October 16, 2009
Hello from Grand Harbour Marina, Malta. Nix has just come in from an exhilerating first sail with her charter crew. Winds were 20-30kts true, with 6-8ft seas. Nix sailed well with a full main and #3 jib. We set the 1.5oz spinnaker and practiced a few jibes. All went well and we came in to complete preparations for the start tomorrow. Stay tuned and we’ll try to keep the blog updated at least once a day. Follow our boat along with all the other entrants at the Regatta website Race Tracker: http://www.rolexmiddlesearace.com/tracker/index.cfm The boat: Nix X-Yachts 60 http://www.regattacharter.nl/ Skippers: Arthur Bugs Baer, and William A. Dunn Boat owners: Nikko and Letty Navigator: Brian Thompson Backup Navigator: Robin Bromley-Martin The Crew: Steve, Thomas, Margo, Matze, Brock, Vlasta, Jay, AJ, Rambo, Kit
October 17, 2009
Sat Oct 17 The start of the Middle Sea Race was a riot of high powered race boats, small cruisers, and everything in between. Starting inside the harbour was tricky, with the high city walls creating a light air challenge with random puffs from various directions. The result was a slow motion dance of sailboats all vying to get clean air and away from the pack. Nix made out well enough, escaping the harbour near the top of her fleet. The wind had been heavier earlier so we’d starting with the #2 genoa. Seeing that the wind had become lighter, we changed to the #1 to power Nix up as we proceeded around the first couple of race marks before heading NW towards Sicily. By the time we’d rounded the second mark the wind was building a bit and the wind angle had eased enough for us to set the Asymetric Kite and make good progress down the course. The afternoon went by easily, with the wind continuing to build and back as forecast. We peeled the A-kite and went with our 3/4 oz chute to keep powered up. This sail combination was just right for the conditions. We were making 9-10 knots plus. The warm winds and blue Mediterranean completed the scene – this was truly “Champagne Sailing”. The forecast was for the wind to continue to build as the evening approached and we noted some squalls over Sicily, where much of the fleet had maintained a higher course which we’d purposefully avoided. Our plan was to stay low and avoid having to bear away or even gybe to make the next turning point, assuming the wind continued to back per the forecast. This appears to be working out well but it’s still a little too early to be sure. We watched the boats up high as the squalls came through them but none took their spinnakers down, which we took to mean the wind wasn’t too gusty. However, with night falling fast, with aforecast for building winds, we decided to be conservative and began setting up to peel to our next heavier 1.5 oz spinnaker, which should be able to handle the extra breeze. The set up went well up to a point. Jay had climbed out to the end of the pole to set up the peel. In the final step of the setup, he was unable to get the new clew hooked into the guy. Despite all efforts, and Matze’s encouragment from below were he was helping Jay wrestle the new spinnaker in the building breeze, it just wasn’t going to happen with him hanging under the pole. At that point, Kit quickly climbed out on top of the pole where he had better leverage and made the connection. By now it had gotten dark and Kit’s head was backlit by the deck light up the mast above and behind him. “Team work” he said to Jay and then scrambled down to the deck. Set up completed, Jay stayed out at the end of the pole, ready for the hoist and spike. The call “hoist!” came over the roar of the bow wave and the new chute was on its way up the mast. Just about then, a squall ran over Nix with a vengeance. Rain came pelting down and the wind came on at 35 knots. The 3/4 oz chute was over powered, just before we could spike it and take it down. With a thunderous bang, the clew tore away and the chute flew off into the night. With the new chute not quite hoisted, and the old chute flayling away, Nix broached. With rain, wind, and waves roaring, the pole rolled up as Nix rolled to leeward. Jay soared into the air and was now looking down at the deck light, somewhere between his dangling feet. Being securely attached. this was less worrisome and more like an exciting amusement park ride, though the thought crossed his mind that it would be an exceptionally bad time for the pole to break. The crew quickly recovered from the broach and got Jay back on the deck. The old chute was taken down and the new one set and we were off and running again. A bit of drama for the first night watch.
October 17, 2009
Sat Oct 17 approx 2030 hours The watch changed and some dinner was handed out to the hungry off-watch. Everyone settled in for some nice power-reaching. But it was not to be. Within minutes there was another load bang and the 1.5 oz went flying. The crew scrambled to take it down. Luckily it was just a broken guy that had caused the problem, and the chute was ok. We didn’t want to break two chutes on the first night! Before we could even think about setting another sail, another squall ran over us and we were suddenly flying under main alone, the wind topping out at 45 knots. With the wind aft, this turned into a great power reach that lasted for about 1/2 an hour. The wind stayed in the high 30’s, but the seas were fairly flat as by this time we were somewhat in the lee of Sicily. Dinner was served and everyone enjoyed a fine meal prepared by Letty. Thanks also go to Margo, who helped provision the boat for such a fine repast. The wind moderated as the squall blew past and the #3 jib went up. We all thought it was a bit of luck that the guy broke when it did, as the chute would have surely exploded when the squall caught us.
