With the wind now from the west, and the Volvo Ocean Race fleet heading east, today was about extreme downwind sailing in the Southern Ocean. The conditions have increased to where the line between sailing and survival becomes evident, a line that Dongfeng regrettably crossed today. Here is the team’s report…
“’Chinese crash gybe’ on Dongfeng – crew ok, nothing broken, but paid the price in energy and time,” reported Yann Riou from onboard. “Quite a few of us had never done one before, and we had to wait until we were on a Chinese boat to do it…”
It had been on the cards – Yann tweeted direct from the boat a few hours before, at the start of a very dark night – “30 knots of wind, very dark, shifty, gusts. Very difficult to drive now. ”
When you scream down the face of a wave in the pitch black, with only the blurred glow of the wind instruments to guide the helmsman along with his ‘feel’ and the apparent wind on the back of his head, it is very easy to steer the boat just that bit too low and go in to an involuntary gybe – this kind of ‘crash’ can happen very quickly, but take a long time to sort out!
Yann continues “Anyway. Pitch black night, boat ends up heeled on its side, and took two to three hours to put everything in order again. About 300 litres of water inside the boat via the aft air vent, then via my bunk, my sleeping bag and finally the entire boat.
“I’ve filmed a bit but it was really dark so no idea what the result of it will be like. At least a GoPro and a camera dead, as far as I am concerned. I’ll film a bit outside now, it’s incredible conditions. Then I’ll go to sleep. Haven’t slept more than 2 hours these past 24 hours. I’m exhausted.”
Best way to explain a ‘Chinese gybe’ – watch Team Russia do one in the 2008-9 Volvo Ocean Race, who had the decency to do their gybe during daylight hours: click here
With what was the windward air vent open, once the boat was pinned down on the wrong side, the water will have come straight in to the boat. There are dinghy style hatch covers that can be screwed in place – but equally they are there to let the air in to the fresh air starved interior of the boat, and it’s not often that you expect the windward side of the boat to be under the water in this way.
More news to come once Yann and the guys are back on track from this ‘little’ Southern Ocean classic moment.