Yesterday we wrote about our close race with CV31 Unicef for the first scoring gate. Ploughing along through the night under Spinnaker in 20 knots was great fun, perfectly controllable but with the forecast and potential for more breeze the biggest Spinnaker stayed in its bag.
We narrowly crossed the score gate ahead and gybe on route westwards to the second. The wind had been in our favour and the gybe angles had made the second gate a natural progression. Unicef were hot on our heels and in the words if Ian we were perfectly catchable. A feeling all too well felt onboard Qingdao as we watched Unicef hang onto our tails as if attached by a line.
We closed and closed on the second Scoring Gate. The wind had increased and we were playing Spinnaker trim and waves very well. It looked good. We extended. Looking at the plotter, we could see the distance was up at about four miles and we had nine left to go. Just one gybe and in and that's when it happened. Somehow, perhaps the gybe the sheet wasn’t eased enough or the new one not pulled in quite fast enough, the kite twisted and turned in a tumultuous series of cascading sailcloth. It was an hourglass and one of the biggest I've seen. The kite had rotated. We worked to ease the halyard. We pulled on the sheets. Unicef were catching. We tried to set up for another gybe. Each time requiring the Main to be ground in to centre by the tiring crew. People were looking left and right and the breeze had built to over 25 knots.
We decided to drop it and hoist the Yankee 1 in hope we could sail the last, now six, miles to the Scoring Gate, quick enough to beat Unicef. As the twisted Kite came down we were unable to set a conventional drop line and the Spinnaker wrapped around the forestay further. The Kite was writhing like a python constricting the very heir of victory. I saw it. I'd left it tied up well on the high side bow incase the wind had dropped. The Code 2 "hold" I exclaimed: Could we hoist the Code 2? I yelled through the breeze uncertain of what lines were still available to feed our armory. There was now too much breeze for it to be comfortable, but it had to last just five miles before it could be dropped. As some crew wrestled the snake down below, others gave rise and rebirth to the biggest Spinnaker in our arsenal. Miraculously in the strong breeze, we hoisted fully to the top in one and as I turned to see clearly the figures of anticipation and excitement onboard Unicef who had now closed the gap I felt it. The lurch of the boat as she bolted forwards. The Spinnaker popped and off she went like a bolting horse at the sound of a shotgun. Our impressive speed in the high teens under Code 3 were now shadowed by the galloping 20 odd knots of boatspeed we held. The boat was surfing on the edge. The crew trimming and easing Spinnaker to allow her to be reigned in the appropriate direction, each fence halted with just a little recoil before launching us through the air. We had made it, six points in a day and what a race!
Onwards to the big race. At last update for us we were currently first. We have discussed over the past few days that there were two ways of losing the race in a big fashion. The first was the headwinds we face through our ocean sprint along the coast of Taiwan. These would be converted to tail winds for the following yachts and so allow some compression in the fleet. We had successfully defended this one. The second were the windholes at the end of the race. We are now in such a windhole and it’s hard to know our competitors will be out flanking and out manoeuvring us. They will have speed. Maybe not all of them but some. I hope the race doesn't become a complete lottery and that pressure builds for everyone soon. We are where we are. We always knew this would be like this. It was very useful that we were able to get so many points through the gates and sprints as I'm really not confident about our finish result at this time. Keep fingers crossed and join us again tomorrow where we will be on our final windhole of the race.