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Cape2Rio: Scarlet Runner shares the highs and lows of their journey

Scarlet Runner's skipper, Rob Date, signs the Cape2Rio skippers chart. (Credit Trevor Wilkins)

Scarlet Runner's skipper, Rob Date, signs the Cape2Rio skippers chart. (Credit Trevor Wilkins)

Scarlet Runner Blog – Cape to Rio Yacht Race 2014
For release

Day 1
A glamorous day. The early morning fog cleared after the blessing of the fleet and we started in a sunny W’ly of 5 – 10 knots. We nailed the start. When the gun went off we were 0.0 boat lengths behind the line. Maserati beat us to the first mark, and we gybe-set close behind them to a huge cheer from the spectator fleet. Then some nifty A1 sailing had us first around the second mark. When we turned to sea, the course was clear: chase the storm. We pointed South West and sailed slowly upwind into a rolling SW’ly swell. Robben Island’s breaking waves were dodged to starboard (Maserati went the other way around the island) and then we sailed past the Cape in all its glory towards a thick cloud line.

Day 2
The front hit at 0011 UTC, about 11 minutes late. We were prepared, with the J4 and two reefs. At first it wasn’t too bad. The instruments were reading wrong, so it was hard to tell if we were in frontal W’lies or the proper SW’lies. So we sailed west for a couple of hours to make sure we were ‘in it’ before heading NW.

First thing in the morning the motor stopped taking in water to cool itself and there was smoke throughout the cabin. Some debris had blocked the intake. Rob cleared it with help of some luck. But bad luck hit straight after that, when the satellite phone no longer recognized the antenna. No internet. No weather. Meanwhile the sea state was increasing.

The front slowed down and started to spin into a low, giving us a temporary reprieve that had us deploy the JT and GS. This was not conservative enough. With smoke and hydraulic oil through the cabin, tired crew on empty stomachs, some seasickness, and no internet weather updates, we were left with our pants down: at the mercy of the storm. The wind quickly built late morning, and a broach caused the GS to tear into shreds and the jib sheet to come off the JT. It flogged and flogged. When we had both sails down 20 minutes later, there was significant damage to the JT too. J4 went back up. But we were overpowered – flying down massive waves of 6 to 7m high, most of which were breaking. How to reduce more sail? To keep the bow down, we decided to drop the main. With just the jib we were still hitting boatspeeds of 26 knots. We aren’t sure of the wind speed we had. Estimated 35 -45 knots, gusting 50 knots +. We hung on, wave after wave.

Snoady was in the process of getting changed in his windward bunk when the boat bumped on a wave. Snoady and sleeping bag went flying into the air. Head hit companionway and then body hit the floor. Stark naked. Sprawled out below decks. Ten minutes later Snoady had his thermal pants on. Boat hit wave. Snoady and sleeping bag went flying into the air for another crash landing.

Charlie tried to take a leak in the leeward side of the cockpit during the height of the storm. A big wave crashed over the decks, taking out the helmsman, and washing a half undressed Charlie back into the leeward steering wheel. Smash. Crack. Charlie stood up dazed, but the steering wheel did not recover. Broken spokes left a gaping hole where the wheel should be.

BA and Jess tried to repair the sat phone. We took the dome off the back and tried various combinations of cable connections. Still no antenna. Jess is haunted by memories of Newport-Bermuda 2012 when the same antenna failure happened to her mid-race, and hopes this error will be fixable. No luck so far. We are reliant on intermittent HF weather broadcasts that generally centred around the coasts.

Day 3
In the early morning the wind moderated, but the sea state was still causing us to plough into the back of waves. The starboard steering wheel was broken. The port one had a cracked spoke. We left the main down until lunchtime. When we did put it up, the boatspeed jumped 4 to 5 knots. The boat flew north towards 330 M as the coastal low deepened and the high to our west pushed against it. A good 30 kts of wind speed. Later we shook the reefs out and torn the main along the luff by a mismanaged hoist. The repair was swift. The wind was dropping further, so the J2 went up while the JT was repaired by sticky backing about a 1000 torn bits together, leech and luff. Once up, the boat was flying and the outlook was good. Jess heard some snippets on the radio about abandoned yachts further back on the race track. Particularly one from the race, Bella. Later she heard a ship captain asking to be relieved from searching for a yacht (presumably not yet abandoned) because it wasn’t to be found. We called Cape Town Radio to advise them we were ok. Jess’s voice was gone … how many times can you scream 27 S 007 E without losing it? We worry for our fellow competitors. Who knows what has happened? All we can do is sail on.

