"I'll hae nae hauf-way hoose but aye be whaur extremes meet..." Hugh McDiarmid

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

leg 4 race 1: albany, western australia to sydney

this is one of my favourites. thanks prue :)

the morning we left albany, we loaded an extra crew member onto the boat. billy the cameraman would be joining us for the whole leg, leaving us in brisbane some weeks later.

I was, predictably enough, up the rig when we slipped lines and left albany. I had been lubing the main sail track at the last minute when we cleared off the pontoon. I also had to run the HF aerial, after we snapped our original fixed antenna in the southern ocean somewhere. whoops.

once all that was done, it was time to get it together for the parade of sail. there were loads of folk on top of one of the big hills next to the bay who'd obviously decided that was the best view! we paraded around the bay in a neat line, then prepared for the race start. a short inshore course then back out and into the southern ocean again.

another month, another parade of sail...

we kept nicely out of the way at the start as usual. up the front, GB and PSP had a little scrap, resulting in them both having to return to the pontoon for repairs. it turns out GB had gone to tack and stalled, wiping out PSPs port stanchions and wheel. they had, in the process, torn their own bowsprit clean off. they looked very strange without it. as we had suffered the loss of one of our liferafts in the southern ocean on the previous race, GB were diverted across to us and donated one of their packed liferafts. they would then receive the two bagged liferafts we were supposed to be collecting before leaving albany properly. this was really good of them, and it allowed us to pass on our commiserations to the crew before heading off. how gutting for them :(

it wasn't too long before we had our own dramas to deal with. before we'd even left the sound, we'd wrapped the yankee halyard round the forestay and I had to go back up the rig to sort it out! three trips north before we'd even got out of sight of albany. a new record! after much faffing around, going up and down the forestay, and yelling while billy the cameraman filmed, we got it all sorted and I was back on the deck.

we had a few days of fairly calm sailing, with kites up doing nice mileage, then the weather started to build. we decided to go for thor, our code 3 heavyweight kite. he'd been repaired after ripping his head off on leg 3, so we threw him up but five minutes later he'd gone again. much to jo and sophie's relief (they'd repaired him in albany) the head had ripped in a different place - the repair had held! once we'd got the majority of him inboard and down below, I was despatched up the rig to retrieve the head, which was flying nicely from the top of the mast. 

right. at the top. it's kind of bouncy. and that's a lot of sail actually. doesn't look like much from the deck!!
ah. I don't have any spare lines to drop this down on. and it's heavy! uh-oh...
the deck crew thinking thank god they're not up there, and what the hell is she doing?!
is this my favourite photo of me ever? why yes it is. wearing the head of thor like a cape. I'm BATMAN :D
the guys grab the head and take the weight off me. which is a relief!
nearly down. the guys are ready to grab me so I don't end up in the water. that doesn't happen by the way...
that was pretty bouncy!!

so it didn't really take that long to get the head down. but it was a dead bouncy ride. I decided to go up and down the shrouds instead of clinging and swinging to and from the mast. this was the best way to get up definitely, but with the weight of the head on the way down it was quite tricky manoeuvering.

I had an epic bruise on my right thigh where I'd bounced off one of the spreaders. I think it was the one where I managed to switch off the gopro then drop it on kate while in the air...

the bruise took weeks to fade, and left a massive lump in my thigh. it turns out, after seeing a physio in sydney when we got in, that it was actually a haematoma and the lump took some shifting.

when I got down, billy interviewed me for the documentary which was a bit odd. not sure if they'll use it. I guess we'll just have to wait and see!

after that, it was back to normal sailing in fairly heavy seas. a few folk were still suffering from seasickness but most of the new guys had recovered by then.

we did manage to get screwed over by a windhole again, this time south of tasmania. we'd gone wide to avoid it, but it moved meaning we didn't have to go quite so wide. the rest of the fleet powered through closer to tasmania and started heading north. this was going to be our first bass strait crossing. of three. in a month. whose idea was that? oh yes. sir robin. we'd heard about the strait, that it was like the bay of biscay, sometimes flat, sometimes lumpy. I'd crossed biscay several times on tall ships before crossing it on leg 1 and to be honest it had always been pretty flat. I wondered if the strait would be the same.

no. no it wasn't. the wind was on the nose for most of it, and the seas were really lumpy. a few of the guys fell over with seasickness again in the changed sea state. thankfully by now I had not succumbed for ages (touch wood!) and was fine. it was while we were crossing the bass strait that we experienced the most amazing thing I've seen so far on the race. we call them the tron dolphins. it's a fantastic combination of dolphins and phosphorescence. you can see them coming from about half a mile away, just lines of bright green heading straight for you. incredible. I will never forget it. this is definitely my favourite thing to see. out of everything thus far.

we had a pretty quick crossing, and were soon on the south east coast of australia, powering up to sydney. bruce, our code 1 lightweight spinnaker, was flying and the wind was building, so we were preparing to drop him and hoist our code 2, brian, instead. the wind was quicker unfortunately, and poor old bruce exploded in our faces. the head was stuck at the top of the rig (sound familiar?) and the body had split into two other pieces - one wrapped round the keel, and the other wrapped round one of the rudders. an all hands call got the off watch out of bed. me and derek were pulling the clew in when the pressure went entirely. we looked at each other, then realised that we were now only pulling the clew. this is the bit where the sheets attach to the kite, and this is how we normally retrieve them. whoops. the rest of the sail had separated from the clew. what were we going to do now? who was going to tell matt?

it turned out we didn't need to tell matt. we both turned round at the same time, looking massively guilty and I think he just knew. we gave up on the clew at that point, and concentrated on dragging bruce in over the bow. there was a couple of folk at the back trying to drag in the section which was stuck on the rudder as well. eventually, we retrieved the body parts inboard. it took us ages. there were only 10 of us functioning at this point as well, and we were supposed to be going off watch shortly after it happened.

once the body was in, I was despatched up the rig again to retrieve the head. this was fairly straightforward as bruce is lightweight, and there wasn't as much sail up there this time. I took a spare halyard anyway, having learned from thor how heavy bits of sails can be! we got the head down and by this time it was light, and well into our off watch. we were all completely wrecked with the effort of retrieving bruce and missing out on sleep. I think it took us around 4 hours in all from start to finish.

we got the code 2 up and kept powering up the coast. or so we thought. the wind gods, who it seems actually hate us, had another windhole in store. it took us three days to sail the last 100nm to get to sydney. the windseeker was up and working hard, but it was so soul destroying to be going so slowly. all the way up the coast we were going 'is that sydney?!' but it never was. when we eventually got to the heads we were so relieved! we ended up tacking through the heads and up towards the finish line.

constantly tacking to the finish line
a happier (and smaller!) crew to reach sydney there never was!

once we crossed the line, the media boat came out to take these photos. then it was mainsail down and flaked, headsails down, yankee packed away and into the marina to berth. the marina was really tight to get in and out of, along with all the sydney hobart yachts being in, matt did an awesome job of getting us in there and berthing. we did have to reverse all the way out before eventually getting in as a yacht decided they just had to get out right at that exact moment. grrrrr. it wasn't too long before we were moored up with a beer in our hand. in sydney! for almost a fortnight. we would spend it getting the boat ready for the iconic rolex sydney to hobart yacht race!! a dream come true :)

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