“What? You’re doing it again? You’re mad!” That was the loving response that I got from my other half when I told her that Osaka was on again. Well? Don’t dismiss her analysis. She might be right.
Let’s think about that – what were the high spots? It’s in my nature that I’m inclined to remember the highs better than the lows. Lots of high spots, culminating in Robert being promoted by our local sailing magazine, “Yachting Life”, to the rank of Honorary Scotsman in their headline, “SCOTS DUO WIN OSAKA CUP”
So, let me start at the end of the race and think back through time…. The Prize Giving was a wonderful day and a masterpiece of organisation by both George and the Osaka Hokko Yacht Club. And the reception on our arrival in Osaka… and discovering that I was the biggest loser by proportion of body weight… and I felt better for it. (George weighed all the crews before and after the race to see who lost most weight.)
On the last day, a hectic and at times damaging run for the last 100 nm had us working hard. We knew it would be close between ourselves and Wasabi and Optimus Prime so we weren’t letting up. Having a spinnaker and our biggest head-sail lying in fresh tatters in the foc’s’l (he didn’t tell me about the spinnaker!! – Robert) seemed unimportant. But in the last 30 NM the wind was dropping off until we spent the final couple of hours trying to decide whether we were better with the #3 or the code 0 as we ghosted upwind to the finish line.
The week from the Marianas to just short of Japan has left the least memories of the whole event -just sailing on in the right general direction and not many decisions to make until we approached the Korushio current. You can assess how dull it was from my log entry at 1145 on 19th April “Overtaken by a swallow. OK little fellow. Only 700nm to go!”
Oh! Except for the unlit aircraft carrier!! More of that later.
In the Marianas we had passed close south of Pagan, an island that boasts a population of 3 and an active volcano which was steaming away and dusted us with ash on the approach to the island. And just before that we sailed over the trench, with 7 miles of water underneath us. Just thinking about that makes you giddy!
A few days earlier, in the doldrums, Robert had managed to predict a rain shower in time for us to be ready for it. We were suffering badly from salt water sores and had finished the tube of Bactroban cream that had been our defense. Race doctor, Dr Rosie, whom we consulted by sat-phone, was clear that in the absence of Bactroban, the only solution was to wash our bums in fresh water every time we came off watch. But we didn’t have the spare water and were depleting our stocks by drinking 5 litres a day each. So we suffered. We thought we were well set up to collect water off the main but kept failing because the showers were very brief. We were busy keeping Escapade upright in the squalls that came with the rain and so the rain had gone before we were ready to collected it. But then Robert, genius, spotted a smaller shower and predicted it some ten minutes ahead and we had left the catching mechanism in place with only the hose to fit. As the rain arrived Robert was able to turn down downwind to maximise the catch, and this time no reefing required. The water gushed off the sail and into the bucket slung under the boom and some went down the hose to the tank. So much water was overflowing from the bucket, it seemed as if there could be none left to go down the hose. Just under 5 minutes and the rain stopped. We had taken 100 litres into the tank! Happiness! Bliss! End of salt water sores! A major high spot!
A few days before that, we had sailed through the middle of the Solamons. The main route is the Manning Strait but there’s a short cut through the Kologilo Channel which is only a few hundred metres wide. Approaching land, we had expected to be waving to the local kids and dusky maidens on thebeaches. But nothing. Diddly-squat. All those exotic palm trees leaning over the beaches and not a soul to be seen. What a waste of such a beautiful place. But nevertheless, that afternoon was a high spot after seeing no land for the last 1400 NM.
Back a few more days and already planning to go through the middle of the Solomons. We’d seen a slack patch pending and no real way to miss it. On the tracker, it looks as if we’d been headed off to the west and had then tacked as the wind swung though the north. But that’s not what actually happened. We reached over to that point where we turned 90 degrees to starboard and reached out of there again. That “corner” was the point that we assessed that we could reach that had slack wind for the shortest time … about 18 hours -and we think that tactic worked out rather well. And even in that period of no wind, we never lost steerage way thanks to Dougie’s mini racing sails. Very lightweight small sails that are center sheeted and make the boat walk forward at about half a knot as she rolls in the swells. In fact we never lost steerage way in the whole race.
Before that, we’d been broad reaching up the 160E line for the better part of a week. Wonderful sailing in perfect trade winds. Why 160E. Well we were near it when we met the trade winds and since there’s no land on that line of longitude, there was no navigation involved. It was perfect laziness. And sailing up that line, Escapade cracked 200 nm in 24 hours. That’s an average of over 8.33kts. Impressive for a 38ft yacht that is not a lightweight downwind flier. Escapade herself was a definite high, proving to be safe, sturdy and functional.
