I am sure anyone who has looked at the tracker in the last 24 hours will know that I am silently screaming. It's not just that I have been stuck in a wind hole; I am consoled by the fact this is not personal and Cali and Alan have suffered the same fate to the East of me. It's not our bad calls, just bad luck with the weather.
The thing that really hurts is watching the boats to the South, cruising up to us in good breeze. That smarts like a drop of acetone in a cut on your hand; only it doesn't go away. Every tracker update hurts a new. All those miles I truly battled to gain in Southern ocean conditions just melting away in Atlantic heat. It would be very easy to get despondent and to feel powerless now and so I have been trying to actively find positive things to do that will help me perform once this breeze fills in.
Yesterday I finally backed myself into enough of a corner to contemplate another mast climb. I'd done nearly every other job on the boat and the conditions were pretty much perfect. I have been sailing with either none or unreliable wind data for four weeks now and it is taking it's toll. I am tired through having to be more hands on with steering and I have struggled on navigation and decision making having no immediate reference of how strong the wind is and where it is coming from. From deck level it looked like something had hit the wind wand but the fact that I am getting some data to the deck suggested the wired connections were still ok. I could see through the binoculars that one of the cups from the anemometer was missing.
I really hate climbing the mast. I don't think that anyone likes it and I know in this race we have all been up and down like yoyo's and other skippers have climbed masts in terrible conditions so hats off to them. Even in 6 knots of wind and a light chop it scares the pants off me but I knew that if I could fix the wand it will make a big difference to my life and I had a choice yesterday, to sit round feeling powerless watching the three boats behind me romp North and eat into my lead or do something positive which would move me forwards, not on the water but giving better potential for what happens next.
When I have something big like this to do that I am scared of, I tend to sit around for a bit. I think about it. I try to imagine me doing it. To an outsider it must look like I have just given up, sitting staring into space. Then at some point in this little ritual I think I get embarrassed at my own procrastination, and without warning (sometimes even suprising myself), I will get up get my stuff together and just go and do it. Once I have started I will finish. It's always the starting that is the difficult bit.
It took me an hour and a half yesterday to climb the mast, remove the wand, inspect, change the cups on the anemometer and descend. It was terrifying. I was climbing up a rope pulled up to the masthead spinnaker halyard lock on the windward side and my main concern was being thrown around the front of the mast by a wave and then struggling to get back to windward again. For large sections of the mast there is some rigging to hold onto and I used this to both pull myself up and keep on the windward side. However in some parts there is nothing, just me and the mast. Here I was trying to use the mainsail to hold my position. Either standing on batten cars or pinch gripping the luff of the sail. Even in the mild conditions I was thrown around the front of the mast a couple of times and had some desperate scrabbling and swinging in mid air to get back to windward. During one set of aggressive little waves I had nothing to hold on to so did my best impression of a Koala wrapping arms and legs around the mast. The waves subsided and I tried to pull my limbs free to climb again and discovered that my right leg was now trapped between the luff and the mainsail track. My knee appeared to be too big to bring back through the gap in the other direction. The power in the main is so huge there was no way I could move the sail so my only option was to grit my teeth and physically pull my leg back through the hole. This I did with both hands, afterall there was no need to hold on I was stuck. Grinding my knee against the mast track I pulled it back through and now have some impressive bruises to demonstrate what a mast climbing hero I am. I afterwards adjusted my technique to push back and out with my toes on the track .. Koala is not to be recommended. The rest of the climb was pretty quick after this. I was scared enough to just want it over with and working at the top of the mast was far easier than the climb or the descent. I finally made it down to the deck, very bruised, a bit sunburned, dehydrated but feeling like I have made a positive difference and very sure I never want to go up there again.
The mission was a success. I once again have wind data though it didn't bring good news.
I hope that the breeze will fill in again today and as I am writing now it is looking more positive.
I am braced for some pain. We are about to start a stretch of 1000 miles reaching and you might remember that Medallia struggles against the more modern boats in these conditions. I don't have the righting moment or the powerful hull shapes to reach well in moderate breeze. The foiling boats can and will take off and leave me. I had hoped that the lead I'd worked so hard to develop through the Southern ocean, where the conditions allowed me to make gains, would provide enough of a cushion to get me through this section still ahead. But that is not to be. My wind hole has eroded these hrad won miles and I have little or no advantage left to play.
But Medallia is in good shape and I am still here, still fighting, still going to try and push the limits of what it's possible to achieve in a 21 year old boat. Every day we are out here racing there is an opportunity for me to do better. Now I have wind data I can catch up on my sleep, recharge my own batteries and then sink all my energy into good trim, the right sail choices and being on the pace all of the time. I have just as much resolve as I did at the start, though definitely my expectations are now higher. We are racing to the finish and I will be giving it my all. I might not be able to compete against the newer boats on speed over the next section but I can compete on effort, tenacity and bloody minded never giving up. We are still Game On!