The Wrong Way Round - Part 1

BT Global Challenge 1996/97

A salty tale of sailing round the world - as told by John van der Hoff aboard "Heath Insured".


It all started with a rigorous selection interview conducted by Sir Chay Blyth at the St. James’s premises of the Royal Ocean Racing Club for a crew place on one of the yachts participating in the BT Global Challenge 1996/97.

Sir Chay: Well laddie, tell me why you want to take part.

Me: Blah blah adventure blah blah.

Sir Chay: And can you afford to pay the fee laddie? (£18,000)

Me: Yes.

Sir Chay: Congratulations, you’re on. When can you pay?

The ethos of the race was to select people with little or no sailing experience and to race 14 identical yachts around the world against the prevailing winds and currents through the Southern Ocean. Each yacht had 14 crew, including a professional skipper and 2 “leggers” who had applied to complete only one leg of the race. The only other professional on board was the medic, either a doctor or a SRN. From a total of 365 participants, 283 male and 82 female, 140 circumnavigated, with the remaining 225 completing between one and five legs. Some of the crew were given additional responsibilities, such as quartermaster, mechanic, comms officer etc. My lot in life was as the sail repairer. I was sent on a two-day course at Hood Sails in Lymington to learn my craft. Much to my consternation, I was informed that sewing machines were not allowed under the race rules, so all repairs had to be done by hand. The sail repair materials we were provided with, consisting of sheets of dacron and double sided sail repair tape proved to be useless. The repairs were carried out by cannibalising material from spinnakers or headsails which had blown beyond repair.

The route was Southampton - Rio de Janeiro - Wellington - Sydney - Cape Town - Boston - Southampton.

Training started about 18 months prior to the start of the race, initially by thrashing around The Solent on charter yachts and later some 4 or 5 day sails on the Challenge yachts far out in the Western Approaches in the middle of winter to get a taste of what was to come. On one such jolly we were, without prior notice, instructed to deploy the life rafts and abandon ship. We spent what seemed like a very long time in the rafts before being “rescued” and reunited with our yacht. You really don’t want to get in a life raft unless absolutely necessary. Even at that early stage some crew decided that life on the ocean waves was not their cup of tea - a sign of what was to come.

Before we set off on the race, I’ll give you a brief tour of the boat and a description of life on board:

The 14 identical yachts were 67 ft in length overall and cutter rigged (two head sails) with the hull and deck built from 4 mm mild steel. Equipped with an engine, generator for powering nav lights, nav instruments , communication systems, water maker, cabin lights, heating etc . There were 4 cabins with 3 pipe cots each + a pilot berth for the skipper. No “personal” space whatsoever but a small crate to carry one’s very limited amount personal gear between cabins when hot bunking.

A storeroom with racks and boxes of spares and food. All food was freeze dried in sachets and the three daily meals were labelled and stowed for each day for the anticipated number of days of the leg.

The galley/saloon area contained the stoves/ovens in an island unit with seating and storage for cooking utensils, pots, pans etc around.

The forepeak contained a huge sail locker. I can’t remember the precise number of sails we carried but there were at least four spinnakers, genoas, yankees and staysails of every description, storm jibs, and try sails. The forepeak was separated from the rest of the yacht by a waterproof bulkhead door in case we hit anything solid, such as an iceberg. Access from the foredeck was gained via a hatch. As the foredeck was awash more often than not, the hatch remained firmly locked shut and all sails had to be dragged down the gangway to the companionway and then back along the deck to the foredeck. The nav/comms station was located on the starboard side forward of the companionway.

The generator room, which also served as a wet locker, was located port side opposite the nav/comms station. The engine compartment was accessed via a trap door in the gangway. One heads/shower cubicle to port and stbd.

Well, you would have thought that with a generator to power the water maker the crew would enjoy the luxury of a nice warm shower every day, wrong!

The water maker worked by forcing sea water under very high pressure through a series of filters (a process known as reverse osmosis). This renders the water maker quite delicate and requiring a lot of maintenance. If the generator were to fail, we could make do with a chart, pencil and sextant for navigation, but without a water maker, we would not survive. So, the water maker was used only to top up the fresh water tanks and the use of water was very strictly rationed. No showers until landfall was made.

