In the first night after the ARC PLUS – Rally – start we were pushing our luck. The tradewinds increased by the Canary Islands blew with up to 29 knots. We were dashing down the Atlantic swell with no reef in the mainsail and under spinnaker, listening to all kinds of sounds which arose from the speed of our Outremer 64 Catamaran. When she was above 20 knots, a singing was rising, a humming choir. The sound is beautiful, but threatening at once. And, as we were operating in a watchplan, it is difficult to rest when the singing comes and goes. it stirs your attention, when it is getting louder. You feel awake all of a sudden, your body is getting ready to act, even if you tell yourself: “22 knots are not that much, I could even do it with my bicycle!” You imagine yourself on nice summer day, cycling downhill with a summer breeze in your back. Why shouldn’t you make 40 km/h easily?
Shortly after I managed to fall asleep with these thoughts Matt was knocking on my door. He calmly said:
“We have been called.”
“Is it urgent?”, I asked.:”Or do I have enough time to get dressed in peace?”
“I guess, it is urgent”, he said.
Outside was uproar. The spinnaker was twisted around the forestay. It was impossible to get it down and the wind was getting stronger…
To be unable to get a sail down in higher winds, especially a spinnaker, is a nightmare. It means that you can’t stop speeding along. Imagine you are caught in a carriage pulled by ten horses, but the horses are mad and in panic, and you have no idea, when they will become tired or if your vehicle will fall apart before and you go astray.
I tried to stay calm, as I always intend on yachts, but really, it is difficult with a threat like that. The spinnaker had turned a few times around the upfurled genoa and looked like a gigantic hourglass. How the hell had it happened at all? And would it soon be torn to pieces, with these fluttering for days up there blocking our foresail? We were all standing on the foredeck of the catamaran pointing up the mast with torches. The yacht, steered by a processor, was running down the waves so fast that the whitewater was spraying up to us through the nets between the bows. It took us a few minutes to figure out a plan: We put a line around the lower part of the spinnaker and wrapped as much as we could, to prevent that the wind could catch into it. Than we turned the sail with 6 men around the forestay, until it eventually got free again. We could release the halyard and eventually got the sail down. After half an hour the situation was under control again. It was a miracle, that the sail was still intact. And that nobody was hurt and nothing was broken.
Morning came and we had only 50 Miles left to the African coast. It would have been a good oportunity for a stopover there, but we jibed and eventually had the Cape Verde Archipelago in front
of our bows again – even when it was still 700 Miles away.
Next day we were sailing beautifully along with the Atlantic swell pushing us. Remember when you were a kid, riding a sledge? The moment, when you let go to ride downhill? Sailing downwind feels a lot like that. Gravity is pulling you, waves and wind are pushing you ; the hills you are surfing down never stop.
Seabirds with enormous wingspan are flying trough the narrow valleys. And sometimes the dolphins come with their curiosity and strength. The water is gurgling and whistling along the hull. Nobody is in sight, not a single ship. Such a vast space and not a soul dwells out here, unlike in the big cities where masses live close together, with all cars, chimneys and electricity.
Right, you couldn’t live out here, unless you were a dolphin or so. But by passing through with a sailing boat you connect to the sea and her vastness. You can take this feeling home.
In the evening the wind increased. We had the spinnaker up again. This time it was my watch, and
it happened right in front of my eyes. When a gust came, it tore the sail apart. It sounded like a knife cut trough cloth. It was cut in two halfs: one still fluttering from the mast top. The other hanging on the sheets, down in the salty water.
It was a dark moment for our ambition to win the rally, that our biggest sail was gone…