Never a dull moment for Dee Caffari battling with typical Southern Ocean conditions 26/1/06

Date26 January at 0019

PositionS 48° 40’/W 134° 33′

I had been waiting all night for the active front to pass. I was geared up for 40 plus knots of wind, lots of rain and gusty conditions. The barometer kept dropping and every time the wind steadily increased I decreased sail so that I wasn’t caught out.

We had been sailing in a northerly breeze of 20-24 knots. It was great reaching conditions. The breeze started to go forwards and I waited for the onslaught to begin. Rather than increase the breeze decreased. I unfurled the headsails and kept the two reefs in the mainsail. I checked the weather fax and the forecast I had and decided that maybe the low pressure had moved north a little and I was travelling through the centre. The wind backed very quickly and I grabbed my jacket to tack. By the time I had my jacket on and got on deck, the breeze was far forward and the headsails were flapping. I set the new runner and by the time that was done, the breeze had gone from 17 knots to 30 knots. Now I needed to do everything at once. I needed to tack, I needed to put the third reef in and I needed to furl some of the headsails.

Whilst the headsail was flapping, I furled some of it. I centred the main on the traveller and tacked. The new working headsail sheet slipped from my hands and caught on the winch. Not wanting to get any fingers caught, it took me some time to retrieve the rope, by which time the lazy sheet that no longer had a stopper knot in the end for some reason, ran free and tied itself in knots along the new working sheet. This reduced my ability to grind the headsail, I tacked the staysail and furled some of it away, and then I got rid of the leeward runner so I could put the third reef in the mainsail.

Once we were sorted with the mainsail I set about sorting out the headsail sheets. It was still flapping so I came off the breeze a little. I was wedged on the leeward deck body surfing every time a wave washed along, trying to untwist the rope. Now after all the activity already I was breathing heavily and I was pretty wet to the skin as during my body surfing the waves had found a way in. My arms were getting a little tired even with the extra birthday chocolate and now I was unwinding 35 metres of wet 18mm diameter rope. In itself it is pretty heavy and when each wave that you are body surfing washes the rope off the deck into the ocean, the extra drag makes it even heavier. By the time I had all the line clear and had to walk it round the outside of everything and re feed it my arms felt like lead.

I tidied my mess on deck and once I was happy I slumped down the companionway steps and removed my wet weather gear. I was so cold that at first I couldn’t tell what was wet and what wasn’t. I decided to change anyway to avoid getting a chill and then as I put dry clothes on I realised how wet I was. Well that filled in two hours quite happily. At least now that the wind was here and the sails were now sorted I could maybe get some shuteye. It just changed so quickly, and I got caught out.

All the excitement always happens at night. Daylight brought with it some sunny spells, which made the 30 knots easier to handle. The wind was blowing from the south that gave it an extra chill but allowed us to point west, so we were making good progress. The wind had its lulls during the day to 25 knots but the sea state was so big we were falling off big waves and hitting big walls of water that doused the deck frequently. It made everything below decks hard work. The mountaineering route to the heads was back and the effort involved in making food or drink was escalating all the time. Here we were back in Southern Ocean living again, it made the last couple of days respite seem like heaven. It was the type of day that had I been prepared to get a face full of freezing salt water all day long or grown gills, then sitting outside would have been great and would have given a glow to the cheeks, mind you it may have been more wind burn than sun tan but both would be pretty similar. Having already changed my clothes for dry ones I wasn’t that tempted.

Dee and Aviva