Well, what about the heater then? That would be a comfort when coming off watch in the Southern Ocean. No such luck. Steel hull + very low ambient temperature + warm air = condensation pouring off the deck head and hull interior. Not that it mattered much, after a few days in the Southern Ocean everything below decks was wringing wet anyway. Still, the generator room offered a measure of comfort. I discovered that there was just enough room to crawl under any clothing hanging to dry, and squeeze in next to the generator for some warmth when it was running.

As you will have gathered from the title of the race, the main sponsor was British Telecommunications who thought that the yachts were an ideal platform for developing their Inmarsat communications system which back then was in its infancy. The Inmarsat A mobile Satellite communications system provides two way direct dial voice communication, fax, telex, email and data communication to and from anywhere in the word except in the polar regions. The stabilized antenna of about 80 cm in diameter enables it to stay locked onto satellites even in heavy sea conditions. On the Challenge yachts, the Radome containing the antenna was mounted on a frame above the cockpit. The system was trialled during the very early stages of our training, and all went swimmingly until it was discovered that radiation (I think it was electro - magnetic) was “frying” the helmsman’s head so that particular project was abandoned as there was nowhere else to safely mount the Radome.

We set off on the race equipped with Inmarsat C - a two-way store and forward communication system that transmits messages in data packages in ship to shore, shore to ship and ship to ship direction with a much smaller antenna (not stabilized) which could be mounted out of harm’s way. The only voice contact with the outside world was by HF radio, usually via Portishead Radio (operated by BT) which sadly closed in 2000. As far as I am aware, the only remaining HF station in Europe is located at Gothenburg.

Each yacht decided on it’s watch system. We chose a three hour rolling watch:

Three hour Deck watch, on deck sailing the boat.

Three hour Mother watch, below decks cooking, cleaning, maintenance, repair and on standby to assist with sail changes or emergencies.

Three hours Off watch to catch up on some sleep.

The three hour Off watch varied depending on availability of functioning crew and the extent of repairs etc that needed to be attended to.

This system worked quite well until we were deep in the Southern Ocean (59 degrees South), when injuries, illness and the cold took their toll. At one stage the number of functioning crew was down to 7. The ambient temperature was below freezing and the added wind chill factor made it impossible to stay on deck for more than about 10 minutes. There were only two crew on deck at any one time. One helmsman and one to keep an eye on him in case of injury. The rest of the functioning crew were lined up below, fully kitted up, waiting for their turn. So each of us got about an hour below decks to warm up, get something to eat and some sporadic sleep before the next stint on deck. Fully kitted up consisted of two sets of thermal base layers, a fleece lined middle layer, a survival suit and an oilskin jacket over the top, a balaclava, ski goggles, thermal gloves with waterproof mitts over.


Leg 1: Southampton to Rio de Janeiro, 5378 nautical miles, 28 days.

We set off from Southampton on 29th September 1996 in a howling gale and driving rain. One of the Isle of Wight ferries had been chartered by the participants’ families and friends to follow the fleet down the Solent heading towards Hurst Narrows. It was blowing 45 knots, and what with wind against tide and relatively shallow water through the Narrows it was a very lively ride. The ferry got blown off course, collided with several other spectator craft and retired from the fray.

The gale lasted all the way across Biscay, but we settled into our watch routine and the weather gradually improved. There was no high drama on this leg. I mentioned earlier on that we spent a maximum period of five days at sea during training. After we had been at sea for about ten days it was apparent that some crew were not at all cut out for this sort of caper. They gradually became irritable and/or argumentative and/or stroppy, or complained about the food or conditions in general. One crew member jumped ship when we got to Rio. A few bailed out after the first Southern Ocean leg. One crew member hung on for the duration, in spite of being so terrified on the “lively” legs that he became a liability on deck and was compelled to stay below decks.

I digress. An extract from the skipper’s log dated 24th October reveals that:

“We are now less than 300 miles from Rio. After sailing within sight of Ocean Rover for more than a week we have finally shaken off “The Dog” as we call her, Yesterday she was 9 miles astern but seemingly sailing a better angle to the wind and making a knot more than us. This morning, she’s back to within 2 miles of us, It has been the same ever since we went into the Doldrums together, for each time we get her to heel, Rover has a habit of coming back and nipping at our ankles again. We are obviously disappointed that a few of our game-plans for this leg did not work out and left us trailing Group 4 by 200 miles. We have been slowed by a number of factors.

