Rogue furling lines

Sam Davies, racing her Open 60, Roxy, in the Vendee Globe, solo, non-stop, round the world race, has sent us a graphic account of sail change, alone, in the dark, in the Southern Ocean.

“Hello from a chilly Roxy! Yes, it’s getting cold down here now. So much so that I couldn’t work out if the drizzly rain last night was frozen or not. I had a slightly annoying night – just not managing to find the right sails or angle to the waves.

The night started under gennaker, with a building breeze. I was soon past my wind limit for the big guy, and the waves were such that Roxy would take off, accelerate and risk face planting the next wave. This was too much of a risk to take in 30 knots with the big gennaker up, as it puts a lot of load on the top of my mast.

So, I went to roll the sail away, which, as I explained before, means a LOT of winching! When nearly rolled, I paused to check the roll had worked properly with a torch. Unfortunately, I must have paused when the thin bit of furler line was on the drum, and all of a sudden there was a gust, and the WHOLE thing unfurled itself! I’m starting to wonder if my gennaker has a warped sense of humour. Anyway, it seemed to smile at me in a cheeky kind of way, almost saying “that’s not entirely my fault”, so I couldn’t be cross. So I got my head down and began winching again, as Roxy, newly fuelled up with a big gennaker, took off again at high speed down the waves. I eventually got the sail down, and thankfully this time the gennaker gave in gracefully and folded itself willingly through the fore hatch into a neat coil.

I never cease to be overawed by these midnight manoeuvres, in a lot of wind, pitch black, up on the bow as Roxy hoons along. You get the feeling of immense solitude, coupled with the power of the boat and the wild waves. Everything is monochrome and the black silhouette of the mast and sails tower over me. Sometimes, when I am on the bow, and Roxy takes off on a surf, the bow is way out of the water and I almost feel like I’m flying. The down-side is that, quite frequently the surf ends with a nice wave over the deck, and that is cold! But before you say it, don’t worry, when I am on deck I am always clipped on with my super Spinlock deck harness, so I don’t take any risks.

The rest of the night seemed to have gone very quickly, as I took reefs, shook out reefs, changed headsails… all in search of the right sail combination. Pretty frustrating really, as I never was totally happy with my choice. The wind is quite unstable and the waves are quite tricky too. At least with all those manoeuvres I wasn’t cold!

On the non-technical side, as life is getting colder, I have been adapting. Yesterday I broke out two of my secret weapons: my Roxy Moon Boots (strictly to be kept dry) and my super thick sleeping bag. The sleeping bag is huge, and the very little time I got in it last night was luxury. I slept so well and even managed to dream a bit! The boots are a success too – warm feet all the time – and I am almost sure that soon I will even be sleeping in them (yes, inside my sleeping bag!)S x”

Roxy was in 15th position, 597 miles from race leader Jean-Pierre Dick aboard Paprec Virbac 2.