AN EVENTFUL NIGHT
Ian Walker and his crew are slowly tacking upwind towards Qingdao, following a night trapped in a sea of fishing nets. Nothing is coming easy for the squad on Green Dragon on this leg, but spirits remain high as they close in on the finish line.
Ian Walker reports from on board in this email, received at 03:50 GMT:
"It feels a bit strange being the only ones left out racing. For a start there is no reason to look at the position reports every 3 hours as we know where we are - well we do most of the time when the GPS works.
"This has been another frustrating 24 hours of slow progress when we just want to get to Qingdao. First we encountered winds 90 degrees out from the forecasted direction and in the 10 - 14 knot range that we have no suitable headsail for (due to the broken forestay), then we sat in virtually no wind for several hours South of Shanghai.
"We finally got going yesterday evening to be pinned back by a 2.5 knot current against us. Still we plugged away upwind off Shanghai for what seemed like days and worked up towards the Yangtze River. The water temperature has dropped to 7 degrees and it has been raining non stop with virtually zero visibility at night.
"Sailing upwind with no immediate competitors we can sail with 2 people on deck and 2 sitting in the hatch on call. As we got within 20 miles of the shore and close to PUMA and Ericsson 4's line, Ian Moore, navigator, shrewdly decided for us to tack out in case of fishing nets near the shore. We tacked to port and within 5 minutes snared our first net - we were 10 minutes too late!
"It took us over 2 hours to get free from net after net. At one point we were backing down to clear the keel and running into more nets backwards! Some poor Chinese fisherman has had a very bad night - so did we. We ended up threading our way out at 6 knots with search lights on the bow, a reefed mainsail and no jib up so we could easily back down or stop dead if we had to.
"Unfortunately for our shore crew one of the fishing lines has sawed its way through the lower part of our rudder - the job list is long enough without more work. Justin Slattery had to go over the side on a halyard to pull this one free -not a job I would have liked given the water temperature. He successfully did this as Anthony Merrington controlled the boat in reverse with full cant the wrong way on the keel in a semi-capsize position to try and keep Justin dry. To make matters worse we nearly washed some sails over the side in the process having not yet secured them after the tack.
"Anyway to cut an eventful night short we emerged from the fishing net trap at daybreak and have since then been bashing upwind in 20 - 25 knots wind. This is not what we wanted for our bow but the repair seems really strong so we are getting ever more confident.
"As I write this we have 250 miles to go dead upwind. Unfortunately the wind is due to drop which may stop us from getting there in daylight tomorrow. It is hard to average 10 knots upwind without all our jibs and a good breeze.
"But only a few days ago we were questioning whether we would get to Qingdao at all - let's not get too greedy."
Meanwhile, in Qingdao, the shore crews for Telefonica Blue, PUMA and Ericsson 4 are all hard at work, assessing the condition of the boats that finished last night and working up job lists. There's not a lot of time; the in-port race is just over a week away.