We have had an incredibly busy and productive 24 hours. While last night’s post “Wilderness” was being finalized Prospector was buzzing with activity.
For 24 hours we had been struggling with the light winds, sub 20 knots, and were losing ground to our competitors. We knew where to find more wind, but were reluctant to separate from the fleet to go get it. Finally, we decided that we had no choice. We had to go. The on watch crew executed the gybe and once again we were off to the north to find the low pressure system we have been playing with for the last few days.
Below decks, North Sails North Atlantic sail loft opened for business. We desparately needed to get one of either the A5 or A6 back to continue to be competitive. Looking the two sails over again, Henry offered to try repairing the A5. He told us not to get our hopes up but would see what he could do. Tery subbed in on Henry’s watch as Henry grabbed Scotty, went below and set up shop. The next four hours were the comical highlight of the trip.
We closed Prospector’s companionway to not blind the on watch crew as we turned on all the cabin lights so Henry and Scotty could see what they were doing. The duo grabbed one of Prospector’s floorboards to serve as a table. Scotty got out his magic bag of sail repair gear and they set to work. Sitting side by side, wearing their headlamps they cut away pieces too damaged to repair and used a variety of patches, sticky back sail cloth, needle and thread to make the repair. They amused themselves while they worked by telling jokes, often delivering the punch line in unison to ones they both knew, and singing songs, the best of which was their duet to The Doors song Riders on The Storm. They were hysterical, to the great amusement of the off watch crew, Colette and Larry.
They were also incredibly effective. Slowly but surely the pile of nylon rubble spread about them began to resemble something looking like a spinnaker. After a few hours work both went to get some needed sleep before going back on their next watch. The repair was mostly complete and would be finished the next day.
The on watch crews spent the night picking their way through a 15 mile squall line as we pressed on to the north. With every passing mile the wind blew stronger. At various times each of our different competitors would gybe on to our course, but never all of them at once. Tactically what we were doing was pretty risky, something we try to avoid.
Finally, finding the 30 knot wind field that we have grown to love, we gybed back to the east, pointing Prospector towards the finish again. We enjoyed another amazing day of good weather. Prospector picked up yet another nickname, Carbon Beach, as everyone on deck enjoyed the warm, sunny conditions. The crew worked relentlessly to get every ounce of speed out of Prospector. Sails went up and down, reefs went in and out. We tried every idea we could think of to get more speed.
The mainsail, damaged during one of our gybes in the early morning hours was partially lowered and repaired. Another Formula 1 style pit stop and incredible piece of work by Scotty with a big assist from the rest of the crew. Unable to sail downwind at the same wide angles as our competitors we were forced to sail higher to stay fast and keep up.
This required frequent gybes to stay in phase in very shifty wind conditions and keep pointed towards the finish. Gybing a beast the size of Prospector in 28-32 knots can be risky if executed poorly, but our crew work has improved day by day, gybe by gybe. Our talented and amazing crew pulled each manouevre off better than the previous one. There was just one little problem ruining our otherwise very special day. We remained stuck in 4th place despite all of the effort. Running out of nifty go fast ideas we decided to it was time to take a bit of a gamble. About mid day Henry completed the repair of the A5. It was back in one piece, a marvelous piece of work by Scotty and Henry.
We had been debating all afternoon whether we should fly it and when. At 2pm we decided it was time. Everyone was anxious as we rigged to set the A5. Henry told us that though it was back in one piece, there were no guarantees it would remain in one piece if we flew it. This sail can normally be flown in a 12-35 knots wind speed. We decided we would limit it to 22-28 knots, the wind range we just couldn’t fill with various combinations of our other sails
Once it was set to go we hoisted the A5. Our normally chatty boat went quiet as we all waited to see what would happen. The A5 went up without an issue, but luffed behind the Jib Top, lengthening the suspense. Bruce, LuLu (Lucien’s nickname) and Scotty wrestled the JT to the deck. Henry rose from his bunk to watch intently. Once the JT was down the A5 was sheeted in, filled and with a lurch pulled Prospector forward. Our boat speed jumped from 11-12knots to 14-16 knots under the bigger downwind sail. As it filled we got our first look at its newly repaired shape. Unbelievably, it looked almost good as new. A loud cheer rose from the deck as the crew celebrated. Henry and Scotty got pats on the back or hugs from the rest of their companions.
We were all thrilled as we hurtled down the track 2-5 knots faster and 10 degrees lower. We all new at once our chances for a podium finish, which had been diminishing despite all our efforts, had just improved immeasurably. We kept the A5 up for 4 more hours, until 6pm, when the wind built to 28 knots the top of our range. As a squall approached from astern we quickly got it down safely. A big improvement over the last time the A5 came down, when it was forcibly brought down in pieces for us.
We went back in to our night sailing JT/GS combo, had dinner and settled down for the night. The 4 hours with A5 had given us the difference maker we so badly needed. In those 4 hours we accomplished what we had been trying to do for the previous 20 hours, we were back in 3d in our fleet. Tomorrow morning at first light the A5 goes back up. We intend to leave it up until we finish.