Gold Coast Australia sailed in some challenging conditions on our first night at sea as we raced in the 5th race of the Clipper 11/12 Round the World Yacht Race. Racing from Geraldton to Tauranga in New Zealand, we experienced large breaking swells as our 68 foot home turned into a submarine, spending more time under the water than on top as we beat into 30 knots of wind.
The dreaded sea sickness re-surfaced as many of the crew were struck down and unable to get out of there bunks with the leggers, crew who join for one race only, suffering the worst as they adjust to life at sea away from all the creature comforts of land like stable ground. Two of our crew were chronically ill for the first three days with sunken, pained eyes and green faces.
Day two dawned with a spectacular sunrise offering a clear view of the surrounding seas, a boiling and turbulent sea as the tops of waves are ripped off by the wind and the spray clouds your vision as it is so thick. The sun is shining, offering a clear blue sky adding to the amazing beauty of the marine blue ocean trimmed with frothing white foam.
Some of the crew were not so lucky this day as huge waves would crash over the deck washing anyone and everyone away in its path only to have the crew’s stopped short by there life lines. Crew member Annelise Nelson was carried from forward of the main companionway and thrown meters back to land by the traveller on the other side of the deck bouncing, to a halt on her safety line while another crew member Nina Zeun learnt the art of floating on the deck as she was continually doused by great torrents of water cascading down the deck.
Gold Coast Australia has now rounded Cape Leeuwin and struck out towards the Great Australian Bight sailing in moderate conditions on Day 3 flying our brand new Heavy Weight Spinnaker, our last having met a watery grave on the previous race during a gale in the Southern Ocean. As the miles dropped off we continued east towards the scoring gate, a virtual line in the ocean where the first three boats across receive points towards there final race tally. The weather continued to deliver 30 knots of wind as we sailed square with the Spinnaker. By midday on day 4 we took first place at the scoring gate and received a bonus three points.
After a short reprieve from the strong winds another low front came through on day 5 bringing with it increased swell and winds of 47 knots. Earlier that same day the leach line on both sides of the Heavy Weight Spinnaker snapped and was slowly working it’s way out so taking into account the predicted low front we dropped the Spinnaker and poled out the Yankee 2 at the midnight watch change. From then on there was a rotation of crew working on the Spinnaker trying to re-thread the leach line for more than 10 hours in the stuffy environment down below as the boas pitched and bucked over waves. Not an easy job.
When we arrived on deck for watch at 4am on day 6 with winds gusting 50 knots we figured that it was time to put a reef in to calm the impressive speed of the boat down. Later that same morning Skipper Rich Hewson took the helm to allow me to snack on some cookies that were getting offered around when he was shoved by a massive wave causing the nose to fall down into the trough so far we were almost pitch-polling. The angle of heal was so violent that the rudder was half out of the water, resulting in a broach. I was standing just behind the helm leaning against the radar post during the broach so I has a full view of the events.
Rich shouted for the main to be dumped by fellow crew member Fred Tooley the oldest crew member competing it the clipper race at an impressive age of 72 years. Fred was on the leeward side and as I watched he was dragged from his seat and completely disappeared under water as the gunnels were buried, I simply could not see him and assumed that he had been washed overboard but lucky for Fred his safety line had stopped him short at the back of the boat. Suffering some minor injuries and shock we sent him down below to rest.
A short time later I took the helm once again and surfed an amazing three waves in concession. I could feel the stern getting picked up by a mega wave as the nose almost buries in the wave in front, I added helm to starboard to ride along this monster and felt the boat accelerate as we planned across the water. We gained so much speed that we caught the wave in front riding over the lip and dropping effortlessly onto the face of the next wave only to continue to accelerate and once again catch the wave in front, By now my heart is in my mouth as I mentally shout to myself ”don’t make a mistake, don’t broach” because to do this would be disastrous to both the boat and crew at such speeds. Almost out of control now we surf down the face of the third wave racing an incredible boat speed of 22 knots and ride this until we finally slow down enough for the wave to pass beneath us. Back under control and my hands are shaking from the shock and adrenalin rush of what was an amazing surf down three waves.
In the following days the winds reduced allowing the sea state to calm down and the crew to dry out our home. Currently we are sailing with 15 knots of wind in slight conditions and still holding our lead on the fleet, increasing the miles to 60 nautical miles in the lead. In second place is ‘I love NY’ who are fighting hard to catch us. It is hard to believe that at the moment we are at 44 degrees South with beautiful sunshine and smooth sailing but with an amazing 2, 400 nautical miles left to race with a low front due in two days to offer mixed sailing conditions.