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Helming the Big Boat in the Pacific
I'm writing from CV26, Team GREAT Britain's boat, and it's windy and wavy outside! Latitude 43, Longitude 164ish. I was on
'mother watch' today, cooking all the food for the team. While the first two shifts in weeks one and two irked me, it was
admittedly nice to get out of the wet and cold for a day to let my socks and boots dry out! And I now get to sleep 8 hours,
as opposed to 3 to 4.
It's definitely hard work sailing across the Pacific, especially when weather systems pass through and you're caught in a
squall with too much sail up. It usually takes about 5 to 6 people to get anything done from putting a reef in to changing
a head sail (sometimes we wake up both watches to do a big sail change when it's windy), so it can be time consuming and
exhausting to make a few key changes to the sail plan. We have 8 people on our watch, but one is always pulled off to do
'mother' and one has been locked away in the sail locker for over 2 weeks desperately trying to patch our code 2 spinnaker
that we tore into shreds on day 3! I've definitely had some fun surfing down waves in the pitch black night; looking out
over the horizon to see miles and miles of beautiful blue ocean rolling around us; and carving a glittery bioluminescent
path to San Francisco at night...it's gorgeous out here.
There have been a couple of good scares: when we broached with our code 2 spinnaker...a 70 ft yacht on its side where
you're hanging on for dear life while the spinnaker shreds itself into pieces all around you is disconcerting! And when we
gybed before reefing and got hit by a squall with a full main and no preventer to keep from an accidental gybe in big,
rolling seas. When the round the worlders sounded panicked, I knew we were in potentially big trouble. I've had a lot of
perverse CSC esque fun that no one but us would probably enjoy. I got to sit on the bow and lead the head sail change the
other night, clinging to the pulpit (while tethered!) to unhank one sail and get the next one up, with waves crashing onto
the foredeck. The sails are so large you're actually worn out simply from unhanking one sail and hanking the next one on. I
got to climb up bottom of the mast to fix a jammed reefing line while swinging around like a pendulum. And I've gotten to
drive the boat a fair bit. Turns out driving a dinghy downwind with a gennaker trains you well for helming a 70 ft boat at
night when you can't see a darned thing.
Racing at this scale is very different than the day sailing I'm used to at CSC. You learn that course over ground (COG) is
very important. The skipper will pop his head up through the hatch of the nav station and tell you every 30 minutes what
your COG is. We got so sick of hearing the word COG that we started telling each other to 'COG off' as a joke. You're
really not supposed to open that nav station hatch as all the electronics are in there and if a wave breaks over the boat,
the electronics will be fried. I've been tempted to have someone stand behind the hatch with a bucket so when the skipper
pops his head up, I can yell WAVE, and have someone throw the bucket at the hatch so he has to shut it. Ah, a girl can
My point is, you have to stay on course. You can't just ride high to surf down waves to your heart's delight like you can
on a pleasure sail. So here's how you surf a 70 foot yacht.
1. Wait until the skipper is asleep or very distracted. Tell him the sailmakers are having a nervous breakdown in the sail
locker and have started eating thread, or make some vague comment about 'smelling gas'. He'll be off in a hurry.
2. Wait till you see a beautiful mountain of a wave and start heading upwind until crew are dangling from their tethers and
looking at you in panic.
3. Squat and deadlift the helm to turn her downwind. Seriously, the helm is about 1,000 pounds at this point and you've
loaded her up to weather. Keep turning or you're going to be in a lot of trouble soon.
4. Drive down the wave and try not to laugh too hard like a maniac. Look serious like this is a troubling situation that
must be remedied....you can't believe you headed up so far and have now started accelerating down the wave at 20 knts with
fire hoses blasting on either side of your rails.
5. Start heading back upwind like a madman or you'll gybe.
6. Pray you don't accidentally gybe.
7. Seriously pray you don't gybe.
I've hit 23 knts so far. The boat record is 31. I'll keep trying!
That's all for now. I'm mostly kidding about my surfing antics, don't worry. :) They're still letting me drive, so not
gotten us into too much trouble yet!
Can't wait to get back to CSC soon, see you all again and sail in our little corner of the world. I've LOVED the limericks
and haikus, thank you so much for them. The crew get a good laugh out of them and ask about them regularly. It will be hard
to pick a winner, so keep them coming! We're running a pool on when we'll arrive. April 9 is the most popular date right
now. Let's hope we don't sail into a wind hole!