Pip Hare this morning, "I was so glad to see the sunrise this morning. It's been a long night and if you look at my track you will see why. I'm having a trial run for the doldrums over here and with no reliable wind data it has taken a lot of human power to get through the night."
I spent most of yesterday underneath the heavy cloud cover from the semi permanent cold front that has been my captor for the last few days. As the afternoon wore on the cloud started to thin and the wind started to die as I approached the northern limit of the front and I knew things were going to get tricky.
The pilot had done well for the last few days steering to a compass course, but as the wind started to flake out and become shifty my boat speed fell. It's difficult to manage anything when you can feel the boat underperforming. From down below anywhere I can feel and understand it's every move;
Hit the wave at the wrong angle and you feel a loss of power and momentum with a gentle thud as the bow comes down, if the wind shifts forwards you feel the boat come upright and slow down. I might have my head down engrossed in any number of tasks but my subconscious is always registering speed through feeling. A lack of speed sets off thoughts in my head that I cannot override , they gnaw away at me endlessly until the situation is rectified.
By early evening is was clear that steering to compass on the pilot was just not going to work. The wind was too shifty, the waves in the wrong direction. With no reliable wind data I was standing on deck looking at the sails to understand which way the wind had shifted. Steering the pilot up and then down on the remote control. I was locked into that role, unable to sleep, eat, navigate … do anything at all for the moment I left the pilot the wind would shift or we would hit a wave and the ache in my head would return.
Pre-dusk, things seemed a little more stable and so I tried to bank an hour of sleep but the minute I had lain down, the wind dropped and the boat felt too flat. I got up and dropped the keel, lay back down and the wind shifted forwards. I steered the boat down a couple of degrees with the remote from my beanbag. The breeze picked up, we heeled over too much. There was no way on earth my brain would turn off enough to sleep so I embraced the fact my boat needed me.
For the first time in many many weeks yesterday I hand steered Medallia and it was magnificent. I took a cup of tea, some great sounds (Daft Punk and Muse) and sat on deck steering my way through the shifts and the waves for five hours, until night had fallen and my neck and back were tired and a big ugly cloud rolled over the top of us and stole all of the wind. Since then the night has been a mixture of rain, wind from every direction, no wind and general resolve breaking conditions. At least we are sailing again now.
My autopilot is such an incredible machine, when fully functioning with wind data it steers the boat so consistently well I have not needed to even think about picking up the tiller. The truth is that most of the time, the machine can steer better than me, it doesn't get wet, tired, cold or distracted and though it can't see the waves the multiple sensors are able to feel the acceleration and heel of the boat and judge exactly how to ride a wave. Thus far in the race the pilot has made me redundant as a helm, freeing up my time to manage the rest of the multiple jobs on the boat.
Despite being very tired and frustrated I did relish the opportunity to helm last night. I have always been a very active helm when solo racing. In all of my previous boats I have spent hours and days at the helm, locked into position, feeling every part of the boat. It gives me a truly deep connection with weather and conditions. You feel every change directly, become part of the interface that converts the raw potential of the wind to the refined directional power that is driving me to the finish. Taking the tiller in my hands yesterday alleviated the ache in my head; I was taking control, using my own brain to react to the many changes on the water, steering a way through the disturbed conditions that made a difference. I have not yet been totally superseded by a machine.
I can't hand steer for the rest of the race but as conditions become more stable the pilot will once again be king. Meanwhile I need to strike the balance between time on the helm, sleeping and all of the other tasks that need to be done. Right now the pilot is driving, it's been doing a great job so far but we just hit a wave at the wrong angle and my head is back in a knot. I can't ignore it, my concentration of anything else has now gone.