Sail damage: A tear in the main sail during the first 24 hours at sea. Loose stitching and chafe on our much used Genoa, A blown 2.2oz spinnaker which tore beyond repair during a 30 knot gust off the Portuguese coast. Illness; “A” is down with sun stroke. “B” has suffered from a bad arm since the start and still has it in a sling. Generator: We have had various problems with this but overcome by using the engine and transferring the water pump across to it.

It is a blistering hot day. Below decks is like a sauna because we are reaching across the South East Trade winds with green water coming over the decks so not able to have any hatches open. That makes it very uncomfortable below and difficult to sleep. Conditions in the Galley beggar belief. When things are in full swing, there is no health and safety at work here. At 2:00am yesterday, we had to make a sail change which typified all that is good and bad about sailing in the tropics. With the sea temperature around 30 C it was like standing under a salty car wash which was very refreshing. The trouble was that everyone had sodden clothing and wet deck shoes which, when taken below, just added to the dank air. This stuffiness is exacerbated by a problem with the holding tank which has left the boat smelling like a French sewer. Still, just a couple more days at sea and we will be washing the taste away with a few beers on Copacabana’s Strip.”

The tear to the main sail was a 6 inch horizontal split about 9 inches above the foot. The main was lowered down the mast far enough to attach the first reefing cringle to the gooseneck on the mast. The boom was supported with the topping lift, but the sail was not reefed. This left a large pocket of sail under the boom for me to climb into and commence the repair whilst wildly pitching and rolling. I urged the helmsman not to gybe the boat which would have resulted in me being catapulted out of the pocket and into outer space. The sail cloth, being close to the foot, was so thick that each hole for the stitching had to be drilled to get the needle through. I don’t remember how long the repair took to complete, but it held all the way to Rio where the sail was professionally patched in a sail loft and the blown spinnaker was replaced.

So, on 27th October we arrived in Rio and enjoyed the luxury of beer, food, sleep and shower in that order. I expect that our four female crew did that in reverse order. We stayed in a hotel for the duration of our stay while the boat was made fit for human habitation. BT laid on a spectacular welcoming party for all the crews with a sumptuous meal, gallons of intoxicating liquor and a fabulous fire work display all served up outdoors against a backdrop of the Sugar Loaf and the famous statue of Christ. We had three weeks in Rio before the start of the next leg to Rio. Some of the crew went travelling around South America, but the “core” crew stayed in Rio to oversee repairs and to prepare the boat for the Southern Ocean leg. I will describe my stay in Rio as wild and leave it at that …..

To be continued in our next Newsletter,,,

The Wrong Way Round - Part 2

BT Global Challenge 1996/97

A salty tale of sailing round the world - as told by John van der Hoff aboard "Heath Insured".


Part 2 - Rio to Wellington. 7921 nautical miles. 42 days.

Having taken on 3 new "leggers", one of whom replaced the crew member who jumped ship, we set off on 20th November. It has to be said that this was hardly the ideal leg for leggers to join the fray, but, according to Sir Chay: "that's the cards you have been dealt so get on with it."

Conditions on the first two weeks of the route down the east coast of Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina were pleasant, with mainly downwind sailing and spinnakers flying. But when we encountered an unexpected rogue wave which hit us beam on, the spinnaker ripped down the entire 75 ft length of the luff tape and also washed the deck shoe off my left foot and over the side. Repair of the spinnaker necessitated unpicking the stitching on the tape, re-attaching it to the spinnaker with a stapling gun, re-stitching the tape and removing the staples. This was done under my supervision by the crew on the mother watches and off watches. The repair took approximately 300 man hours over about one week.

This was but the first of numerous spinnaker repairs during the race. I came to the conclusion that spinnakers are the instrument of the devil, and were put on board with the sole purpose of tormenting me.