During that period, Escapade’s steering developed a graunchy sound. Fumbling around under the binnacle, Robert could feel that the ball joint connecting the arm and the push rod was dry and probably a bit corroded. The self steering had a separate push-rod. To dismantle it, we had to disconnect the wheel’s push-rod and remove the wheel and the binnacle. Then we could get at the offending part to clean and lubricate it. It took a couple of hours and delayed us not a moment. In the steady trade wind, Otto kept whining away and the miles continued to clock by. That episode gave me a lot of confidence in our (i.e. Robert’s!) ability to fix problems on the hoof.
Race folklore says the best route for the race lies up the Aussie coast, inside the East Australia Current. So what gross error had us far to the east, some 500 nm off the expected course? The answer was in the wind that had been lying in wait for us as we had rounded Gabo Island. A strengthening northerly combined with an intense anticlockwise eddy off Eden meant that we’d have faced beating against a 3kt current if we’d gone up the coast. So we opted to go with the current and round the eddy. And then the better current eddies and lesser wind kept being to the northeast. We still expected to go back to the Aussie coast but wind and current kept luring us out. And then the plan changed because we saw that in a few days time the SE trades would dip down as far as Lord Howe Island. So that’s where we now deliberately headed and that’s how we ended up so far east. Catching the trade winds early worked out well for us. But more on those 4 days of 25-35kt head winds later.
So now we’re back to the race start. That has to count as a high point, because suddenly there is no more preparation to be done. Now it was time to be single minded.
So what about the low points? “Were there any”, I hear you ask? Well, “yes”, but not a lot. Those 4 days of northerly gales in the Tasman had me questioning my own ability to continue. Cold, wet, tired, sea sick and trying to concentrate on downloading wind data from a poorly performing satcom system (another low point),and then making sense of it when I got it on the screen. I was struggling to find anything enjoyable about it. This wasn’t what I’d joined up for! But after the second day or so of that misery, we had the clear goal of doing something radical and logical….i.e. head for the trades north of Lord Howe.
The next low point would be the spinnaker halyard failure. I don’t like going up the mast with a high tensile rope as the safety line, so I’d talked Robert into fitting one spinnaker halyard as double braid. That halyard failed and dumped the asymmetric in the sea. I got an ear lashing. Then I made a dumb suggestion on how we recovered it,and the skipper went along with it until it turned out to be dumb. And I got second round of ear lashing.
(It turned out that we had a worn sheave that had an edge like a razor and that if you used the starboard halyard for a spinnaker carried on port then that sharp edge was unprotected. That’s what cut through the halyard. But that later knowledge didn’t help at the time.)
And then there were the salt water sores. That was a definite prolonged low.
Escapade may have been a high but her leaks were a low. On some days we were manually bailing 200 litres. And because she didn’t have proper limber holes, the boards had to be unscrewed and lifted to get at the water. And the water in one of the lockers rolled our stock of beer cans around, and they all failed. (Robert assures me that he’s now found the sources of the leaks, and has fixed / is fixing them.)
And then there were a few things that were neither lows nor highs but were interesting or fun.
The evening a Brown Booby (it’s like a brown gannet) decided we were a convenient rock for him to spend the night on. He kept trying to land on the cross trees and failing. And each time he failed he came crashing down on the deck. Except the time he slid down the mainsail and got his legs caught in the lazy jacks. Eventually we’d thrown him overboard one time too many and he pushed off.
And much more seriously, the time that Robert had just taken over the watch and I was at the nav station writing up the log. It had just gone dark.
“B—– H—! There’s a F—— aircraft carrier ahead! It’s got no lights on! I look up from the log book to the screen to confirm what I already knew. “There’s nothing on AIS.” I ran the scale of the chart plotter right down and there it was. An island almost dead ahead.
“Turn left NOW!”
Well thanks to Robert keeping his eyes open even in the dark, disaster was avoided. But how could we have nearly hit an island in the middle of nowhere? It turned out that the half mile across round unlit island only shows on the chart plotter at rather low scales. And in an area with “no hazards”, we had the plotter on too high a scale. Even when it did show, until you were on a very low scale, it was just a small round circle with no blue around it and no writing. The only other info on the chart within hundreds of mi
les was occasional soundings shown as a small round dotted circle with “375 reported 1936” or something equally banal.
