Liu Xue ‘Black’ and Yann Riou describe the team’s first Chinese gybe as conditions start to take their toll

As the fleet gets stuck into the Southern Ocean and conditions start to ramp up,  Dongfeng Race Team is the first to report a wipe out to leeward, a Chinese gybe. Shortly afterwards Team SCA reports a similar crash. The girls report that all crew are OK but that all hands are on deck making repairs – more news on this when we have it.

Then came news that Mapfre had also tripped up – again all reported safe.

In the meantime, here’s the latest from the Dongfeng team:

Black describes the wipeout

This is the first Chinese gybe experience in my life, I can still feel the fear when I think about! We were about to do a manoeuvre, but before we managed to start it, we were attacked by 2 huge waves. Holy crap, the waves were so huge and we were suddenly pushed right over on to our side. My brain went blank when that happened. I grabbed hold of the first thing I could – the sailor’s instinct. It felt like I was on the Titanic when that happened, (I kept thinking) no, it’s going to be bad.

But I calmed down quickly. I knew we have to avoid going overboard when a Chinese gybe happens, and that would be the scariest thing. But luckily we had only just come up on deck, and the boom didn’t hit any one when it crashed across the boat, otherwise there would have been blood onboard now. Wolf and I were quite astonished, firstly because we’ve never experienced this before, and second it was happening during the night. But everyone was quite calm, no one was screaming or yelling. We tried to find the highest point (to stay on the boat), to make sure we were safe and then to find the solution to get out of it.

We didn’t talk about it too much afterwards, the wind will be strong in the next few days, we rather save some energy (to fight with the wind and the waves) than keep talking. Wolf and I had a chat today, we both agree that the Chinese gybe that happened to the boat is a valuable experience for us. But hopefully it’s not going to happen that often, otherwise I’m not sure if my heart is strong enough (laugh).

The wind and waves are very strong now, and I couldn’t help throwing up again. People don’t have much appetite when they don’t feel comfortable. However, it’s way too cold now and I had to force myself to eat something. At worse, I can still throw up after eating, but we really need calories and energy to fight against the horrible weather. It’s freezing cold on the deck now, I keep trembling. It feels better when you go back to the cabin.

Despite the fact that is super bumpy, we sleep very deep, so you understand how tired we are. When we are off duty, we fall asleep in no time. I remember there was once when I was sleeping, my body was lifted up by the waves, then smashed back on to the bunk, but I fell asleep in no time again. No matter how bumpy it is, it doesn’t affect us at all, we don’t have any problem to fall asleep.

We haven’t reached the Cape Horn yet, but it has already brought us so many challenges. Yesterday we were saying it’s not as difficult as we thought, and then this all happened. How many challenges we will have to overcome in the future is unpredictable. Come on Southern Ocean, bring it on!


“Chinese crash gybe” on Dongfeng – crew ok, nothing broken, but paid the price in energy and time!

“Quite a few of us had never done one before, and we had to wait until we were on a Chinese boat to do it…” Yann Riou exclaimed.

It had been on the cards – Yann tweeted direct from the boat a few hours before, at the start of a very dark night – “30 knots of wind, very dark, shifty, gusts. Very difficult to drive now.. ”

When you scream down the face of a wave in the pitch black, with only the blurred glow of the wind instruments to guide the helmsman along with his ‘feel’ and the apparent wind on the back of his head, it is very easy to steer the boat just that bit too low and go in to an involuntary gybe – this kind of ‘crash’ can happen very quickly, but take a long time to sort out!

Yann continues “Anyway. Pitch black night, boat ends up heeled on its side, and took two to three hours to put everything in order again. About 300 litres of water inside the boat via the aft air vent, then via my bunk, my sleeping bag and finally the entire boat. I’ve filmed a bit but it was really dark so no idea what the result of it will be like. At least a GoPro and a camera dead, as far as I am concerned.

I’ll film a bit outside now, it’s incredible conditions. Then I’ll go to sleep. Haven’t slept more than 2 hours these past 24 hours. I’m exhausted.”

Best way to explain a “Chinese gybe” – watch Team Russia do one in the 2008-9 Volvo Ocean Race here

A “Chinese gybe” in this context is a gybe caused when a boat rolls excessively to windward (usually when running downwind), causing an unexpected and uncontrolled crash gybe. The boat then gets pinned down with everything on the wrong side – boom, headsail, swinging keel – it takes some time to release and reset everything to bring her back upright. And then the inside of the boat takes a long time to clear up and dry out in this case!

With what was the windward air vent open, once the boat was pinned down on the wrong side, the water will have come straight in to the boat. There are dinghy style hatch covers that can be screwed in place – but equally they are there to let the air in to the fresh air starved interior of the boat, and its not often that you expect the windward side of the boat to be under the water in this way. We suspect some other damage has been done as the boat since has been sailing higher than expected, so they may have needed to change sails – or simply sail a bit more conservatively than before. More news to come once Yann and the guys are back on track from this ‘little’ Southern Ocean classic moment…a quick tweet from Yann confirmed a few hours after the mishap “Nothing broken but a lot energy and time lost”.

First Chinese gybe for the Chinese too!