BT Challenge skipper Manley Hopkinson reports on a shredded headsail and the tribulations of setting their trysail

Manley Hopkinson, skipper of Olympic Group, reports:

‘Our first night in the Southern Ocean proper is probably going to be average. We estimate that we will have to face eight or nine low pressure systems from the Horn to Wellington. Thirty knots is definitely going to seem like a holiday at this rate.

‘We entered the new phase of our journey with the wind behind and building. The spinnaker drop was forced on us by the “automatic guy break safety mechanism” and so the poled out No 1 yankee was deployed. This sail has served us well in the past and we were expecting great things from it last night, but the wind soon shifted forward so the pole was dropped and the No 1 flown as normal, but still pretty much off the wind.

‘So the wind increased dramatically in a short space of time to leave the 20s behind and lodge itself firmly in the mid-30s with the waves also deciding to go for it and build proportionally. It took Jungle’s watch almost 1 1/2 hours to change the headsail to the No 3 yankee, mainly because most of the time the crew were just hanging on against the sweeping waves that flooded the foredeck, leaving only short gaps of useful sail changing time. It is vital to have one hand for the job and one for yourself.

‘The main was well reefed and should really have been substituted for the trysail, but this was not in its track, which was to leeward. We were planning to tack soon, so I was going to go for it then.

‘I had just said to Manuel that I was going to get my head down for an hour when a sail started to flog. Something’s wrong, blast! “The No 3’s shredded!” Kit on and up to the heaving foredeck.

‘Sure enough the No 3 had ripped from luff to leech and torn the leech tape also. The leech line had wrapped itself around the standing rigging, making it exceptionally difficult to get the thing down. We struggled but got the sail back and then hoisted the storm staysail as a foresail, thus flying an unusual rig of two staysails and three-reefed main. All this in 45-50 knots.

‘With the tattered sail below we took five but we could not rest long as the wind was squally. One minute it would drop to 20-something and you breathed a sigh of relief; a rest at last. Then suddenly 38-40 knots with a dramatic shift!

‘I wanted to preserve the mainsail. We need that baby to last all the way. It is one thing repairing the much smaller No 3 or a spinnaker in the confined space of the saloon, but the mainsail would stop all movement around the boat. It would be a debacle.

Jungle, Moby, Tesco and I went back up on deck to the mast to set up the trysail. Having now tacked onto port tack, the trysail track is on the windward side. I reckon that this sail is going to be up and down so many times that it can stay on its track.

‘It was an effort to get the slides on. Jungle and I were attending to them while Moby and Tesco secured the rest of the sail to the side of the coach roof. A massive wave, completely unseen by us, hit the boat like a steam train. I was pressed up against the shrouds, Jungle on to the kicker, but the two boys shot down the deck at high speed looking as though they were sledging, one sitting directly behind the other, legs either side.

‘Out of the mass of frothing sea, legs in the air, a hand rose as if out of the lake in King Arthur’s time, firmly clutching his sail tie. “I still got the sail tie, skipper,” says Tesco.

‘About 30 seconds later, another steam train and the boys were off again.’