Durban to Richards Bay and back
Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Cape2Rio Yacht Race is that, while it crosses the Atlantic and covers about 5 800 kilometers, teams can expect to sail most of that distance downwind. You may ask then, why the six of us spent just short of 27 hours on an upwind beat from Richards Bay to Durban over the long weekend.
The honest answer is that we had to get back to Durban and that we have no control over the weather. But there are various advantages to be gained through such an experience: for one we know which of us are susceptible to seasickness (everyone except Tawanda), we have newfound respect for the team who will be sailing the boat back from Rio – a mostly upwind journey - and we know how the team and boat perform under a little strain.
The downwind trip from Durban was completed in beautiful weather, with sun shining, swell from behind and some whale sightings along the way. We were warned that the beat back would be tough so we spent a bit of time resting, preparing the boat and ourselves before heading out at around 2pm on Monday. The wind was around 35 knots as we left the harbour but it was manageable with the storm jib and both reefs in the mainsail. We quickly settled into our watch rotation and I was to be up first with Michaela and T. This would be my first time helming at night and what an experience it was – first you lose sight of the tell-tales, then the jib and then the waves, you have to rely on ‘feel’ to steer the boat as you squint to try make out the instrument readings.
It really is an incredible experience sailing on a rough ocean at night, you’re isolated and you have to look after yourself. I can only imagine what it will feel like when we’re halfway between continents…
As it so often happens with experiences like these one seems only to recall images – flashes of memory from one’s tired brain. There are the endless white-capped waves off to leeward as we head out towards the ocean, the crash of the bow and the spray, Hearn feeding the fish with incredible gusto and then immediately beginning his watch without complaint and the beautiful warmth of the sun after a rather damp night.
We arrived back in Durban at around 4pm on Tuesday (8 hours behind our eta) with all the kit out to dry on deck and a steady 10 knots all the way to the harbour. There was a feeling of reassured trust in the boat and each other after the trip but also many things to still sort out before the race, not least of them being how much food we’re going to take (a genuine concern for Tawanda and I).
For now, it’s back to varsity and work – but my heart is still out there, surfing those waves, and trying it’s best to get the speed record!