Saturday, December 22, 2007

Hatfield's Spirit of Canada crosses the finish line in the BtoB

From the BtoB website - Ralph, Montreal Sailing

Rich Wilson and Derek Hatfield round off the Transat Ecover BtoB

A relieved Rich Wilson crossed the finish line in Port-La-Forêt this Friday at 13:22:34 UTC and an exhausted Derek Hatfield followed suit at 16:20:21 UTC to take a much deserved 11th and 12th place respectively. With Dee Caffari arriving safely in La Coruna at 2037 UTC the same night, thanks to the Spanish tug boat Ibaizabal Uno, this intriguing Transat ECOVER BtoB 2007 thus sadly draws to a close.

It’s over! All the racers still competing in the Transat Ecover BtoB have arrived in Port la Forêt, after this return race between Salvador de Bahia, Brazil and Brittany, NW France: 4,120 miles which have dished out very different conditions for the fifteen solo sailors that set off on 29th November at 1400 UTC off the Yacht Club de Bahia. Close-hauled, eased sheets, a little downwind, a doldrums where each competitor got something different, a long climb up the edge of a zone of high pressure in powerful tradewinds, then a zone of transition which let the leaders through and left the backrunners floundering. In short, a race full of twists between the top trio (Loïck Peyron, Kito de Pavant, Michel Desjoyeaux) with some last minute surprises such as Foncia’s collision with a trawler forty miles from the finish and Dee Caffari’s dismasting just miles from the finish, as well as a whole host of damage on nearly all the remaining monohulls…

Rich Wilson: “It’s really a big relief to have made it into port! I'm not sure if I enjoyed it! It was very hard. A couple of nights ago we had a lot of wind. The motion was very violent and it was very physical. Not surprising I guess when you head into the Bay of Biscay in December. I’ve learned a lot about the boat certainly. I’ve basically spent the past 3 months sailing on it as we started off by delivering the boat across the Atlantic from Massachusetts for the TJV. I’ve done 14,000 miles since October 6th! That’s a lot of sailing and I’m really tired.

The little trio at the back of the fleet really got pounded off Finisterre. As the second low hit it was complete chaos, like bombs going off underneath the boat every 30 secs. These boats have got so much buoyancy that when the waves hit it's the boat that moves into you. The edge of the chart table nearly went into my face on numerous occasions. You can really get hurt out there. My legs are the most tired of all as you have to brace yourself in every possible direction the whole time.

Inevitably there were high points in all this. The stars, the flying fish, the dolphins in the multiple doldrums we had off the Azores with very clear water and no wind. I called Derek (Hatfield) around the equator as I saw a sail on the horizon and I emailed Dee after she dismasted. I just said to her how much I admire her as she started off behind us (after suffering from furler problems at the start) and then just kept coming back on us. I had some extra diesel and wondered if she might need it but she had everything under control. When somebody dismasts near you, you really start to worry about your own rig. I had shroud issues during the TJV so during this race I stressed about the rig the whole way. In the big storms I remember very vividly sitting there with my hands over my face waiting for my mast to fall.

I’m certainly going to work on increasing the comfort onboard as there is simply no place to recover on the boat and after around 58 days on the water that starts to take its toll. The sail handling and being able to take reefs from the cockpit are really good improvements on the boat and certainly made life a lot easier.

It's been a hard slog though and I think those of us that have been out on the water all this time in this race deserve attention too. As Bill Rogers, an infamous marathon runner in the US, said at the end of one particular marathon: "I put 100% into this race for 2 hours 10 minutes, so just think about those who have given 100% for 4, 5 or 6 hours!" The new boats in this fleet are in a class of their own, they're just gone; they just disappear over the horizon. We don't have the sponsors or the shore crews and that's fine but it's a different ball game. I haven't even thought about Christmas because I'm a bit superstitious about that kind of thing when I'm at sea. All I've been able to focus on of late is one single question, not why do these boats fall apart but how do they stay together!?"...

Derek Hatfield (Spirit of Canada): “Well here I am! It’s been a struggle all the way to the end. It just wouldn’t let up. For the past 4 days I’ve have 30 – 40 and then 28-30 knots today. At 40 knots the boat banks really hard and just bangs constantly. I’m bruised and battered because of the movement of the boat. You feel so weak. The boat is very jerky. There's always lots of motion and action. It feels really unstable and you wonder if you're getting weaker or whether the boat is becoming more unstable and your balance goes too. This was tougher than any of the legs in the Around Alone. It's a very physical boat. Part of my problems were down to lack of preparation. I wasn't fully prepared leaving Canada for starters.

The automatic pilot issues were really hard as it would do surprise tacks or gybes at will. I was constantly on tenterhooks and could never relax. I don't know if there was a flaw in the automatic pilot or if it was to do with the sizing. Whatever it is it needs to be resolved because you can't race if you can't relax and shut down at some point.

This is my first race on an Open 60 so the learning curve has been very steep. I’m not in the best shape physically either and I’ve also been concentrating on raising sponsors and finance instead of spending quality time on the water. My sail handling has improved but there are a lot of improvements I want to make. The boat was only at about 70% of its potential if not less and a lot of that is down to me not being ready and lacking experience. I had issues with the headsails too - I was surprised by how easily they get damaged and a lot of the damage occurred when taking them down or furling them. The first sail I lost was the genoa, but that was down to hydraulics problems. Then over the past few days I lost the solent and the staysail in quick succession - the clew blowing out in both of them. I ended up under storm jib over the past few days and was delighted to see Michel Desjoyeaux and his whole team welcome me in this evening and make sure I got in safely with the tide.

I haven't had any weather files (MaxSea issues) other than 3 tiny short range forecasts, which has led to some drastic tactical errors. I have to say though, the level of the leaders is astonishing! It's been a really rude awakening. They're in a different class of boat and have very different amounts of experience. To be honest, it’s unnerving to try to play the same game as them. I shall take all that I've learnt from this though and move forward. I have a lot of financial and physical hurdles ahead and to play a tough game like this you yourself have to be tough. Right now though I'm looking forward to Christmas in France with my family!"

Dee Caffari (Aviva): “Today has been a waiting game as the Spanish tug made her way to my aid. At 15.30 UTC this afternoon the navy bid me farewell and the tug guys took over. They took me under tow in a difficult sea state and began guiding me to Spain. It is slow going but conditions will continue to improve as the wind continues to drop and the sea state settles, so hopefully we can increase our speed and get to La Coruna where the boat team is waiting and more importantly Harry is there to give me a cuddle because I need one. In the mean time I shall continue to try a fight the rudders, as one is twisted since the dismasting and get the boat to follow the tug without me having to hand steer all the time.”