The day that Derek Hatfield never thought he would see, has arrived. Spirit of Canada, with a new mast, sails and electronics, has finally rejoined the Around Alone as an on-the-water competitor.
Almost five weeks after losing his mast just east of Cape Horn after the boat was pitch-poled by a breaking Southern Ocean wave, Derek slipped the lines in Ushuaia and headed back out to sea. It was a momentous occasion. Dark storm clouds hung low over the southern Andes mountains while the bright graphics on Spirit of Canada contrasted starkly with the slate grey water of the Beagle Channel. The new bright red mast stood where a shattered carbon stump had recently been. Fresh snow on the surrounding peaks lent a chill to the air, but despite the temperature the spirit was warm. Derek's partner and shore manager Patianne Verburg sent a short, but to the point email that read: "At 10:30 local time Spirit of Canada left the dockside here in Ushuaia and headed out towards the point where Derek was dismasted on March 7. The boat was averaging 8 knots down the Beagle Channel and will resume racing after reaching the spot of last months near fatal dismasting."
Race rules require Hatfield to return to the exact spot where he turned his engine on after capsizing before he can turn the bows north once more and resume the leg to Salvador. It's roughly fifty miles from Ushuaia to the capsize area and Hatfield estimates that he will reach the spot at 02:00 local time. He will notify race operations of his position and then settle down to a long, hard sail to Salvador. The passage ahead might be fraught with peril and frustration, but it will be nothing when compared to that which Hatfield has already been through. After firmly believing his campaign was over to the often times tedious road to recovery, the process has been a little like being born again. The wrecked shell of a world class Open 40 has over the past few weeks slowly been rebuilt to its former state-of-the-art condition. On his last evening ashore Derek sent an email that described where things stood on board. "Hello from Spirit of Canada," he wrote. "Tomorrow is the day! Spirit of Canada is finally back together. I have just finished loading all the fresh food and water for the rest of Leg 4. Tomorrow at 8:00 a.m., after my last visit to the Argentine Coast Guard, I will depart Ushuaia and head for the "spot" near Cape Horn. Since the last update the Spirit of Canada team have tuned the rig, put on the new sails and made all the final adjustments to the instruments, computers and communications equipment. We've taken Spirit of Canada sailing three times to test the rig, the sails and the keel. All are in great working order. A big thanks to all of you that have made this day possible. If all goes well tomorrow, my next update will be from the open ocean." Shortly after 10:30 this morning Race Opps in England noticed that the boats position, which had been stationary for the past month, was on the move. Hatfield was back at sea and it was cause for celebration.
The next few weeks are not going to be easy. Derek is going to have to navigate the tricky conditions up the coast of Argentina and Brazil, although the seasons have turned from summer to fall since his competitors sailed that way and Hatfield can expect more settled weather. By the time he gets to Salvador the rest of the Around Alone fleet will be long gone. After a compulsory 48-hour layover Spirit of Canada will start Leg 5 and what seemed an impossibility a scant month ago is now a distinct probability; Derek Hatfield and Spirit of Canada are going to complete their circumnavigation. That speaks volumes for the pluck and courage of the Canadian skipper. If any campaign has spirit, this terrific effort most certainly has an abundance. We wish you fair winds and safe sailing Derek. You are an inspiration to us all.