Hydraulic oil pervades every surface of the cabin. We slip and slide and mop the bilge and wipe with Simple Green and it comes back again to keep us lubricated. Our feet are soaked in it. Clothes, sail covers, and hands are covered with it. Perhaps we should no longer resist, but embrace it as a moisturizer. A bio oil. A friend. Or perhaps not. Perhaps we keep mopping it again and again and again.

An innovative repair job on the starboard wheel of Scarlet Runner. (Credit Trevor Wilkins)

An innovative repair job on the starboard wheel of Scarlet Runner. (Credit Trevor Wilkins)


Day 4
Wind moderating further. We put the A3 up at sunrise. The sun was poking through the clouds. Ben said Disco looked like an angel when he was on the helm surrounded by sun rays. Disco said “yeah, the Angel of Pong’. Everyone laughed. Half an hour after hoisting, the kite tore in half. Frustration abounded.

A4 went up. So did the temperature. Disco was a heralding angel after all as the boat became a putrid vessel of mouldy clothes, fungi feet and festering sores. The stern of the boat becomes an instant washing line.
Rob cleans out the engine to see where the hydraulic oil is coming from. Jess helps with the bilge. It seems that the mess is from the leak in Cape Town and it is just coming out with all the water below decks. The worst of it is now cleaned up and the cabin is no longer as treacherous.

Day 5
Winds 10-15 kts from SSE. Forecast heard over the radio: winds 10-15 kts from the SSE-SE for the next three or four days. Trade winds. And already the heavy winds out of Cape Town seem a distant memory. We put up the A2 and the SS. BA, Rob and Charlie have a shower and they smell so sweet they can be detected a mile away. (The watermaker onboard is working so well that three of us a day are able to have a shower and feel fantastic). We dry out the sails, mop up more of the bilge, and slap on the sunscreen.

At 1010 UTC we cross the Greenwich Meridian. The crew pose on deck for a photo and celebratory Mars bars. We are now in the Western Hemisphere and that feels good.

Music plays on deck. iPads come out with movies and games.

Just on sunset, a pizza box floats past us. It looks quite fresh, like someone stopped for a take away lunch. Earlier today Disco saw some stickyback in the water. It seems the Italians are just ahead of us! We hail them on Ch16, and 821, but with no success.

The radio silence makes it feel like we are racing on our own with blind folds on. But it is a nice way to race. With calm conditions, easy downwind sailing, a dry boat and clean bodies.

Some troughiness overnight and in the morning brought us rain and shiftiness. Plenty of sail changes. Code 0, JT, Code 0, A2. “TIMMY!” was the frequent cry to below decks.

We started doing some ‘barometer sailing’ where we hunted the cumulus clouds, the lower atmospheric pressure and the stronger trade winds. It’s pretty hard to do when the ‘pressure tide’ causes variations of +/- 1.5 hPa twice a day, and yet we are trying to stay at 1018 hPa exactly. Also, which cloud types do we want? How do we chase them when they are moving faster than us?

Charlie hung his damp towel from the running backstay with a bit of electrical tape. A charmingly optimistic endeavour that was sure to end in tears. A few hours later, he comes on deck and sees the tape fluttering empty from the runner. His face went white as a sheet and he mumbled “I guess it went in the water”. BA pulls Charlie’s towel out of the cockpit locker, “so I should throw this one in the water too?”

The radio is not reaching anyone, let alone Cape Town. We swapped out the antennae, and checked all the cabling again. The conclusion was that the grounding was not working properly. Just before sunset, we dropped all the sails and stopped the boat. Rob jumped over the side armed with a screwdriver and goggles. The grounding plate on the bottom of the hull may have been painted over. Was it? No. Well, at least we had tried another thing. Jess and Rob read the radio manual which strongly suggests using the keel as a ground. But we don’t have any flat copper tape.
We swap between headings of 300, 310, 325, 300, 310, 325 M depending on the barometer.

Rob woke up at 0345, looked at his barometer watch. It was falling. Rob was happy.

Life has changed for all of us, that such things make our day!

At 0410 we passed the 2000 nm to go mark. A cheer went up on deck, but it was a little feeble. 2000 nm is a long way. Tim may have a point when he says that the DTG should not be shown until it is under 1000.

