Leg 4 Race 6 - Day 15 16th February

I'm now sleeping in my sleeping bag. In the space of 4 days I've gone from sleeping in nothing (well a t-shirt for decency's sake) to getting into my muslin sleeping bag liner, to lying on top of my sleeping bag and now I'm finally in it with the zip done up! We were told there would be a sharp change in temperature and conditions during this race – and they weren't wrong! It's staggering you can have such a dramatic change in climate without sitting on a plane for 6 or 7 hours!! I added an extra layer on night watch last night but was still a bit cold by the end of the watch. The winds that were temporarily strong seem to have decided they quite like hanging out here, as we are still dealing with gusts of up to 38 knots of apparent wind. This night watch was pretty well the same as the previous night. Still very dark (no stars out tonight, no 'Shopping trolley' constellation for me to gaze at), still huge waves, just noticeably colder. We have been set on one tack for a while now – heading further out East than the rest of the fleet. We're in 7th place but are not too disheartened as effectively (but for tactical reasons) we are moving away from the finish line whereas the other boats are going directly towards it. Piers believes we'll have a better wind angle on the run in, along with flatter seas out here so should ultimately be considerably faster once we tack back towards the finish line. We trust him and like the fact that he just doesn't follow his nearest rival boat.

So night watch last night was fairly uneventful. Much of it was spent sitting huddled in the cockpit, trying to keep warm while waiting for our turn on the helming rotation to come around. Mid watch we dropped the yankee 3 which meant a trip up to the bow to help gather and tie it down, however as the winds were so strong we tacked through the wind to back the sail to make it easy to drop on the deck and because our speed then also dropped, we managed to do the whole operation quickly and without getting drenched! Later on, the reefed bits of our main escaped from the line that was tying it to the boom. It was flogging like mad and apart from not being good for the sail, was also in danger of hurting someone. I can speak with authority on that subject as, being part of the 'tame the main' operation, the corner nearest me managed to thwack across my left hand with a considerable amount of force. We finished lashing it back up before I allowed to myself to go "Ow" many times – along with many other unrepeatable words! I turned to the tuck box for comfort and managed to find some vaguely medicinal chocolate biscuits – it's common knowledge that chocolate has many medicinal properties. My hand would have healed much faster had I been able to turn to my emergency bar of Fruit and Nut (this was precisely the kind of occasion it was meant for) however it was long gone and no carrier pigeons or nice RAF chaps have flown by to replenish stocks. So some "Giant" own-brand, cheaper than cheap chocolate creams (no cream and really not much chocolate either) had to suffice. At 7.45 – just 15 minutes from the end of watch, Kev noticed that the yankee 3 that had been tied down on the foredeck had partly come loose and was starting to fly out over the side of the boat. I think Kev was keen to let the on-coming watch deal with it but I was worried that once the wind got hold of a bit of it, it could pull the whole sail loose, so we crawled up to the bow with a couple of extra sail ties, hauled the loose section back in and lashed it down. During the process the inevitable large waves came over which had me almost doing breast stroke at one point – mid lash! So having stayed fairly dry, well only moderately damp, for 5 hours and 45 minutes I had to go and ruin it right at the end. I couldn't have been more wet if I'd sat fully clothed in a swimming pool! On the bright side – at least I was heading down below decks to a bowl of porridge, a slice of toast and jam and the welcoming arms of my 'oh, so warm' sleeping bag!

Today was very similar – the main difference being that once again you could see the enormous waves the boat was climbing. (Still not sure that's a good thing!) It really is quite something to be at the helm looking up at the bow of the boat and see it climb, and climb and still climb the almost vertical face of a wave that towers above you. You then have to be prepared to react when you're at the top. If it's got a steep drop off – it's a slammer and you need to take "slam avoidance" action. More and more today though, the waves have been more rounded and you can just slide straight down the back of them with a great turn of speed – it's better than the best ride at Alton Towers!

I did wonder if it was only my complete lack of prior sailing experience that was calling these waves 'big' but even Piers today commented that "you know you've got big waves when you think the wind has dropped and then you look up (and up and up) and realise you're just in the wind shadow of an enormous wave!". I guess that's confirmation!

The temperature seemed to drop again this afternoon. My mid-layer jacket was added to my other layers for the final 2 hour watch. I'd been trying to save the really warm stuff for 'when it gets really cold'. That time has come! The temp may be down but the mood is up. The afternoon scheds show that we have moved up to 5th place and have taken a lot of miles out of all the other boats. The plan is coming together! As I type this we are currently doing 10 knots of VMG (velocity made good – i.e. speed directly towards our destination), with only a tiny amount of sail area up. We are really flying off these waves! We hope we'll have another 1 or 2 scheds where we make a lot of ground on the rest of the fleet and then it will be a hard, final 3 day battle for the podium positions. Can we make this our first? It's what we're all working and hoping for.