Rolex Transatlantic – Day 7

May 28, 2005   

Around 1 am this morning Ashley went back up the rig to retrieve the spinnaker halyard as the wind was switching to make it favorable for the spinnaker. Yesterday the chain had come clattering to deck so we know the spinnaker halyard that she had had to leave up there was now free to run.  Ashley went up on the jib halyard that remained - it was dark and we were heeled over carrying the full main and jib it large waves. She had the VHF radio tied on so as to communicate with the deck and a head torch on. Unfortunately as there were no other halyards free she could not attach herself to an external halyard to help hold her to the rig.  The boat was bucking over each wave and moving violently fore and aft as well as side to side. The motion was pretty bad and excentuated 100 foot up the mast. About 15 feet from the top of the rig on a large wave she was thrown off the rig and was flung around the backstay, main around the leeward side back around the forestay and hit the rig on the weather side. She was now fully wrapped around the rig and there was no way of hoisting her up or easing her down the rig. All the people on deck could see was the reflective stripes on her foul weather gear.  She held on to the mast tightly trying to radio to deck to tell us that all is fine and that although bruised she is not injured. However, her head torch had fallen into the ocean and she had no way of telling that her radio had changed channel. She tried to lean out from the rig to the thin rod rigging backstay to start to untangle herself. She gets around that and falls back onto the rig. Then she tries to climb out along the mainsail and when she gets to the leech to climb around to leeward the boat goes over a wave and the main flicks her like a small insect around the mast yet again. She again hits the rig with no control over how she lands. She is now wrapped twice around the rig. It is dark and the conditions are still bad.  She then takes a sail tie which is in an inside pocket and uses this to tie to the backstay, then around the main to the leeward side then to the forestay and the weather rigging etc. Each time she moves to the next goal she ties the sail tie to the part of the rig she is moving around. This will stop her from being thrown away from and around the rigging again. At this point she was shaking and apparently telling herself what an idiot she was.  After 30 minutes up the rig she finally returns to deck battered and bruised but with the spinnaker halyard. As morning came we left behind the clouds, squalls, rain, lumpy seas and grungy living. Day Seven was just about perfect.

Through the day, the wind moved from southeast to southwest, freeing us to set our biggest spinnaker for the first time, 405 square meters -- over 4000 square feet -- of pulling power. With wind speed steady around 24-26 knots, we clicked off hour after hour of running at 11-plus knots. Our top speed when we caught a slide down a wave front was 13.8 knots.

The boat is flat again, the first time in days and days. So we cleaned everything, meaning everything. Everyone took a shower. Ashley, a purist, almost lamented the decadence of a hot shower while racing -- "only my second racing shower ever" -- but took one anyway and came on deck smiling. We washed clothes and festooned the rails with drying socks, shirts, foul weather suits, and long johns looking like a refugee ship. All decks below were cleaned, all mess tidied, all loose gear reorganized and stowed. It was like a second start.

We switched from three-hour watches back to four-hour watches allowing longer periods of sleep. The food couldn't improve -- it is already terrific -- but it was eaten with more style. We sat around the saloon table, now flat and clean again, and put knife and fork to huge beef pies. And after dinner, the standby watch picked "The Shipping News" (with Swedish subtitles for Thomas Mark's benefit) as the evening's DVD. We all now know how to say certain obscenities in Swedish.

A surprise today was a long radio conversation with a 30-foot sailboat racing across our course from Bermuda to the Azores. She must have seen our masts, because she hailed us on the radio. The British voice was cheery, enthusiastic and surprised to find us.

For three days Tempest's computer had been on the semi-fritz, and it has been increasingly hard to send and receive emails or to get our position reports. Michael Lawson, ever ingenious, fixed the computer and it is working perfectly again. Allowing us to receive news about the demolition to the boats up north with three boats out and Mari-Cha wounded.

As promised, we have finally turned north to the great circle route to England. Our move to the south has kept us in strong; favorable winds sever since the first day's light air. We have not had to bash against easterly winds, like boats to the north. Our team of on-board and on-shore routers say that this is still the way to go, as far as we can see.

To continue with a further description of our team, here are five who came from farthest from New York to be on Tempest for the race:

Adrian Gruzman, Australia. Adrian is a barrister from Sydney, Australia, and veteran of innumerable Sydney-Hobart and other big ocean races. Adrian has skippered in the worst sailing weather in the world, and is totally unfazed by the minor problems of an Atlantic storm. He can get his sleep anywhere, any time.

Max Hutter flew from Vienna to join the crew as a watch captain. With American and Austrian citizenship, he has wide racing experience and recently turned professional. His email handle is "yachtsman supreme", which is a good description of his super-steady helming skill and his quick eye in managing Tempest's highly complex deck work.

Tomas Mark from Stockholm is our only other repeat crewman (with me) from Tempest's 2003 race to Germany. A sail maker by profession, Tomas not only works on sail repairs with Ashley, but also replaces all the chafed ends of sheets, guys, and halyards. His many skills are invaluable on a race like this.

Dutch citizens Rudolph (Ruud) Blanc and Monique (Miek) Splinter are the owner's professional all-year-round crew. We do not get to choose them, but we could not have been more fortunate in having them aboard. (This is not blathering for their benefit, they won't read this.) There is nothing they can't do cheerfully, promptly and perfectly. Yesterday Ruud disassembled one of boat's computer monitors, dissected the pieces, dried them, and put them all together again in working order. Awesome.

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