Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Surviving 70 Knots in the Southern Ocean

A100 Majan Surviving 70 Knots in the Southern Ocean

Oman Sail’s A100 trimaran ‘Majan’ has been battling hurricane force winds in the Southern Ocean on leg 3 of the Indian Ocean 5 Capes Race en route to the next stop over in Fremantle, Australia. The six-man crew led by Paul Standbridge including new recruit Sidney Gavignet and two Omani crew, who are tracing out this new course ahead of the official race in 2012, have had their mettle tested to the limit in these ferocious conditions. ‘Majan’ left Cape Town on 10th March and are approximately 2,300 miles into the 4,600-mile leg, with another 5-6 days before arriving in Fremantle. Read Mark Covell’s log below which expertly describes the force of the Southern Ocean in all its fury… -

From Mark Covell on board ‘Majan’:

It’s been a long couple of days. As I woke the first day of this storm Paul, Mohammed and Mike were on watch. The sky was grey with driving rain that stung your face. The wind was around 45 knots touching 55 in the gusts. The noise resembled a badly tuned television, on full volume, hissing out white noise.

The waves were mostly broadside, hitting us on our starboard (right) hull and sending the sea water high in the sky, then cascading down over the boat. Occasionally, we would be lifted by the top of a wave and slammed by another, resulting in a sudden shunt sideways. It felt like King Neptune had cupped us in his hand, lobbed us in the air and whacked us out of court with his watery tennis racket.

Although admittedly both nervous at times, (as I think we all were at times), Mohsin and Mohammed handled the conditions very well. Mohsin had seen 51 knots in the Cook Straits on his last voyage round the world, but had never experienced anything like yesterday before. He commented on how well Majan had handled the wind and the waves. “When I started to feel scared I just touched the boat with my hands and immediately felt better - as Majan felt so solid.”

If you weren’t holding on tight you were smack, bang on the floor, for sure. Most of the crew were tipped out of their bunks a few times. Eventually everyone gave up, and found some place on the cabin floor to sleep - wedged onto a beanbag or nestled between a bulkhead and the engine block. The tighter the space the less damage you did to yourself, in your sleep!

Meanwhile, the roaring wind had started to growl as we saw more and more gusts up in the 60-knot zone. The waves seemed to flatten and grow long silver manes of white spume that flowed out behind the wave face. In fact, all the waves were doing were ‘hunkering down’ and forming a more powerful and solid stance to shoulder us sideways – and more frequently.

The air was now constantly full of sharp, biting spray. Every one lung-full you took of breath, you spat out a two mouthfuls of brine. It was time to reduce sail and slow down some more. Down came the J3 beautifully flaking itself as it dropped. Next was to reef the mainsail down from the size of a squash court to the size of a table tennis table. Dropping the sails is a very noisy, wet exercise, exerting yet more shaking on the boat as even these much-reduced sized sails flap violently in the process.

So why were we getting a good ‘dressing down’ like this in this low pressure system? For the initial part of this leg we had not been able to find the strong winds that normally send you fast across the roaring 40s to Australia. So when we saw this low on the weather charts, we ducked back up to ride the low south and get under a big high pressure sitting in our way. We had to sail deep into the storm front to hook up with the ride.

It was like stepping out into a fast moving motorway, getting run down, then hitching a lift with the truck that ran you over. We then drove into the other side of the low, take the flick flack wind change, waves and wind going in different directions, and then drive south east, heading us towards Cape Leeuwin and Fremantle. It was a crazy ride, but it paid off well.

The gybe was interesting because the winds were up in the high 60’s and gusting to 70! We are all impressed with how Majan has performed.

There is a B&G (electronic navigational) display in the media station that read over 70 knots. We were happy that it was dark so I didn’t need to go out side and try to film the madness. So Mohammed suggested I just film the red B&G display instead, and keep with my lap belt firmly pulled tight to keep me off the ceiling!