No sail changes today (as at 2200) and light and steady breezes. The day passed slowly. It was hot on deck and below and there wasn’t enough water or sleep to go around.

Charlie saw a squadron of flying fish. In formation. Airborne, submerged and airborne again. The Atlantic fish are well drilled.

At night the wind started to swing left in fits and bursts. Very very shifty and puffy. There was some significant vertical mixing going on and mysterious clouds. The high clouds (Ci) seen earlier in the day probably indicated the axis of the high pressure ridge,… so we were expecting the left hand shift. We held off gybing for a few hours as the wind jumped around and we sailed towards the high pressure. It settled again in the left, and we gybed at 0243. A smooth, easy gybe ondeck and a straightforward restack downstairs. But the instruments went haywire. The True Wind Speed dropped to 2 kts and BA was hitting 842% of polars. Pretty good! Unfortunately for BA’s performance figures Jess fixed the numbers by changing the MHU offset from -045 to +045. This seemed to work well for a mysterious illogical reason that is yet to be determined.

The team look relaxed on the deck of Scarlet Runner as they head towards Rio. (Credit Scarlet Runner)

The team look relaxed on the deck of Scarlet Runner as they head towards Rio. (Credit Scarlet Runner)


The wind picked up with the sun and we peeled from the A2 to the A4. Not the best peel in the world, but it was a good decision as the wind stayed in the high teens all day. It was sensational sailing. Flying over smooth seas with plenty of wind and a big kite up. Speeds were high, water was cascading down the deck, so everyone on deck got wet bums if they sat down. Out of a watch of four people, one person was standing up at the stern at any one time – taking their turn to dry their bum out.

The water is this incredible royal blue. So blue it is almost purple, almost velvet.

Jess spotted a green jerry can float past. It didn’t look particularly Italian.

It was hotter again downstairs, with the sea temp climbing over 24 degrees. We have the engine going 24 hours a day to power the winches, hydraulics and the watermaker. The engine sits in the middle of the boat, right in front of the nav station. And it’s hot – averaging about 81 degrees C. There is insulation but it is still warm to be around.
For the first time in a while it was cooler on deck than below. Sleep was hard to find again. We had made so much fresh water that it was leaking through the cabin last night, so we flicked the water maker ‘off’ temporarily and did not flick it on again. Rob and Charlie spent about an hour each in the head having a lovely shower – leaving BA’s shower and everybody’s dinner in jeopardy.

We gyed back onto port at 1800, just because we missed being on our favourite board. Also, with hope of better wind speed a little further south. But the angle just isn’t very encouraging.
Storytime with Charlie has become a daily tradition on sundown. At this time we are regaled with tales of mischief and misfortune. Usually the stories involve some combination of strippers, Vegas, rowing, and Facebook.

In the early hours of the morning, a flying fish flew into Rowdy’s mouth. Well, it tried to and missed by only 2 cm. Rowdy’s red chin whiskers are now a little smelly.

It was a day for the clouds. Big ones, little ones, slanted ones, towering ones, raining ones, disappearing ones, reappearing ones. We could call them by their names such as cumulus mediocris, cumulus fractus, alto cumulus, strato cumulus, cumulus congestus etc etc. But we preferred to look for clouds with wind and avoid clouds without wind. Unfortunately one big rain cloud rolled over the top of us today and caused havoc – the wind swung left by 60 degrees and dropped to next to nothing as the rain poured down.

And then there was the Breakfast Drama. Shortly after sunrise, Rob and Charlie had cooked up the very last of the fresh bread into toasted sandwiches of cheese, ham and salami. Much of the bread was mouldy and had to be thrown out. But there was enough for a sandwich each. It was decided not to wake up Disco and Ben for brekkie, but to leave their sandwiches out on the bench. When Disco woke up, Jess told him about the sandwiches. When Ben woke up, Jess told him about the sandwiches. But there were none left for Ben. Thence began an investigation into the missing sandwich that was worthy of the next CSI Miami episode. Ben had a museli bar and freeze dried meal instead but the shape of his shoulders all afternoon suggested that it did not make up for missing out on the last fresh meal. To make Ben’s day worse and add insult to injury, Tim had a shower before Ben. A sacrilege of the alphabetical order moral code.

So no more fresh food. No more cereal, or fresh dinners, or apples. We’ve also run out of hot chocolate. Museli bar rations are now 3 per person per two days.

DAY 10
The 1000 nm To Go Party has been the talk of the town. It may well be at night, which will mean the costumes should be extravagant in the flashing lights of our headtorches. The costume planning has begun.

