White water on deck, aching from the violent motion - it's tough, reports leading Global Challenge skipper Duggie Gillespie
Yesterday was our first real session on Spirit of Sark going through a Southern Ocean gale. It brought it all back: the cold, the wet, the exhausted half-comatose bodies lying around the deck or below, trying to shut out the reality of where they were or why they were here. The most important factor in their lives at that moment is whether they will once more have to venture on the white water foredeck to perform yet another sail change that I’ve asked of them.
I was a crew volunteer way back in the very first race in 1992/93 called the British Steel Challenge. A very green, naive, keen crew member. I have not really thought back to my earlier Southern Ocean experiences perhaps because I haven’t wanted to face up to the realities of what I have chosen to do again. But yesterday it was all very current and extremely real.
The helmsman has the boat at their control, or so you believe until you add in Southern Ocean seas. You have the wheel and a precise course to steer. The seas yesterday did not have a fixed pattern of approach. You are totally covered up in specialist clothing, including goggles, to protect yourself against the driving sea spray and rain from the constant squalls. The goggles make looking out appear as though you are looking at a TV screen, which seems totally unreal.
The seas throw you in all directions. You drive over a wave only to find there is no wave on the other side and the 45 tonne boat falls with a crash and violent shaking throughout. You are uncontrollably removed from your helming post with the see-sawing motion of the boat. You must recover otherwise the yacht will round up and flog the sails to bits or fall away to totally bury the lower side and send the boat into a 45 degree list, creating carnage below.
This continues time and time again. My back and knees ache with the constant violent motions of the boat. The soreness in my upper back gets too much. The sharp pain from muscle contractions is way beyond acceptability, distracting me from my helming focus. Time to hand over to one of the fast developing helmsmen on the crew.
Why do it again after having proven it to myself over 12 years ago? Off with my goggles – the television is switched off as the next deluge of a wave crashes over exposing me to a face full of the Southern Ocean. Reality strikes.
Why, indeed, am I here?