January 16 has come and gone and the Kingfisher Jules Verne team is on standby
January 16 has come and gone and the Kingfisher Jules Verne team is on standby. The schedule over the last few weeks has been brutal on the crew as the race to get the boat ready for January 16 has been fought and won.
Late the night before, the whole crew had been involved in the last major project, loading 64 days of food into the back beam of the boat in two-day bags. As the freeze-dried food boxes lay lined up on the sail loft floor prior to packing, the reality of what lies ahead was graphically marked out in days – a box of wipes appeared every ten days or so, a tube of toothpaste every week or so and one chocolate bar per person per day. The only item of personal gear we will take will be a toothbrush – even razors are rationed.
The rationale is simple. Under the supervision of Project Manager Neil Graham, there has been an intense weight-saving programme. A tonne and a half of weight has been saved – including pulling out both main engines, their propellers and shafts and replacing them with two tiny generators. It all adds up to the fact that the boat is six per cent lighter after every last item has been weighed back on.
And now the crew is dispersing. Although the boat is ready to go, bar a few of the smallest details, there appears to be no suitable weather window for several days. Guys who have been getting up at six in the morning to go to the gym, play basketball or swim before embarking on a 12-14-hour day for seven days a week, pretty much since the autumn now, have a chance to rest. We don’t know if it will be a few days or a few weeks.
Olivier de Kersauson started his Jules Verne attempt last Saturday on a good easterly wind and has made record progress south. While everyone is itching to get on with it ,we cannot afford to leave on anything but the most promising weather system to give us an important fast start. The first five or six days is the only time we will be able to exert any influence on the conditions we sail in and, in order to have a realistic chance of breaking the record, we need to be blasting downwind during those first days.
There is a possibility that the middle of next week may bring a system that will give us the north-westerlies that would suit us best, but it is by no means a dead cert. The system could melt away and leave us waiting for a month.
While most of the crew would welcome up to a week of waiting for a system, we all want to get going and get into it. None more so than me. I am one of the two people on the boat who has never been to the Southern Ocean and, while I have to admit to being nervous to a large degree – each morning as I wake up the reality that my days in a comfortable bed with dry sheets are numbered – the sooner we start, the sooner we get into it and the sooner I find out what this is really all about.
In some ways it is too much to try and think about it, rationalise it and mentally prepare for it. For six months now I have thought about what it will be like several times every day. But it is impossible to imagine the reality, so the sooner I find out the better.
Loading the sleeping bags certainly brings home the fact that it is mighty cold where we’re going. Each bunk has a waterproof Gore-Tex sleeping bag liner to make some attempt at keeping the water out, a thick fleece inner and then each crew member has their own padded bag which goes inside them. I imagine within a few days they will all be soaking wet!
So now we wait. I’ll return to the UK and a few days at home – my first since September when I left for Auckland and the America’s Cup. My family is poised to come back when we depart. And we are on a three-phase standby system. Right now we are on Red Standby which means we must all be within 24 hours of Lorient in France where the boat is based. When a system looks promising, we will go from Red to Amber which means being able to reach the boat within six hours. At Green we are in Lorient and ready to set sail for the start as soon as the last of the 14 crew members arrives.
I’ll be waiting for the call with a mixture of anticipation and dread. When it comes, I know it will be big.