Clipper RTW – Leg 3: A lesson in temperature, by the Southern Ocean

Cape Town to Albany, WA. Bloody long way. Lot’s of nothing. New skipper, new menu though, what could possibly go wrong?

So two hours after starting, we were slowly making our way back into port, issues with our rig tension and a crack in a chainplate forcing us to turn back for repairs, as the rest of the fleet blasted out into the Southern Ocean.

Angle grinders can fix anything…

Over 40 hours passed in Cape Town while the issues were remedied, and we were finally on our way…

The Agulhas current… Made for a bumpy ride!

It took a good 48 hours before we were clear of the shallower depths that exaggerate the effects of the fast moving water, and the sea state began take a more structured and predictable set. The more stable conditions allowed us to get to work with some spinnaker action, and make good miles in the right direction. The swell was certainly larger than what had been previously experienced, and made for exciting helming, with regular surfs into the twenties of knots.

As usual, the system of sleep, sail, eat, repeat soon kicked in, and in no time at all the galley was churning out regular, good food, keeping the wet and increasingly cold deck topped up with fuel and high spirits.

This was the first time since leaving London that the temperature had got really cold, and it was definitely noticeable on deck. Watches were rotated between the deck and below to keep people warm, and long periods on the wheel would regularly leave the helm with no feeling and painful chilblains in their hands. It still doesn’t quite compare to a motorbike ride from London to Falmouth one cold November evening, which still stands as the coldest I’ve ever been, ever, but it wasn’t far off.

A windswept seascape set a dramatic backdrop to our little sailing boat.

The second week brought with it conclusive proof of something we had feared for a while. Team Garmin was excellent at finding, attracting, and then retaining large areas of light winds, and generally boat-slowing weather conditions. The cold remained, but sea state and wind abated. Always looking for the positive though, it gave the perfect environment for Skipper Ben to do some extensive tuition on some of the finer points of helming and kite trimming, as well as continue to grow his rather fine moustache, which was excelling in the benign conditions.

It was around this point in the trip when Ben woke me up with words that went loosely along the lines of “watermaker’s broken, you’ve got to fix it or we’re all fucked”. Nothing like a cheerful pep talk to get you out of bed at 3am. Our watermaker (arguably one of the single most important items of equipment on board) had decided to blow up it’s low pressure electric pump. Steve had tried hitting it with a hammer, but decided that the more refined touch of an electrician was necessary. When they couldn’t find him, they got me out of bed.

After a few hours of carefully taking the pump apart and distributing all the components around the nav station, the commutator was painstakingly cleaned, and the carbon brushes readjusted to give the necessary electrical contact again. Reassembled, and with the gentlest of taps with a hammer, we were back in action and making water again. The most notable feature of this whole endeavour was not that people seemed to actually believe I knew what I was doing, but rather the fact that I managed to keep that pretence up the whole way through taking the thing to pieces, and did in fact fix it! Blissful ignorance on their part I suppose. A bit of advice about being in a position of responsibility I recently received from another skipper rings true; “If you don’t know what you’re doing, bluff!”.

Dusk watch.

It was also about this time Ben decided to keep us firmly grounded as to the precarious position we had all willingly put ourselves in, by reminding us that nearest people to us should we need assistance, were most likely on the International Space Station, and therefore would be unlikely to be providing any help.

Luckily we were able to deal with this quite impressive spinnaker twist without assistance from NASA. It did in fact come down much more easily that any of us expected!

Wind up, and still fair weather, progress was good, and we had in fact made up a lot of the time lost from our delayed start. We were never going to be contending for anything but last place, but it still felt good to have reduced that gap from 40 hours to less than 12.

As we nearer the Western coast of Australia the wind increased significantly, and with the combination of that and decreasing depth, the world got bumpy and wet once more.

Still, nearly home for many of the Aussies on board, so spirits were high.

Murph, with his splendid facial hair.

I, in the meantime, had a little lie down and some breakfast in bed.


We arrived into Albany just after 2am, to a fantastic reception. People had stayed up all night, keeping barbecues hot, beers cold, and provided one of the best welcomes we had all year. We were furnished with fresh steak, beer, more steak, and more beer. A brilliant end to a long and cold few weeks. Leg 3 - Cape Town to Albany.jpg


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