Which way to Rio?

As I lie in my bunk I can hear Tom and Petri in the cockpit above me discussing the grib (weather) files and routing options to Rio. The routing decision has consumed us. All other topics of discussion have long since retreated to the bilges where they lurk with abandoned beanies and lost socks.

The primary issue is simply this: north now or later? The secondary issue is how far north? Rio lies about 2 degrees, or 120 miles, north of our current latitude. So we have to make some northward gains at some point to get to Rio.

Furthermore, the traditional route to Rio takes a much more northerly line, with boats usually approaching Rio from the north east to avoid the calms associated with the mid-Atlantic high pressure system.

The direction of the wind and swell makes it very difficult to sail directly towards our preferred way point. At present we can sail either due west, and thus potentially straight into the mid-Atlantic high where we could languish for days in light winds; or we can sail north of north west before heading west once more.

There are advantages to both approaches and some of us manage to simultaneously advocate for both strategies at the same time without blushing. Perhaps I should have included haloperidol (a strong injectable anti-psychotic) in the first aid kit after all.

The nuances of the discussion are far too detailed to be reproduced here. The massive oversimplification is as follows: if we go too far north we could miss the chance to take a gap through the high pressure zone should one appear; and if we go west we will remain close to Avanti (our main competition) and will be able to respond to their moves. The next day or two will likely lock in our overall race strategy.

If you have been following the race tracker, you may have noticed that we changed to a more northerly course at about 3am this morning. This however was not because we have come to a decision. Rather our AIS system alerted us to a very large tanker bearing down on us at more than 20kts. We had to gybe to get out of the way.

So the discussions continue this morning. And in case you have jumped to the conclusion that the discussions are acrimonious, let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. The discussions are knitting the team together, allowing us to recognize each other’s strengths.

What is clear from the discussions though is that we have one of the best navigators in the fleet on board Sophie B, and two superb sailors with valuable tactical racing experience.

So what do I think, north or west? We still have a day or two to make a decision and should keep our options open for the time being. I am sure that with more grib files and great discussion that this remarkable team will come up with a winning strategy.

Best, Harry


Masterchef Challenge!

Dear landlubbers

You have been presented with a freshly caught, still-flapping Dorado. There is no shop within 1800 km. You are required to prepare a luncheon involving said Dorado, for your fellow travelers. Proceed.

Here is one attempted solution.

  1. Dispatch the denizen of the deep to the hereafter by means of a sharply applied winch handle to the head.
  2. Gut the same. Remove head and tail with whatever implements are to hand. A Leatherman and a hacksaw may come in handy.
  3. Clean the murder site by means of copious buckets of salt water splashed over the decks and scrubbed . Stand back to admire your handiwork.
  4. Attempt to fillet the fish with the implements to hand. Concede that neat fillet steaks are not an option.
  5. Wrap in foil and a bin bag and place in a barely cold fridge for 18 hours to consider what to do with your fish.
  6. Name your fish. Being the first, we start with A.  Meet Alphonse.
  7. The next day, you discover why comestion of the fish had been delayed.  You are on lunch duty….  Masterchef challenge accepted…..

Random events and circumstances to be borne in mind

  • your work surface is 20 cm x 30 cm. And moves mostly in two, sometimes three,  dimensions. If your remove the kettle from the stove top, it must occupy your work surface.
  • the fridge is under the work surface
  • you have a two plate gas burner and oven on gimbals, meaning that its motion is entirely disconnected to that of the boat.
  • implements, ingredients, pans, etc. are not what you are accustomed to. Any request for such is met with a chorus of “don’t have” or “it’s in one of eleven cupboards”.

Take 2 bird’s eye chillies. 2 green chilies, one habanero and chop finely, all while your chopping board swings 30 degrees to each side.  Apply to the fish, with olive oil, garlic, butter and freshly squeezed lime juice. Salt and black pepper to taste. Cover with foil, and place in a preheated oven.

Temperature cannot be properly controlled so just take what you get. Bake fish until done, and serve with a sauce of melted butter, chopped coriander and Tabasco.

Fellow crew, lunch is served. 0 marks for presentation. For the rest, I’m pretty darned proud. And it will be the best fish I’ve ever eaten.

Winds up

After a relatively slow day yesterday, we found the wind strengthen today to about 20 knots. The lumpy seas mean that we will not try our new fixed-up spinnaker pole as it is to be preserved for the more gentle winds of the tropics. This is fine, as Sophie B thanks us for being treated gently and gently skips along even when under genoa and main.

A fresh dorado caught by Harry yesterday meant that we had a delicious lunch of baked dorado accompanied by a lime, garlic and coriander sauce. The judges of master chef may have had a little trouble with the presentation as the bumpy sea put paid to any frills, but the taste was simply awesome.

I remember, now, why I never eat dorado that is not freshly caught from the mid-Atlantic. I’d be sure to be disappointed. The afternoon saw us cross the meridian into the Western Hemisphere, which was an excuse to follow lunch with a little champagne!

The race is hotting up, and we wait to hear the progress of the “faster” boats from our rear, as we make steady progress to Rio with Avanti within 50 miles or so of us. We feel our northerly track will stand us in good stead as we head for the trade winds.

The watch and sleeping routine is now exactly that – routine, and it is easy to enjoy wake up at odd hours for a bit of sailing and chatting one’s fellow crew. Of particular interest have been Petri’s lessons on dark matter, time and the theory of waves and how the ocean is sometimes uphill! Somehow after chatting to him it all makes sense. I think you need hours on the ocean to understand though.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!)