Now completing the passing of the Tasman Sea, separating Australia and New Zealand, the ocean is like two wild wolves. One roaring, vertical and cruel, the other calming and humble.
The ocean wolf you get depends on how you feed it, you will never console it and unlike a dog, responds to no master and remains wild. The advice to avoid a particularly angry wolf up ahead was to slow down to 5 knots that led to the unprecedented Christmas rendezvous south of Tasmania. We thankfully avoided the 70 knot winds and 10 metre seas that raged.
Now we are once again going east, averaging 16 knots. Down to around 25 knots of wind we still have some massive leftover swells. All going well we'll ride this system halfway to Cape Horn which is the equivalent of 1 and a half transatlantic legs from here.
Our passage will take us 400 miles South of New Zealand's South Island near Campbell and Macquarie Island. I'm not sure how these places got their names but I'm guessing I'm not the first Irishman to sail through this part of the world. Campbell Island was once a huge sheep farm. I gather it was too rough here, even for the sheep. And Macquarie Island was once a whaling Station. Other than a few researchers it is now uninhabited. Oddly enough Macquarie Island is Australian territory very close to New Zealand.
And to my friends in Macquarie Bank - to whom I owe a large chunk of money - your risk analysts may be monitoring this log to see if I will come home safe and sound to repay the loans. Well it's not safe. I mean the sailing is not safe, but the money is. Roger Courtney and team have it in safe hands on dry land. The skipper, and Southern Ocean Residents Association President, could disappear into the ocean yet the funds would still be in safe hands. Thankfully my business seems to run very well without me.
And that's the problem with an entrepreneur, business owner, skipper doing the Vendee. The reason here is that most of my success has been down to my ability to delegate and finding great people to partner with. Now I'm 52 days into the hardest task of all, there's no one to delegate to. I have never worked as hard in all my life. There is no choice. You are totally on your own.
Meanwhile in addition to all the usual maintenance and sailing the boat, the voyage rolls on in what seems an eternity. We're getting closer to solving our computer problems thanks to John Malone who kindly offered his services through Facebook and has now spent much of his Christmas break talking to yours truly.
Happy New Year,
With advice to slow down in order to avoid the worst of a storm, we thought we would make the most of the fact three boats were in close company so decided to have our own Christmas Party. After 50 days of racing 24/7, continually trying to go as fast as possible and to get ahead of other boats, we called a truce, down sails, slowed down, and rendezvoused in the middle of nowhere.
Some 400 miles south of Tasmania, we exchanged gifts, and in my case sang some Christmas carols. I also gave Alan a memory Stick with over 100 movies and a cigar for which he was ecstatic.
On receipt he bellowed back “That will be the first cigar I’ve ever smoked,” As the youngest in the race he has to start sometime! Though he’ll be disappointed all the movies I gave him are respectable not the pornographic ones I told him to expect.
Our most unusual rendezvous under the banner of the Southern Ocean Residents Association was akin to the seen at the trenches in the First World War. Where we have sudden piece from passing storms this past three weeks in the Indian Ocean, 100 years ago the soldiers stopped shooting for a temporary peace in no mans land, met, shook hands, exchanged gifts, before going back into battle with each other.
Anyway I dispatched a small bottle of whiskey and a lucky leprechaun, but alas the throw was a foot short and despite gallant efforts from Eric it was lost to the Ocean.
All three of us had no headsails, and reefed mainsails, and for 36 hours we were going very slowly – to avoid sailing into a massive deep low pressure building south of New Zealand where the winds are set to reach 70 knots and the seas up to 10 metres.
It has been a deeply emotional and moving day. Here on the ocean alone, I’m really appreciative of the gifts from family and friends and the many Christmas greetings sent online.
This support is invaluable for the next phase as we make for the Pacific Ocean and the much anticipated rounded of Cape Horn. It’s a massive stretch of barren water ahead as we dive south again as we had to come up close to pass Australia, if you consider 400 miles close.
With the mast track now damaged at the first spreader it will be impossible to reef further or take the main down. Looks like there will be some interesting heavy weather sailing ahead. Meanwhile we still work on resolving computer issues.
Of course the Indian Ocean Residents Association now merged with the Atlantic Ocean Residents Association and we look forward to meeting our colleagues in the Pacific. With that in mind the Christmas Day presidential address was a very civilized affair with messages of peace, love and harmony.
