The daily round of ocean racing

Onboard SAGA INSURANCE Sir Robin Knox Johnston is currently in 5th place of
the Velux 5 Oceans Race with his sights still set on catching Unai Basurko
in 4th place. Sir Robin is currently 42 nautical miles behind Unai having
been thwarted by several problems over recent days but is now back on the
rampage with renewed confidence.

“What a day. It started with oil leaks in the steering ram and threats of
40 knot winds, but has ended on a higher note. The oil leak may still be
there, I could not find its source, but I’ll watch it. The good news is
that Simon Clay got back from Australia and got straight on to the
electronic problems. He suggested we change ocean regions with the Fleet
77 as this might be why it was having Azimuth problems. Bingo. We have
the Fleet 77 system back at work. Simon has been brilliant because he
knows these boats and has an exhaustive list of contacts for problems. Plus
he happens to be a good sailor himself so fully understands why things are
required. He is ready for his own project now really, and would be very
good as he understands what sponsors want so I am lucky to have him at the

“The Iridium is next on the list but we think we have a hardware problem and
may not be able to fix it so I have my mobile plugged into its antenna.
Then, collecting a fuel container from the sail locker I noticed a lot of
sloshing sounds and discovered that both forward ballast tanks were full.
That’s a good 2 tons of water and in the wrong place and the reason was the
stop valves, behind the siphons, had been left open. I should have checked
it of course. I managed to dump 3/4 of it yesterday, the rest went this
morning when I finally gybed and could use the siphon. But no wonder the
boat was giving the auto pilots problems running with all that extra weight
up forward, which put the nose down and lifted the rudders. It upset the
whole balance, particularly when squalls hit. I wish I had had longer to
get to know SAGA INSURANCE before the race as I am still getting the feel
for her. I should have noticed the difference in her behaviour far sooner.
So we had some good news.”

“I have been asked why the loss of the ability to set Reachers is so
important. The furling gear has ripped its central sheave, it happened
the other night when I was trying to furl the medium reacher and there is no
way I can repair it without welding. The Reacher is one of the most used
sails in a downwind race because it fills the gap between the usual jib and
staysail up front and the spinnakers. It allows the boat to sail faster
than it could further away from the wind than with a jib. Thus, if you are
tacking down wind, the further you can point down wind the faster you are
speeding towards your destination. I am now in the position that I am
losing at least 20 degrees of angle to maintain the same speed as those with
Reachers, which means they will get downwind a lot faster. The stronger
the wind the less this matters, but the moment the wind lightens I start to
lose out.”

“Not so good is that whilst I was distracted by all these problems, not
least a desperate search for weather information and awaiting a front with a
gale which was coming but I was not sure when, we have lost out to the other
boats a bit. I still cannot get the main weather, it is a software problem
which we hope to sort, but at least I picked up a large scale Australian
chart which gives a good general indication of what is happening. It is
cruising information though, not what is needed for racing. One of the
aspects of this has been knowing roughly where the front might be, not
knowing the extent of the winds but knowing they can rise 10 knots beneath a
dark cloud, so when I have seen a dark cloud I have suspected it might be
the front and gybed or reduced sail in readiness. Then, for 4 occasions,
I have found it is not the front and had to reverse the process. That is
tiring, and distance wasting, but not to do it is risking getting caught
with too much sail set which could cause damage, and I am already restricted
by the loss of the Reachers and daren’t lose anything else.”

“We have lost time this last 48 hours, in part through distractions like the
oil leak, flooded ballast tanks, and the interminable computer problems, but
mainly because I was being cautious about the weather. As we have seen,
the slightest damage can cost hours, so I have been careful as I awaited
this front. Less so next one.”

“The bread has started to grow mould. Nothing like undeveloped penicillin
to keep one fit! I’ll have a curry tonight just to keep its microbes in