I was banned from helming when flying a kite as I tended to sail conservatively in the vain hope that it would prolong the life of the kite. With my deck shoe gone, I had no choice but to wear sea boots for the remainder of the leg. This resulted in Trench foot, causing my left foot to swell until it would not fit in the boot. A severe telling off from our medic for not seeking treatment earlier and a regular dose of antibiotics kept it under control until we reached Wellington where a few visits to the foot doctor sorted it out.

This was my only injury/illness during the entire trip, so I was extremely lucky. Being covered from head to foot in bruises does not count. A post-race analysis of illness and injury carried out by the University Department of Neurology, Addenbrookes Hospital, reveals that a total of 685 cases were reported, of which 299 were injuries and 386 illnesses, necessitating three evacuations at sea.

Onward: On 2nd December we were West of the Falklands and 300 miles from Cape Horn. From that point on the weather deteriorated continuously save for a very odd episode when we were virtually becalmed rounding Cape Horn. Perhaps we were in the eye of a storm as from there on the entire fleet took an unrelentingly savage beating.

One day was much the same as any other. We were now bashing to windward with an average true wind speed of 45 knots (strong gale) and a maximum recorded gust of 57 knots (violent storm). Maximum recorded sea state was 14 metres. Sail changes in these conditions were dangerous but necessary if we were to continue racing.

The mother watch would drag the sail from the sail locker to the companionway and the deck crew would then attempt to drag the sail to the foredeck, all the while being swept by waves crashing over the deck. Both the deck crew and the sail bag were attached to jack stays and more often than not the entire ensemble would be washed down the length of the deck as far aft as the cockpit.

A sail change in these conditions could take 40 minutes or more to complete. The main sail had long since been taken down and replaced by a trysail which lasted only a few days before shredding. Up goes the fully reefed mainsail, only to blow along a seam.

The repair was carried out below decks in challenging conditions by cannibalising material from the shredded trysail. To make matters worse, the seas were very short. The boat would ride to the crest of a wave and free fall into the trough on the other side. Inevitably this took its toll on the yachts:

"Save the Children" detected a broken strand on the lower end of the backstay.

"Global Teamwork" experience a similar problem.

"3 Comm" suffered a broken forestay.

Five yachts were to suffer partial or total forestay failure.

Four yachts endured failure of the lower stays on the starboard side.

The mast of "Concert" snapped just above the first spreaders on 18th December. The nearest point of land was the Chatham Islands, some 2000 miles away. "Concert" would not have enough fuel to get there, so a rendezvous was arranged with "Motorola", the nearest competitor, to transfer 120 gallons of diesel in plastic jerry cans by a breeches buoy type of contraption during a comparative lull in the weather. After refuelling on arrival in the Chatham Islands, "Concert" set off for Wellington.

At around the same time "Heath Insured”, which I was crewing on, diverted to rendezvous with "Time and Tide" to transfer all the painkillers we could spare for one of their crew who had suffered a compound leg fracture which would require surgery. Our positions were well beyond helicopter range and commercial shipping routes so a medivac was not on the cards.

"Time and Tide" also diverted to the Chatham Islands, from where the injured crew was flown to Wellington for treatment.

"Heath" came within a split second of losing her rig when the inner starboard stay was left dangling by 4 of its 19 strands. Only a crash tack executed by the quick thinking helmsman saved us from the same fate as "Concert".

All sails were brought down in short order and we ran downwind (i.e.away from NZ) under bare poles for about 36 hours while a jury rigged stay was constructed with spare spinnaker sheets, so we lost 3 days before getting back to roughly the position we were in before the rigging problem struck.

Shortly thereafter one of our leggers suffered a dislocated knee when he was violently thrown across the deck. The poor lad spent the rest of the journey to Wellington strapped in his pipecot and never saw the light of day until he was stretchered off.

Someone must have prodded Neptune with a sharp stick, because he decided to save the worst of the weather until last. On 29th December the forecast brought warning of the approach of Hurricane Fergus. The prediction was for the sea state to turn "severe" and then "phenomenal".

On 30th December we had a bit of a blow , with constant winds of 50 knots true and gusts of over 60 knots.

Life below decks was equally challenging. We rigged jackstays to stand a chance of getting around the boat without becoming airborne. Nothing was dry anymore. The boats weren't designed to perform as submarines. Water regularly rose above the level of the sole (floor) because the automatic bilge pumps were overwhelmed.

