No rest at all for Pip Hare as she races relentlessly to Shetland
It is 142 miles to Muckle Flugga. Yes it is slowly getting closer, thanks to an awful lot of hard work and a flippin’ huge spinnaker.
Since we rounded St Kilda yesterday we have had nothing else in our lives but the spinnaker.
The last 24 hrs have been spent coaxing the maximum possible out of The Shed using her downwind sails, and we have another 17hrs more to concentrate in this way.
In order to keep The Shed going Phil and I decided we would try and work the boat as though it was being sailed fully crewed, changing sails exactly when required and continually trimming them for optimum performance. We have not once allowed the boat to go into ‘cruising mode’; there has been no break for us or the sails.
Sail selection is simply between the code zero and the A4 spinnaker, as the course is off the wind and in light to moderate airs. There is a fine line at the cross over for these sails and we have to watch our boat speed and the wind angle and speeds like a hawk to make the decision of when to change over. So far we have changed five times between the sails.
Typically I call a manoeuvre when Phil has just gone down for a sleep. I think he will have nightmares for the rest of his life by my voice shouting: “We need to gybe!” or “Peel to the Code Zero.”
Normally I will make the decision and call once downstairs to try and wake him up, while wandering round the deck and setting up for the manoeuvre myself.
There is never a response. Not surprisingly Phil is sleeping very deeply.
This morning I had to make four attempts at waking him up to which his comment was: “Nice to know I am always in a state of readiness, like a coiled spring then?”
At this time, the single handed sailor in me is very tempted just to do it on my own, and a couple of times I have almost swapped over a spinnaker alone, but this is a double handed race and it is undoubtedly quicker and less risk for us both to perform a sail change.
Phil wakes, always with a start and a ‘where am I look’ on his face. But after the initial shock he is up on deck and in ready mode. We have peeled the kites so much now, we do not need to talk and the routine is second nature.
When we are not changing headsail we are trimming or steering depending on the conditions.
Of course the optimum performance is obtained from The Shed when we are both on deck. This happens for around a third of the day, and either one will drive and the other trim, or we allow the pilot to drive, one trims and one winds the winch.
The rest of the time there will only be one of us on deck, the other either resting, navigating, or doing everyday maintenance and housekeeping tasks around the boat.
Again depending on the conditions I would choose to steer or to trim the spinnaker to get maximum performance.
Any time there are waves, other than in very light airs, I would always choose to lock off the kite sheet and steer the boat by hand, as I would like to think I have the edge over the pilot being able to see the waves. However, I will always spend time before taking over the wheel, looking at the average speed and direction of the boat and if I am not able to out perform the machine, need to get over the humiliation of being beaten by a grey box with a bigger brain that me, and step down for the good of the race.
The other conditions I have found it beneficial to steer the boat myself is reaching in flat seas. I will then take time to set up the sheet and guy so the boat is at maximum power and the leading edge of the spinnaker just curling a couple of degrees off course. I can then take the helm and steer against the edge of the kite, heating it up to maximum speed just as the kite is curling and a couple of degrees above course, then gently dropping below course to stabilise things before I heat it up again. I think it’s fast.
The rest of the time I allow the pilot to steer and trim the spinnaker to that course, like on a fully crewed boat.
The piece of kit that has become invaluable for this job is my slightly mouldy bean bag, a present from Lou and Jon, for the OSTAR last year.
This bag will mould (no pun intended but you should see the state of it) around all sorts of things on the boat to provide a comfy seat with a head support in which to sit in and trim. We have made a video of Shed Style spinnaker tirm and I will try to get it up on my website, perhaps the bean bag trimming position will catch on!
This is a job that requires dedication and wholehearted concentration; you must immerse yourself in it totally to be able to carry on going for a couple of hours at a time with no breaks.
I normally set up before hand, with every rope I need within reach, a drink and something to eat. Positioned opposite the winch, one hand permanently curled to a fist around the rope, easing the sheet then pulling, and the other grinding the winch.
My arms and sides ache and there are already calluses on the inside of my knuckles, when I have finished a stint it takes a while to unclench my fist, like when you have been carrying very heave bags for a while, but I am sure it is worth the effort.
It has been a grey old day and I would love to describe some scenery to you but the truth is we could be anywhere, at any time. There is little change between night and day; the grey mist became a little murkier for a couple of hours last night.
When the visibility really draws in I have been turning on the Radar Target Enhancer for an advance warning of any ships in the area. I am some what reminded of my trip over the grand banks last year, though there is not the stress of ice bergs at the moment.
All minds are on Muckle Flugga, the more we trim, the closer it will get and if we are lucky we will arrive there before the rest of our class.