David Scully has managed to find time during his busy role as skipper aboard the Oryx Quest yacht Cheyenne to keep a diary for yachtingworld.com
David Scully has managed to find time during his busy role as skipper aboard the Oryx Quest yacht Cheyenne to keep a diary for yachtingworld.com. Scully was part of the team aboard Cheyenne who broke the world speed record last year. Team Cheyenne is currently in second place, 827 miles behind Doha 2006 but clocking up some impressive speeds.
The race started from Qatar on 5 February and a few days after the start Scully started to write his first reports:
Abandon Plan A
Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, the wind has swung back into the north. Frustrating. Earlier this afternoon we had abandoned the strategy that has guided us eastward since the start of the race. The Trades we sought off the Indian coast were not to be found, and the other boats, following a less aggressive route, were adding miles to their lead with every shift in the wind.
It is time to face up to the mistake we made days ago in the Gulf of Oman, and get in the queue behind Doha and Geronimo. As we sail south through the warm night, a bubble of gentle air is swelling off the Indian coast. Sailing into it would be suicide. We need to gybe to the right, on to a course that points Cheyenne’s bows at the transoms of the rest of the fleet.
This is a bitter pill. One can console oneself with the notion that 200 miles is nothing in a race of this length, that the Indian Ocean is obviously full of surprises, and that the meteorological situation is changing by the moment, but that does not change the fact that leaders have more options, and are able to control, to some extent, the strategy of the followers. Plus, they feel better about their sailing!
We are forced into a waiting game. We are giving up our eastern leverage, hollow asset though it turned out to be, and must sit quietly at the table until the fall of the meteorological cards yields us a hand we have the confidence to back to the hilt. Still, at this rate it will be a long race, longer, I think, than anyone imagined. Yesterday we repaired our daggerboard, damaged in a collision with an unidentified underwater object as we blasted out of the Straits of Hormuz, and, after a protracted struggle, got the port genset running. Credit the persistence of Mark Featherstone and Alex Bennet on that one. The crew, brand-new to the boat when we set off on Saturday, is settling in well, and although our tactics have hurt us in the early going, boat speed, even in the light breeze, does not.
? here’s a poem from Cheyenne?
Trade wind days
The great boat sighs forward
Wearing grey sails like a comfortable pair of jeans they pant and swell with the crisp cut of the corrugated sea
The bows dip and glide, dip and glide, and slice the sea apart
The wake makes an untidy suture behind.
The long hum of the turbine whine powers us forward
Swaying with slight uncertainty as the invisible wind sighs into the sails
Hung like soft webs of pearly gray, inhaling the breeze
And forcing the hulls to cut an endless course
Running to the horizon, and to the horizon after that, and on.
The little crew dot the deck
Diminutive leprechauns fiddling with the great machine
They soak in the sun and the wind coming ever over the bows
They eat and drink little bits, and service the big machine
Two days on
The sea swells with a calm monotony. We are ghosting along under reacher, and staysail, and Jim has set the tiny storm jib inside the staysail. He points out that it is another 100 square meters of sail area, and who can argue with that?
After a couple of frustrating days, we are back in touch with the leaders. True, they are still a couple of hundred miles ahead, but we are now in a position to attack using the same wind they are getting. We took 30 miles out of them last night, and although I expect the “rubber band” between us to stretch again today, as they hit the stronger winds inside the Maldives, we are well placed to profit from any misfortune they may encounter at the Equator.
On board, life is easy. We reach along through the warm nights and hot days. Boat speed seldom exceeds fifteen knots. Watches come, and off watches are slept on the deck, under a mass of stars that glitter like sand on an overhead beach. Anders sings a song in Swedish, about a seagull sitting on the boom crying for a fish, and a fisherman sitting in his boat, crying for Vodka. Sounds like a washing machine draining, but it is a change from hearing used car salesman Alex Bennet tell stories about customers he deals with – he is a bit of an entertainer, recounting the details of the Team Phillips rescue, and his near sinking on Aqua Quorum.
I played my little flute for a bit this morning. Having not played in a few years, I must dig the melodies out from deep in my brain, but now and then a note will surface, and rapidly grow into a whole song. Profite-vous, as Herve would say, because the squalls and calms of the Doldrums will keep us on our toes in the days to come.
Breakfast on the Equator
At last, a fresh and serious flow of breeze! We spent the night picking our way down to the top of the Maldives in a gentle, drifting, calm. Bad enough that Doha and Geronimo has passed this way before us, but to take the wind with them was very selfish.
But as the day grew, we sailed deeper into the flow squeezing out of the Bay of Bengal, between the southern tip of India, and Sri Lanka, and the knotmeter climbed into the 20s for the first time since clearing the Straits of Hormuz.