The off watches and mother watches took turns to man the two manual pumps which could each shift 26 gallons per minute. The constant falling off waves caused light bulbs to explode, cupboard doors to bust open and scatter the contents everywhere, and the cooking hob unit broke free from its mountings.

Cooking simply consisted of putting the freeze dried contents of the sachets in a large pot, pouring in boiling water, and stirring the resulting slop to an even consistency.

One menu looked and tasted such the same as any other, but the ingredients had been carefully put together by a nutritionist to give us the correct balance of whatever gubbins we needed.

More often than not the cook's aerial ballet resulted in the water missing the pot or the slop ending up on the ceiling.

The food was served up in large plastic dog bowls and eaten by the lucky diners with varying degrees of enthusiasm before turning in for some sleep.

The standard off watch had by now been reduced to whatever time the prevailing conditions would allow. For me time was too precious to bother with the elaborate process of getting out of the survival suit, and losing body warmth in the process, so I remained firmly cocooned in the suit for about the last week of this leg. Personal hygiene? Don’t ask.

We eventually pitched up in Wellington in the early hours of 4th January 1997.

We stayed for six weeks during which time all 14 yachts had their masts removed, the rigging completely renewed, and hauled out for inspection and repair, and drying out.

The bow sections of the hull (4mm steel!) on all boats were noticeably stoved in as a result of falling off waves. General repairs, cleaning, re-provisioning etc. was again left to the “core” crew, so Wellington was my only experience of NZ.

In retrospect, Wellington was my favourite stop over; very tranquil after the madness of Rio and the savagery of the Southern Ocean.

Can the next leg be any worse? Find out in part 3 in the next issue.

Until the next time … fair winds and tides.

To be continued in our next Newsletter,,,

The Wrong Way Round - Part 3

A salty tale of sailing round the world - as told by John van der Hoff




This sprint across the Tasman Sea had been identified as "the Chairman's leg", a chance for executives from the boat sponsoring companies to shine. And so it was that we shipped a senior executive of Heath as our token sailor. He embarked with a valise full of clothing and personal effects, most of which was promptly disembarked. Not a bad chap though, once he got over the shock of not having his own en-suite with hot and cold running. We set off on 9th February 1997 in 30 knots of wind and rain. In spite of the fourteen 42 tonne yachts jostling for position around the four harbour marks, we passed unscathed past Barretts reef and into the Cook Strait. The rolling three hour watch was reinstated on this leg, and I must say that having a meal without doing tumble turns, followed by a decent wash and a good kip in a dry bunk was absolute bliss. Normal service was resumed in the galley and we enjoyed the luxury of freshly baked bread and scones every day.  The generator and watermaker were working overtime and for a change we were all daisy fresh.  

This leg presented the fleet with an opportunity to race, rather than just trying to survive, and we all pushed very hard. Spinnakers were being shredded all around in the blustery conditions, but we overcame this problem by flying a poled out No.1 Genoa. The boat was massively overpowered with this rig. The rigging was "singing" under the strain, producing a high pitched resonance and the wake was kicking up quite a respectable wave at the stern. Whereas a spinnaker is relatively easy to trip and douse quickly when matters get out of hand, a poled out headsail is a bit more cumbersome. We were very much on the edge and in danger of broaching at any moment. In keen anticipation of this I was poised over the guy winch, ready to let go. Sure enough, I felt the stern starting to lift and the bows digging in. I whipped a couple of turns of the winch and let go. The pressure on the guy was such that smoke was pouring off it as the remaining turns snaked round the winch. The pole flew forward uncontrolled and smacked the forestay, putting a crease in the pole. Not ideal, but trying to control the guy could very easily have resulted in the loss of a few fingers. By this stage the bows were well dug in and the boat yawed over on its starboard side but popped back up without suffering a full on broach. The only complaints were from the crew below decks who were either pitched out of their bunks or had their dinner ruined (again). One of the highlights of this leg was sailing under Sydney Harbour bridge in glorious sunshine on 16th February. The fleet was moored in the spectacular surroundings of Darling Harbour and BT again laid on a feast fit for kings and a firework display which easily matched Sydney's traditional New Year display.