There was a small amount of rain again overnight. It has rained every night. Crew have taken to wearing their long pants (salopettes) overnight regardless of temperature in order to preserve the dryness of their backsides.

Dawn brought very unstable winds again. Wind speeds between 10 and 20 knots and wind directions from 135 to 165. One gust of 25 knots came out of nowhere and took the boat by surprise. Rob didn’t even try to hold onto that one, but broached gracefully and with the help of some sheet ease, recovered quite quickly.

We passed the Two Hobarts To Go milestone (1256 nm), with a small cheer. Snoady suggested we have some rum and cokes to celebrate, but there aren’t many of these about the boat. Rob suggested we all put some double-sided tape on the bottom of our thongs and walk about the deck pretending we are in Customs House. A double-plugger or two will sure be broken, and then we will know that we are in Hobart.

A large squall hit mid morning and Disco turned the helm down to ride it. The cloud sat on our left hip, giving us 20-30 knots and rain. Boatspeed picked up to 15 to 20 knots. Water crashed over the deck and we held on for dear life. We rode that storm for 25 minutes, until a broach or two slowed us down enough to fall off the back of it into sunshine and a miserly 8 knots of wind.

The rest of the day it was light airs. 10-15 knots or so. A slow day. Wind swinging left and right. Very hot below decks and the sun scorched bare skin on deck.

Notable events of the day
- Charlie pissed onto a puffed up puffer fish that floated by the back of the boat.
- Jess set up her alfalfa sprouts herb garden on the stern rail.
- Mexican chicken freeze-dried dinner was a hit.

DAY 11
At 0345 the troops were rallied on deck for the 1000 nm To Go Party. There was some scrambling into fancy dress costumes in the dark, then everyone was on deck at 0400 when the DTG ticked over from 1000 to 999. Hurrah!

The characters on deck included: Rob as Santa Claus (a carefully made beard of tape and a pillow as a tummy), BA as the Christ statue in Rio (stitched up sleeping bags), Snoady as a runner bean (walrus-like runner bean legs), Tim as King Neptune (his trident the boat hook with a fork stuck in it), Jess as Pippy Longstockings (striped socks and pigtails, but having no other girls onboard nobody knew the reference), and Charlie in a mankini made out of the spare halyard. Luckily it was dark and we weren’t too blinded by the sight of all that flesh and rope. The outfit is now termed the ‘manyard’ and it will be the costume of choice onboard for all those who wish not to be forgotten (or trusted). The party included some good tunes, snickers bars, and Rowdy’s noisy trimming.

Rob and Charlie had their first non-raining night watch, and a go at guessing the sunrise time. It has been getting later and later as we head west. Today, the bets were laid between 0704 and 0712. The sun popped out behind the clouds at 0715. Snoady won the snickers bar, hand delivered by Rob.

After sunrise the wind speed picked up and went right. As per usual. We changed spinnakers, as usual. We are getting used to the rhythm. The ‘Kite Packing A Team’ of Charlie, Jess and Rob, however, are not. Or, rather, we are, in that the kite packing is getting easier and less sweaty. But it is still not a task of choice first thing in the morning. Or any other time for that matter, when the water temperature is 25.6 degrees and the cabin temperature about 50.

The wind was good and steady today. A nice 15-16 knots from 135 to 145 degrees. We drove hard, straight at Rio. Rob and Charlie started a new record, of 48.1 nautical miles towards the finish in a four hour shift. Unfortunately they were beaten on the very next shift by BA and Rowdy with 52 miles.

Tim went up the mast to unlock the halyards. He himself was the needle to unthread the knot. At the top he climbed over the full spinnaker to come down the other side. It was nicely done and the job was recorded on film as it was anticipated that this would be the most exciting thing that happened that day.

But then. At 1635 Jess tuned into Rio’s weather fax frequency of 16974 kHz and held up BA’s iPad to the radio speaker. Now this has never worked before, despite many forlorn attempts. But this time, the white and black spikes on the frequency spectrum were crystal clear. The beeps echoed through the cabin. The iPad app we are using is one that BA downloaded on the ‘off chance’, yet it has led to such serendipity. The first fax we received was a hazy blurred analysis chart, with clear isobars but no indication as to where the land is. Still, Jess was grinning. A little later, at 1715, we received a clear chart of wind speed prognoses. There were lines and numbers and text and land and grid lines. Jess was grinning so much she burst into giggles. The first proper weather information we’ve received in 9 days! As the lines and dots and numbers appeared on the image, Jess’s smile turned into a frown. “It’s a heat low”.

