Happy New Year!

The spinnaker pole repairs are pretty much complete. The product of Petri’s ingenuity and engineering has yet to be tested though as we are waiting for a patch of light downwind sailing to test it.

#ThingsYouCanMakeFromARadar.

If the pole lasts for an hour, it will likely last the rest of the race. In the interim our sail options are limited. We sail as hard and deep as we can with our last remaining downwind sail, an A3 spinnaker.

The need to preserve our last remaining downwind sail makes us perhaps overly conservative, furling it when the true wind climbs above a measly 20kts. The upside is that it allows us all to get a little more rest as we can sail with just one person on deck when we are not flying a spinnaker. And we do need the rest.

The daily position reports keep us motivated. We are doing well, perhaps even superbly well. Tom’s navigation has been spot on. We are well placed for the anticipated weather for the next few days and I would not willingly exchange our position for that of any other boat in the fleet.

Thanks to Ollie we are eating fantastically well. Thai green curry, chicken vindaloo, superb steak rolls. We will have fillet and champagne tonight to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Open bar. All welcome. Location: the Valdivia banks, where a seamount rises steeply 5000m out of the mid-Atlantic to just 23m below the surface.

While the sailing directions exhort skippers to keep a keen look out for fishing trawlers in the vicinity we have yet to see another vessel. Perhaps the fish are long gone.

Happy new year to all.

Harry

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Bent poles, but solid progess

Good afternoon from the deck of Sophie B. Today’s mood is somewhat better as we discover Sophie B’s other assets (other than the ability to sail very fast with a symmetrical spinnaker in front of her).

Petri has been hard at work on the foredeck, drilling and taping the spinnaker pole back together using other bits of less useful equipment as stand-in parts. The pole still looks a bit bent overall, and probably won’t be used except to pole out a genoa, or some very light spinnaker work.

We are currently sailing at 9.3 knots (as I looked up, the speed over ground was exactly that) with an asymmetrical spinnaker hoisted forward. Although designed for closer to the wind sailing and despite the fact that wind is bearing 150 degrees off our port bow, the speed of the boat through the reasonably calm waters of the Atlantic, makes the apparent wind move forward and that sail is flying beautifully. Ok, enough jargon and apologies to those who don’t have a clue what I’m talking about.

The water is so clear and blue out here, and we have not seen sight of any other signs of people since we saw saw a large  ship on the horizon a few days back, but we have not totally forsaken the comforts of land. Prego rolls for brunch and chili con carne for dinner accompanied by a glass of red is on the menu for today, as we try to finish off our fresh meat before we start scratching below the floor boards for rusty tins of “whatever may be in there with pasta”.

I did spot a fillet and bottle of champagne which are presumably part of our New Year’s Eve fare. I wonder what else the skipper has planned. Here’s to Sophie B entering the new year closest to Rio of all the fleet. Of that there is a good chance.

Eat, sleep, sail

After our great start on Boxing Day, the four crew rapidly set about getting into the rhythm of our lives for the next three or so weeks.

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Cuttlefish? Flying fish?

Sleep, sail, eat, as one yachtie wag put it. And indeed, for all expectations of time to read edifying novels or poetry, listen to music, or to cogitate and put the world to rights, there has been precious little time for that yet.

Perhaps, as we enter the trades, that opportunity will come, but I am beginning to think it chimeric.

After the start, we headed more west than other competitors to take advantage of better winds in that direction. I think we were wrong, as the following day we were becalmed for a few hours before deciding to change strategy and head north.

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Blue Sea

I am not sure that they were playing follow the leader, but three boats, Marie Galante, JML Rotary Scout and Bolero all did the same thing of heading west. They have persisted where we did not. It will be interesting to see who was correct.

We then set about hunting down Avanti, our closest rival on handicap. She had elected to follow the conventional coastal routing – heading up the coast as far as the Namibian border before routing north west.

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More Sea

Over Wednesday, we gradually cut her lead, and by midnight on Thursday morning, we had actually overtaken her, largely due to some very high speed downwind sailing under the spinnaker – often hitting speeds, in the dark and with lumpy seas, of in excess of 12 knots…

And then the spinnaker pole snapped. Or folded in two.