This 22 day stop over was very much intended as a PR show case for BT and the individual boat sponsors to entertain clients and other guests. Travellers went travelling but the crew remaining in Sydney were required to mingle, almost daily, with our sponsors and their guests.. The crew's shore kit was transported between stopovers in shipping containers and those of us on corporate entertainment duty were expected to wear No. 1's consisting of navy blue double breasted blazer, white shirt, tie, chinos and black loafers, washed, cut and combed hair, clean fingernails and a civil tongue. Although this presented us with an opportunity to dine in Sydney's finest restaurants, Nigel (my partner in crime on shore leave) and I soon tired of having to behave and respond to quite frankly daft questions about our adventure with diplomacy and a smile. So we invented the most fabulous excuses for the absolute and unavoidable need of our presence elsewhere, and rapidly made our way to our favourite watering holes for light refreshments.  On one such occasion we obviously refreshed ourselves a tad too much as we woke up early the following day in a roll top wheelie bin behind a bar and in a totally unfamiliar part of Sydney.



My personal log contains only one entry for this leg: “28 consecutive days of gale force winds. Maximum recorded wind speed 69 knots (Hurricane). One knock down.”

So, more Southern Ocean tomfoolery then. The added value ingredients were icebergs, and growlers rattling down the sides of the hull. Growlers are chunks of ice which have become detached from an iceberg or glacier. The sting in the tail of this leg is the Agulhas Current which, opposed by the continuous southwesterly gales, produces mountainous waves topped with wild foaming crests. They are formed by one wave climbing on the back of another and then break with a force that has caused numerous ships in this area to simply disappear without trace.  Heath Insured, like most of the yachts, left without her full complement of crew as quite a few souls had jumped ship, unable to face another lively leg.   Well, that sets the scene.  We set off from Sydney on 2nd March 1997. The first squally spinnaker shredding week took us past Tasmania to Stbd and into the Southern Ocean. After we rounded the southern coast of Tasmania the weather changed from temperate to atrocious in less than 24 hours, and I wore my survival suit from then on until a few days out from Cape Town. It’s now almost 20 years after this leg took place and I must question whether my recollection of events has become embellished by the passing of time, so as a reality check here is an extract from the diary of a crew member on “Courtaulds International”:

“ By the middle of the second week we were 1000 Nm into the Southern Ocean and entering the area where Tony Bullimore and some of the other participants on the Vendee Globe race came to grief. The first major storm occurred on the 13th March; one of a series of fronts centered on a low pressure system of 940mb. The wind was 35-40 kn gusting 50kn.   Not unmanageable but made very difficult with the swell arriving from several directions in a very confused pattern, creating waves of 10m or more. We have a custom that the helmsman shouts a warning to the cockpit crew if he thinks that a wave might break over the boat. On this occasion, as we rode over the top of a wave I could see the crest of a significantly higher wave coming towards us. It was easy to spot both by its size and by its white foaming crest. As we cleared the top of the last wave, I started to call a warning to my colleagues - Hold on! Hold on! By the time we reached the bottom of the trough we were staring up at a 14m wall of water ahead of us. The bows lifted higher and higher up the wave until it felt as though the boat would almost stand on its stern, and you know that the boat will never climb over the wave’s foaming crest. At the last second you duck down, gripping the wheel tightly, just as the cockpit blackens and a great wall of water engulfs the boat. As the water drains from the cockpit you scramble to your feet, thankful that the rigging is still standing. A quick headcount confirms that the rest of the cockpit crew is still present, if not always 100% intact.”

By the 14th March the wind speed was gusting 69 knots and it was then that Heath Insured suffered a knock down. I was off watch at the time, but fully kitted up on standby, and lying in my bunk.  I got an inkling that matters were not quite right when a torrent of water poured from the ventilation shaft above my head and a second later I was pitched out of my bunk. Oh well, no breakfast in bed today. I crawled and climbed my way on to deck as quickly as possible to find the boat lying on its side with the mast almost touching the water. Fortunately we were flying a jury rigged storm jib as a substitute main (the mainsail and trysails having long since been destroyed) so there was no water laden main holding us down. After what seemed like an eternity the boat came up on an even keel to reveal that:

The  VHF aerial and masthead lights had gone, as had the lenses on the bow and stern lights and most of the winch handles. The stanchions on the stbd side had either snapped or were bent flat.

