Three days to go and it's all up for grabs reports Global Challenge skipper Duggie Gillespie
It started on the very first hour of the very first day of this leg of the race. We left glorious Sydney harbour in last position. One of the watch leaders, a keen dinghy sailor, commented: “That was the worst start of any race I have ever done”. I was pretty much in agreement. Last position on the start of a leg – we felt we had something to prove!
The Southern Ocean is a relentless place that just goes on and on with no respite. It was the prospect of the unrelenting six weeks here that has kept me going and has partly driven my need to get up the fleet. I find myself in such a state of determination I cannot think or do anything else unless it has a direct influence on boat speed and direction. I had the full intention of writing regular logs about what I know is a phenomenal part of the world to sail in. I started several times but to no avail – full respect to anybody who who writes for a living through the ups and downs that life throws at them.
This is the second time we find ourselves down here in the Southern Ocean during the Global Challenge, the second and final time. The Spirit of Sark crew knew the procedures and expectations. This has probably helped them get through the tough times we have had so far, unscathed and in remarkably good cheer. Their mental preparation for this leg seems to have been based on the confidence and knowledge they discovered during our first time down here at the end of last year.
The day to day grind and lack of variety was expected. Last time the monotony got to many of the crew. Not so now. But then last time we were leading the race for more than three weeks of the five – even that lacked variety, though no complaint there on my part! This time our position has been very different and if stimulus was needed then maybe this has been it. We have had to fight for every mile we have gained to get us within just 8 miles of the leader from the disastrous positions we found ourselves in early on.
It wasn’t only our start out of Sydney that saw us floundering at the bottom of the fleet. Three weeks in we found ourselves, over a two-day period, falling back dramatically. We were not on the right side of the wind shift to allow us to have a good wind angle for faster boat speed. We found that the whole fleet was taking scores of miles out of us every schedule for two days of that dark time. It could have been current too – we’ll never really know.
For the last two weeks we have been in the front pack and whilst it is a very delicate state of equilibrium with less than 500 miles to go the fight now is really between the first three or four boats – at least it seems so at the moment!
I say at the moment because the six-hourly positions come in and you gain or lose. You interpret why. Sometimes you do not really know as it is usually the uncontrollable vagaries of the weather – something that is out of our control. Yesterday we were hit by numerous squalls. In one we found our boat speed reduce from 8-10 knots to 1 knot for 25 minutes. This translated to 3 miles lost to boats immediately behind and in front of us. [The photo above, from yesterday, shows Imagine it. Done clearly in view.]
It is a hand to mouth existence, living on the edge, whatever you call it. This is yacht racing in its truest colours. We have continually fought to get up with the leaders. We have examined ways and methods to make the boat go faster. This really has worked and we could see the results of our work as we rose up the rankings, this gives us a base but still we know are at the mercy of the elements.
We continue on our racing journey on Spirit of Sark with very few miles to go but everything to play for. The constant focus can make one weary but now more than ever, it’s so necessary for the minute to minute decisions and monitoring that is required to stay with the leaders and push for the finish. Three days to go with it all up for grabs. Exciting or what?
Duggie Gillespie, skipper, Spirit of Sark