To top it all off we encountered a school of dolphins. Not the normal ones we’re used to in Western Europe as they have a white stipe, but they look the same otherwise. As I stood on the bow of the boat they ducked and dived while I talked to them. I wouldn’t be surprised if tthey comprehended my incomprehensible conversation – they were clearly conscious of life on deck.
We’re in deep fog, visibility is down to a few yards. The wind has dropped back to 15 knots. It’s wet with a constant drizzle – yet I spent several very happy hours on deck.
It was the first time the wind was less than 20 knots in almost three weeks and back to a sort of normality as we power along some 400 miles south west of Tasmania.
I am fighting a psychological mid voyage crisis, the sheer isolation, and not knowing what will happen next keeps my humble brain in orbit. It is not helped by being on the backup autopilot, no computer and comms, without proper information it’s hard to compete but I’m lucky to be close to the other boats. On the positives at least the sat phone works.
The entire engineering department of the Southern Ocean Residents Association are working to solve all the various problems on board. Also with what seemed like supplies on board being in abundance now everything from paper towels to gas for the stove have to be measured to last so that we can complete the voyage. Also having enough diesel to be able to keep the battery charging is a concern complementing the hydro generators one of which is not working. On deck the big issue is not being able to reef the mainsail in heavy air.
And to think we’re not even half way. At times I despair, other times just exist. And now after many hours of hard physical work we’ve actually had a good day.
Setting the A3 spinnaker up alone is a major task. It starts with lifting the massive sail out of the forepeak, all 280 square metres out through the small fore hatch. Setting up the sheets and eventually the hoist. Normally a task for 5 or 6 on a boat this size.
It’s surreal here as we move along in the fog, totally alone, deep in the southern ocean. The fact that we are sailing along as a group is a strong comfort should something go wrong in this remote location.
A final thought - wouldn't it be fun if all of us in the group downed sails and got together on Christmas Day? A bit like the battle front in the First World War.
Happy Christmas to all.
In the absence of email on board we will pass on any messages to Enda over the satellite phone. Feel free to leave a message on Facebook, comment below, or email a message to firstname.lastname@example.org
He gets a huge lift from all the support so keep it coming!
Our human capacity to adjust to new realities is amazing, whatever that may be. Like losing an arm, or a leg, or in my case computer navigation system. Something you thought you could not do without.
Now I’m nervous and afraid. As we go along the bottom of Australia and prepare for the vast unknown of the South Pacific before it meets the Antarctic. It’s also disturbing to hear that in recent days we have lost two, possibly three more boats. One due to a collision, one losing a mast, and most recently our friend Paul Meilhat of SMA with a keel hydraulic problem.
But at least there is my surprise Christmas package to look forward to on day 50 at sea. It should be somewhere south of Tazmania – though I confess to digging into the Chocolates last week during one of the storms.
After our backup system failed to work I was disorientated. I said I could not continue, particularly with the internet connection to the outside world, no weather information, news on other boats and so forth.
Now a few days later I have readjusted to the new reality and back in our “chart” around the planet. The outside world will also be spared from pictures and videos of the SORA President Elect and all the antics on board the good ship Kilcullen.
While the race is secondary to completing the objective of finishing and promoting our sponsors and the Atlantic Youth Trust. Nonetheless there is a strong desire to be in there, stay with the group, and have a respectable placing to do justice to the flag, team and boat.
There was a quiet satisfaction in passing Rich Wilson the other night on Great American IV. A deep thinking brilliant man, he has a degree in mathematics from Harvard and MIT and an impressive schools programme with 300,000 kids following his adventure.
Meanwhile rather than looking at what is not working, looking at what I have is a satellite phone, and a boat that’s functioning and we have a GPS position and paper charts. Also the race committee will allow us to get weather information by phone. We’re also constantly looking to find solutions and make do with what we’ve got. Also on the positive side with the exception of reefing problems on the main (which is very important in storms), the rest of our ship is in good shape and my daily routine and maintenance programme is never ending.
Finally, I learnt of a message from a young follower in Paris today, Milos. Sadly I'll have to wait until my computer is back up and running to see the card but thank you. It's somewhat strange to think you're all at home following this adventure and I can assure you it means a lot to me. The complexity of getting these logs to you is now greatly increased but I will endeavor to keep it up.
With two nasty blows in quick succession we had a tiring few days. Including a bad knockdown our computer navigation system crashed, meaning it’s back to the time of “steam engine”, this log was recorded over the sat phone and we are using paper charts to navigate.