The compass had been wrenched from its binnacle and was never seen again. The EPIRB was activated, having been washed of the stern rail but miraculously still attached to the boat by its lanyard. Both lap top computers had been destroyed by water gushing from the ventilation shafts in the nav/comms station. So no more weather routing/synoptic charts, email or fax.

Conditions below decks were equally chaotic as anything not nailed down was strewn across the boat or floating in the river flowing along the gangway.

It took a while to establish contact with Portishead Radio via our HF radio to cancel the EPIRB distress alert which had caused some anxious moments back in Blighty. Falmouth Coast Guard had received EPIRB alerts from several of the yachts and was busy liaising with the authorities in Australia to launch a major rescue effort which fortunately was not required and they were stood down. Still, the spectacle of the Aurora Australis lighting up the sky and reflecting off icebergs was a sight I will never forget. Over the next few days the weather changed daily as a succession of fronts passed through. Continuous sail changing was the order of the day; hoisting a kite for maybe 30 minutes  and then battling to hoist a headsail. By the 20th March the ambient temperature had fallen below zero and the wind chill factor was such that the deck watch was reduced to 10 minutes with the members of crew still capable of standing a watch, or standing at all,  rotating as described in Part 1. Well of course the weather eventually moderated but before we wave a fond farewell to the Southern Ocean, here is a summary of events as described by the Race Director after completion of the leg:

“The wind was gale force or more for 28 of the 42 days they were at sea. It exceeded 60 knots on 12 days, and reached 76 knots. Typically, the wind doubled in speed from 25 or 35 knots in less than 3 minutes. Crews conducted up to 13 separate sail changes in 12 hour spells when they were beating to windward in temperatures which, when the wind chill was taken into account, were as low as minus 30 degrees  Centigrade. Six yachts suffered sufficiently severe knockdowns to damage their radar domes , which stand twelve meters above the waterline. There was no significant rigging damage, but stanchions were bent by the force of the water, and three compasses were wrenched off their binnacles. The hull of Global Teamwork was scarred by growlers, often the size of a semi-detached house, which are the silent assassins of the sea.  When the boats reached Cape Town, 101 sails of the total inventory of 168 had to be repaired or replaced”
A few days out from Cape Town we had to face up to the fact that the crew were now a considerable bio-hazard, so in deference to the citizens of South Africa the water maker was fired up for showering.  We had again suffered problems with the holding tank which was overcome by some judicious rearrangement of the plumbing and diverter valves for the heads, wash basins and shower sumps. The sequence of operating the valves had changed from the previous arrangement to make it all work, and showering for the off watches commenced. Nigel, my partner in crime, duly took his turn and having completed the task seemed to be taking an inordinately long time to pump out the sump. Much swearing and an ever louder hissing noise was heard coming from the heads and in due course an explosion, whereupon Nigel staggered out of the heads covered from head to foot in effluent. We washed him down on deck with buckets of water before  he was “requested” to clean out the heads. A subsequent board of enquiry determined that he had used the wrong diverter valve, and sufficiently pressured the system to blow a hose off the loo.

We eventually limped into Cape Town with a few rags of sail remaining on 12th April 1997. The amount of weight loss we had all suffered on this leg was such that food and sleep took priority over “refreshments” for the next few days but in due course I recovered sufficiently to generously sample the excellent South African wines.

During yet another spectacular party laid on by BT I was presented with the Peter Vroon Memorial Trophy for the best Sail Repair of the Fleet on the Sydney to Cape Town leg by HRH Prince Michael of Kent.  (main sail). Peter was the chief sail designer at Hood Sails. He had hurriedly  flown out to Rio when we were there with a supply of sail repair material to supervise and assist with repairs in the somewhat basic local sail lofts. He had not had sufficient time before flying out to get the appropriate vaccinations and tragically succumbed to Meningitis within a few days of arrival.

To be continued……

We hope you enjoyed reading Part 3, watch out for part 4 coming soon.