Read this brutally honest account of solo racing by Dee Caffari, written for readers of Yachting World
We asked Dee Caffari to sum up her first experience of sailing an Open 60 solo. Here is the report she sent Yachting World:
“I thought I had experienced a fair amount of life on board an Open 60. I was in for a shock.
“During the Transat Jacques Vabre, we tacked only twice, and then to clear a landmass we were too close to. At one point the spinnaker had been set for six days and I even complained the sailing wasn’t exciting enough. I hold my head in my hands now and take it all back.
“Since leaving Brazil on the Transat Ecover B2B Race about 10 days ago I have had a baptism of fire. I got to the point of asking myself what on earth I was doing here with some of the best sailors in the world. I felt as if I didn’t have a clue.
“Let me try and explain life on board an Open 60. These extremely strong but also extremely fragile carbon shells are crashing into the incoming waves when you are sailing upwind, as we now are. Shaped with flat bottoms to enhance their downwind surfing prowess, they slam and everything judders above deck.
“The loads on the sheets make disturbing cracking sounds like gunfire and the mast swings forward violently when the momentum is stopped by a wave – so much so that the runners load and reload with a slam.
“There is no moon out now and the clouds are covering the sky so there is not even a hint of a star to be seen. I crash onwards into the blackness trying to see through the torrents of water flooding the deck. Occasionally they wash me back into a recess of the cockpit.
“The boatspeed reads 13 knots. I check my sail chart to check if I am on the numbers. After all, I am racing. After 24 hours, the slamming motion has left me a nervous wreck. Even if the boat can take it, I do not think that I can.
“After a few experiments I discover that cracking the sheets 10 degrees and sailing slightly lower makes for a more comfortable journey.
“Daylight brings its own problems. I crawl on my hands and knees along the deck to check everything. The lashing at the bottom of the headsail is coming undone, but the bow is constantly underwater and I am being lifted bodily above the level of the guardwires. So that’s another job that has to wait for better conditions.
“I am conscious of the need to empty the water from the folds of the mainsail to reduce the load and minimise damage. I missed a rope that has now chafed through the sail leaving two long tears about a foot long just in from the luff. To fix this I need much drier conditions. Another job waits for a break in the weather.
“I check the weather file only to see on the updated version that the break in the weather is another 24 hours away. In my noisy 60ft world I believe I am the only sailor out there who is having problems, but looking at the polling I have closed some miles.
“I look again. Some inconsistencies throughout the fleet make me realise that each boat must be encountering issues of one nature or another. These boats are fragile racing machines that need looking after, as do their skippers. In three races this winter we have had three dismastings – a stark reminder to us all that to win a race, first you have to finish.
“My focus changes. I haven’t slept. I am still adjusting to the noises. I haven’t eaten because I haven’t been inclined to wait for a kettle to boil. I am poised in the cuddy in my foulies ready for the slightest hint of a problem.
“Without fixing my mainsail I am no longer racing, but according to the sail chart I am in the right set up for the wind speed. I have to think of the bigger picture. To qualify for the Vendee Globe I have to cross the finish line of this race.”