Very often after a bad patch you feel that’s it, finished – however resilience to recover and mend things I decided to get away from the ice exclusion zone, though that’s the shortest and windiest route, and get a couple of hundred miles towards Perth, “wouldn’t that be a great place for Christmas in the height of their summer.”
Now two days later following a hike south we’re back in the race again, powering along at 15 knots in 22 knots of wind, although sailing a little blind. The sun has returned and it has warmed up – three layers down to two.
The first blow was hard going. Miserable. Overcast. Cold and wet and living constantly on the edge wondering would that next fall and wave be the one? Then we had a resbite for 10 hours before it raged in again with the windspeed reading 50 knots at times.
I was in my sleeping bag when I heard a roar and the side became the roof as I scrambled to try and find my Dubarry boots. Whatever else, even stark naked, without good boots to climb and crawl to take action I’m helpless. After a clatter below I climbed out topside it was tranquil, as the boat was on her side effectively there was no mast or sails to catch the wind, here the cantilevered keel makes this worse, with the main backed and jammed against what was the weather runner. So first I triggered the keel, and slowly released the runner, making sure to pull back on the lazy jacks, otherwise it would catch in the main, eventually we got moving again and set about sorting out the mess.
It shook me. Later on deck sorting out a sheet, as I stood between the mast and daggerboard, the nose of the boat dived into a wave and a wall of water dragged and slapped me into the daggerboard, effectively saving me from going over but mu leg did slip, straining my pelvis but was lucky the damage was not greater other than strained ligaments.
Ranging from fixing the hydro generator, splicing some line, fixing the starboard main winch, and so forth, we still do not have the computer up and running, backups are a problem. Hopefully it will be ready for Christmas, if not we can continue but somewhat handicapped and since we are getting the basic information the race committee have given formal permission for me to get weather information by phone.
Meanwhile the race trundles on, my only contact is by phone and the regular Southern Ocean Residents Association Meetings, as different parts of my mind argue, play games, and entertain itself.
Now as Kilcullen takes the southern path through our 'current depression', having passed a reported iceberg further north, they say that life on the ocean wave is romantic.
Well going to bed in your long johns, top layers, huddled in one sleeping bag, inside another sleeping bag with a sleeping cap to boot - and one eye almost always on the compass and wind instruments - would swiftly shatter any romantic notions.
Let alone a Summer's Day here with SORA - The Southern Ocean Residents Association - I'm sure, as light is day, if this is their Summer - I would rather have two 'mothers-in-law' than spend winter here. Mind you, being absence and abstinence do make the heart grow fonder. And like the madman replied when asked why he was banging his head against the bed post "sure its great when you stop."
And that's how I sleep in the cold Southern Ocean from time to time. Always in an extra alert position to movement changes in the boat - different to the normal battering, clanging and pounding in the waves. Like a musical instrument, the musician instinctively, like the sailor, knows if there is something not quite right. Lovers are the same.
Day 38 was more of the same, a steady 20 to 22 knots, 120 degrees and due east in an overcast sky - clearly with trouble brewing with 40 knot winds expected shortly. As outlined we have elected to sail through the bottom of the depression while other boats have opted to go north.
Our risk here is that the wind would move more North and East meaning that we have little sea room to run before it and avoid the Ice Line. Of course, the advantage is that we would sail a shorter distance and gain ground on some of the boats ahead, on their northern route, taking the top end of the depression. Determined as we are not to mind the race, just to finish, it is tough to suppress those competitive juices.
As a contrast to storm watching, now that your SORA President (Elect) is totally removed from the so called 'land-of-the-living' for almost 40 days, we did a live TV interview, direct to Race Headquarters, alongside the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Her Excellency, Geraldine Byrne Nason, our highly regarded Irish Ambassador to France, was in the studio for the interview. Kindly facilitated by Commander Marcus, we talked directly and 'piosa beag as Gaeilge', Ireland's relationship with France, the maritime the passion and emotion for the Vendee linked with the ocean and adventure.
Sadly, I learned of the death of the Poet John Montague. Appropriately we finished our live Indian Ocean link, with the final stanza of his poem, 'Wild Water' - Born in Tyrone in 1929, JM was essentially Ireland's poet Laurate, he lived his final years in Paris and was buried in Dublin this week.
"luminous, bleached -
that light in the narrows
before a storm breaks"
President Elect( Self)
Southern Ocean Residents Association
Lat 48 08 South
Long 79 17 West
Rather than stop in the lee of the Kerguelen Islands, in order to sort out our mast halyard problem, the South Atlantic Residents Association elected to do it on the green open ocean. It was completed at personal cost; a mast climb in some 20 knots of wind and a big rolling sea.
