The last 24 hours have brought another reminder that the ocean gives no quarter to the crews taking part in the Clipper Race - this is serious racing, through towering seas and gales, extremes of heat and cold and, as is forecast in the next 24 to 36 hours, periods of little or no wind at all.
Describing the conditions he and his crew have just come through, Spirit of Australia's skipper, Brendan Hall, says, "Last night was black as the ace of spades and windy enough to blow the hair off a wet dog. The waves were large and very powerful and their white, foaming crests loomed up ominously over our stern. Several of them broke over the transom, filling the cockpit up with white water. Our bowman, Andy (Rose, a journalist) found smug pleasure in observing that the back of the boat was, for once, wetter than the front.
"We've had very testing sailing conditions and the critical decision for me was saying when to back off and slow down, so as not to over-stress the sails, rig and deck gear. After one particularly vicious 45-knot gust, we dropped all sails except one and slipped along cautiously until the wind had eased.
"As always, we are thinking long term victory, not short term glory and, after sustaining bad sail damage in similar conditions on Leg 2, we have learned this lesson the hard way. I am proud to say that Spirit of Australia and her crew survived the first of many testing gales the North Pacific undamaged, undaunted and now back to racing 100 percent."
"Last night we experienced the strongest winds and biggest seas we have seen since leaving Hull on September 13 last year," confirms Jamaica Lightning Bolt's skipper, Pete Stirling. "After dropping the mainsail to make some essential repairs we ran with just the staysail through the night until first light this morning. Before hoisting the staysail we were making 7 knots with no sails at all then after it was hoisted were averaging over 10 knots. In the middle of the night the on watch recorded a speed of 19.6 knots whilst surfing down the face of a big wave. Given how far offshore we are it is surprising how confused the sea state is as by now we should be seeing more regular ocean rollers. Because of this confused sea state we had a few big waves side sweep us in the middle of the night knocking the boat on her side and filling the cockpit with water. Undeterred the boat picked herself up every time, as did the crew, and carried on with the chase to catch the leading boats. Despite a sizeable gap between us and the leading three boats there is still every chance of getting a point or two at the scoring gate. "
This reminded me of Brian Luster's account of the race during the same leg. Tough, tough sailing. You can read more about Brian's account with this post and the subsequent daily logs.