For the crew on-board Gold Coast Australia the third week at sea as they compete in the Clipper 2011-12 Round the World Yacht Race, sailing across the North Pacific Ocean from Qingdao, China to California, USA started with some fantastic news. Leading the race with an impressive 130 nautical mile lead to the nearest boat we were further encouraged at 1.19 am on the 15th day at sea we crossed the scoring gate in 1st place earning yet another three points to add to our overall race score.
The first three boats through receive points, 3 points for 1st place, 2 points for second and 1 point for third place so this was a fantastic bonus for us however later that day the merriment was overshadowed by a really tough morning as the sun lightened the sky to a dull Gray allowing us to see the foaming frothy ocean that was previously shroud in darkness.
Our watch started at 0400 am with a cold and very wet sail change. The winds had abated from the 30-40 knots that we had been sailing in for the past few days down to an almost comfortable 25-30 knots so the call was made to change the Storm Jib (a small sail for storm conditions) to the Yankee 3 (our smallest head sail) as we were taking the new sail to the foredeck Dan had noticed from the helm that the Stay Sail (the sailing just behind the head sail) was no longer attached to the deck and was slowly getting blown up the rig. Holding on our sail change we performed an emergency drop on the sail and re-attached it to the deck.
After this I asked for our Skipper Richard Hewson to take the helm so that I could have all the crew for the sail change as it was nearing the time to change watches and we would like to have all the job completed before then. So hard at work we complete the sail change with waves spraying our face and the boat lurching beneath our feet finishing with 5 minuets to spare.
It was now time to welcome the next watch on deck and to do our hand-overs so that the new watch would know what had been happening on deck the past 4 hours whilst they slept. Bleary-eyed the next watch emerge to get settled in. I went back to the helm to check that Richard was okay with everything on deck and happy for my watch to go below for some much needed rest. Our conversation was interrupted with a BANG as the Yankee car flew back off its track with so much force that it blew the track stops off. I looked over at the other side of the deck in time to see fellow crew member Wayne Reed go flying back into the safety rail that lines the deck
with enough force to brake the stanchion and land in a heap on the low side of the deck. I ran over and the first thing that I noticed was that he was no clipped on or attached to the boat with a safety line so while holding onto Wayne’s life jacket with one hand to stop him going over-board if we were to get some water down the deck I got his safety line and asked someone who was standing by to attach him.
We were still sailing at full power with a good 30 degree heal and water often gushing down the gunnel’s so this was not a safe place for Wayne to be, moments later we were flat as Richard bared away while we dealt with this emergency.
Wayne was in a dazed state crying out in pain from his injuries, repeatedly I asked him where it hurt but the only reply we got was a cry of pain. We then realised that it was his legs and ankle that were
injured and that these were still resting on the Yankee sheet (rope) that was moving with the sail and causing him more pain. After a few moments we re-ran the other sheet and was able to take the pressure of his legs allowing us to maneuver him around the lines and in-board, to safety.
Wayne being Wayne would not lie still and wait for a stretcher but instead with gritted teeth moved himself along the deck and down below where we could asses his injuries. Being that there is no x-ray machines to be found when we are 3,000 nautical miles from land it is hard to say but Wayne may have a fractured leg and is now confined to a bed for the remaining two weeks of the race to make sure that he doesn’t do any further damage to it.
After that drama the following day offered up some slightly milder conditions with winds around 20 knots and a moderating swell so we set about making our repairs to the Main Sail after breaking three of the battens when we were putting a reef in during the previous storm. I was helming through these repairs and had the great opportunity to be sailing directly into the sunrise. The sky was glowing with biblical rays of sunlight streaming down onto the ocean.
They started off a rose yellow, lightning to a soft candle light hue. During this time we were sailing closer and closer to these rays of light and the realisation came that we might be lucky enough to sail into the light it’s self. After having two weeks at sea of we, dark, cold, Gray sky’s this was going to be heaven. I was so excited at the prospect that the anticipation was killing me until finally our bow cuts through the water and enters into the little bit of sunshine allowing the warmth to caress my skin for the first time in weeks, it lasted no more than 5 minuets and then it was gone. Finishing this blissful and productive morning we received the latest skeds and found that we were still 130 nautical miles in front of Singapore with the third boat at whooping 200 nautical miles behind.
On Day 17 we continued to work out a jury rig for our Main Sail having not only broken those battens but also ripping a good 2 meters of the mast track that the sail feeds into for the hoist. Earlier Richard had been up the mast to cut away the broken section of the track and it was now my job to go to the very top and attach a new pulley and then run a series of lines and strops so that we would be able to hoist the sail. We completed the repairs however we called a hold on the hoist as the winds were still gusting at around 35 knots and we did not wish to risk our un-tried new system just yet when we still had 3, 000 nautical mile left to run. I was rewarded at the end with a extra special watch off where I could get some extra sleep as I was beginning to loose my voice from exhaustion.
When I was awoken at 0400 am on day 18 after having my blissful 12 hours off in bed I was told that one of my crew Nick Woodward, the same person who had taken on a cupboard with his head in the last race had this time taken on the newly repaired spinnaker pole with his head and back as he catapulted from his bunk across the crew quarter’s when getting ready for watch. Talking mumbo jumbo for a good 15 minuets it was assessed that he had a good concussion and was sent to bed to be monitored. We also did not know if he had received any spinal or neck injuries so we kitted him out in a neck brace just to be sure.
After 19 memorable and challenging days at sea we crossed the date line at 180 degrees longitude and turned our clocks back a full 24 hours. Our lead had by now diminished down to a dismal 60 nautical miles in front of Singapore so we went for the Main Sail hoist. Firstly hoisting me up the mast so that I could feed all the sliders across the missing section of the track then we went for the hoist. I was only too aware of the collective silence as everyone held their breath as I struggled to get the first slider into the track. As soon as the first slider was in there was a mass release of breaths as everyone had unintentionally holding there’s as they waited to see if it would work. Success and we were back to racing taking this opportunity to enter into stealth mode for a 24 hour period because the rest of the fleet still believe that we are crippled and only flying our storm Tri Sail.
We are now out of stealth mode and holding our own against the fleet not gaining any miles but not loosing any either as we sail in a lovely 30 knots on a broad reach with the company of whales.