October 18, 2009
Sun Oct 18 approx 0100 hours As the night wore on, conditions became such that it was time to set the A-Kite once again. The set was uneventful and we were reaching fast down the track. During the previous bit of excitement, the halyards appeared to have gotten crossed. Matze went up the mast to sort things out, headlamp bouncing light around as he ascended into the darkness. Shorly thereafter, something like microburst hit Nix. There hadn’t been a squall in the area, and this blast of wind dropped out of nowhere. It only lasted a few seconds, but the A-Kite blew up and now it was Matze’s turn to go for the amusement park ride. Yet again, the now well-practiced rew took down the torn kite and Matze found his way back to the deck without incident. It was back to the #3 jib and after a very busy shift, the watch was changed. The front has now passed and the squalls should be a thing of the past, at least for now. We’ve broken two spinnakers in one night. At that rate we’ll run out in another night or two. However, the sailing has been nothing less than spectacular and we’re all in fine spirits. You always try your best to prepare and anticipate to avoid problems, but sometimes they’re going to get you anyway. We’ve still got 5 hours to go before day break; we’re sailing fast and feeling good – the race has only just begun. Bring it on!
October 19, 2009
We’ve had non-stop action since the last report. The first night ended with 30-35knots of wind for several hours before it dropped to a more reasonable 20-25 knots just before dawn. The Med seems to create squalls out of thin air and a lot of the time we were either in or between them. In between, the Milky Way shown brightly, with shooting stars crossing the sky between the dark clouds on occasion. Contrasted with the infrequent but brilliant lightening flashes in the squalls, and the lights of Sicily on the left hand, and the Italian coast on the right, the scene was stunning. Dolphins joined us at the bow, a bit of bioluminescence in their wake. We passed Mount Etna during the night, shrouded in clouds. The occasional wiff of a diesel smelling puff of wind, or as Brian put it “refinery smell” was the main clue that it was there. Around 0800 hours, we pass through the narrow Strait of Messina, crossing over the top of Sicily. We’d caught the fair tide helping us through the Strait, another point in our favor. Boats behind us catching the foul tide will suffer considerably. Lest all this sound a bit too idyllic, don’t forget we’re racing the boat hard; we’ve lost count of the number of sail changes we’ve made by now, and it’s only the first night. Sail changes in big wind and driving rain is challenging hard work. However, all in all, we’ve managed to sail the boat well, deal with a fair number of challenges, and enjoy ourselves all along. That’s what this sport is all about. As we don’t have a #4 jib, we’ve had to use the #3 when possible, and a storm jib when it gets too windy for the #3. Even being careful, our #3, brand new in March, is behaving like an old sail. With each use, it produces tears along its leach, which we then have to repair. With the high winds producing volumes of spray on deck, it’s too wet to make repairs up top, so we’ve had to take the sail below. Taking a large, heavy jib down the companionway into the main salon, spreading it out, making the repairs, and then flaking it back into its bag is difficult, sweaty work at best. Imagine trying it in a washing machine, with everything surging back and forth and up and down. We’ve down it twice so far. Hopefully all the weak spots have been patched at this point.
October 19, 2009
Night number two began nice enough but soon deteriorated into a game of dodging squalls, or making sail changes when they hit us. The radar show where they were around us, but once one just popped up right on top of us. Winds could hit 40 knots in some, or be moderate in others. They all included driving rain. It seemed we couldn’t get away from the low pressure area that was spawning them with a vengeance. There’s a lot of talk of water spouts in the Med, but luckily we have yet to encounter one. During one of the practice races last week, a boat was dismasted by a water spout. Now that’s the kind of bad luck you wouldn’t wish on anyone.
The weather so far has been amazingly variable. Even more amazing, it changes on a moment’s notice. We try to keep up with sail changes and sail repair. It’s been a challenging race so far, but a good one. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.
October 19, 2009
Day two brought more big breeze, but no squalls. We rolled along in 8-12 foot seas and 20+ knots of breeze on a course for Stromboli. Nix is a sea-kindly boat, not pounding too much and riding the big seas well. However, going up wind in these conditions in any boat would make it a stretch to say this is comfortable sailing. It’s a bit cold, and the spray is flying back from the bow, but the bright sunshine and puffy clouds make for a fine sailing day. There are no big events today, just good 10-11 knots of solid boat speed all day. Given the iffy nature of our #3, we had the storm jib up for most of the day and then switched to the #3 once the wind moderated a bit. It’s pretty clear at this point that this year’s edition of the Middle Sea Race would have been better with a #4 jib, but we’re managing pretty well without one.
