Helming in these conditions is tiring, as all the time one is wrestling to keep the boat on track. As a wave picks up the stern of the boat it will tend to push the bow towards the wind. The helmsman counteracts this, but just enough to keep the boat pointing straight down the wave where it quickly accelerates. Too much and the boat risks a jibe, too little and she heels over in a potential broach. But get it right, straighten the rudder, level the boat and watch the speed rise with an exhilarating rush of spray and foam from the bow.
The speed of a displacement hull, i.e. one which sits in the water rather than planing across it, is governed by its waterline length so the Clippers should only sail at around 9 knots but when they get on a wave the theory goes over the side. Speeds in the mid teens are common and the low twenties not unheard of.
The crew compete to see who can push the figures on the digital readout highest and the whole thing gets quite vocal with cries of "fourteen, sixteen, seventeen, seventeen and a half, seventeen point eight!!" tearing across the cockpit. In fact, the general noise level increases as the water rumbling under the hull becomes a dull roar and the entire boat seems to vibrate under you.
The downside to all this excitement is that the decks are frequently awash as water streams back from the bow. Hatches remain firmly closed so the temperature below decks can become unpleasantly warm. The crews have a daily cleaning rota, but it is impossible to check all the nooks and crannies on board and occasionally some unlucky crew member gets rather a surprise. A small family of maggots were discovered living happily in a corner of Bristol, but were soon acting as bait for any passing fish!
There has been little change in the positions, with all the boats making good speeds toward the finish. This may well remain the case for the next few days, with steady winds and little room for tactical manoeuvring now that the boats are all heading in much the same direction.
The only real wildcard for the moment will be the unexpected breakage, the sail that blows or the halyard that breaks. Cape Town Clipper suffered yesterday when their heavyweight kite ripped badly, but they already managed to repair it and get it flying again.
Glasgow Clipper spent several hours steering with their emergency tiller when the quadrant on the rudderstock slipped down making the wheel unusable. The fact that both incidents were dealt with so smoothly characterises the skills these "amateur" sailors have developed over the weeks and months since the race began.
LATEST POSITIONS 22/01/03, 0400 GMT
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