Sunday November 10, 2013
Diane writes: Well, if you’ve been following the Mini Transat race you will have learned that this race is going to go down in history as an epic tale. It has been filled with incredible weather anomalies, rerouting, and resurrections! The delivery of the fleet from Gijon Spain to Sada Spain has lived up to these new expectations of the 2013 Mini Transat! After numerous days of discussion and round table collaberations within the fleet and the race organizers, the Mini Transat fleet finally had a decision as to the state of affairs and how we would get the fleet from Gijon to Sada.
It’s a difficult coast filled with easterly winds that rip along the coast often at 20-30 knots. Finding a weather window was tricky at best as the fleet was significantly spread out this year…. more so than in years past. So the race organizers were finally able to pick a day. We leave Tuesday! As it was a delivery, you had the options of leaving when you wanted and when the tide and swell would allow a tow out of Gijon.
But if you wanted to start the Mini Transat race, the start was scheduled for November 12, 2013 in Sada, Spain. The accompanying boats would also be spread out as best could be to help with safety and support. We weren’t the only culprits in Mother Nature’s plot. The Transat Jaque Vabres had also been rerouted…
It was my mission in life to get to Sada. The forecast was for 25 knots on the nose with a 2-4 metre swell and wicked cross chop throughout the delivery. I wanted to go. I was very happy to plunge along in 30 plus knots. It’s not a massively fun ride in a mini, but I have no fears of doing it. The series boats are little tanks and OGOC is no exception to the rule!
So, with that in mind, Pip Hare, Richard Hewson, Katrina Ham and a whole lot of us set off from Gijon. The swell was deep, as if the entire ocean was landing in Gijon. Two and a half to three metre swell, behind the massive breakwall protecting the harbour entrance. My batteries were sitting at 12.8 / 12.6. This meant they were anywhere from 80%-100% full. But, when the sun tucked away she was going to hide for quite some time. I could foresee loads of hand steering in my future! The wind was a steady 20 knots. The sky quickly turned grey. Did I mention that I made my first pot of slop before even leaving the dock… just to make sure that I would eat and hopefully ward off potential sea sickness. The storm jib was up to protect my jib. It’s a beautiful jib, but it’s seen many many miles now with many many reefs in it. Reefs just eat the hell out of jibs and mine needed some mending on it’s lamination.
After an hour out, the chatter was starting on the radio. Initially it was good background noise for me, but it quickly became apparent that the fleet was feeling a desperate social need to connect and confirm feelings of the weather and the sea state. After the delivery, Pip and I talked about the culture of the chatter. We were both of the opinion of wanting to make our own decisions about routing, rather than adopting the “follow the heard” mentality. BUT, we are both also very happy to bounce along in our boats in any conditions.
The first section of the shoreline was windy in a deep sea with TONS of cross chop. You would climb up a wave and have another wave on top of it come at you from 45 degrees. Next wave the cross wave was from a completely different angle. Hand steering was critical as the gyros wouldn’t feel or see the secondary cross wave or be able to anticipate a free fall off of the square back of the wave if it wasn’t a roller. Jack, my moose had been told he could up chuck if he needed, but he was fine for the ride!
As we made our way along the shoreline and out of the bay, the sea state started to stretch out. Time to make coffee, do a plot and get ready to hand steer all night. The rest of the fleet was in good sorts as well. The boats that use NKE pilots were particularly chatty about how to calibrate their pilots. It must have been a nightmare ride if they didn’t get the pilots tuned just right. My friend Katrina was chatting a lot on the radio with the boats around her. There was some concern in her voice.
I fell asleep hand steering several times, as I often do! But, no earbuds in tonight. I needed to hear the waves crashing. This first night was pleasant and fairly uneventful, but the batteries were down to 12.4 going into the night. During the night Katrina could often be heard calling Navman who was sailing close by. She was having trouble with her boat and needed to tack. The boats are often in close quarters and so we are very careful when tacking amongst others to avoid collisions. Navman never heard her calls.
Wednesday morning the sun never really came up. It was going to be a grey day and I really needed some solar power! Breakfast was going to be some cookies and a coffee. Snacks were loaded into the navigation bag. The radio chatter heard the fleet getting tired. It was tough work during the night. We had made progress though and were still on schedule to arrive in Sada Thursday night and throughout the morning.
The first weather report was out. The winds would increase to a steady 30 knots for a large part of the day and solidly into the night with gusts upwards of 35. By mid afternoon a large group of the fleet was choosing to head into shore and camp out on a mooring or in a harbour for the night. I wanted to keep going. A quick conversation with Pip, Rich and Robert found our group also wanting to press on. We were fine and good to go in the big winds.
At this point we were following the shoreline that starts to jut to the north. This was also going to provide some protection for us from the south west wind and the bigger waves. Katrina and I had a chat on the radio. Her gooseneck had broken. She had done some temporary repair, but she really needed to head in to deal with it. Our chart for the shoreline was a bit limited so the wise choice was to notify the accompanying boat and ask for an escort in to a harbour. It would be an easy 18 miles to go in and better to have support along the way if something went wrong. Katrina doesn’t speak French. I did some relay translating work and Wanitoo was dispatched to Katrina to go in with her. The last transmission I heard was in their final approaches to the harbour: “Katrina, drop your sails”. Ironically enough, shortly after that my cockpit speaker for my vhf gave up the ghost and I couldn’t hear many transmissions unless I was inside the boat.