The weather fax caused the afterguard to spin up into action stations. The images were printed using the printer we’ve been carting about. Diagrams were drawn. Weather plans were drafted. Tactics discussed. Stress levels rose, even as the near full moon came out on deck on a beautiful light trade wind night. The navigator went into routing overdrive, feverishly working away in the dark hot den of the nav desk until she came down with heat exhaustion and fell into a bunk all dizzy. Charlie’s Jungle Juice concoction of electrolytes and some dinner brought her back from the brink.

A heat low has moved SE off the South American coast and has extended a large trough behind to the north. Ahead of it are strong northerlies. Behind it is nothing. Thunderstorms, perhaps, but no consistent wind until the low is carried off by a cold front and a new high moves in.

So perhaps we are in for a storm at the end, like our storm at the start. The “1 and in” plan is still in place, but the expected weather along the way will be quite different.

Finally, Scarlet Runner reaches Rio and the Cape2Rio 2014 finish line. (Credit Trevor Wilkins)

Finally, Scarlet Runner reaches Rio and the Cape2Rio 2014 finish line. (Credit Trevor Wilkins)


DAY 12
The Gybe happened at 0630 in light and shifty winds that oscillated back and forth like a slow ticking metronome, but one that was invariably shifting left left left until it falls off the piano.

But then the “1 and in” plan fell apart when the wind went back right and the wind speed died a slow, hot and painful death. We did four gybes and then continued travelling at 6 knots towards the WSW.

It was a very slow day. The shade sail came out on deck to save the crew from frying like eggs on the pavement. The cloth was strung up over the deck below the boom to provide shade (and make slightly more sail area). It made the day more livable. Helmsmen for the day sat down on the “Harley seat” – made of an upturned bucket and a cushioning towel – behind the wheel with legs stretched out either side. Despite the shade sail, Charlie still managed to burn the bottom of his feet on the deck tape and had to put his feet in a bucket of water for an hour.

Silence reigned on deck and below. Water temperature said 28 degrees, downstairs felt like 48 degrees. The heat sucked all the energy out of us and dried up conversation with it. The hours were punctuated by sporadic “hey, 8 knots!” exclamations when a rolling swell wave would temporarily get the boat moving before it settled back down to 5 knots. The swell showed that there was wind ahead somewhere, just not here.

The binos were brought up on deck to look for favourable clouds (amidst the thousands of semi-stationary cumulus). They were broken. Rob, happy to have a job to do, spent the next four hours taking the binos apart. This included taken out dozens of tiny screws that then went missing, and pouring litres of metho down the focal point of the binos. After such a delicate surgical operation the binos were resurrected and they worked – in that Rob could tell (through the blur of corrosion) how many fingers Jess was holding up in the air. But they remained more useless than our own mortal eyes and were consigned to the Brazilian scrap heap.

Instead of binos, we had Charlie. A newbie in terms of mast climbing, Charlie volunteered to go up the rig to spot some wind. Pro mast climber Tim gave him a lesson or two on using the harness and then he was off up into the sky. Unfortunately there was no wind in sight and the cumulus looked the same in every direction. Tim gave Charlie a safe and smooth descent which was appreciated. But this pleasant trip up the mast blew out the seal in the winch motor. We are blaming it on Charlie’s high cholesterol levels.

Perhaps unrelated, perhaps not, we also managed to break both the freshwater pump and a blade off the impeller today. BA and Rob spent much of the evening repairing the motor, and we have new discipline in place for the freshwater pump use.

Jess got another weather fax from Rio. Isotachs for T+36. And blurry at that. To help confirm her interpretation, a Mr Squiggle competition was initiated. Everyone was asked to ‘join the dots’ on a print out of the blurry isotachs. It was a close competition, and no cheating was allowed. Each person handed their version in at the nav desk. The discrepancies told a story: there was something wrong with how the charts lined up. Rio (or the ipad) had put the image the wrong way around so that even cutting, rearranging and sticky-taping up the image again, left a gaping hole in the chart exactly where we want the information: between 30 and 40 W. By using everybody’s input, Jess came up with a final version that told a good story about the cold front taking away the heat low and a new high behind it. Snoady’s entry won the competition and he was awarded a green star.

