A night of hero work for Eero Lehtinens' Global Challenge crew

We have less than 300 miles to go and there are several battles going on in the fleet. The top trio is shadowing each other with Imagine it. Done. Still in the lead but BP Explorer and Spirit of Sark giving them every pressure they can. Stelmar has been sailing through the recent tricky weather systems very fast and is about to join the leader pack, a wild card for a late change among top three?

We have managed to shake Barclays off our tail and are now in very close battle with Pindar for 5th. Not very close at sea yet as they are quite a bit further south still. I called them on VHF a couple of hours ago (as there was a problem with the automatic polling) and exchanged positions with Graham-the-navigator on board and found out that they were 1.8 miles closer to the next waypoint at that time! Let’s see if our position deeper in the Agulhas current or their better wind angle to the next corner will work out better.

The current has given us some unbelievable figures today on the VMG waypoint display, the record being 18.8 knots helmed by Julian Colls, our watch leader with the most polite manners in the world (Jules is a real mother-in-law’s dream!). However only one hour ago wind started dropping and we have changed away from poled-out yankee to flanker and now 1.5oz race kite.

Another light patch is heading towards us from west and we can only hope that it wouldn’t stop us completely. Everyone’s counting miles by now and we really want to finish this long leg speedily! Jules is on the deck with his watch and they are trimming and optimising the course without one second’s break. this boat is hard to beat at the moment!

We have seen some hero stuff on board lately as well. Last night as we were sailing with the flanker up in the darkest night in the world, the wind picked up to 30 knots while lightning was getting more and more frequent around us. I called for a drop and discussed quickly with one of our bowmen, Greig Taylor, whether he’s ready to climb up to the spinnaker pole end for a kite drop. I sounded obviously quite convincing about keeping the boat on its feet since Greig quickly disappeared to the foredeck, climbed up the foreguy secured with a halyard and tripped the kite for the rest of the gang to pull in through the “letterbox”.

The same guy was pulled up half way the forestay today in 28 knots of wind as hanks on the yankee one were getting undone as the sail was poled out for heavy weather downwind stuff. Again, lots of preparations and up he went with no hesitation. Great effort from a great guy!

The combination of people we have on board is almost hilarious. There isn’t one thing in this world that at least someone in this crew wouldn’t master or know about. Some never go to the foredeck but they have their own jobs and areas elsewhere. Some love just sitting around and doing nothing if not necessary but then again we have guys who would die if there wasn’t action most of the time.

One of them is the other watch leader on board, Jez Message. He just loves to orchestrate big manoeuvres on the deck. The more complicated and the worse the weather, the better he likes it. The last 24 hours have been like paradise to Jez, rigging poled out yankees, gybing, lowering the yankee for hank repairs, rigging preventers, barberhaulers and you name it. Action man in the heat of it with no complaints about too much to do!

My own condition is improving and I am almost back to normal schedules now, taking turns with John Wilkinson on the “driver’s seat”. It’s been a pleasure during the last couple of days being able to take on some helming in fantastic weather conditions and being part of the action again. Also I am getting my appetite back and painkillers have been changed to three meals a day. I still have a bit to go on filling my own clothes as they used to fit me, but I believe the stopover in the City of “braais” (RSA for BBQ) will do the job.

By now I am convinced that I can be back on the boat for next leg at full strength and that takes a big worry off my shoulders right now. I don’t think anyone even on board has realised how much I have carried on my shoulders on this leg, but now it’s almost over and I can turn this painful and frustrating experience around to a quick recovery and a positive comeback on next leg.

Let’s hope for a positive result as we have now steadily climbed up the leaderboard and could in the best case be stepping from fifth to fourth in the overall rankings after four legs. See you in V&A Waterfront!

Eero Lehtinen, skipper SAIC La Jolla in Global Challenge 2004/2005