By 0400 Thursday morning I was tired. After a quick chat with Pip, I learned that she and Rich and a couple of other boats pulled in for a quick nap in Cap Ortegal. This is the cap just before turning around the corner to head to La Coruna and Sada Marina our final destination. I didn’t have a chart of the area, but Pip was able to give me waypoints and would coach me in as she had Navionics on her phone. Woohoo! A little rest. My batteries were down to 12.2. I would be in just as the sun came up and maybe catch a few hours rest. That way, even if we didn’t get any sunshine, I would be refreshed enough to hand steer around the corner to Sada.
Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time! The wind was now at a steady 30 knots gusting 33. As I approached the harbour, Pip assessed the mooring balls and found that in fact there didn’t seem to be any that I could pick up without it being disastrous. It’s not easy to park a mini in 30 knots of gusting wind. Plan B was for me to drop anchor. Equally as difficult, but I could try to do it outside of the mooring field. I tacked my way in under reefed main, found the mooring field with her help, picked my spot to anchor and turned the boat up into the wind. The boat slowed, a puff came and we started to slide sideways. So the plan of “stop, drop and set” became the reality of “stop, drop, slide sideways over your anchor, try again three times and slide randomly into the mooring field!” This was getting scary! If I didn’t get my anchor set I was at risk of bashing into a boat, or worse, drifting into the teeny weeny fishing boats that I am guessing were on moorings in about 5 feet of water at low tide ( I need 6 feet).
Fortunately I was lucky enough to come crashing in with great finesse (that’s what we’re going to call it) into Mini #5 AND Ludovic was onboard to catch me! Then with a massive effort of organizing lines and crossing anchors, we got me drifted back onto a fishing boat where I could hook up a line to hang off of the fishing boat for a couple of hours. In the process we swapped anchors as he had had a similarly dramatic anchoring attempt.
For the next two hours I closed my eyes and stopped hand steering. I didn’t sleep. I was worried about the batteries and the lack of sunshine. A little after 1000 a pleasant holler came across the mooring field from Pip waking me up. I had shut down all of the instruments onboard so no VHF for her to raise me with. She had the next weather report. Steady 30 knots gusting to 35 often while we passed around the cape. Then in early evening there would be a solid swing from a south west wind to the west and we would fetch Sada. Woohoo! Lets get this show on the road we thought. Rich had already left.
Then Pip said… ”now I have to tell you about Katrina”. My heart went in my throat. All I said was “tell me she’s alright”. She then proceeded to explain that while the support boat was towing her in there was a massive wave that picked her up from the stern and the boat rolled. Through one way shape or form she ended up in the water and had been taken to hospital for observation. The boat was gone. For a brief moment, my world stood still. Once I heard “under observation”, I started to breath again. Ok, losing a boat is one thing. A friend, is another!
Alright then let’s get these anchors unfowled and get on with the road to Sada. With two hours of intermittent sunshine at the mooring, my batteries were up to 12.4. That was fine, we had all day to make 40 miles! So, with 2 reefs in the main and a storm jib we set off. As we turned out of the harbour and into the bay downwind, a puff came in from the cliffs hitting 43 knots. Hmmmm. Ok, three reefs in the main then!
This section of shoreline is a major headland and turning point in a south westerly wind. The swell was coming from the north west and the wind from the south west. Everything was hitting the shoreline and was now beyond confusion! I radioed Pip and suggested “want to go offshore a little?” And with that we headed out to the west waiting for the shift to come in. [Pip's video of Diane: Road to Sada in 30 Knots. Unlike Jack, the camera tossing has me thinking of tossing -tim]
Eventually the shift came in and we were able to tack and fetch Sada. It took foreaver! The final approach to Sada was in the dark. It’s a well protected bay. The weather forecast was also for the wind to switch further to the north. While all of this happened, I sat in the bay sometimes with 15 knots of wind and at others with a half a knot of wind and batteries now at 11.9.
In my last two miles to the breakwall for Sada Marina most of my equipment ran out of power. No pilot, navigation lights, AIS and a weak vhf radio. I grabbed a position, got a quick sight on the green light on the breakwall and radioed in to Pip to share the info. She relayed it into the marina who had been towing minis in as they entered. I got a little closer to the breakwall and with all the lights of the marina I lost the green light! Ah bother, now I was going to have to crack into my emergency equipment. Portable nav lights got taped on, the handheld gps got fired up and the waypoint entered and the hand held vhf dropped into a sheet bag for easy use.
At 1.75 miles a little rib pulled up alongside and took my bow line. There was a hearty French welcome with a reminder that the faster we got to the dock, the quicker I could get to the beers waiting onshore.
Welcome to Sada!