Canadian skipper drops out, the fleet is in real Southern Ocean conditions, and Emma struggles between knockdowns

As the Around Alone fleet reach true Southern Ocean conditions at the notorious Kerguelen Islands, Canadian skipper John Dennis announced his retirement from this leg, and probably from the race as a whole. “I have diverted and I am now heading to Cape Town as the bearings on the shaft for the alternator and ballast pump have ceased,” he wrote to race HQ yesterday. “I feel that it is unsafe to proceed if I am not able to charge batteries or pump water ballast. Once I get to port I will decide then what the best course of action might be.”

At 57, Dennis is the oldest competitor, and his boat Bayer Ascencia one of the older Open 50s.

Another skipper having technical problems is Tim Kent on Everest Horizontal, another Open 50 in Class 2. He was having trouble starting his engine to charge batteries, but has managed to get it going again.

From a racing point of view, the main news is that Bernard Stamm has again stretched out a commanding lead, 160 miles ahead of Thierry Dubois, while Brad Van Liew is again comfortably in charge of Class 2. Stamm has led unchallenged since the first few hours of this leg from Cape Town, mirroring his performance in the first two stages of the race.

New Zealander Graham Dalton, madly keen to do well on this leg to his home country, is well placed in 3rd position, but there is a considerable gap between the two leaders and the rest of the pack: Dalton is over 400 miles behind Stamm. Emma Richards is the backmarker of Class 1 and a long way from the front – 565 miles today.

All the fleet are surfing in big seas, and there have been several knockdowns as the boats get caught by cross seas or with too much sail. Emma Richards has been having a roller coaster ride, as the following report from her describes, but as ever she is in a determined and upbeat mood:

‘An interesting 24 hours to say the least! The wind had been all over the place, in both direction and speed, which is not unusual but mix that with the size of the rollers we are experiencing, and the surfs involved, it is easy to be caught beam to some of the bigger waves and this can knock you down?as I found out!

‘After deciding that my speed wasn’t good enough and having lost some miles to my competitors, I decided to go for more sail, building confidence, so unrolled just the solent (I still have 3 sizes bigger than this!), and within minutes got flattened. Though I’d better give it longer, maybe just a rogue wave and 10 minutes later the same again, tried adjusting pilot settings, same again, so furled the sail in again. I’ll wait til the wind dies to 25kts!

‘I had just sat down at the chart table when I could hear the roar of a big wave about to hit my starboard side, having no time to do anything, I held on for dear life and was tipped beyond 90deg. I only know this because things that are lashed so the only way to get out is directly up got out! I am still finding things in odd places, and the smell of tomato soup that liberally spread itself everywhere is still haunting me although I’ve cleaned up the mess.

‘In my tiredness I adjusted the damping on the pilots which, due to a slight glitch in some new software, I have to do regularly, and often without thinking about it. Well, I thought I had adjusted the pilot rudder damping, in fact, now I am safe and warm in my cabin again it is obvious that’s not what I did. When I saw the pilots really starting to skew in another 35 knots plus squall, big surf and a very slow recovery, I donned jacket and harness but not bothering with gloves knowing I’d only be a moment. Wrong again!

‘Grabbing the tiller on the verge of a crash gybe, in fact I thought I was too late but miraculously saved it, I handsteered for a moment, went to steer the pilot on compass for a while, but the wind was so shifty, switched pilot back to steering from the wind, same problem. Decided to go to backup pilot, normally easy, but forgot about one change we had made in the last stopover, only one small switch change, but oh what a big difference – rendering the backup useless without it.

‘Changed back to the original pilot and then sat handsteering for a moment while I went through the problems in my head, what changes had I made, and eventually brought me back to the last change I had made to the rudder damping, from inside, rather than the cockpit control, and that is normally set on wind. I had just changed the damping on the wind instruments and slowed them down, so the response was slow and when you are surfing at 20-plus knots, it’s simply too slow. Went to pilot one more time, dived below, made the change back to what I thought was normal, perhaps too quick, but wow, back to a relatively safe course!

‘As I couldn’t find the settings at hand, I gave Mark a call to see if could remember them off the top of his head, forgetting it was one in the morning in UK, and it was just getting light with us! He was a star and knew what I needed to know, and was surprisingly wide awake at that hour, only to find that he just had Derek Hatfield on the phone sorting out a different post-knockdown problem! Now with more notes to myself on the boat, and not much more confidence, dreaming of Mum’s mulled wine out of a huge pan on the stove at home.

‘Em x

PS It snowed too while I was out there and my hands are just thawing out now!’