Route du Rhum. Donald Alexander Slowly Grinding Away

Donald Alexander.

by Richard Crockett

Since Donald Alexander restarted the Route du Rhum race on Sunday, he has not had an easy time – hence little news.

Experienced yachties know that when there is little news coming off a boat, times are tough, and the crew, or in this case ‘The Man’ does NOT want to be disturbed!

He has battled with headwinds, system breakdowns and more – yet our man continues to grind away at the race with his sights firmly set on the finish line.

His troubles started with his AIS and Navigation systems going down, making navigation and weather routing more difficult, and his boat invisible, electronically speaking, to other vessels, especially commercial traffic.

A missive from the boat last night said: “I’m a bit beaten up today. Wind came whistling through last night. Not much different to crossing Bay of Biscay. I was down below when the Autopilot put us into a tack. I suspected it was the masthead unit (MHU) which caused this involuntary tack! I had no idea where the wind was coming from” he said.

But young Alexander is made of sturdy stuff, so he went head to wind so that he could shut everything down and switch to the back up MHU – which is not as good, but does the job.

“The wind increased some more and despite my best efforts to slow her down, she was pounding badly. A couple of hours later the Autopilot put us into another unintended tack as the MHU had failed. I checked the masthead at daybreak and both MHU’s are gone – simply blown away or whipped off due to the rapid snapping movements at the top of the mast!

Power of One.

“Now I’m a bit screwed because I have no wind information, strength or direction. And worst of all I have no Autopilot that can steer by the wind. The only ‘sensor’ is me. This is hugely frustrating and there is absolutely nothing I can do. It puts me at a massive competitive disadvantage. I was determined to get into top 20 which was a stretch, but now really difficult as it pretty much means I’ve got to be hands on deck 24/7 not to mention hand steering most of the time.

“Maybe a bit of sunshine and a tailwinds will boost my spirits” he said.

Later the breeze died and shifted so he tacked, only to find that once he had settled onto his course that it backed, forcing him to tack again.

Fortunately the wind picked up and was lifting him on the starboard tack.

Obviously he has been doing his best to sort his weather routing system out as a later message said: “Finally got a weather routing through so I can see what’s coming next so that I can prepare. I’m also exhausted and must try and get some sleep. Tonight should be a bit quieter”.

He indicated how incensed he is at the malfunctioning MHU’s as in his words both MHU’s have been wiped out. It’s very unusual for one to go, and he has lost 3!

In his closing remarks he indicated that he was expecting one further big blow for which he was busy preparing his storm jib and 3 reefs in the mainsail. “It’ll be for about 16 hours. This is an adventure, but I’m getting a bit over it. Each day that goes by, there’s less chance of another low so I just tick them off.

“And oh yes, I checked the repairs thoroughly and despite the hammering last night, they’re in good shape. I thought I heard the one give in the early hours of this morning, but it’s fine, thank goodness. Must get some sleep now.”

Alexander is currently lying in 26th place with about 2700nm to go.