White-knuckle ride as Besso's crew struggle with a torn spinnaker

We’re still in one piece. After the alarms and excursions of yesterday afternoon, the Navy decided to call off the live firing exercise. Fog was the reason given, apparently, but I reckon they had learned of our arsenal of spotted dick.

The night, though, was another white-knuckle ride. The spinnaker was up, the seas were heaving, and the yacht was flying along at ten or eleven knots. But the angle of the waves and wind made the kite unstable, and as it swung from side to side the yacht began to roll. There was danger of a broach. If we moved sharply to windward and the helm lost control, we could go into a ‘death roll’.

Yet more peril was at hand. Shortly after 0400, with the kite still aloft after 14 hours, Donni spotted that the working guy was chafing at the beak of the pole. If it failed under this load, the pole would swing across with the force of a catapult being released and crash devastatingly into the forestay.

Matt came up with a plan: raise the other spinnaker pole on the starboard side, gybe, and then drop the imperilled port spinnaker pole to the deck. The spinnaker sheet could then be transferred and take the load from the straining guy, enabling the port side pole to be raised again. Another gybe and the yacht would be back on track.

Fate had something else in store. No sooner had the starboard pole been plugged into the mast than the spinnaker ripped across its breadth near the head. A giant tear then careered down the seam to the foot and one whole side of the sail popped out. “Like tearing a picture from its frame on two sides,” said Paul, who was at that moment struggling to hold the pole in place with the foreguy.

As the vast, stricken sail flapped around, trying to re-inflate, Donni and Sue in the snakepit desperately attempted to ease the spinnaker halyard and bring the head of the spinnaker down, while on the foredeck Matt, Mike, Rinus and Paul feverishly grappled with the sail to pull it to the deck and gather it on the starboard side. It was touch and go, but eventually they succeeded in smothering the sail and stuffing it into a bag.

Catastrophe had been averted, but silence hung over the boat as everyone reflected how close we had come to going out of the race.