Crew Perspective - Battling the Waves On Race to Cape Town

13 November 2020

For New Zealander Susie Blair, a round-the-world crew member on WTC Logistics, her race down to Cape Town saw big sea states and high wind speeds. During the Spinlock South Atlantic Showdown, Susie's team was one of the yachts that travelled the furthest south, at one point, dipping into the Southern Ocean. In her blog, written in the midst of experiencing some epic conditions, she talks about the tethers used on board, and how they protect the crew from huge waves crashing over the deck and whilst travelling at speed sat on the high side.

"Hang on Tight" as yelled by the WTC Logistics Skipper and transport yourself to Day 9 of Susie's Leg 2 adventure, sailing from Uruguay to South Africa.

Leg 2, Race 3, Day 9

31st October 2019

For days, as we cruise along with various kites up and even the wind seeker (our lightest sail) up at times, we keep turning to Skip and saying ‘"s this the Southern Ocean?". He looks back and says ‘stop saying that!’ Then on Halloween it finally arrived, high winds and a building sea state … the wind was at times recorded at over 70 knots before our wind instrument broke and started reading 245 knots!

It’s hard to describe the seas when they’re as big as they were. The waves rolling in from the right and depending on how they hit the bow they either rocked the boat sideways or made it crash up and down or often a combination of the two. The water was literally pouring over the boat and, despite our best attempts, often down the companionway into the below deck area. In the afternoon, Wayne and Brad took 70 buckets of water out of the bilges! It just kept coming! At times the cockpit looked like a bath and was entirely full of water.

It’s times like this that safety becomes so much more important. We get it drilled into us to use our clips correctly, which is what stops us from going overboard or from falling further than needed. I’ve never been so grateful for my clips than when I finally got the effect of waves sweeping me away. The first time was when I noticed a line in the water and between Dan, Kaz and myself we worked out it was the end of the ‘handy-billy’ which holds a reef in at the mast and I went forward with assistance from Mark Southey to sort it. I managed to pull it in on the low side and while trying to recoil the rope suddenly I was engulfed in water and thankfully, as I was already at the end of my tether on the high side, I barely moved. But as the boat is so far heeled over at times, if I wasn’t tethered on it was certain this wave, which wasn’t even that big compared to some, would have taken me overboard.

Later that shift I was just sitting on the high side enjoying Mother Nature at her best watching that huge 8m+ waves which were approximately 100m apart rolling away from us, when suddenly I was hit in my back and blown off my seat between two of the winches. Having been tethered on my short tether I thankfully only flew a foot or so in the air and swung around towards Mark sitting next to me. Being a slight adrenaline junkie I got straight up and waved back at Kaz behind the helm and said "now that was a crew sweeper!"

On another occasion, Paul and Kaz at the helm had noticed a sail had fallen in the water so we called down to Skip to see if he would like to be present to sort it, which he did given the sea state. So Skip, myself, Ben and Hitcham went forwards armed with sail ties. As Skip and I got there first, we proceeded to pull the Staysail back in which at that point was almost entirely in the water (although still hanked on to the inner forestay so still attached to the boat). Hitcham arrived and started putting on sail ties, when Skip saw a huge wave approaching and yelled for us all to ‘hang on tight!’, luckily the wave swept past with little harm so we proceeded to wrestle with the sail and eventually won the battle.

I’m pleased to have sailed in the seas as they were and now can say I’ve truly sailed in the Southern Ocean, although the night shift was a little miserable as we were all so wet and cold by that point. But led by Kaz the Baywatch watch leader, we cycled through everyone spending half an hour down below at a time to warm up and have a hot drink. I was literally shivering despite wearing some of my thickest layers, so I’m hoping for not too many more freezing cold nights like that. And one of the struggles we are all having is trying to dry our gear as there is so much condensation down below and not enough heat to dry anything so you end up putting your wet clothes especially gloves back on. The bottom of mine and Will’s bunk has inadvertently turned into a drying rack.

It’s all calmed down a lot now, although the odd wave does still create a large splash and we bounce around especially down below and it’s thankfully warmed up a little too.

Until next time…

Susie Blair

Intrepid Kiwi Traveller

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