Scary, emotional, bruising: read this frank insight into leading a team through the Southern Ocean from Global Challenge skipper Eero Lehtinen
It has been a very frustrating leg for us so far. We had a clear plan for the first 600 miles and it seemed to work nicely to start with, but then the winds really started playing some local games and we lost badly just before hitting the Southern Ocean. The welcome to the real world in Deep South was as cold and rough as it could be.
We had several emotional sail changes. First bruises and injuries took place in no time and one really scary knockout happened on the foredeck where safety harnesses really did their ultimate job. All that happened in the very confused seas on the Tasmanian continental shelf as winds were up to 35-40 knots. It was time to slow down slightly, refresh the priorities, go through the safety issues and make everyone aware of our loneliness for the coming month or so.
There would be no ports or even ships to help us if catastrophe struck. And the fleet around us can only do so much to help. Team Save the Children already had to turn back, only after a day or two in the real fight. We don’t want to turn back, how would I explain to my kids who have been waiting for this since March last year that Daddy had to turn back, see you later? No chance, we must manage this boat and all the conditions without getting hurt or damaging the boat. Be patient and always plan ahead.
Tactics? Some interesting opportunities so far. Played one move to north really well, shot up when it still looked completely crazy, took the losses but then it was party time for a while. Big gains on all boats and looking promising for more. Then unlucky to see the forecast changing in the last minute, delaying the light patch arriving from west and allowing several boats to escape it in the last minute. Got greedy then and tried immediately to gain more, went further north and failed. Have now lost all and a bit more of what we first gained and have to start chasing again.
The pressure is certainly on in a different way – needless to say it would be great to spot Table Mountain first, but as we have already seen on this race, nothing comes easy and differences are very marginal. And more than ever before, on this leg, to be there first we first have to get there. So patience again. We have almost two thirds of it to go still and leaders are only 50 miles away.
Now after almost two weeks at sea we can only say that it has been rather tough and is only getting colder, but we have been very lucky so far, after all. No lengthy periods of more than 40 knots, no snow storms, no ice so far. Until the last two days water temperature has been at least around 10 degrees, now it’s sinking below 5.
The furthest southern point on this leg will probably happen tomorrow, roughly 53S for us. Our friends on the “Italian ice breaker” Vaio have been south of 54S already for a while, at least the butter on board should still be in good shape.
I believe partly I have fancied the northern tactical moves based on the fact that I’d rather see my track north of the others, simply for the comfort and safety of the crew. I’m probably getting old, but I do want to make sure we are safe, safe, safe. Only after that I worry about speed. Out here one has got time to think about a lot of things, and one of the common ones has been the sad memory from 1991 as we lost one of my best friends over board on our way from Galapagos to Marquesas on the Europa 92 round the world rally. Another reason to play it safe, it is an experience one definitely does not want to relive.
SAIC La Jolla, the boat – as always before – has been amazing (knock knock). It takes the bashing and crashing very calmly, the rig looks and feels solid as a rock, the yellow Hood sails seem to forgive a lot and all we have been needing to do to them is re-lashing some hanks onto the headsails. We even tried to catch some fish with our No 2 and even so got it back safely and in one piece.
Don’t ask me how it happened, all of a sudden I found myself on the foredeck pulling a very heavy sail back on to the deck as we were hove-to in about 25kn of breeze and growing seas… sometimes things just happen. We are also very lucky to have such great gear and kit on board. Navigation with the MaxSea software is easier than travelling on the Underground in London. Communications via Iridium phone and Telaurus SeaComm software work like a Swiss clock, even here.
The Musto one-piece drysuits and our additional Suunto 2-piece drysuits plus all the baselayers, midlayers and accessories keep us as warm as is possible. The Mikuni heater is running night and day and the brave crew bakes bread and cookies to cheer up the otherwise slightly bring freeze-dried cuisine of Cafe La Jolla.
Personally I am less patient than normal and cannot stop speculating on days left. Every time I go to my bunk I see my family standing on the pontoon welcoming us in to V&A Waterfront. It’s been a long time – too long.
The other thing which is constantly going around in my head is the future. What next? Back to office work, more sailing – and what or where? All of a sudden the race is beyond its halfway. In four months’ time it’s all over. Any ideas anyone. Who needs a secondhand GC skipper, marketeer, father of three and a bit of a dreamer? Name and number from the editor.
Joking aside, life has seen rather dramatic changes and windshifts lately, would be nice to try some more normal life again. See the family every morning and evening, spend weekends together and plan holidays ahead without needing to first sail or fly thousands of miles to get together. Time will show – interesting times.
Eero Lehtinen, skipper Team SAIC