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Vendée Globe Day 54 morning update: Pip Hare into 16th and 'Pipping' a switch

by Vendée Globe 30 Dec 2020 23:21 PST 31 December 2020

Pip Hare's message today, The last 24 hours have been about maximising the VMG potential of Medallia, with the big kite up I have been trying to make my way downwind, sailing on flat seas in breeze from 10-20 knots and trying to use any significant shifts in the wind to gybe in towards the ice limit. It's been going well and when I logged onto check the positions at 4am this morning I have gone up to 16th place. I did do a little air punch and on the spot dance. I know this is going to be short lived and it is just because I can sail a better downwind VMG course than Cali with his foils. But I have made it into the top half of the fleet!! Yes!! I will take that. I have taken a picture so I can remember.

In amongst effort to work my way downwind I had a heart stopping moment this morning, half way through a gybe and the rest of the race flashed before my eyes and not in a good way.

Unlike every other boat in the fleet my keel is not moved with a hydraulic ram but instead using ropes - a block and tackle on each side of the keel head that goes to an electric winch in the engine compartment. When I went to bring the keel up to the new side, I pressed the button for the winch and nothing happened. Cold panic gripped me. I immediately viewed the rest of the race, the big breeze we will get next week, the hard slog up the Atlantic and me having to hand winch my keel from side to side. It was not a good vision at all.

I pressed the button a few times in that blind hope that something might happen. I checked the power to the box - the lights were on, I checked the power to the button, lights also on and then I reached straight for the phone and rang Joff - it's the first time I have called him without thinking through a problem first and now I feel bad about that because really there is no point in sharing a problem when you don't actually know what the problem is. We normally communicate via text message and I will send pictures of my problems, then we have time collectively to think and reply. In my defence I had little sleep last night. Bertha (my big kite) needs quite a bit of attention and so I was up regularly trimming, then when I did get my head down for a longer snooze she threw me out of bed after 30 minutes as a cloud had snuck up behind us and the pilot could not bear away in time. Also the winch is new, we upgraded to a more powerful system in the middle of this year and so it is part of the boat that was installed without me being there and I guess part of my panic was I didn't feel I knew anything about it.

We put our collective minds to the problem and after a bit more investigation I discovered that one of the wires on the back of the winch switch had come off, a second was hanging on a thread so I needed to beef up all the connections on the switch and try to protect them from any further damage. The job took a couple of hours, during this time I gybed twice, hand winching the keel each time and noting how hard this is even when sailing downwind at 12 knots. In big upwind conditions I doubt I would be able to move it more than a couple of degrees without needing a rest. This is not something I want to consider doing.

The new switch has taken shape, and is like many of my repairs from the last seven weeks making best use of what I have on board. I took the back off the switch, exposing the connections all the way into the heart of the switch, cutting away the plastic moulding to get better access. I have re-made all the connections with more robust crimps, then to protect it I have set the whole switch panel inside the lid of a protein shake bottle I can't believe how perfectly this fits, the switch in the top and the wires protected by the shaker lid. With any luck the thing is now Vendee proof, it's back in service and I hope all the trouble it will give me now is a blister on my finger from pressing the button.

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