Dee Caffari has spent the week battling with strong headwinds in the Southern Ocean but the worst is yet to come 19/1/06

Date18 January 2122

PositionS 50° 39 ‘/W 114° 54’

As you know yesterday I was quite down on life. I was feeling a little emotional which I put down to tiredness and also feeling a little beaten at the relentless pounding upwind. The endless fronts that have daily given me 40-50 knot gusts were taking their toll. Which is understandable but pretty much tough luck when sailing in a westerly direction in the Southern Ocean.

I knew that feeling sorry for myself was not going to help me get through this tough time. I knew there was another front to sail through on Wednesday delivering gusts of 50 knots and we were sailing to avoid another secondary low pressure forming that would deliver storm force winds, that I could really do without. So I decided to do a job below decks that has been on the list for a couple of weeks.

I donned my mechanics hat and collected my tools and opened up the generator cupboard. I was going to change my injectors. This was a job that I hadn’t tackled before and I was a little nervous, as I need the generator to produce power and hoped I didn’t do something to incapacitate the machine. To my surprise, actually changing the injectors was relatively stress free and even more to my surprise the generator worked afterwards as well. So maybe life wasn’t all that bad. It was the boost I needed. I felt much better and e-mailed the Technical Support Team to let them know the good news.

Feeling better I got dressed for on deck and spent an hour just checking equipment and making sure I was happy with everything again. There seemed to be a lull in the wind or rather a reduction in the amount of water over the deck so being in my mechanical mode I grabbed some oil and lubricated the rudder reference wires as they had begun to squeak a little.

The sky had cleared a little which was a pleasant change as it had rained pretty much all morning. I know this is to be short lived but you do get used to making the most of moments when you can. This steadier sailing was a little slower but allowed me to do some basic jobs before we reached the next big blow. I pumped the bilges and cooked some food. I had gone off eating but knew that I needed to keep eating properly for my own strength and health. So food it was, but I was beginning to feel better, purely by being productive.

The night again was restless as the wind was on the move and I knew we needed to tack at the right time. Mike Broughton had suggested a tack at 0400UT, which was absolute poetry. As we tacked the wind started to veer more consistently and we were soon pointing in the right direction again. An absolute peachy moment, Mike you would have loved it! Not a bad decision from so far away, very impressive. Since then the winds have been quite consistent in strength but on the move little by little. It has been pretty damn cold too.

The daytime has delivered grey skies and a drab, damp environment, but without the anger that was held in the skies previously. I have also broken the magic number of 10,000 miles, so we are getting there if a little slowly. Along with the mileage we will also be changing charts soon and the next chart has New Zealand on it so that is very exciting. It all illustrates progress in small stages.

Dee and Aviva, another day closer to home.

Latest report from Mike Broughton

Date19 January 0034

Yesterday was pretty tough, today pretty wild and tomorrow looks pretty torrid.

To my mind, this is the one-week of the passage so far that you really would not want to be beating westward on Aviva the wrong way in the Southern Ocean.

Dee has done a great job of wriggling to the south to avoid a particularly nasty secondary low-pressure system that formed up ahead of her yesterday. Evolving on a fast moving polar front, with 50 knots of wind on its leading edge, secondary ‘lows’ have a habit of ‘spinning up’ quickly and generating storm force winds, albeit over relatively small areas (about 500 miles across).

Today one is just to the north of Dee, whilst a second of the ‘little rascals’ is looking set to form later today, just to the west of her position in the Southern Pacific and is forecast to move east at 40 knots. Hopefully it will pass to the south of Aviva during the early hours of tomorrow. This one looks set to have 70 knots on its north-western quadrant (ouch!) and we can expect to see Dee clawing up to the north to avoid the worst of this storm.

One might ask, why doesn’t Dee just sail much further north than her present latitude? Apart from the problem of having to sail many more miles in distance, sometimes it is really difficult to head that way, when the wind is already from say the north, north-west as we saw yesterday. So there is a balance, in trying to make progress west, avoid the worst of the storms, work the wind shifts to advantage and not least in trying to keep clear of icebergs further south.

The secondary low that is close to the north of Aviva is at 44 degrees south (relatively along way north) and still has severe conditions close to its centre. A point that will not be lost on Volvo Ocean Race skippers as they will be passing through these same waters next month in their new Volvo 70 swing-keel race boats.

Whilst Aviva is a great boat to be bashing to windward in strong winds, what will make conditions disagreeable will be the disturbed sea state as the wind swings rapidly from north to south-west then back to just north of west.

Southern Ocean waves often grow to heights in excess of eight metres, but they are not very harmful as long the wind stays in the same direction resulting in a long wavelength. The tricky bit is when a strong wind swings and builds up a wave train from another direction interfering with the original waves. The result is often steep sided confused seas that are a handful to negotiate even in moderate winds.

I well remember from first hand experience, that one of the main reasons why sailors came to grief in the notorious storm of the Fastnet Race in 1979, was the steep breaking seas, following a 90 degree veer in the winds with the passage of an equally active cold front.

Dee will be experiencing similar conditions to that storm, however she will be facing them alone. If there is one defining moment of the Aviva Challenge, it is now.