Without solving the problem, it was like driving a car with one gear - and in particular with a big storm ahead, we needed to be able to set our smallest J4 sail and the J3. This was the lesser evil, based on advice from Commander Marcus.
To say it was a nightmare would be an understatement - it was exhausting physically and a massive psychological effort to pull one's self up a mast rolling around in the ocean. And while I did a short practice climb before the start, this was totally different and I was terrified - but it had to be done. As they say, "nothing like a hanging" to focus the mind.
It took several hours to recover from the slow cautious climb, using special mountaineering equipment. I had though I knew how it worked but could not, however a guidance illustration from Commander Marcus at base solved this.
What had been a simple problem, the breaking of the Lazy Jacks holding up the boom, became a complex matter. It was the use of the J4 Halyard to hold the boom up and when this line broke, the halyard went out of control wrapping itself around all the other halyards and the broken Lazy Jacks and even around the head of the furled J3 making it unusable to boot..
Again, properly underway, we got back on track and passed the Kerguelen Islands in the black of night. They named after the French explorer of the same name in 1772. Even to go there then was an incredible achievement - given the ships they had and types of underwear to keep them warm.
2,570 square meters - or about 60 X 70 miles, they are regarded as one of the most isolated places on earth.
They have no residents as such, like Tristan da Cunha in the Atlantic - just some, perhaps mad, scientists undertaking research. By all accounts a horrible climate, they are within a district of France. Historically it was a base for whaling and sealing but no more.
Meanwhile our weather forecast is not good. There is a massive low coming through - some boats have opted to go North to go over the top - we are now committed to going along the bottom close to the ice exclusion zone - it will be a rough ride but we're up for it.
It is with the prospect of reaching Cape Leeuwin and South Australia within a week, in time for Christmas - mind you the closest to Australia we are likely to get is 400 miles - headed for New Zealand and Cape Horn.
President Elect (Self)
Southern Ocean Residents Association
Lat 47 51 South
Long 71 09 East
THIS is hard. So that I can never, ever do something like this again, I will sign a legal binding document and give it to somebody in trust so that they can stop me from ever, ever, ever again doing something like this. It is tough, it is cold, it is wet and to think I did it with my own 'free-will' to live on the edge with constant challenges. The mind boggles, 'tis bonkers.
That said, I am thrilled to have survived this far. It has been an extraordinary adventure and personal journey, psychologically and physically. To boot, a good way to get fit! I am lucky and honoured to fly the flag and be in a position to have a go. The race organizers do a brilliant job. Thanks Laura Jacques and team. It is just wonderful to be part of and feel the emotional support, passion, celebrating the environment, the ocean, man against the elements and all that.
From reports some other skippers seem to have it tougher. I feel for them and note Conrad Coleman - on 100% Naturally, who has been performing extraordinary feats. And taking a line Mich Desj', two-time winner of the Vendee Globe, who says that you need to be mentally prepared for one major problem per day.
In one such problem on board Kilcullen, a mirror would have been useful, one which is on the "we forgot list." A sheet was jammed around the rudder and I could not see how or why. It was dangerous on the rudder and would not come clear. It would have been handy to look around the edge to see the problem.
In the end, we did an Alex Thomson. Namely canted the keel the wrong way and hardened the sails for the boat to heel and go more upwind. This worked. She was remarkably steady going along at an angle of about 60 degrees.
Then I climbed out over the stern and stood on the aft ledge and the port rudder was clear out of the water which I was able to stand on. Later that day a starboard sheet caught itself around the hydrogenator. Not as extreme, but another problem to be solved.
And having set out just of get around, it's not in my nature not to race or compete and to be 15th is just grand. Mr Motivator. And its been brilliant racing working to stay ahead of the American Rich Wilson, Alan Roura from Switzerland and Eric Bellion of France.
When the wind goes lighter we close up - and I suffer not being able to fly my asymmetrical sails. At some stages, we have been extremely close - we chat by email. At one time, I had warm VHF conversations with Alan and the mutual respect and support for what each is going through is powerful.
Our next landmark are the Kerguelen Islands, about 600 miles East. I am contemplating whether to pull in there to sort out my halyard problems and climb the mast.
After that its Cape Leeuwin off Australia the 2nd of the big 3 and after that its Cape Horn. Like eating the proverbial elephant, each day a little bit at a time.
Lat 44 54 South
Long 55 40 West