A strong wind, a big and confused sea, but Pip's storming with the kite up
We are charging head long, down wind, through a misty and grey oil field. Next stop Lowestoft and we are running at full pelt to get there, bursting down waves, spray flying, Shed surfing. What and awesome day.
Leaving Lerwick in The Shed (my Oyster Lightwave 395) turned out to be a little stressful; the internet connection slowed down and stopped, just at the crucial moment of downloading a final grib file and sending out last minute messages.
With 40 minutes to the race start, we still had a boat rafted to us and the promised rib to assist us off the wall had gone to help another competitor.
We waited and waited and then decided to leave under our own steam and deal with the consequences.
We arrived at the start line in time but on a back foot, having not really worked out which spinnaker we would be using and on which side it would be set initially.
We left into a strong breeze and a confused and difficult sea state. The spinnaker was flying, but steering through the waves was some of the hardest I have ever experienced.
There were two sets of waves, one following our course with the new breeze and the other a monster swell created by the severe gale that blew through over the last couple of days.
The boat was continually on the edge, you would pick up a surf on the first set of waves then a huge, spreader high, breaking roller would come from the side and knock the boat first with the boom into the water and then with the spinnaker pole in the water.
I was frantically turning the wheel from one lock to the next, moving my hands as quickly as I could, bracing my legs and knees to keep on balance, whole body tense, eyes fixed on the sea ahead, the instruments, the sails and ears listening for breaking waves.
Phil was playing the kite sheet to prevent a wrap, which was a high likely hood with the side swell that was running. With the sheet cleated he p
ositioned himself in the cockpit between the winch and the turning block. When the spinnaker collapsed he pulled hard with both hands on the sheet between the two points, like drawing the string on a bow, then as it filled he let it go with an almighty bang, making sure the timing was right so as to avoid burned hands.
This was the most high pressure sailing we have come across yet, and not from the wind but the waves. It was a reminder of what I have learned in the past that it is always the sea that is the greatest danger, and rarely the wind.
We spoke of the scenarios that would take place if something went wrong, organising between us actions, should we wrap the spinnaker, broach or Chinese gybe. We discussed whether flying the spinnaker was too risky in these conditions but decided that we had to make every minute of our six hour head start from Lerwick count and this meant pushing the boat to the limit.
In the end I steered with the spinnaker up for 7 hours, and we managed to make a 54 miles out of Lerwick before the next boat in our class started.
At about 1 am, I realised I was becoming too tired to concentrate; I needed a break for at least an hour. Phil did not want to helm with the spinnaker in these conditions, and anyway we needed to gybe so we decided to take down the spinnaker, gybe and white sail for a couple of hours so we could both get some rest and recharge before hoisting the kite again.
I am not normally one to take my foot of the accelerator, but this decision I believe was the right one. With every extra hour, we pressed on tired in those conditions we were risking getting it wrong and damaging ourselves and the boat.
After a couple of hours we were ready to go again, hoisted the kite and found ourselves hooning along through the Scottish oil fields.
The visibility is poor and all day, oil rigs of different shapes and sizes have been appearing and then disappearing from the misty horizon. There have been a couple of ships and not a lot else.
The wind is forecast to blow until 2100 tonight when we will run into the back of a high, centred over the UK and moving east.
Our plan is to make as many miles in these winds as we can.
The waves have become more regular and we are now taking it in turns to surf the shed down as many waves as possible, regularly making 11, 12 and a cheeky little 13 knots.
My leg where I fell, is stiff and sore, my shoulders and arms are red hot aching, but there is a grin on my face. This is fun.
As I am writing I can hear the rush of the water down the hull as we start to take off down a wave, the whole boat is alive, like a head strong horse charging off in the direction it pleases and we must take control of that power and make as many miles as we can to the South.
We have a bet on as to our 24hr run, loser buys the first beer. I say 205 miles, Phil is on 201. Spot the optimist and the pessimist?