by Oliver Dewar
Global Ocean Race - Hannah Jenner and Anna-Maria Renken – the only all-female crew in the double-handed, round the world Class40 Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR) – set off on the mandatory 2,000 mile qualifying passage from the Caribbean to the Azores on board their chartered Class40, 40 Degrees. For the 30 year-old, Anglo-German duo, the trip is proving to be a tough, but invaluable, experience and the first opportunity the pair has had to sail together.
A tough and valuable qualifying voyage for the GOR’s all-female team - Global Ocean Race
Having left Guadeloupe after a six-day period of familiarisation and test sailing with Peter Harding’s, two year-old Owen Clarke Design Jaz40 MkII Class40, Jenner and Renken were in a hurry to start sailing, heading from Guadeloupe directly into 16 knots of breeze coming directly from their destination, Horta in the Azores, 2,400 miles to the north-east across the North Atlantic. 'It was quite a big day really,' Hannah Jenner recalled in a blog sent from 40 Degrees. 'What if we didn't gel on the boat?' Jenner and Renken first met via a series of Skype calls last October as both of the yachtswomen were planning independent GOR campaigns, but soon decided to collaborate. 'What if we had just made the biggest mistake of our sailing careers?' she continued. 'After all, two on a boat is an interesting dynamic and it needs to work.'
After an initial period of upwind sailing spent experimenting with water ballast and sail configurations, the breeze vaporised dropping to below two knots and swinging from all points of the compass. Cabin fever and sunburn soon set in: 'We spent the first three days as two individuals finding their way around their new world,' Jenner explains. 'Of course, we were a team, but we had not yet begun to develop that partnership, we had yet to find our team rhythm,' she admits. 'Then came the turning point, a day of zero wind, searing heat and a good deal of frustration. We were both caught out by the intensity of the sun and made the fatal mistake of wearing old sun tan lotion,' Jenner continues 'Anna had the back and thighs of a freshly boiled lobster and, randomly, my knees looked like a couple of shining, red beacons.' The conditions did little for on board morale: 'Sadly, we no longer look like ladies, with broken finger nails, the faint aroma of wet deck trainers and knotted hair. But none of it has dampened our smiles and this really is fun – honestly!'
However, the roasting conditions quickly changed into strong breeze reaching over 30 knots with constant rain squalls hammering 40 Degrees. The duo changed down through the sail plan rapidly; first to one reef and staysail, then one reef and storm jib as the wind built rapidly. 'It felt like we were sitting on a raging bull, bucking and rearing up then rolling and lurching,' describes Jenner. 'The cockpit is awash as each wave piled down the side decks and – periodically - a nasty bang could be heard as the boat dropped off a misshapen wall of water. I can't say it’s particularly pleasant, but a few years of experience tells me that all you can do is set the boat up properly, sit tight and try to keep smiling,' she reports. 'Sure, we are being cautious with our sail plan, but we were still making speeds of nine to ten knots and this is no race - we are here to get comfortable with this boat.'
After a week at sea and with around 1,500 miles of the qualifying voyage remaining, frustration developed on board 40 Degrees. 'We were both tired and hot and the sail to the Azores was suddenly looking like a very long one,' says Jenner. 'Anna became annoyed about how much fresh water we had on board and I was getting short over the poor boat speed we were getting out of the gennaker. We both sensed one another’s angst and no doubt we both wondered if this would work.' Despite the hardship and the realisation that the voyage to Horta would be an extended trip, both Jenner and Renken remained resolutely upbeat. 'Well it is working,' she confirms. 'We left that moment on the last wave and started to see an improvement in how we sailed the boat. We laughed at being tired, smelly and constantly beating to windward,' explains the British co-skipper. 'We worked together as a team when we met our first low pressure system and went through a series of sail changes, identifying how we could improve performance.'
In addition to this positive leap in teamwork, the duo is now entirely comfortable with each other’s company: 'Ultimately, we have become completely at ease with the lack of privacy on a Class40!' confirms Jenner. 'At about 03:00 one morning, as we sailed at some hideous angle beating to windward still, Anna laughed as she was sat on the bucket just opposite from where I was pulling on wet clothes and said: 'If only people could see us now, looking like such an old couple!',' she reports. 'So it is safe to say we are looking forward to the GOR together and we are enjoying our great boat, 40 Degrees. We are aware of the challenges that we will face and know that it will not all be smiles and laughter, but this qualifying sail has so far given us a very good taste of what is to come and we can't wait!'
By Thursday afternoon, after nine days at sea, the duo were on the same latitude as the Canary Islands, 1,800 miles due east of 40 Degrees and, finally, the wind became favourable: 'The good news is that finally we are sailing downwind!' wrote Jenner in a brief email. 'It has taken us about 1,350 miles of difficult and often unstable upwind conditions to get on the conveyor belt to the Azores, but we have made it and are expecting to be under 1,000 miles to Horta by tomorrow morning.'
The duo has given an ETA of late Monday in Horta and will request paperwork from the local Harbourmaster to verify that 40 Degrees arrived with just two crew on board, confirming a successful GOR qualifying voyage. A rendezvous with two extra crew from the yachting media in the Azores means Jenner and Renken plan to leave Horta four-up on Thursday 31st March for the remaining 1,300 miles to their base in Haslar Marina, Gosport, in Portsmouth.
Once in Europe, the GOR’s only all-female team are planning a busy, double-handed racing programme before taking the boat to Palma, Mallorca, for the GOR pre-start build up. In May, Jenner and Renken will join three other GOR teams in the Class40 Normandy Channel Race fleet; in June, they will compete in the 540 mile BNY Mellon Biscay Challenge from the Solent to Spain with a return to the Azores the following month in the Les Sables - Horta - Les Sables Race.