go in a matter of hours from full on flying and pulling away from the competition to sitting with sails flogging while we literally watch ‘Espoir’ sail up behind us in their own personal wind destroying a lead we had been fighting for days to keep.
“Since Cabo Frio we have been at the back of this pack now in 9th place. We spent a lot of the day yesterday in sight of ‘Espoir’, but finally lost them late afternoon. We are pretty much sailing blind at the moment. We have two possible systems to gain weather information onboard, one is via a satellite broadband connection which would allow us to access any weather source on the web, the other is via iridium email which confines us to requesting GFS model GRIB’s via the sail docs service. A problem with our computer has meant we are not able at all to connect to the internet so can only use sail docs as our weather source. This has done us well to date however the further south we travel the less reliable these files are and we have now got to the stage where after at least three days of completely incorrect weather information we would probably be better off splitting open one of our teabags in the bottom of a bucket and reading the weather that way.
“Yesterday our routing told us to go far South, with the wind we had that didn’t seem right so we did the only sensible thing which was to stay close to the rum line. During the morning a 30 knot weather front passed over us, we had no indication this might be coming, the GRIB had suggested 10 knots from the south east not 30 from the south west. Like this we feel lame, we can’t really plan, we don’t know what is ahead there is very little strategy available to us other than sailing the shortest course we can.
“It’s a strange set of circumstances, less than 200 miles to go, 4 miles between us and our coveted 8th position and 20 to 7th. All we can do is keep focussed on sailing fast and on the right gybe, maybe cross fingers for a bit of luck, but I am willing to bet there are others in the fleet also with crossed fingers too.’
Sadly, ‘SNBSM Espoir Compétition’ has slipped past the girls and is now ahead of them by 4nm as they sail the final miles into Italjaï. This means our intrepid sailors are now in 9th and this will most probably be their final position.
It’s been a hard race, longer than expected, but it tested them and they rose to every challenge and will be finally able to rest, knowing they did a sterling job!