The Southern Ocean bares its teeth again to the Global Challenge. Paul Kelly describes a hell of a night

Last night was a blunt reminder to us from the Southern Ocean that we are still at its mercy and we mustn’t get complacent! Yesterday morning saw us wallowing at sunrise with under five knots of wind. Sails were flapping and a look of complete frustration prevailed amongst the on watch.

I was not too worried and for the first time since leaving Sydney was able to go up to the bow, sit on the pulpit and take in the fantastic sunrise and admire the little-known side of the Southern Ocean. The reason I was not too worried was because of the skyline that was forming: high altitude wispy clouds indicating the front of the weather system approaching. Sure enough, over the next few hours the build up of cloud began, the wind increased and the sea state started to build.

At the lunchtime crew brief I told the guys to expect a pasting, it won’t be for long but it will be big enough to remind us that we are still in the Roaring Forties! This was greeted with mixed emotion. The overwhelming feeling amongst us all is tiredness and a strong desire to finish this leg. The thought of another beating from Mother Nature made this feeling even more prevalent.

This leg is far from over and the competitive spirit that has always been present even when we were at the back has increased with a vengeance. After our medevac to Tasmania we have slipped back as the leaders get sling shot forward. It is a horrible effect that sees us make great gains then huge losses as we enter their old breeze. Still, we have put in some great runs and it gives the crew the fighting hunger that we need.

In the last week we have sailed into 11th as one of the other boats took a northerly flyer. I say we have sailed into 11th rather than the other boat has sailed into 12th because we could have quite easily followed them. After all what do we have to lose? I sat down with the crew and laid it down. My feeling was to stick to our guns, minimise the risks and see how it pans out for the other yacht. It could mean the difference between us making up a place or coming in two days behind the leaders instead of one.

As it happens we have been anywhere from 240 miles ahead of the other yacht to our present 162. We are desperate to fight this one out. It would be a small victory but one that we could all do with. It is hard being at the back, especially when events that led to our position were entirely out of our control. We have the confidence to know we can sail this boat fast and that gives us the drive we need. The foot will come off the gas when we cross the Portsmouth finish line and not a moment before.

The wind really kicked in last night at around nine o’clock. The cold front arrived at such great speed that before we knew it we were back into the all too familiar survival mode. The wind was in the 50 knot region and the sea a confused maelstrom of angry water. It was the toughest helming conditions of the whole race.

The wind dropped to the more manageable 40 knot mark after about four hours but that period of time was so intense, mentally and physically. The on deck crew was kept to a bare minimum of three and each had double harness lines on. At the pre-watch briefing, having taken a look at the conditions, I stated that if anyone went over the side tonight the chances of recovery would be minimal. It is a horrible thought but through discipline and commonsense we minimise the risks involved. The Southern Ocean really has to be seen to be believed, it is just such an incredible place.

I’m sitting here writing this with all the aft hatches open. The sun is shining, not a cloud in the sky and the sea state has totally flattened off. The crew just seem to take all this in their stride, it has become bizarrely normal and we are back to racing the boat as hard as possible. It is as if last night never happened. Last night’s fear that was etched on the faces of most of the crew has been replaced with smiles and laughter as our thoughts turn to Cape Town and the turning of our backs on the Southern Ocean.

Paul Kelly, skipper Team Save The Children