On the leg from Sydney to Cape Town, the twelve yachts in the Amateur Regatt Global Challenge are currently sailing in the Indian Ocean. A tough test for many players.
"We are sailing on the verge of exhaustion," says a crew member of the twelve 72-foot steel yachts involved in the Global Challenge 2004/05 amateur circumnavigation. Two weeks after the start in Sydney, all 216 future circumnavigators have got to know the enormous strength and endurance of the southern Indian Ocean. But they haven't even got half of the 35 to 41 day toughest stage of the regatta behind them.
When the yachts turned south of Hobart into the Indian Ocean from Sydney ten days ago, the crews still believed that it couldn't get much worse. With wind speeds of up to 40 knots, in gusts even more, and long and high waves, they fought for the best positions. "Sony VAIO" chose the southernmost route, where the wind is stronger. "Me To You" with Birgit Obermüller from Bremerhaven also chose a southern route and took the lead several times on March 6th and 7th. But then "BP Explorer" took turns with the Thuringian Holger Bindel and "Imagine IT. Done" with the only female skipper Dee Caffari. Their somewhat conservative northern route had paid off. Since March 8th, however, "BP Explorer" has maintained its lead just ahead of "Imagine IT. Done". "Me To You" with their very southern route are currently ninth and tenth, a good 70 nautical miles behind. "Spirit of Sark" with the Rhinelander Jürgen Dieris is in the midfield, almost 50 nautical miles behind the top, and is hoping for her chance.
The wind has never been below 25 knots in the last few days. Mostly it was around 40 knots and more and more short-term and in gusts even up to 55 knots. A normal yacht would have no chance in this weather. The twelve identical Global Challenge yachts have been specially designed for this regatta. The steel yachts, which are almost 23 meters long, weigh 42 tons. That is roughly 2.5 times that of a Volvo Ocean Race yacht (60 feet) that is only four meters shorter than the "illbruck". The Challenge regattas, in contrast to all other circumnavigation regattas, run from east to west and thus against wind and waves, the ships must also be much more stable. The crews report wave heights of an average of 20 meters, which corresponds to a six-story high-rise. About every tenth wave is a so-called "freak wave", which is significantly higher and also breaks. When they bang on the yachts, they turn into submarines for a few seconds. Crews not on a leash would have no chance of staying on board. Despite these incredible wind and wave conditions, the crews have to go to the foredeck every few hours to change sails. "Working on the foredeck is a sheer struggle for survival," reports one crew member. "You stand in front of the forestay with your back facing the direction of travel to attach the sail to the forestay with the stay riders, and suddenly the yacht rides a 25 meter high wave and, after the wave has passed under the yacht, falls 25 meters in the open Fall down. You feel the weightlessness, lift off with your feet and cling to the forestay and sail. When the 42 tons then hit, you land very roughly back on the yacht and tons of water roll over the foredeck to the stern. You are under water, hold your breath for a few seconds, your body is pressed against the forestay and you wait until the yacht appears again. Then you work even faster because the next big wave is bound to come. "
In addition to the strong wind, the crews also increasingly have to struggle with the cold. It is getting much colder from day to day. In addition, there is the wetness and, for a few days, snow and hail showers. "Getting a 40-knot spray in your face is terrible, but 40-knot hail is like being shot at with pins from an air rifle," said one crew member. Another writes: "It is so cruel to get out of the warm bunk, to change into the cold and wet sailing clothing and to be immediately greeted on deck by the icy wind and water. Despite high-tech clothing, your toes and fingers are within a few minutes almost frozen to death. " The helmsmen and sail trimmers are currently being changed after 15 minutes at the latest in the wet and cold.
"Every action on deck, no matter how simple, pushes us to the limits of our physical and mental resilience," writes another crew member in the daily e-mails on board. Life below deck is also a challenge. Dressing and undressing, but also going to the toilet, are acrobatic exercises. Even eating at a constant 30 degree incline is difficult. In addition, the yacht stomps through the waves and falls from a wave every few minutes and then there is weightlessness on board for a few seconds. Cooking is even harder. Due to the cold and the exertion, the crews currently burn around 5500 to 6000 calories per day. That is about 2.5 times that of an office worker. Amazingly, none of the yachts report problems with seasickness, all of them report having a good appetite.
The 17 crew members on board "Team Save the Children" currently have additional problems. The heating has failed. In a not very serious e-mail to the regatta management, the crew asked if they could light a campfire in the sail chamber in the foredeck. Crew member Adrian from "Team Save the Children", evacuated nine days ago in Hobart, is currently on the mend. He was injured in heavy seas while lying on the bunk. His hip became dislocated and some boils were chipped off. Despite being in considerable pain, he was not operated on at Hobart Hospital, but is currently being treated by a physical therapist. In the next few days he will fly on to Cape Town to greet his team there. The stage from Sydney to Cape Town will take about 35 to 41 days. The first yachts are expected in South Africa on April 5th. The next waypoint will be reached in around six days. In order not to get too far south into the iceberg endangered area, the yachts have to pass waypoint Bravo north of the Kerguelen Islands at 48 ° S, 70 ° E north. The yachts are currently at about 53 ° S, 108 ° E. (Rainer Seifert
From on board the "Me to you", Birgit Obermüller from Bremerhaven reports on her experiences in the toughest amateur regatt in the world
After the start and the first week of the fourth stage went great for us and we were either in the lead or in the lead group, the beginning of the second week brought us a hard setback. We were the only yacht to sail into a wind hole and lost over 60 miles within twelve hours and have been in tenth place since then. The light winds lasted for two days and we were having a hard time catching up. When the next storm was announced and accordingly the wind finally rose above 15 to 20 knots, we were able to make up little by little miles. But our mood was repeatedly put to the test when poor six-hour results came in. We still haven't managed to sail much closer to the yachts in front of us. Part of the blame was the wind, which pushed us up to over 55 degrees south, away from the waypoint. The freezing cold that freezes hands and feet, the hail and snow showers and gusts of wind of up to 50 knots make life difficult for us. But after every tough change of sails, where we were really beaten up on the foredeck, after every reef I had to fight for, I have to tell myself again and again that it was precisely these harsh conditions that made me take part in this yacht race. The huge breakers that knock you off your feet or wash you through the cockpit, the strong wind that makes every attempt at trim difficult and sometimes makes me crawl on my knees to the shrouds are unbelievably impressive. And when the sun comes out and makes the deep blue shine, the big breakers are also less threatening.
Four nights ago, the night sky was illuminated for over 15 minutes by fantastic northern lights (auroraustralis). Every fireworks and laser show are only half as beautiful. First white, then greenish flags and fingers of light wavered and moved in all directions. The highlight were spirals that had purple edges and moved in such a way that you really had the impression that they were rotating. We all agreed that the £ 26,000 was well spent for such a show.
Even on my expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic, I had never seen anything like it. Now we are riding our storm and will continue to do everything we can to reduce the distance to the leading yachts. Fortunately, we still have a good three to four weeks and, as in earlier stages, the waypoints can shuffle the cards again. "Me to You" is definitely to be expected!
So far, I've been spared injuries, only got a few bruises and a slight hypothermia - but my hands are moving again. Many greetings, Birgit