In the late afternoon, we made Stromboli and turned more towards the West to our next mark of the course. The volcano was spewing a continous plume of white smoke. As we turned the corner and put it in our wake, the volcano belched one large plume of black smoke, as if to bid us fairwell. Or perhaps it was a warning of things to come.
October 19, 2009
Day three dawns a bit grey and breezy, the night of the living squalls is mostly behind us, though some still lurk in the area. As the squall hits, we get a down pour during the sail change from the heavy #1 to the #2 as our morning wakeup. Once the squall passed, we put the heavy #1 back up and were off to some fine sailing for the rest of the morning.
Today’s course took us between the picturesque islands of Pavignana and Marettimo. More stunning scenery. We were cruising along and enjoying the afternoon of sunshine and fair winds. Something of a reward for our efforts the night before. This is sailing the way the brochure said it would be.
October 20, 2009
The sun set with one of the race boats above us getting caught in the dying rays shooting through the clouds for another photo moment. Moments like these are well appreciated, as we know that 20 boats have already dropped out of the race, presumably due to the hard sailing we’ve had in general. As we’d find out in the morning, more would drop out, perhaps prudently given the forecast for more high winds and upwind sailing during the last leg of the course to the finish in Malta. The 2009 Middle Sea Race will surely be remembered as a real test of boats and sailors.
After sunset, we weathered a couple of nearby squalls, and then the night settled into a pleasant, if slow pace. The skies cleared as we moved into the high pressure area that had killed the wind and we began a series of sail changes to do our best to keep Nix moving. Since the fair winds of the afternoon, up to the time the wind had begun to blow again, we’d changed from the 1.5 oz chute, to the lighter weight .5 oz chute, then the #1 jib, put up the #2 jib for the squalls, then back to the #1 jib, then the lightest weight Wind Seeker jib and finally back to #1. All between 1500 hours and 2000 hours. That’s more than one sail change per hour.
Sleeping below was challenging for a different reason tonight. The variable winds required constant attention to sail trim, where the sheets are eased and then brought back in, over and over again. When eased, the highly loaded jib sheet comes off the winch with loud popping sounds, like the short staccato blasts of a machine gun, which could literally be felt all around Nix. At one point, the watch on deck had British accents, which could be heard below as they discussed the trim and heading of Nix. The combination of the two had AJ dreaming of the Red Coats attacking in foul weather gear.
After the wind came up, the sailing was pleasant the rest of the night and into the early morning. The shooting stars were plentiful, but we were too focused on steering and trimming to truly appreciate them. All in all, a good nights sail.
As daylight broke with freshening breeze, a look at the #1 jib put everyone into action. The trailing edge was starting to bulge out and split as the seam was beginning to fail. The #2 was quickly set and the #1 taken down for repairs. The #1 was laid out on the deck and we used most of the remaining sail repair materials to patch it up. With baited breath, we made the sail change to put it back up. Unfortunately, just minutes later it began to split again and we had to immediately go back to the #2. This was not good as there wasn’t enough wind yet and we were stuck going more slowly than we should be.
But you make the best of what you have to work with, and there’s no deynying we’ve all gotten the best out of Nix that we could. We’re still happy with our progress and as the wind filled in, we became happy with the #2 as well.
October 20, 2009
After the sail repair and double headsail change for breakfast, day four becomes a delightful, if upwind, sailing day. The breeze was perfect for our #2 and the sunshine sparkles on the water. It’s days like these, which never produce great sea stories, that are the days we sailors live for.
But that’s not to say there can’t be trouble in paradise.
They don’t call him Rambo for nothing. Later in the morning, the word came round that there “might be a small problem in the port head”. The experienced hands all know that there’s no such thing as a “small problem” with a head. As usual, this causes the entire crew to find lots of things to do, all of which are far away from the affending head. But not Rambo. Without a gas mask, he waded into the mess up to his elbows, eventually saving the entire crew from potential constipation. Talk about diving on a hand grenade…
Letty cooked up another terrific meal of pork tenderloin and fresh vegetables. A sea turtle was spotted just off the starboard bow. A small song bird, probably blown out to sea from one of the neighboring islands, struggled to keep up with us but finally landed for a rest on one of our life lines.
Though the wind should continue to slowly build, the afternoon should continue to be great sailing. This will be a day we’ll all remember, especially Rambo.