We have been lucky to arrive and therefore depart at sensible times of the day unlike some of the boats which have left in the middle of the night. The leg from Barra to Lerwick we left at around 4 pm after a few hours of necessary boat repair. The night before I reglassed the rudder on Comedy of Errors after they went aground – Santana only had minor repairs to be done in comparison. My parents who were camping on the shore overlooking the anchorage stood on the headland waving my dad’s red trousers which drew the attention of some passing kayakers who rushed over to them thinking they were in distress! Loaded with lots of mum’s tasty homemade food we were off for the 440 mile leg starting with a light air beat to Barra Head against the tide.
I was on watch for the first hour and half then Myles took over and did a great job tacking on the shifts and taking us around Barra Head which was shrouded in fog. The fog deepened the first night and wind went from 6 to 12 knots so it was a cold frustrating night just keeping the boat moving really wishing we had an autopilot that worked. Our autopilot gave up the ghost the first leg of this race so we are pretty exhausted as it means we have to wake each other up instead of doing sail changes on our own. Also the auto would be great for light air so we could trim instead of the spinnaker collapsing on each wave!
From Barra Head to St Kilda was very simple just stick to the rhumb line and as the sun came up it slowly burnt away the fog and the wind picked up so that we were freed enough to hoist the spinnaker.
St Kilda emerged from the fog looking like as Myles said something from Jurassic Park. The sailing was beautiful with some nice surfs and again rhumb line however we did stay slightly west in case the shift we were expecting came in earlier. 20 miles from Sula Sgeir the shift came in harder and earlier then expected and hoping it was temporary we stayed on the headed gybe and before I knew it we went from 2 miles left of the rhumb to 6 miles right. We had peeled the spinnaker just as I came on watch from the light to the heavier and also set up the heavy jib flaking the number 2 just in case. These sail changes combined with a long light air night in the fog meant Myles was pretty tired so I decided to leave him to sleep until I absolutely had to have him on deck. Finally we got to a point where we had to gybe otherwise we would not make Sula Sgeir which was 20 minutes till his watch so we did a gybe which was a bit interesting to say the least! When someone is coming on deck we tend to have them drive in a maneuver rather than risk them stumbling around on deck and falling off! So sometimes the driving has much to be desired! To my dismay the wind shifted more and it looked like we might have to put up the jib to make the ‘mark’. I can tell you I was mad at myself thinking I had lost us 6+ miles to the competition behind. However, the wind shifted back and we ended up dead down wind again going around Sula. Another night cold and damp in the fog with ¼ mile visibility meant we didn’t see Sula Sgeir as we rounded it.
From Sula up to Muckle Flugga is a long leg 190 miles and the wind was meant to clock from dead behind to right on the nose over the course of the leg. I was conflicted between taking a gamble and staying on the favored gybe heading right at Muckle at 10+ knots and hoping the wind would not go on the nose till later and by then we would be around the top of the Shetlands or gybe and give ourselves 10 miles westing on the rhumb line. How do you make a layline call in effect from 190 miles away using grib files which are already 2 days old? I really wish we had a satellite phone at this point to download some more gribs and I was wishing that even more by the end of the leg! So we went on the unfavoured gybe playing it conservative and covering the competition from ahead. This leg was a leg of wraps so which I can say is much better than Chinese gybing! Myles learnt the trick of gybing the main and leaving the spinnaker which 9 times out of 10 rotates the spinnaker back the other way clearing it from the forestay. The third gybe we switched around how we did the maneuver slightly and it went off quite well so we were pleased. The wind then headed us to aim straight at Muckle maybe paying us back for our rudder fixing in Barra ?
