Leg 5, Race 7 Day 19, 20th March

I really wasn't looking forward to night watch last night. The sea was choppy, it was freezing and so dark you couldn't see the mast of the boat from the cockpit. Sailing in those conditions is always slightly surreal – you could be anywhere, sailing in any direction with any number of things around you just out of sight. The only light came from my fallen stars - the phosphorescence – as they danced just beneath the surface of the waves that gushed past. We were still splitting the watch in two so we had half the watch up on deck and half below, thawing out for an hour each at a time. We put in a reef early on and as the wind picked up further and the boat got harder to handle we decided to drop the Yankee 3 head-sail and just stick with the stay sail and the reefed mainsail. Because it was pretty wild – especially on the bow, the plan was to “hove-to” to stop the boat and make it flat and easy to drop the sail and make it safe quickly. I was on the helm and had to turn the wheel hard over to get to hove to – which is where we then sat for the drop – all according to plan! The issue came when mission accomplished, I tried to bring the boat back on course, to find the wheel was completely jammed and wouldn't move in either direction. After a few minutes - during which the guys had to make sure I wasn't just having a blonde moment (!) - we established that the steering was indeed jammed and we were wallowing at the mercy of the wind and sea!  Brett and Tom dived into the lazarette at the stern where the steering mechanism was housed and immediately set about unjamming it and then effecting a 'Bodge it & Scarper' repair on the faulty stopper!

The whole process took around 2 hours and went across watch-change over. It was another set-back and while not necessarily difficult to deal with, it was frustrating and slightly stressful – especially without the calm reassurance of Piers. Once again his absence was felt keenly amongst us all. It was also another reminder that this is a tough challenge and whether or not we feel we've had more than our fair share of set backs, the challenges will keep on coming.

The winds switched round today so we were finally able to switch from sailing on a reach to sailing downwind with a poled out head-sail. We'd been heading south like it was going out of fashion to try and put some distance between us and an intense low pressure that was looming – bringing some pretty ferocious winds. However we now felt we'd put enough distance between us and it and we could change angle and start heading East to California again.  With the Yankee out on one side of the boat and the main eased right out on the other the ride was much more comfortable; flatter and easier to move around – especially below decks.

At around 6pm we crossed the international dateline and also moved DMT forward an hour. So what was 6pm on 20th March in an instant became 7pm on 19th March and we would get to relive a whole day all over again! It was a very bizarre concept and we joked about how this time, we'd be ready for the steering to jam and the boys would have the relevant nuts and spanners ready in their pockets! To mark the crossing of the dateline we'd already arranged with the SoA crew that we would hold a 'Blind Date' special between the two yachts and so at 7.30pm we gathered around the VHF to take part. I was one of a panel of 3 prospective dates for “Bruce” from the Aussie boat to choose from. I was up against some strong competition but he finally choose me – or should I say  'Super Sail Repair Girl' - for his Blind Date. I think it was the promise of being tied up in Sticky Dacron repair tape and then given a flash of my Bobbins that sealed it!

The first hour of night watch passed fairly uneventfully – we had about 15 knots of breeze and while the sea was getting a bit lumpy the conditions were pretty easy going. However in the space of 20 minutes we went from having 15 knots to having gusts of up to 50 knots of wind. As soon as we felt the wind start to build, the whole watch was on deck, gybing and then dropping the Y2 but before we could do anything else we went into a crash gybe - the force of which snapped two preventers and the boom vang clean in half and had us all hitting the deck at lightning speed as the boom swung across the boat! Poor old Kirsten, who'd been on the helm went into shock, so Tom took the helm and Brendan took charge of half the watch making the boom safe while I took charge of the other half finishing tying the Yankee 2 up and then going straight to 3 reefs in the main so we had minimal sail up. The weather by now was pretty wild so you had to had to holler at the top of your voice to be heard only a couple of feet away – which made progress slow but everyone got stuck in and soon we had the boat more stable and snapped lines out of the water again. Brendan said he'd never witnessed a wind build quite so fast before – it was certainly a huge change in conditions and I think we could safely say that the low we'd been expecting had arrived and with some style!