Paul Cayard recounts the experience:
“Shortly after sunrise the wind accelerated from 25 knots to 40 knots, topping out at 47 knots of wind from 260. There was a well-formed sea from the three days of incessant 30 knots of wind. The three of us drivers were in a two-hour on – four-hour off rotation. The intensity of the last three days for us three has taken its toll. All three of us have severe tendonitis. My grip strength in my left hand is 25% of what is normally is. My right hand is good.
I get up on deck and immediately I am pelted in the back by a wall of water. I work my way to the back and acclimate for three minutes. Then grab the wheel. The boat is very much under control and I am able to weave in and out of the 30-foot seas easily while we sit on 25-28 knots. My top speed was 32 knots for the two hours. At one point, two or three waves had come together to make one huge wave. We got up on it and looked down a 120-foot runway that was about 30 degrees. Everyone’s eyes were huge. It was a phenomenal wave that Dalton said was the biggest he had ever ridden. The water was coming down the deck so hard and deep when we would plow into the back of the waves that Bouwe Bekking was pushing against my back to hold me forward. It just went on and on. There were endless waves to surf, endless amounts of fun. It was simply the reason I came to do this leg.”
Now just 1,100 miles away, the Atlantic and Cape Horn will be relatively tranquil after a last night when the Amer Sports One sailed a phenomenal 126 miles in a six-hour period. Amer Sports One was not alone. In that same six-hour period, Tyco sailed 124 miles and Illbruck 120.
A monohull sailing that far in six hours is almost unheard of. At that rate a 24-hour run would be 504 miles. The record 24-hour run for a VO 60 is 460.4 miles, an average of 19.2 knots, set by Team SEB on leg two of the Volvo Ocean Race.
However, none of the 24-hour runs look like breaking the record, Dalton said, “The low-pressure areas south of the fleet are travelling too fast and the yachts can’t hold on to them.” Though all said and done, Grant Dalton admitted, “I don’t think I would want to be on one of these things doing 21 knots for 24 hours.”
The level of crew concentration to keep the yacht sailing safely was intense. “We were launching off the waves. Airborne for seconds at a time. The noise as we smacked into the waves ahead was deafening.”
“We launched off the mother of all waves and on the GPS we were doing 32.8 knots before we hit the bottom. We were out of control, totally. One wrong move at that speed and we could have done ourselves a lot of damage.”
Grant described the conditions as holding on and hoping and working the boat at the same time. “It was pitch dark, very cold and there was a lot of ice around. The bow buries itself into the wave ahead, perhaps 1.5 metres and a wall of water crashes along the deck. The only the thing to do is bend in half like you’re going into a rugby scrum and hang on.”
“In conditions like this one guy stands behind the helmsman, bracing him so that he’s not washed off the helm.” Three of the Amer Sports One crew share the helm in these conditions – Chris Nicholson, Bouwe Bekking and Paul Cayard.
They drive for two hours at a time, and finish their stint exhausted. “It’s a further indication”, Dalton says, “of the level this race is being sailed at. We have to do it. If we don’t we’re as good as throwing in the towel.”
Below decks has been turned into a sail loft as Phil Airey works to patch the two important spinnakers blown out in the preceding 24 hours.
Conditions have started to moderate and the crew is working to get the boat back to normal and trying to dry some of their gear. Average speeds were a more sedate 13.9 knots this morning and the yachts are on their way out of the ice zone. In the past few days, Amer Sports One has seen 50 ice bergs.