Neal McDonald, skipper of ASSA ABLOY gave a vivid analogy of the boat being ‘tossed around like a cork’, as his wife, Lisa, skipper of Amer Sports Too, was rounding Cape Horn in near hurricane conditions, and had to shout for all hands on deck to make an urgent change to storm sails.
Following Neal’s unnerving experience, he then had to take a swim in freezing water of around 3 degrees Celsius to remove kelp from the keel. A relieved McDonald was winched from the water by some of the crew to dive below decks into a sleeping bag, to raise his body temperature before there was any risk of him becoming hypothermic.
Neal McDonald wrote later that it was certainly not his idea of a fun night out with concern gripping him for the safety of the boat and crew as much as it had in their wild ride through the Southern Ocean. “In the pitch black we could not see what we were about to get into, but below Rudi had found a spot where he felt we would have some good current flowing in our direction – generally a good thing. This time though we had bitten off a bit more than we could chew. The current suddenly shot up to 6 or 7 knots, the wind speed to 38 knots and we were on for a white water rafting trip from hell. The conditions kicked up; sea conditions that were unimaginable. The boat bounced around like a bucking bronco, 18 tonnes of boat being tossed around like a cork. In the middle of this we had to tack – a terrifying procedure. I was on deck, and in the pitch black I have to say I was just as concerned as I was in the Southern Ocean. The boat was banging and crashing around. I had no idea when it would end or what was going to break.” Fortunately this terrifying ride only lasted for 30 minutes, before the tidal rip eventually abated and the seas and wind reduced to manageable proportions.
Below decks McDonald had time to study the relative positions of the fleet, and was pleased that things seemed to be going well against News Corp; they remained neck and neck for a while and then disaster struck. It appeared from the radar and onboard computer that ASSA ABLOY was losing speed and distance on the fleet, which the performance figures supported. This was also confirmed by the sail trimmers and urgent checks were made around the boat by torchlight. At the time, they were still leaping off enormous seas and eventually, there was just enough daylight and stability to see that they had caught a large amount of kelp around the keel. Three attempts at backdowns to sail away from the weed were to no avail and there was no alternative for McDonald, it was time for a swim. “I was livid having been up all night and wanted rid of this piece of weed. There was nothing else for it, but for someone to get in the water and wrestle with it. I looked round and I was by far the fastest and the most angry, so I ripped of my clothes, put on a harness and leapt in. I knew it would be cold but I had no idea just how cold until I hit the water. It took my breath away. I did not have to go that deep but I did wonder if the cold was going to beat me before I had achieved my goal. After two dives down with the boat jumping up and down in the heavy seaway and drifting fast with the main up in 30 knots, I eventually ripped off the whole forest.”
Amer Sports One, had also suffered kelp problems, which was making for a busy watch, and Paul Cayard reported back, “We ended up doing four sail changes and a back down for kelp all in one four-hour watch. The kelp we got on the rudder was like a tree. We have stopped and backed down twice in the last 36 hours to clear kelp from our keel and rudder. We have backed down twice more this morning so far. Obviously a kelp cutter on any of the foils would easily pay for itself.”