Leg 4, Race 5 - 6th January

Another scorching day on the water.  However we wake up to find the wind has died right down. In fact it died pretty soon after we went off watch and during the last 6 hours Jamaica had gone past us.  We were a bit disappointed, as the previous 6 hours we had been the fastest boat in the fleet and had taken miles out of everyone. But it also made us more determined. Now, unlike leg 1 when we were also faced with light airs and we floundered not really knowing what to do, this morning we worked the spinnaker as hard as we could, lifting heavy sheets out of the water when the sail collapsed, trimming where we could and having a bowman call fine degree tuning to the helm.  As the hours ticked away the wind died completely and with options of other sails to go to, I encouraged Mike to wake Piers up in case a sail change was necessary.  We should have done it sooner as soon as he was on deck the wind picked up again – typical!  Although still flaky, Piers agreed we should get the lightweight spinnaker on deck and ready to go if need be. That was the final threat the medium weight needed. Obviously still keen to fly for longer it beckoned more wind into its arms and we were off again at a pretty reasonable pace.
We can't see any other boats today for the first time, but the scheds come in and have us in 5th place. As the day goes on, once again we take miles out of every other boat and with the leaders – Spirit of Australia only 15 miles in front of us, everything is still to play for.  We have just over 500 miles to run to the scoring gate so we could still go for points but Piers is also mindful that unless we can be sure of getting them we may be better concentrating on getting a better angle to put us up front in the main race positions. That decision will come nearer the gate.

It's watch-change-over day so at 8pm half of our watch switches and we get new people to work with.  The winds are still variable and occasionally very light and we are struggling to keep the boat moving at a decent pace.  Piers tells us that at some point we'll be gybing the spinnaker and then dropping the mid-weight and moving up to the light-weight.
Within the hour the wind has shifted so we set up for a gybe – a complicated manoeuvre requiring the hoisting of a second spinnaker pole – on the opposite side of the boat.  This is always tricky – especially when the winds are variable as the currently flying spinnaker has a tendency to collapse and commit hara-kiri onto the end of the new pole as you're trying to get it into position.  It's a bit like those games where you have a metal hoop on a stick and you have to trace it over another wiggly bit of metal that has a current going through it and try not to let the two touch or you get a loud buzzing and have to start again. The difference is our stick is much bigger, heavier and harder to control as it requires 3 people on the end of 3 different lines all working together. Add to that a bouncing sea and a sail with a mind of it's own and the likelihood of success is about the same! The problem is if we get it wrong there is normally a nasty ripping sound followed by much cursing and 3 days of sail-repair purgatory for me!

Luckily we had learned our lessons from Leg 1 and the gybe went extremely smoothly and with a good amount of style.  We were smugly tidying up our lines in a self-congratulatory manner when the boat suddenly swung wildly around in the sea while our eyes widened in a moment of terror until the news siphoned up the deck that we'd lost the steering. It's funny but hearing that did nothing to lessen my heart-rate or calm my nerves!  Once again Skipper Dudin quickly took control, the emergency tiller was put in place, the main centred and we went from wildly thrashing around the fairly lively seas with no control whatsoever, to mildly bobbing along the still fairly lively seas but with a modicum of control! Then followed 3 hours of the same while various members of the team got hot, sweaty and oily while dismantling the steering system in the lazarette at the stern of the boat, removing the snapped cable and then trying to re-assemble it all without having any bits left over!  I find on these occasions it's best not to ask if anyone has ever done any work on our boat steering before. I was fairly certain I knew the answer anyway but at least Piers appeared to know what he was talking about.  However I also happen to know he has fitted out his own boat himself.
When I asked him if he'd had any training or help his answer had been “Nope – I just make it up as I go along”!!!  Ho hum!

I'm sure I could have got quite good odds at Ladbrooks on us getting going again within our watch – but get going we did – even if it was with the addition of an extra 'clunk' when the wheel turned to starboard! By watch change-over the medium weight was re-packed, re-hoisted and we were off on our way again.

Not much sleep seemed to have passed before it was time to get up again...probably because not much sleep happened. My pulse-rate was probably still slightly higher than it really needed to be for sleep and through the open hatch I could hear the not so lullaby-like call of the newly placed spinnaker watch yelling “Bear-away” at the helm every 5 minutes interspersed with an occasional “You're too deep”.  I lay awake still thinking it incredulous that we got the spinnaker safely down – with no damage – in the middle of the H&H Loss of steering adventure!  Mike R philosophised that this would be our third bad thing – and that if they really came in threes and this was the last of our run of bad luck then maybe we had got off lightly. Optimistic as I like to be I tend to agree with Piers that there will be a fourth, fifth and sixth before we arrive back in Hull – if not many more. I finally go to sleep holding onto the thought that “What doesn't kill us, makes us stronger”. Looking at how we handled the situation tonight I believe there's a lot of sense in that!