2004 Transat

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Colder, Faster, and Vying for the Lead
June 9, 2004

The last 48 hours aboard Wells Fargo-American Pioneer have been action-packed. On Monday night, I had the opportunity to test the boat and myself when sailing in 30 to 40 knots of wind on the back side of the big low pressure system that had me beating to windward for days. There was a huge sense of relief when finally I was able to turn the corner, ease the sheets, and let the old girl go. Through one of the most amazing nights of sailing I can ever remember, we surfed along at speeds between 13 and 23 knots, hurtling through the pitch black with the sound of rushing water from all sides intensifying the experience. The boat would rear up and hesitate at the top of a wave set and then come careening down at ever-increasing speeds as I stood inside the cabin braced in four directions and felt the water rush past me in three dimensions. As surfers have been known to say, "Dude, it was epic." It was also somewhat frightening. I had up more sail than I should have and in the middle of these long surfs the boat would start to head up. The rudder would either catch it and put the boat back on course, or the boat would win and round up spectacularly, sails flapping and the boat wallowing sideways. I would run up on deck, ease the main and staysail sheets to get the boat back on her feet, and then hang on as I re-trimmed the sheets and we took off on the next ride. It went on that way for the better part of 24 hours and I knew it was a golden opportunity to take some miles back on my rival Artforms. I sucked it up and kept trying to keep the boat maxed out in her best conditions. I think I did about 320 miles in that 24-hour period and gained back the entire 65-mile deficit I had lost to Artforms during the first six days of the race. Pretty cool.

As with most storms, a calm follows before the next weather system sets in. This was true last night as I was cruising along under a light Northerly breeze with our Code 5 spinnaker up. We were just past the Flemish Cap and heading for the Grand Banks south of Newfoundland when the wind went squirrelly and then completely dead. The temperature also dropped noticeably and I was freezing in full long underwear and foulies, shivering as I tried to keep the boat going in one direction for more than five minutes. It was very frustrating and I became exhausted to the point of falling asleep on my feet when I knew I had to lie down and get some rest. Unfortunately, we lost some time to Artforms, as he must not have been becalmed as badly. The battle is back on. Today I established visual contact with Artforms as our positions had converged overnight and it was pretty cool to cross tacks with another boat (and this boat in particular) after 1,800 miles of sailing across a big ocean. The dense fog that is endemic to the Grand Banks enveloped us and we couldn't match race for long although I will try to keep track of him by radar and position reports. It should be some exciting sailing to the finish, some 1,200 miles away, between Wells Fargo and Artforms as well as the third place boat Okami, who had a night like mine and cut his distance to us in half, from 120 miles back to just 60 miles. Strange things can happen when big weather systems sweep over the fleet, so I am hoping to avoid the long boring beats to windward and have the opportunity to sail in different and changing conditions over the last third of the course. Don't change the channel yet, there are a few more innings left to play.

GryphonSolo2 Campaign / Joe Harris Ocean Racing
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