Velux 5 Oceans - Eerie calm

Derek Hatfield’s Active House. Photo: Ainhoa Sanchez Velux 5 Oceans
Ainhoa Sanchez
Velus 5 Oceans skipper Canadian Derek Hatfield was today 'licking his wounds' after a 12-hour battering from a Southern Ocean storm that brought with it winds of more than 40 knots and huge, confused seas. The 57-year-old’s only respite from the carnage came when he reached the eye of the storm and winds suddenly dropped to around 10 knots.

After managing to sleep less than an hour in the past 24 hours, Derek was this morning taking advantage of the lighter winds found in the very centre of the depression to catch up on some desperately needed rest. But it was by no means over yet for the skipper of Active House – Derek must face the storm again, the second half of it standing in between him and his escape into more favourable conditions.

'I’m licking my wounds here, it’s been a heck of a day,' Derek said. 'The storm seems to be in remission right now but it’s coming back for sure. It hit in the morning and it was pretty extreme in its power. The GRIB files showed that it was going to build slowly to about 25 knots but I saw 40 knots. I took a couple of big hits from some waves but luckily I wasn’t rolled or knocked down. It’s a pretty extreme place, not for the faint of heart at all.'

The relentless mauling then suddenly subsided as Derek reached the eye of the storm. Despite providing a rest from the gale force winds, Derek had to face a different and equally dangerous situation: huge, confused waves, with no wind to power Active House over them.

'It was horrendous,' added Derek, who has shot into second place ahead of Zbigniew ‘Gutek’ Gutkowski’. 'Huge pyramids of water smashing around all over the place. It was the worst banging and crashing off waves I have ever had. Even on the small waves the boat was falling off them and slamming down bow first. It’s a wonder the mast is still attached to the boat.'

It was a similar situation onboard Gutek’s Operon Racing, now trailing Derek by 15 nautical miles. 'Only the swell is left and it is hitting Operon Racing badly,' Gutek said. 'I am in the eye of the storm just waiting for the next big blow.'

Chris Stanmore-Major has also been hit by storms.

'At last the wait is over and we start to see what the Southern Ocean is capable of. I have just come down off the deck after two hours of hectic intervention on behalf of my boat who was being bullied and pummelled by 45 knots of heavy cold breeze and was doing her best to struggle east but there comes a point where enough is enough This point came all at once with the long foretold heavy airs hitting like a wall of steel. The increase in wind speed, sounding like a jet engine winding up, causing a sympathetic yowl from the rigging as Spartan protested at the unfair pressure and went over, over, over until in submission she lay on her side spilling what breeze she could from the tops of her sails, port deck spreader in the water and her keel clear of the water allowing her to slide sideways nullifying the vicious onslaught.

'I had been waiting all morning for it but twice had dropped to three reefs and trinquette sighting black clouds astern but twice I was left rolling and slamming in reduced breeze trickling along at six knots with storm sails set in a  child's kite flying breeze. Each time I changed back up through the gears and when it finally happened was doing 11 knots with the larger headsail, the Solent, flying nicely and two reefs in the main. It all seemed fine until the barrage knocked me flat. If this was day one of my Eco 60 learning curve I would have been in the corner with my sleeping bag over my head praying for it all to go away but we are further down the path now, a little wiser perhaps and I am now used to the fact that this boat despite her 90ft rig and 4,000kg keel believes she is 10ft dinghy and like a dinghy she will roll over on her beam ends when caught out with too much sail in much the same way my dog use to roll over for treats.

'What happens next is the key ingredient to determine whether this is a big problem or not and having made every mistake in the book and with the scars on my ego to prove it I now know what she needs. The main sheet end is jammed off inside the cabin when its rough weather and as soon as she started to go (I was already donning my foulies in response to the unearthly note the rigging was singing) I immediately dumped the main and reached out through the hatch and clipped myself on. With a deep breath I stepped out into a world that had been pushed onto its side as a toddler might tip a 'Weeble' over just to see what will happen.  Like that toy though Spartan and I might wobble but we don't fall down too easily and I quickly bent to the task of easing the headsail to power it up and drag the head downwind and level the boat out.

'The winch cracked and banged like a shotgun being fired inches from my head. Two feet eased, no response. 'Come on girl'; four feet eased and the bows seem to be digging in further but the clouds ahead are slowly easing from left to right. Five feet eased and she suddenly gets her footing and spins out of her reclining position and immediately accelerates from 1 knot with the guardrails deep underwater to 20 kts with the bows high and clear, a bone between her teeth and those snow white walls of spray standing straight up on either side of her cherry red decks. The water rolled off the decks and span out into spray as it leapt clear of the scuppers.  There is very little I can do to fully explain that feeling when she takes off down the face of a wave and that rumble comes up through the hull as she batters a thin sliver of the wild Southern Ocean into submission.

'Imagine being at the top of a steep hill on your push bike and then just setting off hell for leather- now take your hands off the handle bars,put them in the air- take your feet of the pedals and stretch your legs out on either side now shout 'weeeeeeee' as you hurtle through busy junctions and screeching traffic - yeah that's pretty close.

'I rolled away the headsail and prepared the storm job for hoisting - I had readied it on the foredeck for exactly this moment not long after leaving Cape Town and with a few hitches released and the sheets quickly run it was not long until my lonely luminescent foredeck sentinel. The intrepid storm jib, who doesn't even bother with breeze less than 40 knots, climbed into the sky. If the storm jib was a movie character it would be 'Dirty Harry' without a doubt and the wind would be the punk.

'Turning my attention to the main I eased the sheet, took another big breath and turned the boat up into the breeze a little. With 15kts on the clock and 40 knots over the deck I set about putting in the two remaining reefs. There was a bit of an argy-bargy with the fourth reef that never having been used before was a little tricky to snug down correctly but I made it happen with a little perseverance and finally after an hour and a half of steady work I was able to stand back and admire my work.  Storm jib up, reefs in and no damage.  A good result and I felt the boat responding now in a supple, adaptive way beneath my boots to the building swell rather than shoving her nose into the back of each wave and sweeping her decks with frigid, hissing water.

'I looked out at the scene and saw the familiar white streaks developing on the wave fronts- their tops being whipped away and driven into mist. Force 8/9- nice - welcome to the party- finally. I checked the deck once more, tidying and straightening everything as I went and then came below.  I have just checked the bilges and the stored gear and all is shipshape and well- there is a steaming cup of coffee on the nav table next to me and the engine is charging the batteries and drying my wet gear. Outside the wind is still playing its insistent tune but I am drowning it out with 'The Proclaimers' - the windows above me are continually swept by waves giving the impression of the workings of a car wash as seen from inside the car but we are on course for the safety gate and pulling 12 kts- it can blow its head off now- I have done my part- I trust Spartan to do hers.


Christopher Stanmore-Major is showing his British color onboard Spartan.
Velux 5 Oceans ©

Ocean sprint two positions at 00h00 UTC:
Skipper / distance to finish (nm) / distance to leader (nm) / distance covered in last 24 hours (nm) / average speed in last 24 hours (kts)

Brad Van Liew, Le Pingouin: 2589.8/ 0 / 298.7 / 12.4
Derek Hatfield, Active House: 2838.9/ 249.1 / 244.8/ 10.2
Zbigniew Gutkowski, Operon Racing: 2854.5/ 264.7 / 214.8/ 9
Chris Stanmore-Major, Spartan: 3560.1/ 970.3/ 202 / 8.4

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