Sir Robin Knox-Johnston relies on instinct rather than a science to complete 5 Oceans leg 1 12/12/06

Log dateTuesday 12 December 2006
PositionLatitude 47 00S Longitude 050 22E
Miles To Fremantle3,083 nm
Average Speed in 24 Hours9.53 knots
Distance in 24 Hours228.6 nm

In any other sport, which is dependant on sophisticated equipment and therefore sophisticated instrumentation, I ought really to drive off the track and retire. Yesterday afternoon the masthead sender for wind information became unbolted and is now hanging down bashing itself to pieces. I am now without any wind information. This did not matter so much in the Suhaili days where speeds were much slower, but with a rocket ship like Saga Insurance they pull the wind forward so quickly when they accelerate the only way to control them is via the instruments.

Some might suggest that I climb the mast to rebolt the vane but you can forget it! In the first instance it is already too damaged, and the second is that this mast has now thrown off two windexs and now the vane and if you think I am going to risk being the next thing it throws off you can think again!

You might consider a withdrawal in any other race but not in the Velux 5 Oceans as you can never tell what is going to happen next. This is such a trial of the stamina of both boat and sailor through the most inhospitable ocean of the world that you know it must be right to press on if you possibly can because if you are having problems, the chances are your contestants are, or will have problems as well, and that can balance things out. It pays to stay in this game if at all possible, regardless of how uncompetitive you might become for a while, because the next stop gives the chance to patch things up and re-start on a more even basis.

Who would imagine I would run into a fishing net and lose a day, its so unlikely, but something similar could happen to any of us anytime. It isn’t always easy, who would expect the ultimate solo challenge to be easy, in fact it is very frustrating knowing you could be sailing faster but for whatever the problem is, but then if this event was easy where would be its attraction? Who would be interested?

And look on the bright side. Suppose you had told the Wright Brothers that they could fly Concorde in their later years? Well I am getting the chance to sail a rocket ship around the world in my Saga (Insurance) days, the period of so-called retirement, repeating an earlier exploit with the latest technology (when it works!), now that really is something.

So where are we now? I cannot tell the wind direction or force with any degree of accuracy. Tacking and gybing becomes more of an instinct than a science. Reefing or changing sails becomes a matter of human judgement not the response to what the sail maker has said a sail can do. More damage is inevitable but can hopefully be kept within reasonable limits. This is, after all, how we used to sail, how I sailed around the world 38 years ago, but we have moved on. This will also mean that handling squalls becomes more dangerous as I cannot control the bear away as well which reduces the forces on everything. On the bright side however, I do not know how strong the squalls are so I don’t know when to be frightened!

The loss of the wind information will cause a further delay I am afraid. I shall be so glad to get to Fremantle and try and sort out some of these ridiculous problems. I had some good news although it seems minor in comparison. The slider that had come off the mast was the wrong size; it was for the deck track. I have replaced it with the proper size and am relieved that I do not have a problem there. Now it just remains to sort out the remaining battens and I shall have a full mainsail at my disposal again after a week without which will enable us to get back some of our missing speed..

I actually got the water maker to work yesterday so am fully topped up again with 12.5 gallons. That ought to be enough to get me to Freo with spare as I use between one and one and a half litres a day, or, in Christian measurements, 2 – 3 pints. The watermaker’s problems are height above sea level and air ingestion. We can fix both in Freo. These are the sort of little tasks that could have been sorted had we had longer to prepare the boat and have bedevilled this voyage so far. Its not that they are a huge problem in themselves, it’s just the number of such little things adds up to a problem. This first leg has really been the shakedown we needed before the race more than a competitive race for us.