And I have to make a comment on “Co-skippers”. I know that’s what the Race Organisers wanted to call us but as an ex-military man, I don’t believe in having two skippers on board. I’d rather think of one as Captain and the other as his Firs
t Officer. Either can run the boat but only one is the Captain. He’s the boss and can talk to the First Officer in a way the First Officer would never talk to the Captain. As I discovered in the broken halyard affair!
There was one event on that race that may yet have some consequences and it had nothing to do with sailing. I had spent one off-watch morning carefully setting up a solution to my toothache. I was trying to get some instant tooth filler to stick over the offending part, but the filler wouldn’t stick. I decided it needed a bit of a hole to key the filler and that a 3mm drill from the toolbox might solve the problem. But I couldn’t twist it properly with my fingers, so the solution was clearly the boat’s electric drill. Robert was in the cockpit and was looking a bit curious about what I had been trying to do for the past hour. So I explained the problem and asked him to come and help. He wasn’t keen but I persevered, showing exactly where he needed to drill. We got it all set up with Robert holding the drill just clear of the tooth, with the chuck just clear of my nose so that he could drill down into lower left 4. The previous hour’s investment had borne fruit. With Robert fully committed and about 2 seconds away from drilling, I backed off, smiled at him, and said, “April fool!”
A 38 ft boat is rather small when you’re trying to escape! The consequence will be that on April 1st 2018, I will have to be very alert and very much on my toes! So – we’re off to do it all again. But the thought remains. Does my other half have it right? Am I mad? Well I’d say that to do the race at all you don’t have to be mad. But it does help!
To do it a second time…..?
Note to self. Take two tubes of Bactroban cream.
And the Skipper’s view
“Why?” And just as important “Why with him?”
Well, you learn a lot when you ask your other crew member to write a bit for the Race Organisers to use for publicity ! As Joey would say, more on that later.
As I prepared Escapade for the 2013 event through 2012 and into 2013, various people, fellow sailors, friends, colleagues, relatives, but mostly those who hadn’t sailed, would ask me “So, have you done the race before?” My response was usually “No, you’d have to be crazy to do it twice.” When we eventually reached Osaka I discovered that there were indeed, several people who had done the race on two or more occasions … and they were definitely crazy! Now I’m lining up again, go figure?
Part of the preparation is the careful selection of your number 1. In my case I knew that if I was to take on such a challenge then I needed someone who was a competent skipper of their own boat, could sail Escapade as fast as I could, or faster and whom I could manage in close company for several weeks on end, without a mutiny or execution at sea! Since that was an impossible ask, I chose Joey as the next best option 🙂
I have always valued the unique experience any person brings to my crew when they have been the skipper of their own yacht, no matter what size or how far afield they may have sailed. In Joey’s case that is quite a lot. When I first started sailing in 2001 Joey was one of my early mentors. We did the RBYC overnight race two handed in a Compass 28 and clean up PHS and were second in AMS. Despite the fact that he confided in me that he had never done a race more than 300 miles I knew that we would be a formidable combination.
Along the lines of Joey’s earlier comment, I’d have to say I was a little dubious of the view being promoted by the race organisers that we were “co-skippers”. I thought, “how can that be, its my boat and surely a boat can only have one skipper?”, I don’t recall Horatio Hornblower or Jack Aubrey ever referring to his “Leadership team”. Having finished my 30 year career in business with 10 years in management consulting, I was used to the concept of running a facilitated workshop to make sure that all stakeholders are happy that we are making the right decision with regard to our collective, corporate future. I reflected upon this 10 days into the 2013 race, as I sat next to Joey on the foredeck of Escapade at 2am in the morning, in the middle of nowhere in particular, slowly pulling an asymmetric spinnaker out from underneath the boat. I turned to Joey and said “Just a thought old buddy, old pal. Thanks for your helpful and potentially useful suggestions a few minutes ago on the cockpit whiteboard but how about next time the fewmets start leaving stains upon the sails of our proverbial windmill, we just do it my way and save the facilitated workshop for the debrief?” To his credit, my enlightening suggestion was met with a most satisfying “Hggh, Aye Aye skipper”
As for my career as a budding dentist, I’d have to say I was most dubious about Joey’s suggestion that I perform dental work on him with a 12v drill fitted with a screw and nut. Like I said earlier, you have to be a bit crazy in the first place. He is right, in that I was nano-seconds away from pulling the trigger when he said “April Fool” – next time I might just pull it anyway!