The Untold Story of Ocean Racing

Showers are a luxury. With 18 people crammed into a stripped down racing yacht, 14 of them sleeping on bunks in a room roughly 10 ft x 20 ft, and sailing in 100 degree Fahrenheit weather, you don’t stay dry for long! Further, with fresh water at a premium, and only one small faucet to use for showers, there is little opportunity to shower. Having said that, any squalls and associated rain that we pass through are a welcome respite. In addition to the cooler temperatures, the rain makes a welcome shower in tropical waters. Just make sure the rain doesn’t stop in mid-lather!

Mothering duty is another facet that is seldom mentioned. For 24 hours, two crew members (one from each watch) are responsible for cooking and cleaning for the rest of the crew. That means spending the day down below in the galley (kitchen) cooking meals over a stove and baking bread and cakes in temperatures that are often over 105 degrees! All this, with no breeze in the galley. During the day, the inside of the boat resembles a sauna with the heat and humidity. As such, there is little chance of staying even remotely dry down below.

That is perhaps the one common denominator between racing down the coast of Central America and racing across the North Pacific – the constant wetness. Having said that, I do prefer a 3,300 mile spinnaker run in warm weather to being tossed about in a “washing machine” for 6,000 cold miles, layered up so thick you can barely move.

Boredom can also rear its head, particularly in the wee hours of the morning. Standing at the coffee grinder hour after hour to trim the spinnaker every few minutes can quickly get old. Particularly at 4 am when the eyes are struggling to remain open. Having one of the “at rest” watch members reading poetry aloud does help a tad, but it’s not a nightly occurrence.

There are watch shifts as well when it is a struggle to get out of your bunk. Often with the heat, it can be difficult to fall asleep right away (or at all). Then all too soon, someone comes by to wake you up and all you want to do is go right back to sleep, your mind and body rebelling at the thought of getting up. Unfortunately, that is not an option so up on deck you struggle for another turn of watching the sail uselessly hang, waiting for a hint of a breeze to hopefully fill the sail.

But there are the beautiful moments as well. Meteoroids lighting up the nighttime sky as they streak by, sailing through a pod of hundreds of dolphins jumping and frolicking all around the boat, your first glimpse of birds seemingly standing on top of the water – soon clarified as birds on top of turtles, a pod of pilot whales leisurely swimming by the boat, radiant sunsets and memorable bright orange sunrises.

Ah, the joys of ocean sailing …

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4 thoughts on “The Untold Story of Ocean Racing

  1. Cathy O

    Hey Bro…
    Please DO Stay Awake on those long nights when your eyes and body are fighting the urge to sleep. You could always sing, but sing with someone else who can’t sing as well. LOL LOL 😉
    Really enjoying your updates!
    Have Fun and Be Safe!!!!
    Your Fav.. Sister.. hugs

    Reply
    1. Lawrence

      I am thinking about a sailing adventure to the Hawaiin Islands from L.A. CA and wondering what sort of problems I might run into out there and how to prepare. I think a 35 ft. Ericson will make it

      Reply
      1. Greg Kyle Post author

        It is normally a good run from LA to Hawaii but a lot depends on the time of the year. Storms can be quite strong in the Pacific. Having said that, there is a high that more or less sits over the Pacific from Hawaii to Southern California. For weather and route planning I would recommend getting pilot charts for the region and month you are sailing. In addition, spend some time looking at synoptic weather charts from NOAA. There is a link on my site or you can google NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Center.

        As far as preparing your boat, a good rule of thumb is to make sure all running and standing rigging and gear are in good shape with spare lines for halyards, sheets, etc which may (and often do) break at the least opportune times. One source I have used to make sure my own boat is set up for ocean sailing is the ISAF Offshore Special Regulations for Category 0 monohulls (www.sailing.org/specialregs). Granted, it does not sound like you are racing, but the regulations are an excellent guide or checklist for minimum requirements for ocean sailing/crossings.

        In terms of making sure you are prepared, I would strongly recommend a sea survival course. Also spend some time sailing a bit offshore in a few storms to become familiar with your boat (handling, reefing, etc) before you venture 1,000s of miles offshore. Know how to splice and repair sails and basic engine maintenance are also a strong plus.

        It can be a great adventure full of whales, sparkling seas and beautiful starry nights (meteor showers are breathtaking on the ocean!), and if you do embark on your journey I wish you the best of times! One final point I will make is something I was taught and took to heart while training for my clipper race – “Safety never takes a day off, because danger never has a holiday”. Best of luck and have fun!

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