Leg 4, Race 5 -12th January

Got up – to find the lightweight spinny was up and we were sailing along quite nicely - trimming and making reasonable progress – we could still see other Clipper lights around us on the horizon so it was still all to play for. Pretty soon we were aware we were sailing into a blacker and blacker hole and it was pretty obvious we had an almighty squall coming. We got the yankee ready to hoist and woke Piers who called for an immediate spinny drop, and yankee and staysail hoist in order to try and sail through it. As soon as the spinnaker was down we were hoisting the other sails mid-squall. The rain was lashing down, the wind had more than doubled and we were quickly into putting in a reef in the main as soon as we could!  We'd gone from light-wind sailing conditions, pottering along, to heavy-weather, battling against the elements and having to shout to make yourself heard in a mater of minutes.  And then just when we were set, drenched and ready to drop, we were out of the squall, the wind died COMPLETELY and we were dropping the headsails and trying to spot the merest sniff of wind from any direction so we could decide whether the windseeker or spinnaker was going to be the best option.
For a good hour the wind instruments span erratically through 360 degrees – several times – just to remind us we were well and truly in a windhole. The squall had sucked every last breath of everything away with it – used every ounce of energy in the sky and there was nothing left for us. Piers went to bed leaving me with the instruction – “when you find some wind and can figure out where the hell it's coming from put either the windseeker or spinnaker up as appropriate. I'm off to bed”! The last hour of the watch was one of the most frustrating of the race so far.  We now had enough sailing knowledge to be pro-active and work the boat but there really wasn't even the merest sniff of anything resembling a breeze to go on. To make matters worse as the dawn came, any signs of other yachts had completely vanished, which seemed to suggest that they had managed to grab some wind by being just a mile or so to the left or right of us. We went to bed as the other watch hoisted the windseeker in a vain attempt to get some movement going – hoping it would help to signal any pick up in breeze – however slight.

Woke up to find the other watch had barely done a mile and were still swinging around with the windseeker. They handed over on 000 knots all looking thoroughly fed-up.  I'd woken up with renewed vigour and immediately set about trying to get the boat moving; appointed a helm and then took charge of trimming the windseeker by hand, so I could feel any pressure from wind no matter how small. We managed to get a sniff of breeze and by trimming this way harnessed it and then worked with it. The whole watch got fired up and we kept our enthusiasm going with a series of speed targets to hit – first 2 knots then 3, then 3.5 then 4 by final hour we'd got up to 5.7 as our highest speed  (6 had been my final target).  During this time we'd also been watching some cloud coming in and had started to get things ready for a yankee hoist as the wind seemed pretty certain to arrive with the cloud. Pretty well as soon as Piers was up, the breeze picked up and we were once again dropping the windseeker, getting the yankee up and putting a reef in within a matter of minutes! Before we knew it we were wanging along at a great rate of knots!  None of us could quite believe the contrast in conditions from only a few hours earlier. It was another great example of how fickle the weather can be and just why you should never underestimate just what the elements can throw at you.