This is Not Good, and may have put paid to our ambitions of winning the class, as we do not have a spare on board and the race is essentially downwind.

So after tidying the mess of ropes up and unfurling the genoa, we each went to sleep after our watch feeling despondent.

Yesterday morning, we appraised the damage, and realised that we might be able to salvage things by repurposing the radar mounting, and inserting that into the two remaining good portions of the old pole to create a new one.

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Taking apart the radar mounting.

We set about cutting the bent piece off the old pole and using a hacksaw to cut down the old radar mount. Today will see us try to put it all together.

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Petri preparing the broken pole for surgery

Despite this, we have been sailing as hard as we can to stop Avanti from establishing an unassailable lead. Conditions could not be better, constant winds from behind us, seas good for getting the boat to surf….

We need to get the spinnaker flying again.

=-=-=-

Things seen

× turtles

* flying fish

* an albatross

=-=-=

Vignettes of life aboard. It’s dark, 4 am boat time. We have two official time systems on board: UTC, GMT before it was decolonised; and boat time, which is synced roughly to our longitude. At present boat time is an hour ahead of UTC and an hour behind Cape Town.

In the dim red glow of a head torch, one fumbles for one’s boots, trousers, anorak, beanie and gloves. It’s not really cold but the wind off the sea chills, and the occasional wave finds its way onto the deck.

A quick cup of coffee, made from still-hot water in the thermos from the night before. Last, put on the Personal Flotation Device (Pfd), a gilet-like inflatable life jacket with a veritable McGyver set of gadgets built in inside.

A water-activated torch, a device that sends a distress message to the boat’s GPS system to alert the (usually sleeping) crew if I disappear over the back – something less likely now that Petri’s cats cradle of a sunshade solution is installed; there are so many tiedowns that I’m more likely to be caught like a fish in a net.

I climb from the warm – too warm – cabin onto the deck. A quick chat with Ollie. Sea state? Wind? Course to steer? Maneuvering around to the wheel, I clip myself onto a strong point with a tether tied to the PFD.

Ollie is gone. And so the watch begins. A glance at the compass. Pick a star to steer by (I remind myself again that next time I’ll bring my star atlas onto deck).

There’s no moon. Just Jupiter, which casts a dim gleam over the water, and stars. So many stars. Feeling the swell rise and lift the boat, trying to time the quick flick of the rudder to get her surfing for a few meters.

And then back to a glance at the compass, the star, the sea.

Be calm, and carry on

Nevergetters log. Day 0.

We had an awesome start yesterday, a moderate to fresh South Easter, with a reach to the first mark at Milnerton, followed by a brisk run to the next mark at Blouberg. And then, next stop Rio.

We had expected a roughish nights sailing, but found ourselves making 150 nm in 16 hours, electing to head further west than our competitors.

Will7658628e-1659-4c20-bcba-dd55db4fd8c6-1834024989 the gamble pay off? We’re not sure. And right now we have found ourselves a little without wind. We have the pink spinnaker flying, the sea is inky blue. It’s hot. We’re happy.

Total distance covered… Around 200 nm.

Meals eaten: 2 (turkey and gammon rolls with mayo and mustard for supper; brie and bacon croissants for breakfast).

Race progress can be followed at Xtra-Trac.

Slipping lines

Skipper’s log: T -18 hours

We are down to the final list: stow gear; take the stackpack,  extra fenders and mooring lines off he boat; find a replacement screwdriver for the one I dropped overboard yesterday; check the race notice board for any changes to the sailing instructions; obtain final race clearance forms from the race committee; and sign Sophie B out of RCYC,  destination Rio.

We will slip lines tomorrow at 11:30. I always find it a thrilling, slightly reckless act. I hope I will pause for a moment to watch the gap between the quay and boat slowly widen but I doubt I will. My concentration will be required elsewhere, firstly on guiding Sophie B respectably out of harbour, then preparing her for sea, raising sails, getting clearance from port control and making our way to the start line.

