by Richard Crockett
Donald Alexander has been dealt a cruel blow on his debut solo ocean race across the Atlantic when on his third night at sea, during a stonking gale and massive seas, his main bulkhead started cracking and delaminating.
Being the tenacious type that he is, and with his normal never-say-die attitude he hoped to be able to shore things up with locker doors and continue racing. But after sending pics to his shore team he was strongly advised to suspend racing and head for La Coruna in Spain for repairs.
His shore team flew in last night and repairs are underway as he hopes to start again tomorrow (Sunday).
Prior to docking he said “all good out here, but been a long frustrating day trying to get to La Coruna before the next front comes in. There are big confused seas and I am doing everything possible not to damage the boat any more.
“The wind has been up and down and all over the place, and there have been times when the pounding has been intense. I wince every time it happens and the crack is worsening. I don’t think I’ll have a problem getting in, but I don’t want to make the repair bigger than it needs to be”.
With just 86nm to port he said that he will have little respite as the repair list, other than the bulkhead, is long. As the day has progressed I’ve noticed additional things which need attention.
“There’s also a lot of cleaning up to do. There is diesel all over the bilges as the diesel tank has leaked. It’s a veritable diesel ice rink down below, and the smell is terrible” he said.
Shortly after arriving in La Coruna he said “I still haven’t slept, but I tucked into a delicious fish meal, Spanish style, complete with a glass of wine. Ah, it is nice to be ashore!
When pushed about the conditions out in the Atlantic he said that he had got in just in time, having to put in 9 tedious tacks in the last 5 miles, before the next front came through. “I haven’t checked locally, but in the UK it is “klapping” it at 50-60 knots. I was pretty chilled in 45 knots upwind, but 50-60 knots would have stirred quite a bit of anxiety”.
Donald describes his boatbuilder, Ian Major, as a real pro. “He has worked on America’s Cup boats and knows boat designs well which gives me great comfort”.
The crack in the bulkhead is ugly, as can be seen by the pics, and its amazing that it can be repaired to the same level of structural integrity as new, within 24 hours.
On his repair list is his masthead unit for the autopilot. “I discovered the problem at midday today – the wind vane had simply been blown off, or pounded off or both. So a new one arrives tonight which will hopefully restore my main AP which is the bomb. It worked so well in those high winds beating upwind I’m hoping it will be as effective in the downwind part of the race. Oh, how I can’t wait for that!”
Of his diesel leak he says “the whole area from behind the navigation station is awash with water and diesel. It’s in everything, my bags, my blanket and my boots which have tracked it all over the cockpit. So below and on deck are super slick, increasing the chances of falls and injuries. Not to mention the smell which has exacerbated my seasickness challenge”.
On his performance he remarked just how much of a struggle the first few days after the start were due to the high seas. “Lethargy, slow movement and thinking are big symptoms, so it was a surprise to find myself working through such an August fleet of pros. Maybe that’s the secret. Don’t try too hard, just make sure you go in the right direction, the strategy element which I love”.
“Before signing off I’m a little overwhelmed and surprised by the interest in and support you have all shown in this adventure. Thank you so much, it means more than you would know”.
While his repair list is long, Donald will get it all done and finish this race in style. After all he is not alone as some 50 boats took refuge in various ports during the storms they were plagued with, and many of those are as determined as he to finish.
Is this a case of ‘come hell or high water’?