Elaine Bunting talks to Dee as she nears the most remote place on earth. Plus interviews with Conrad Humphreys and Mike Golding. Click here to listen - 16/1/06

As Dee Caffari beats westward across the Southern Ocean towards 125°W, the most isolated spot on earth, Elaine Bunting talked to her. Interviews with Conrad Humphreys and Mike Golding also include their insights into the psychology of single-handed sailing.

Click here to visit the Aviva Challenge website and listen.

And from today, this report from Dee:

I felt as if I was cheating a little but with hindsight now we lost so little that it is another addition to my ever-growing learning curve.

The front that we were passing through last night, we knew was going to be giving us in excess of 40 knots. The sea state was already picking up and was pretty unpleasant. I had noticed from a check on deck during the afternoon that we had a small hole worn about halfway up and a foot in from the leech of the staysail. It was in line with the clew of the headsail and I would put money on it being from the other night in our big blow with a couple of tacks, some of which were planned, but the one that wasn’t lead to the headsail being pinned against the staysail.

I was concerned for the small hole in another blow becoming a major tear that would be difficult to repair. Mainly because of this concern for the staysail and also not wanting to be fighting on deck later, I furled the staysail away fully while we had 30 knots of breeze. This did lose us a small amount of boat speed, for a short time only. As the wind increased we were back to speed in no time and I no longer had the trauma of the staysail to worry about. With Aviva set for a big blow, I could relax and I made a major effort to sleep.

It worked really well. We came through the front of 42 knots unscathed and I had achieved lots of sleep. At the chart table I had been taking sleep in 30-minute chunks, in between altering course as the wind had swung. I felt great, much better for some healthy sleep and comfortable knowing that I had not risked any further damage on deck. It is easy to talk all the time about reducing sail early, and I do compared to sailing with a crew, but even so, it is quite difficult to do, as you want to get the best from the boat at all times. An interesting conundrum. I am definitely learning the advantages of early reduction of sail in the Southern Ocean though.

So the daylight hours bought with them an interesting and unexpected drop in the wind speed and the skies cleared and the sun came out. I increased my sail area and looked at the staysail. I needed to drop the sail, repair the hole and then re hoist the sail again. This lull was tempting me, was it a sign, an opportunity to get the job done? Knowing that the wind was due to increase again as the centre of the depression was to pass south of me over the next 24 hours I took advantage of the weather I had.

I dropped the sail. It started so well and then deteriorated rapidly. Fortunately this was the staysail, which is the smallest sail onboard, as I spent 30 minutes regaining control of the sail whose middle third had decided to take a swim. I was fighting with an area of sail that was full of water. It took all my strength and some, to get the sail back on deck. My forearms were completely spent by the time I had finished from gripping with my fingers.

That was only a third of the task. I grabbed the sail repair bag and tried sticking a patch over the hole, but in the wet conditions that didn’t last two minutes so I donned needle and thread and with still shaking hands I over sewed the hole. I then patched the area and sewed the edges to help it last. I then had the task of hoisting the sail. I fed the boltrope into the pre feeder and went to work. All was well and I was thankful until the last third, it was a critical balance between enough sheet to stop the sail flogging and enough slack to allow me to hoist and a rough patch on the luff that was being difficult to keep in the luff groove. A little fiddling and all was well and we had a patched sail flying again.

I was knackered at the end of the task. One and a half hours it had taken, I don’t think I will get many awards for my sewing but the job was done and I need now to keep my eye on it for deterioration. I was relieved and thankful that I had gone for the job while the weather allowed.

I cleared the debris from deck and took my foul weather gear off and decided that my feet were not smelling too pleasant and that I could no longer blame the boots, it was in fact my feet in my smelly socks. I think it was the timing, the lull in the wind, the sun out, that I decided I needed to shower and change all my thermals. The result is that I feel much better and I can now live with my feet.