Step aboard as the wind finally builds and we get some great sailing action during Leg 5 of the 2019-2020 Clipper Round the World Race. In this week’s episode we have a bit of fun aboard but also do some work during engineering watch. A boat requires constant attention and you can never let your guard down. I hope you enjoy the video below!
05° 20.32′ North 148° 03.39′ East
Course Over Ground (COG) 318 True, 7.09 knots Speed Over Ground (SOG), water temp 85.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
It is now days at sea 16, race day 14 and we learn our fate that we are not headed towards the intended race finish in Sanya, China. Due to the developing COVID-19 pandemic in China (Video Episode 9 was taken on February 4th, 2020), we would be routed to the Subic Bay Yacht Club in Subic Bay, Philippines. This change of finish would ultimately play into our favor as far as race tactics. More on that in future videos.
We are in 6th place, after falling back from 2nd place, with 2,161 nautical miles to go to race finish. The fall in position was due to the next low pressure weather system, where the new leaders had earlier opted to go more easterly of our position and entered the trade winds sooner. We were not discouraged as we are still in the front pack. Below is an excerpt from my journal discussing the latest position report I had with our Skipper Rich Gould.
“On the race front, just talked with Skip, we are entering the trades and seeing a classic split between the front fleet and back fleet. The rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer. Now we must race hard and look for those incremental gains as we work our way back up through the lead pack.” February 4th, 2020
This was our game plan for the entire race, always look for those incremental gains. They will all add up in a 4,000+ nautical mile race and you never know how close the finish of the race will be between boats.
The wind would build and we would get some great downwind sailing with the spinnaker up. Although the sailing has been great, the life aboard can take it’s toll. The following is an excerpt from my journal on February 6th, after spending 18 days at sea.
“Last night, yesterday, and this morning were a real struggle as I have not been sleeping much due to the heat. It’s been affecting my mood and my performance. Definitely a lot tougher than I thought it would be. I slept 3 hours in the morning on the 0600-1000 off watch, which was good. About to try and sleep some more before the 1800-0000 watch. I’ll be on engineering duty tomorrow. Maybe I’ll film that as another 24 hours as a Clipper crew member.”
Luckily, a little sleep can go a long way. That night I had one of the best helming experiences (steering the boat) thus far.
“Last night on the 1800-000 watch was by far the best helming experience to date. The moon was three quarters full, wind on the beam, and the boat averaging 11.6 knots of speed over ground with 11 knots of apparent wind. Such an amazing experience helming a 70′ yacht under a Code 2 spinnaker at night, surfing waves at 16 knots boat speed. Epic!”
The next day I was on engineering watch. While on this duty you are responsible for checking the fluid levels on the main engine and the generator, check the bilges and empty any water in them, check the steering gear and conduct a deck walk.
The deck walk checks all critical safety gear components, including life lines, netting, jackstays, man-overboard equipment, and life saving equipment. Checking the steering gear requires climbing down into the lazarette, which is the aft most water tight compartment of the yacht. Inside this space is where the twin rudders come up through the bottom of the boat and where the steering cables attach.
During the inspection of the steering gear I found water sloshing about in the compartment where the port rudder is located. This was out of the ordinary as water should not be located in the bilge here. Upon further inspection I found water ingress from the rubber boot located around the rudder stock, above the bearing in the bottom of the boat. Any sort of water entering a boat is not a good thing.
I notified the skipper immediately, and after he took a look he figured out what was going on. Nothing like 100,000+ nautical miles sailed on these boats to know the in’s and out’s of them. Our skipper really is amazing. An hour later we had adjusted the rubber boot and hose clamp and the water ingress had stopped. We also went through and checked all the hardware as a few bolts were loose attaching the steering cables to the rudder.
A few hours later I checked the lazarette and the steering gear. No water, everything looked ship shape. It was now my turn on the helm and this coincided with our daily spinnaker halyard swap.
The halyard (which is the rope on the boat used to hoist a sail) consists of an inner core normally made out of dyneema (synthetic material) and then an outer sheath to protect the dyneema from UV damage and chafing. With a spinnaker halyard, the line is fed through a pulley, known as a “block” on a boat, located at the top of the mast, some 90′ above the waterline. As the spinnaker sail moves about during normal usage, the halyard has a tendency to work-harden, thus weakening the line as it passes through the block. If the area that the halyard is being work-hardened is not addressed, then the halyard can snap, sending your sail into the sea and causing a lot of damage.
Our yachts protocol was to swap halyards, which involved hoisting a crew member aloft, while underway, to tie on the new halyard and untie the old halyard. This process took us about 15 minutes to complete, all while I was on the helm. To add to the stress level of steering a boat with a crew member some 90′ above the water, I had less room for error due to the required deck hardware needed to hoist the crew member.
Normally, while sailing with a spinnaker hoisted, there is a crew member on the working sheet “trimming” the sail. This requires the crew member to “read” the sail and ease the sheet out to make it perform optimally. If they let it out too far then the sail can “collapse”, or fall in on itself, which looses performance and if you don’t catch it quick enough, creates a multitude of other issues.
Luckily, there are two crew members on the “coffee grinders” that can winch the working sheet of the spinnaker back in to a point where the spinnaker inflates back up. Then the crew member trimming eases it back out. It’s a constant dance between these crew members.
The grinders and the winch were used to hoist the crew member to the top of the mast. This meant the spinnaker sheet was “tied off” and unable to be trimmed. For me, steering the boat, this meant I could not make any helming errors. If I did, and the kite collapsed, it could cause potential injury to the crew member at the top of the mast. Also, there were no coffee grinders readily available to “reinflate the spinnaker” by grinding in the working sheet. It would be up to me to steer the boat just right to keep the spinnaker inflated. No pressure, right?!
We are a well trained crew and pulled the maneuver off without incident (sorry, no video! We were all too busy). Just another day aboard a 70′ racing yacht!