Sorry it has been a while since my last post. We finished Leg 1 from Lorient, France to Mindelo, Cabo Verde Islands. The leg was about 2,000 NM and took about 9 days and we finished around 1:30 AM on July 5, between two lighthouses against a dark coastline in about 25k of wind.
Picking up where my last post left off, after we got through the narrow passage by Tenerife in the Canary Islands, we turned South and went on a dead downwind run that lasted for the next 6 days.
We avoided the wind shadow beneath Madeira, but elected not to go to the African coast where the routing suggested and four other boats went. After 3 days apart the fleet converged again as we raced to the finish and after Milai finished a day in front of us and Sec Hayai finished after them, the next four boats finished within four hours of each other after 9 days of racing. Pretty amazing. GS2 placed 5th, which was not our hope or expectation, but given the incredibly close finish, we are not too upset. Here are some reflections on the leg:
1. We definitely could have been more aggressive as we sailed on a tight reach from the start and towards Madeira, where we ended up losing a bit of ground. However, we were already experiencing auto-pilot problems and changed from one ram to the other, only to find the second was malfunctioning as well. So we had to hand steer the boat nearly the whole time and had numerous incidents of the pilot simply going off - which it normally never does - sending the boat into a crash tack or gybe, which is a real pain in the ass to get out of, particularly at night when it is easy to get disoriented. The mainsail and jib are backed, the boat is heeled over at an extreme angle and you have to slowly release one thing at a time to get the boat out of irons and going and then pointed in the right direction. It sucked and it must have happened a dozen times as either the pilot failed or Roger or I made a mistake due to exhaustion. We finally replaced one of the rams with an old ram that was slightly leaking hydraulic fluid but it remarkably worked and performed well for the last four days. But we los a lot of time due to the pilot issue.
2. I think we could have sailed more aggressively in terms of the sail plan, but quite honestly I am still in my solo sailor headset where you aim to get the boat going fast, but not out of control. As a solo sailor your top priority is taking care of the boat and yourself, while in double-handed sailing there is much more pressure to load on the sail and push the limits. So I think we had our smaller A6 spinnaker up at times when others had their big A2 kites up and they were going faster, while possibly wiping out from time to time. Maybe somewhere in the middle is philosophically the right place to be but you can be heavily rewarded for pushing the limits and you can also pay the price of trashing a sail or some part of the boat. My mantra is the "you have to finish to win" so am taking the long view, but I definitely feel the pressure to be more aggressive and Roger and I talk over our sail and course choices and decisions frequently.
3. The boat performed well downwind, particularly after we (Roger) made a huge effort to get all the weight out of the bow and stacked everything in the stern. When it was windy we loaded aft water ballast as well which really stabilizes the boat and allows the pilot to steer without wiping out in gusts up to 25k. However, the newer boats are more "bow up"in attitude and I think particularly the Moroccan boat #133 goes very smoothly and easily downwind with less effort. Not much to do about that!
4. We try to keep clean and dry living conditions below so we can get food and rest, but sometimes everything seems wet and the exhaustion is overwhelming. Again I think back to my solo circumnavigation where I would get the boat set up so I could simply monitor it, rather than continue to push it. Double-handed racing requires more energy and aggression, so for 62-year old guys, you have to dig pretty deep to find that extra gear.... at least I do. I have dropped about 20 pounds since I left Maine - partly due to stress and partly due to physical exertion and eating less. This ain't easy. Luckily my co-skipper Roger is a strong, 38-year-old guy who has a high capacity for hard work and is learning this game quickly. And we share the bow work and all the chores, as everything is easier with two guys versus one.
So as I look ahead, I feel good about our prospects and confident we can perform at a higher level. We are working hard here in Cabo Verde to get the boat in top shape for Leg 2 from CV to Mauritius, which is projected to take somewhere around 35 days, 3X Leg 1. Holy Guacamole. My son Griffin is coming for a visit with his pal Owen Ward, so I am looking forward to a few days off of hiking, biking, diving and surfing with the young bucks. It will be great to get my head out of the boat for a while.
So that's the report from Mindelo, Cabo Verde, where it is blowing 25k as it often does. The mountains and lunar landscape here are totally cool and I look forward to doing some exploring.