Velux reflections on the day of Saga's second departure from Freo..

“Back in Fremantle I’m afraid. I made a good start across the line, second to Bernard Stamm I’m told but I was too busy getting the sails set for speed to watch out for that. SAGA INSURANCE and I were second at the first mark as well, but then Koji and Unai overtook us when we hardened onto the wind, pointing higher and footing slightly faster. But that isn’t our point of sailing so was not unsuspected. Then we started the tack down the coast towards Cape Leuwin, into an increasing
wind. Things started to go wrong quite soon. I was in the sail locker getting the storm jib out when the boat suddenly came into the wind and tacked herself You cannot shoot out of the sail locker, I scrambled out along a 45 degree inclining deck and tacked her back. Then I went back to secure the storm jib to its stay, waves coming over the deck and washing ropes all over the place and on two occasions I was glad I was clipped on to my safety harness, and suddenly the boat came
upright and tacked again.

Back to the cockpit, and decided to stay on the other tack for a bit as I was clear enough from the land. Got the storm jib up and then the auto pilot switched itself to Standby. Suddenly everything was clear, there was our problem. The pilot did the same thing three more times and by 0300 I had realised I could not go on without an efficient auto-pilot. Imagine being in a big sea with gale or storm force winds and that happened? We could easily be rolled, lose the mast at best,
perhaps be smashed up and sunk at worst. It just wasn’t a viable choice.

Reluctantly I gybed round, started the engine to get the batteries charged and set a course back for Fremantle some 50 miles away. By the time I was round Rotnest island which is to seaward of the port, Simon (aka Lovely) Clay had organised the Raymarine agent, Greg Hanson to come out so we could do an immediate check. Within a short while he had established the problem. The initial installation back in
Gosport had used small gauge wire to the pilots and they were unable to draw enough power. When that happens is they turn themselves off. It was attended to that same afternoon, so we are now ready to go and much happier knowing what the problem has been right from the start of the race in Bilbao.

Apart from that the boat was going well. The work completed by the team lead by Lovely has been terrific. Nick Clayton did a great job repairing the keel after the damage caused by the entanglement with the fishing net was speedily repaired, damage part repaired from the storm at the start was fixed and he also arranged the masthead so we could fix instruments there so I would know what the wind is doing for a nice change. Pete Cummings had gone right through the entire rig, checking
and renewing, David Swete from North Sails NZ had repaired the mainsail batten pockets, checked the rest of the sails and brought over a really lovely new medium reacher which we tested before the race. Katie Cummings was a star and it did not matter what you asked her to locate, she found it. The damage caused to the outdrive which carries the propeller was speedily fixed. Josh Hall suggested we deal with it without hauling out, which meant taking the mast out as my spreader booms make us too wide for the boat hoist, so we attached a strop to the keel and just heeled the boat over until the outdrive was clear of the water and Nick Clayton dropped everything on a Saturday night and worked all night to fix it. The strop was attached by Dilip Donde, who had re-joined us from the Indian Navy. Pete Cummings went to check the work and said it wouldn’t do, then dived again and said he did not know what knot Dilip had used but it wouldn’t come off so was OK. Dilip smiled and just said “Indian Rope trick” which had everyone in stitches.

The team worked overnight and we were ready next day in time for the start, an incredible effort and I don’t know another group who could have pulled that off. Huge thanks too to Huw Feenie, Tim Ettridge who both flew out to help. Tom Green had flown out from Raymarine and renewed all the pilots and instruments and everything was working fine whilst he was with us everything worked fine. In fact, now we have the root cause of the pilot problems sorted, I have a complete range of good working instruments.

Today we shall go out for a test sail to put everything through its paces. Then at 2300 UK time I shall set off in pursuit of the others. It is not all bad news. The weather they have had has been awful and for all the wrong reasons I have missed that. SAGA INSURANCE is a reaching and running boat so hopefully I can catch up in this next long leg. I shall be sorry to eventually leave Fremantle. It is a very friendly place and the Fremantle Sailing Club is one of the most hospitable sailing clubs I know. But it is time to get moving again. I signed up for this voyage and I intend to do my utmost to complete it. RKJ”

Picture: OnEdition