The water was full of tsunami debris. Logs, whole trees, and bits of furniture, set up an obstacle course. Having successfully mended one daggerboard, we were in no hurry to repeat the challenge, so we put a man on the bow and threaded through the worst of the wreckage. It was a sobering reminder to we who play on her of what happens when the planet hiccups.
But we spent the day dancing down the island chain at speeds up to 28 knots, feeling the boat come alive again after too many days of half-hearted breeze. I went of watch in the early hours of the morning, and when I awoke we were a few miles from the line. The first big landmark of any circumnavigation, it was the fifth time I had crossed it in less than a year! King Neptune will start to think that I am looking to settle in the area.
The wind that sustained us during the night continues to push us south. The deck is hot in the sun, and the crew seeks the shade of the lee of the sail when they are not driving or trimming the boat. Reviewing our progress, I have had to put us on a diet: Half rations while driving through the tropics. It looks like this adventure is going to take longer than first imagined.
At least we are back in proper ocean. The Arabian Sea was cramped and quiet. Out here, Cheyenne is rushing down the ocean in much more of her own style, and incidentally, starting to nibble away at the lead of the lighter boats. Ahead, the south-east trades, and a hard, wet, week of bashing to windward, and then the glorious westerlies of the Southern Ocean.
Standing at the helm, the waves loom over the port bow like a succession of black transit vans, outlined in breaking phosphorescence. I grip the wheel hard, fighting the force of the waves trying to sweep the bow to leeward. The tendency to bear away is aggravated by the lee helm produced by the small sails set to challenge the 30 knot winds.
Spray breaks against the lens of my Garth helmet, blinding me for an instant, and at the same time a treacherous wave slaps the bow down. In an instant, we have accelerated to 25 knots, and the new speed sends the hulls flying at the steep crests, and slamming down with bone jarring force on the far side. I haul the wheel to the left and force the boat to a more sea kindly course. It is going to be a long night!
The hatch opens and a strong smell of hot freeze dried food blows back to me. I am still a bit nauseous from a session spent wrestling with a plumbing leak in the leeward hull, and dinner has no appeal. Better off keeping the boat going for the moment.
Where would I be without this helmet. The spray is hard and blinding, but inside, I can stare out at the flicker of the 20/20 readouts without flinching.
My protective bubble in a crazed ocean. At least the water is warm!
We have a night, and a day, and another night of this, before the wind will swing the sea to a more comfortable angle. The boat hates it. Every joint and junction is stressed by the constant and merciless assault. These conditions require that we slow the boat, to save her structure for the miles ahead.
Many miles. Our next objective is the Southern Ocean, a tough, cold stretch of sea that I dread and anticipate in equal measure. It is the greatest sailing, but takes no prisoners. You have to be mentally and physically prepared for the Southern Ocean. Does this old boat and its new crew have what it takes to enjoy extreme sailing at the bottom of the world? After the south east trades finish beating us up, we will have one day of relative calm to get ready.
Between a Low and a Trough
Cruising along in a typically good weather for the Southern Indian Ocean, our only problem being that we cannot make things any worse! No, seriously, if you remember my last com, we were trapped in a high-pressure ridge. Now the ridge has passed over us, and we are wailing in the frontal winds of the system behind it. The trouble is that this is a rather weak, tired, front, and we are tending to outrun it. So, the front catches us, we speed up, leave the front behind, and catch the high pressure ridge, with its light winds. Then we slow up, and wait for the front to catch us again. It is great moderate air sailing, but is not giving us the push we need to get to the Horn as fast as we would like. Still, there is not a thing we can do about it, and sun in the Southern Ocean has to be enjoyed.
The moderate winds have given us an opportunity to attack the job list. Dingo has been up the rig, changing out some mast track bolts that were catching on the batten cars, and also causing our batten car breakage problem. I have fabricated some new batten boxes to replace the broken ones. We are finally getting the rig tuned respectably, so we can carry more sail with a clean conscience. By the time we get out of the deep south, we should be prepared to go racing!
But even as we sail down Highway 51 South, a complicated situation is setting up for the weekend. A week low off Tasmania is drifting south on an erratic path, and an area of high pressure is forming just to the south of it. Ice is going to be a feature. Interestingly, Doha is falling off the front that has carried them so far out ahead of us, and may be slowed by the light winds ahead. This might be a great opportunity to take some of the stretch out of the elastic between our two boats.
Between the high and the low will be a squirt of powerful wind, which I hope that we can ride out of the Indian Ocean, and into the South Pacific. This is a gentler, warmer, and more predictable stretch of water, and the last lap into the big left turn at Cape Horn. Getting Cheyenne around this corner will be a huge achievement for our team.