Leg 4 Race 6 – Day18, 19th February

The sea state is now slightly calmer, the night clearer but also colder. We're now down in 7th position, which is hard to take when we have been working the boat so hard. We gambled on coming further east in order to get slightly stronger winds and a better run in towards the finish line – however the lighter winds that we hoped the rest of the fleet would get don't appear to have hit them. Certainly not significantly enough to make a difference. Although it looks like we've chosen a longer route we've had to tack far fewer times so the distance travelled is probably comparable. We just didn't get the wind shifts as predicted. Australia are 42 miles ahead and although we are still taking miles out of the other boats it's not the gains we were hoping for.

Night watch started well although it was obvious early on, that a repeat performance of a night head sail change was on the cards.  This time though I arranged with the opposite watch that we would wake a couple of them for extra effort as we were short of hands.  Just before 10pm it was time to tackle exactly the same scenario we'd had the night before. With two additional hands and a much calmer sea it was a very different story. The hour and half battle of the previous night was reduced to an extremely efficient 11 minutes 22 seconds – I timed it!  My self confidence and self respect was restored and the rest of the watch passed smoothly and with a smile!

The day was brighter and for a spell the sun made a very welcome guest appearance. We all applauded loudly and requested an encore – which the sun seemed happy to provide on several occasions as the day went on. Hats came off for a few brief minutes and we all enjoyed a few hours of respite from being wet. Boots and oilies started drying out and body temperatures rose to a more comfortable level. It was a grand day for Charlie to celebrate her Birthday and the usual banners, balloons (this time with flashing lights in them) and cake was rolled out. 
The down side of this respite from the bitter cold is that the wind has also dropped right down. We've been increasing sail area all day but the winds have gradually dropped from gusting 26 knots right down to 8, 9 and 10 knots. It's very disappointing to have our progress slowed so much. We are just hoping that the rest of the fleet are also being affected by the same light winds – although I do have a slight sinking feeling that this race is now running away from us again.

The wind shift in direction and strength meant a busy day watch. Within 4 hours we hauled up our biggest headsail – the yankee 1 (a monster of a sail to move around in terms of size and weight), then dropped that in favour of the mid-weight spinnaker, then when the winds started to pick up peeled that off to the heavy-weight spinnaker, and finally when we couldn't hold the right angle with that went back to the yankee 1 and staysail. I swear we barely stopped to draw breath for the whole 4 hours! We certainly weren't cold! It was a tough 4 hours for my little brain having to stay 2 steps ahead of all of this, leading the evolutions, and switching from spinnakers to headsails which require a completely different rig set-up. It all went really very smoothly though and was good fun too.

By the start of night watch at 8pm the wind has almost completely died. The headsails are wallowing and the main and boom flapping and groaning as a puff of winds fills the sail and then a wave knocks the wind out of it again. Because it's calm and therefore warmer the whole watch is now on deck and sitting on the low side to try and help the boat lean and help any wind energy be used for forward motion.

We soon get moving thanks to some kind back clouds that move across the sky and supply some healthy gusts of wind. The wind chill drops the temperature and I'm rotating the watch through on and off deck spells again. I'm on deck all night easing the main and traveller and calling the numbers for the helm to keep us tightly on course.  Our VMG  (Velocity Made Good) – to the finish line is now 9 knots. We are hopeful that we may still make good ground and while Australia probably has first place sewn up we might just squeeze a podium finish – as long as the other boats are wallowing in light winds!  There is a fair bit of shipping around – a few big tankers
that we see well in advance on our AIS system in the Nav station – and smaller fishing vessels that loom out of nowhere – they don't always have the electronic systems on board so you get no warning other than seeing their lights getting nearer and nearer!

We had a pair of trawlers heading straight towards our port beam in the early hours. Their course didn't appear to be altering and we were restricted by the wind. I had to resort to getting out our hand held flash light on deck – shining directly at them to attract their attention and then shining it on our sail so they could see we were a sailing vessel.  It was all very James Bond and added some excitement for 20 minutes or so! They passed behind us in the end – and I'm sure we must have been a pretty strange sight to them out here in the Yellow Sea.