There are just 8 boats starting the race tomorrow, 5 monohulls on our start and 3 catamarans a few minutes later. So while the start line itself should not be too crowded,  jostling for position while ducking the spectator boats will certainly keep us busy. If the forecast models we use are correct, there will be too much wind (30kts) for us to fly a spinnaker at the start and the first night.

So it will likely take a day or two before I look out at the horizon, take a deep breath and let the deep peace of being at sea wash over me. But there is time. A sound boat, a fabulous team, and lots of time.

=-=

Tom, thanks for getting us to the start line.

Catherine, Rachel, Joseph and Emma I will miss you terribly. Thank you for the book of photos, pictures and poems you made for me. And thank you for the time you have given me to make this possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheers, from The Teacher

The yacht Sophie B is a few fresh vegetables short of being ready to set sail for Rio. Remarkably, and even though we only leave port on Monday around noon, we have cleared customs and our passports now say that we have left the country. Preparations have been smooth thanks to the meticulous organisation of Tom and Harry, and the tinkering and handiwork of, the still slightly more Finnish than South African, Petri. Having joined the crew late in the day (in Cape to Rio terms anyway), I can only thank the chaps, Tom and Harry in particular for the countless tasks (on endless lists), many hours and of course incalculable numbers of rands that have gone into making this voyage a reality! It has been an amazing effort spanning a few years.

The current weather is on its way past the Cape and the start on Monday is predicted to be more summery, with the South Easter lending us a hand up the coast. The first start will consist of 5 mono-hulls and a few catamarans following 10 minutes later. We start a week ahead of the faster boats and that will surely give us the opportunity to watch many of them finish as sip on our caipirinhas atop Sugar Loaf.

We look forward to sharing our tales from the waters of the Atlantic. Do keep an eye on the tracker (linked to the RCYC web page) and cheer on the good ship Sophie B as she majestically leads the fleet to Rio!

(Ed: This post does not do justice to the mind-boggling efforts of The Teacher to plan the meals, provision, and pack the boat. As a result, we will be the best-fed crew on the race. Watch for updates on our eating!)

Ready to go!

 

Navigator’s Log: T -4 and a bit days

Distance to Rio: c. 3600 nautical miles

Distance covered so far: None, in terms of the race. An unfathomable amount in all other respects

=-=

I (The Taller Brother) cannot actually believe we have got to this point. What started as a wildly bibulous (ok, entirely unsober) discussion over Christmas lunch with the Almost-as-Tall Brother three years ago has morphed and been guided into this.

We are about to depart for Rio, as participants in the 2017 Cape to Rio race.

Rewind to that Christmas lunch – turkey with bread sauce, gammon, the trimmings and trappings. I can’t actually remember who said it first, but one of us said that one of our life ambitions was to do the Cape to Rio race– the 2014 edition was due to start in a week. The other of us said that they had a similar dream. We decided that we would investigate the possibility of doing it together, pooling our resources to co-own a boat. Despite the tragic start to that race; a cut-off low pressure system caused havoc in the fleet less than 24 hours after the start, we persisted.

A trawl through South African yacht brokers’ websites in early January 2014 threw up a classic Swan in need of a new owner. Three months later, Sophie B was ours. So we jointly owned a boat, but despite some considerable experience with yachts and sailing dinghies, neither of us had a piece of paper to our name that would actually allow us to sail her. So we procured a trainer who got us through our day skippers’ licence exams; and another one who helped us build the miles for our coastal skipper’s licence. We studied for radio licence exams.

