Repairing a tear in the big gennaker was the biggest excitement of the day aboard Cheyenne

Brian Thompson with the latest from Cheyenne.

We have now just finished two weeks of sailing since we started at Ushant and are at 39.5S, just on the edge of the roaring 40s. We have 22 knots of wind and we’re running with the big gennaker, full main and staysail. Unexpectedly good winds have slingshotted us around the South Atlantic High, and we should remain in good breeze for the following three days at least. Our position relative to Orange is fine, we are approx 116 miles ahead and look like we will gain more today. We might fall into a temporary area of high pressure that will slow us for a period but our goal is to be just ahead of Orange at the longitude of Cape Town.

Since I last wrote the conditions have changed quite a bit from the beautiful trade winds of blue skies and sparkling blue seas to thick fog and grey seas. The tropical air being blown around the high is condensing on the cold water that we are now sailing though. Once we get colder air this fog should disappear and the radar can be turned off, but at present we can only see about 300 metres around us. However, it is unlikely that we will meet any other traffic, as this part of the world is less travelled than most. In fact, we have seen only one yacht and one ship since the Cape Verde’s eight days ago.

The sailing yesterday was quite steady, with consistent wind strength and a slow shifting of the wind direction to the north as we navigate around the high. We have been sailing downwind angles on port gybe and our course has been a steady curve towards the east.

The excitement of the day was repairing a tear in the big gennaker right in the middle of the sail, 80ft in the air. I was walking around the foredeck, checking out the boat, and looking up, saw a foot long strip of daylight through the cuben fibre cloth. I immediately told our sailmaker Whirly and he said: “let’s get this thing down!”

We could not roll it fully as we normally would because the rip would then be buried in the turns; we had to get the sleeping crew up to have the maximum number of people to wrestle the 6,000sq feet, or 600 sq metres of sail to the tramp. The drop went smoothly, and we then hoisted the blast reacher as a temporary replacement. Whirly, Nick, Dave, Damian and I set to work to put Kevlar patches on the blown seam and then stitch up the edges of the patches. We found a couple of other seams that needed attention and strengthened those as well. The cuben gennakers are four years old and we have had problems with both of them this trip, despite their faultless history till now. Geronimo’s gennakers were brand-new and blew up on de Kersauson, so there must be a happy medium there somewhere. Probably like boats, cars and most things in general, they give problems when new, have a middle aged period of reliability and then start to fail.

To re-hoist the sail that was now draped over the entire forward trampoline we had to bundle up the sail with knitting wool ties every couple of metres so that it stayed in a rough roll during the hoist. We also bore right away, eased the main and strapped the solent jib on centreline to give the maximum wind shelter to the sail as it was raised.

Dawn is just now brightening the gloom around us and the repairs to the big gennaker are looking fine, but we are going to have to remain cautious with the sail to the finish. Traditionally most of the need for the big gennaker is in the trip down the Atlantic, and it is seldom used in the south. But like they always seem to say, “it’s not usually like this here”, so we may need it later on too.

So far living conditions on board have been very good, food is fine, it’s still dry down below and fairly dry on deck. Stress levels have been lower than normal, as we have always been close to achieving our target of staying with Orange’s positions and taking the opportunities to gain when we can. We are pushing the boat to sensible levels for the conditions, and having an even pace between the watch captains of Dave, Jacques and myself – we are all on the same page, which is a great advantage as the settings from one watch continues on to the next.

It is certainly less strain being a watch captain on board Cheyenne, than having the responsibility of being skipper of Maiden II, or sailing short-handed. My job is to drive the boat as safely and as fast as possible for eight hours a day, to standby to help Dave’s watch for another eight hours and also to input any experience I have, to help in the overall decision making. The great thing about sailing with Steve as skipper is that he welcomes input, rationalizes the options and almost always comes up with an optimal solution in the circumstances. In this game you have always got to be looking at the big picture – is what we are doing at this moment, consistent with our goals for the entire 64 days? Steve is very good at that, you don’t get to succeed, and survive, in so many adventure sports by making unbalanced decisions.

So I am off on deck for the 8 to 12 watch now and will keep you updated on our progress.

The new species spotted today is the Great Shearwater, and I’m looking forward to seeing the first albatross.


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