Global Challenge skipper Duggie Gillespie reflects on what a difference eight months of racing has made

We have finally and safely arrived into Boston. The team is pleased to be in after completing the longest leg of the race which, in theory, is homeward bound but not! We crossed our outward track in the middle of the Atlantic and kept going westwards, away from home towards to Boston – a psychological challenge in anyone’s book when we’re so close to the end of the Global Challenge. In fact we only have approximately three weeks left at sea in total once we leave Boston, and sitting here reflecting for a short time on terra firma we have come such a long way – 26,500 miles approximately – and achieved such a lot in our world.

Just to take one example, this classic manoeuvre explains the difference.

I recall what seems a long time ago, it was night time, the first week in
October, leg 1. We were in 25 knots of wind blowing from directly behind us, just off Cape Finisterre when, for the first time as a team, we were bowling alongunder a heavy spinnaker run. We were limited then to two helmsmen who could cope with the spinnaker on the trained but nonetheless amateur crew. The odd uncontrollable boat roll made eyes open wide as people looked around nervously for reassurance that we weren’t going to broach one way and then the other.

Such changed days now. Back then it was all new, all filled with apprehension.

It was this dark night that cost us points in the protest hearing at our first destination, Argentina. We had a mix-up and used what we thought were up to date electronic charts but in fact were not. We started to go down the shipping lane the wrong way, unbeknownst to us. It was only when two large ships had passed us head on that we checked and re-checked the electronic charts, the almanac and finally our paper charts and found our error. We had in fact been heading south in the main northbound shipping lane!

It was red alert on deck as we started to go about gybing the good ship out of the lane. Easier said than done as it was our first heavy weather gybe. And at what a time, with the pressure really on.

Everything took so long. The darkness covered the confused faces but you could feel the tension, the desperation for instructions. Nothing was automatic. There was everywhere and new heavy weight spinnaker up that we had to keep in one piece. After about an hour and a half we had gybed twice and were back into the correct lane, the crew a lot wiser and with double their heavy weather spinnaker experience.

On this leg we had to do the same heavy weather gybe in the same Atlantic Ocean except this time on our way home and in 25-30 knot winds, pitch black, and with a rival boat less that a mile away. The pressure is on not only to make the gybe but to do it with speed to pass in front of the opponent and avoid a port and starboard incident in the middle of the night with both 40 tonne steel boats surfing down waves at 13 -15 knots. The slightest error and there are big consequences, catastrophe even.

The pole is hoisted up the mast. “Pole set.” Preventer comes off, the quarter tonne, 10m boom now precariously swinging. One roll and its momentum could catapult it violently across the boat. Up goes the pole, perfect height, perfect angle. The boys on the guy winch disengage brain and grind until the call “Hold the pole”.

“Gybe ho,” I call from the helm. The grinder is already grinding the sheet in, the trimmer not even having to call. The old pole comes down as the boom swings across perfectly under control and the preventer is on before I’ve even noticed. I’m watching the spinnaker. “Please god let it fly!” But no need to worry. With hardly a flicker the sail is set, trimmed as though it has been flying in that position for hours.

We smoothly pass in front of our opponent with boat lengths to spare. What a difference eight months makes!

Duggie Gillespie, skipper, Spirit of Sark