Leg 7, Race 10: Seattle, USA - Panama City, Panama
New boat. New regime. Hopping across to the shorthanded Ichorcoal for Leg 7 and the race down the west coast of the Americas, it was game on. Settling into a new management style, fresh faces, new tips and tricks. And a lot of laughter.
Seasickness may have taken its toll on the crew, but the little crew that could put in a strong performance at race start leading in the first few hours after race start. After a couple of days upwind the spinnakers were up and down for the foreseeable future.
Tricky helming under kite, particularly at night, but the good ship Ichorcoal kept fighting away at the top proving to ourselves we can make it with the fastest boats. All in spite of multiple attempts to total our spinnakers including one where kite met keel. 36 hours, including a 14 straight stint on our sewing machine Doris and the lightweight kite was resurrected a la Lazarus. The mediumweight also had its misadventures, but we arrived with three kites out of three still available for use.
The intense heat and days becalmed were as much the enemy as our rivals with temperatures below decks soaring and sleep hard to find. A glistening sheen of sweat a constant companion - the glamour of ocean racing cannot be underestimated.
Two unfortunate wind holes unhooked us from the leading pack after running in the top 5 through the first two weeks, and we fought hard to cross the final finish line in variable conditions, our track resembling multiple figure eights. It was eighth place - a little disappointing following the highs of the majority of the race but an incentive for the next stage to New York.
The reward, a transit through the famous Panama Canal - where everything stands on a massive scale, our rafted yachts are dwarfed by supertankers. 77km, six locks, 10,000 staff, 300 pilots. Engineering on a grand scale and a rare opportunity to see one of the world’s engineering masterpieces.
The foundations have been laid for the run in home, we are back in the Atlantic at the business end of our race round the world.
Leg 7, Race 11: Panama Canal, Panama - New York, USA
A short race followed the Panama transit, with the tactical challenges navigating the Caribbean island chains offering multiple routes for the fleet. Each roll of the dice however failed to pay off this race as we tried repeatedly to climb the ladder.
Opting to pinch and sail high at the start, the wind shift required for this to pay off failed to materialise and left us playing high risk high reward gambles to fight our way back. Our Caribbean track however was mirrored by much of the fleet, leaving us unable to overhaul them.
The introduction of Tropical Revolving Storm Colin into the mix offered another opportunity to mix up the fleet. Finding ourselves flying along in the South West quadrant of Colin, with an exciting Yankee drop for which several of the team were awoken early and reminded of how splashy the foredeck can be after several weeks in the sun!
We had a lot of fun in the race despite the final result of 12th, rewarded with a flyby of the Statue of Liberty and teased with what’s to come in the Atlantic with a heeling ride into port and falling temperatures causing the outing of sea boots for the first time in a couple of months.
The race also offered a little visit on the radio from the mysterious ‘Warship 57’ and an ominous silhouette in the darkness. Close to Norfolk naval base, the US Navy were unsurprisingly padding about these waters and the white light coming at us from the horizon turned out to be just such vessel - crossing our track within close proximity. A few pleasantries were exchanged and no diplomatic incidents ensued, but it was a reminder of all the strange and wonderful surprises we have encountered on the race, from the natural to the human and everything in between.
Our last ocean crossing looms, three races remain, our final crew changeover has now occurred. We are on the ride home… and hungry for an elusive podium finish.