And that was just for us. The boat required work – not that she had been badly maintained, at all. Rather, embarking on a project to get her ready for Rio meant that she needed a significant upgrade and refit to make her race-worthy. Halyards and running rigging were re-arranged; new electronic equipment was installed; and the – literally – hundreds of items required to bring her up to compliance with the 15 pages of safety requirements of the Offshore Special Regulations that govern oceanic yacht racing. There is some irony in the fact that these regulations have their genesis in the catastrophic 1979 Fastnet Race; Sophie B’s first offshore race after her launch in 1978. What goes around…. But we knew that, having survived – even if not completed – that race, that we had chosen a proper yacht. A well-built, well-behaved craft who would be both forgiving of her crew, and safe in almost any conditions. And she needed papers; eye-watering quantities of bureaucratic papers. Registration; Certificates of fitness; Ship-station radio licences …

And we needed a crew. At the start, we had no idea where we would find them. We had decided early on that – despite the many advantages – a large crew would complicate provisioning (especially water). We decided that we would have four, preferably older, crew. The Violinist arrived – he had started the 2014 Race but had been forced by the weather to abandon. He’s married to the person who taught my wife flute throughout high school and her BMus degree. He took one look at the boat, and declared himself interested. Also, through my wife, we found The Doctor. Like The Violinist, he had extensive sailing experience; was wise and strong. He also expressed an interest in joining us. That was just on 1 ½ years ago. And that was where we began.

We started preparing in earnest at the beginning of this year, gradually whittling down the list of things required to comply with the OSR and getting the boat’s papers in order. We sailed in the Cape Winter as the crew, learning to live on the boat together, and making sure that we got on. We did. We saw pods of whales; schools of dolphins. Sunsets, moonrises, sunrises. And then, just before the Mossel Bay Race (a 260nm race from Simonstown to Mossel Bay in September, and the qualifying race for both boat and crew for the Rio race), The Doctor informed us that his time commitments would not allow him to continue with us. For a few days things hung in the balance; would we find someone at short notice, free for the Mossel Bay Race, and with time to spare through to January 2017? We thought the odds were slim, and had almost resigned ourselves to putting up “situations vacant” notices on yacht club noticeboards. The Violinist mentioned that he knew someone whom he regularly raced short-distance races with and who had been crew on the same boat as him in the 2014 race. We invited him to sail the Mossel Bay Race as a try-out (from both sides). We raced to Mossel Bay together – on the way back, The Teacher revealing a particular skill at boat cooking and making ship’s bread. And so The Teacher joined the crew. We had the right boat, and the right crew. Now it was just the matter of getting to the start-line.

 

Despite the extended period of pre-preparation, there was still significant work to be done. We needed to resolve engineering problems (how to mount the asymmetrical spinnakers); electrical snafus; plumbing snafus…. At the beginning of December, the task list was over 100 items long, and grew like Topsy to over 150 in a matter of days. Despite it seeming at times impossible in the time frames, the boat is clean and sleek on her undersides; we have the sails on board; the dry provisions stowed. Other than those things that have to wait — loading the fresh produce (on the morning of departure); bunkering fuel and water; being processed for customs and emigration (on Friday) – we are pretty much done.

We now are watching the weather anxiously – it’s a little odd in this part of the world for multiple forecasts not to concur on Cape Town’s weather five days ahead. We pack and repack our tiny carryon bags. We try to imagine ourselves surrounded only by sea in less than a week. We talk about our beer rations and how it may evolve into a new currency. We talk about what we will do on the Other Side. Talk … Dreams … Sometimes it does come true.

 

Next post from me will be from the High Seas.

=-=

And here’s my personal roll-call of thanks to those who have made it possible.

To my wife and kids; thanks for allowing me to pursue this. You’ve sacrificed a lot over the last three years (and the last three weeks in particular). I can’t say thanks enough. But know I’ll miss you all. I’ll be back at the end of January.

To the Almost-As-Tall brother; thanks for the project. It’s been a roller-coaster three years. I am glad that you also wanted to be part of it.

To the Crew: I think we’re in a for a helluva ride

To all the many friends and family who have endured and supported this journey. Some of you still think we’re crazy. I assure you we’re not.

Further thanks are also owed to

  • Jacques for endless tech advice and being our shore-comms.
  • Fin and Ziets for teaching us how to sail proper-like.
  • Rob Sharp, Rick Nankin and Joe Heywood, Gerry Hegie, David Barnes, Des Holtman – if you are in Cape Town and need (respectively) a yacht broker; sailmakers; boat repairers x 2; marine electricians, these are the guys to go to.