We kept the 10 miles of westing in the bank and stayed with the spinnaker until the wind went way forward and picked up. With the wave action and the wind shifting 30 degrees and getting up to 30 knots I broached waking Myles up. We put the boat on its feet again and off I went still trying to stay on course until another 30 knot gust came through combined with a cross sea we again broached. At this point I made the call to drop the spinnaker. Myles pleaded from down below cant it wait till I am on watch? Unfortunately that wasn’t for another hour and half and we would have lost out west advantage so I basically told him to MTFU or as we would say in Rothera put your dive suit on princess and come and do the sail change. So Myles grabbed the helm and I hoisted the number 3 and took down the kite. For the next 170 miles or so we were on a reach keeping out westing with the wave action and the boat not liking to reach it was a tough time and the wind got up to 40 knots. We went through several iterations of sail combinations trying to find the right amount of power. At one point we had the trysail and the main reefed put that was feeble. What we really needed was a smaller number 4 and a smaller reef in the main to balance the boat instead we ended up with a large jib and a very small main which also made me nervous as the rig was moving around a lot. The rig on the boat is older than Myles and I did what I could to stabilize it.
It is mid summer up here so it is light all day and night. After a hard night of being pounded and only 55 miles left to race and the wind still at 30 knots I decided to change to hour long watches as 3 hours at the helm was miserable. I changed our waypoints to 2 mile off Muckle Flugga instead of 800 yards as it was a nasty lee shore and the tide was against us and the wind. We freed off to a reach around the most Northern point of the British Isles and as Myles said the only redeeming feature of it was that we would soon be past it. The boat was soaking wet and we were cold and tired just getting dressed with the boat moving around so much took 30 minutes never mind making something to eat or drink. The wave action off Muckle Flugga was extreme with very very large rollers coming in from two angles and with the odd sail combination we didn’t really have the power to stay in front of the breaking waves. We battened down the hatches closing up the boat and Myles came on deck to sit on the cockpit floor looking behind tell me what waves were coming at me as I was concentrating on keeping the boat on its feet. The rollers from the left were breaking and rolling the boat and the ones from behind were breaking onto the boat. There was spume all over the place and I just wanted out of the area and to be headed south!
We sailed beyond Muckle out to the east until we were on the layline for the outer skerries but instead of risking a gybe we tacked around in the flat between the wave crests. I handed the helm to Myles and started bailing out the boat. The wind moderated to the mid 20s and seeing as it was dead down wind we shook out the two reefs so we had a full main and number 4 giving us 10 knots of boat speed. We were all set to make the outer skerries easily when Myles told me to get on deck as there was a fishing boat which we only saw when we were at the tops of the wave crests! I called the boat on the VHF by position then by number then by name to find out how far their nets were out behind them and to tell them we would go across their bow. No one answered and in fact as we went by we could see now one in the bridge which was very disconcerting. We called them again after we had crossed their bow and finally someone answered. Not wanting to have to gybe twice we soaked low being frustrated by the jib collapsing in the lee of the main and on the surfs but I was not willing to put up a spinnaker with only 11 miles before we would have to drop it and being very tired.
I took the helm again just before the Skerries and Myles had an hour and half asleep while we surfed to Bressay. It was sunny and cold and pretty good fun. Myles woke up and put the stereo on full blast and pranced around down below doing some more bailing out. With 10 miles to go both of us were on deck and I put the two reefs back in the main for the final 5 mile beat to the finish up Bressay Sound. Myles was wondering allowed who was going to watch England play in the World Cup with him in a Scottish port while I was dreaming of a shower and a warm dry bed! It was still blowing knocking the boat down several times and I was seriously concerned about the way the rig was pumping. So we finished at 4:24pm and I have just woken up after having slept for 12 hours. The locals in Lerwick are so kind and you are given a host family for your stay ours being the Frasier’s who live next door to the yacht club. Myles stayed on the boat as it continues to blow very hard and there was damage in the fleet with the boats being rafted together. I took up the Frasier’s very kind offer of a queen size bed and now it is 10am I am off to clean up the boat some more.
Quote of the leg ‘I think I should take up golfing they are all sitting in a warm clubhouse or alternatively take up yachting and just do round the island race!’ Myles Perrin