Wednesday, 29 April 2009

VOR: GREEN DRAGON LEG SIX DAY 16 QFB; received 26.04.09 0608 GMT

by Ian Walker (navigator)

We are now approaching the whale exclusion zone off Boston - I only hope someone has told the whales to stay in it.

It is two am local time blowing 22 knots, the water temperature is seven degrees and we are sailing at 20 knots under fractional spinnaker. It is pitch black with thick fog and zero visibility. I am sitting in the nav station on radar watch while Ian Moore, the navigator, gets some well earned rest.

The last 48 hours have been hard on the navigators as we had a long beat with wildly shifting winds, we have had to cross the Gulf Stream with four knots of current and then we have crossed a high pressure ridge with very light winds.

We shouldn't complain as it has made a nice change to have some tactical decisions to make. For the last two weeks of reaching conditions we have strived to stay close enough to the fleet to make a race of it in the closing stages. Since passing the cold front a few days ago ourselves, Delta Lloyd and Telefónica Black have been having a good race - even if we can only see each other every three hours on the computer screen! At times we have closed to within 10 miles of Telefónica Black as the boats have compressed but only then to see them stretch away again.

Delta Lloyd took a fairly radical course across the Gulf Stream and looked to have paid dearly, but a big left shift has brought them back across and now they look to have gained some precious miles. We have 200 miles around the exclusion zone to hope that we can make a passing move, but in such restricted water we will likely need some help from the Weather Gods.

Yesterday was a bizarre day as we bashed upwind in 20 knots of wind and steep seas. Normally, when it is windy, the breeze is quite steady but yesterday it was anything but. We repeatedly put a reef in and out as the wind speed went up and down from 16 to 24 knots and in one big puff we actually got 'knocked down' sailing upwind.

This was the first time this had happened to us and the first I knew about it was when I got tipped out of my bunk as the boat heeled to 55 degrees. Fortunately we have seat belts for those sleeping in the top bunks as it is about a 12 foot drop across the boat from up high and you could break your neck if you fall from there.

It was also shifting wildly and as a tactician it is painful having to sail on big headers as the wind shifts back and forth through 30 degrees. In a normal boat you would tack on these shifts and shorten your route upwind, but in a Volvo 70 tacking is a long and laborious process that takes the best part of 30 minutes and costs you a lot of distance. By the time you have woken everyone up and moved the 'stack' of sails on deck and gear down below to be in a position to tack, the likelihood was the wind would shift back. These 'false alarms' are hard on the crew who have to move everything only just to move it all back for no purpose. For the navigator and skipper it leads to a permanent state of frustration at not being able to optimise your course. You have to console yourself with the thought that everyone else is in the same position.

We now have 24 hours to the end of this leg to Boston where the Irish should receive an extra special welcome. I can almost taste the 'Green Dragon butties' given to us when we get in by Good Food Ireland. For those of you that don't know, a Green Dragon buttie is organic Irish fillet beef, fresh potatoes wedges topped with sea salt, West Cork country relish and freshly baked bread - now that sounds better than freeze dried sweet and sour doesn't it!

Volvo Ocean Race

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