One Hobart To Go: after a Chicken Tikka dinner, as the full moon rose into the blue and pink sky, we reached the significant milestone of 628 nm to go. Close to the countdown we assembled the crew into race mode. Rob was on the helm, the crew was hiking, Jess was looking at the numbers on the tablet, and BA was calling tactics. “5 boat lengths to go”. We could feel the excitement of Sydney Harbour on Boxing Day. We had our game faces on for the helicopter shots. No smiling, hard hiking. Disco’s hiking technique was extremely impressive. Rob heated up the wind angle so the boat looked like it was going fast. “1 boat length … ok, we’re racing!” Bang. And suddenly we were outside Sydney Heads flying south in a north-easter with the A1 up, and we must be winning the race by a long way because after just half a mile from the start we can’t see any other boats.

At 2230 we gybed onto starboard. And it appears that this is The Gybe. We are now bound straight for Rio.

DAY 13
In the early hours of the morning, Charlie woke BA up and asked him to move to a leeward bunk. The wind was light and the boat needed rebalancing. BA replied “No. Go away and get me some Tim Tams”. He went back to sleep and claims he doesn’t remember saying this.

First light did not bring Tim Tams, but instead showed towering cumulus all around us. Certainly cumulus congestus, and some cumulus nimbus. The clouds were going straight up, not slanted, and it didn’t bode well for wind speed. Some high cloud also indicated the axis of the trough line. It was a very slow morning. We peeled a few times from the A1 to the Code Zero and back to the A1 and back to the Code Zero.

For the eleventh day in a row Jess was unable to get through to Cape Town Radio to send a position report. Each morning she has been hailing Cape Town on 5 to 6 different frequencies, and sending DSC positions on 3 or 4 other frequencies. But there is never an acknowledgement. Today was no exception. So we decided to try a new technique.
We sent a position report by air mail. Jess wrote down the yacht name, position and time on a piece of paper. Rowdy then folded the piece of paper into an aeroplane – a Concord, to be exact – and then we launched it into the air towards Cape Town. We hope that the plane gets there safely and can deliver our position to Cape Town Radio.

After that take-off, the morning dragged slowly. The clouds tried intimidate us with their size, height, rain, colours, and variety. But all we wanted was wind. Boat speed dropped. The lowest we saw was 0.2 knots. Flip, flop went the boom. Up, down went the hull over the swell. On, off went the sun between the clouds. And sweat, sweat was the theme below decks. At 1033, the wind kicked in. 8 knots from the NE. The boat took off! We heeled over like it was blowing 30. Smiles all around where there were almost tears. The deep convective clouds had gone, and there was only clear sky and little cumuli ahead. The trough had passed. It was like yesterday the ‘pause’ button had been hit on our game plan, and today we could press ‘play’ again and go for it.

The excitement settled quickly as we got used to 8 knots of wind and wished for more. We know there is more ahead, about 160 nm ahead. Getting to that wind is the tricky bit.

At about 2000 we spotted a sail on the horizon ahead. A boat! Without functioning binoculars speculation was rife. It’s the Italians! It’s the Open 60! We haven’t seen another yacht since the day of the race start, and we have only seen one ship. In thirteen days. Jess hailed him on VHF Ch 16. It was 13 Beaufort. A solo sailor who left Holland in September and is enroute from Salvador to Cape Town on a 43 footer. He has plans to visit Australia next year. “He’s a nutter, in other words”, said Disco. 13 Beaufort altered course towards us and we got to within half a mile of each other. He complimented us on the good looks of our boat and said he hoped we were winning the race to Rio. We couldn’t confirm or deny this, having no idea ourselves, but his best wishes were certainly nice to hear. Having made this new friend, we asked for his help in contacting Cape Town. He agreed to email our rendezvous position to RCYC via SailMail. What a nice guy! Perhaps the email from 13 Beaufort will get to Cape Town before our paper Concord aeroplane.

Later that night we saw the light of a vessel on the horizon. Probably a fishing boat. But to see two vessels in one day was a bit much for some people onboard. The ocean felt crowded.

DAY 14
Last night the wind stepped up to the plate. 10 knots, low teens, then high teens. And we peeled from the A1 to the Code Zero and now we are on the Jib Top. The miles are ticking over nicely, and the Portuguese fishermen on the radio are getting more numerous and chatty. We must be close to land.

The 0800 UTC position report was sent by a new means yet again this morning. After another disappointing effort over the HF – where Jess could hear Cape Town asking for positions but Cape Town couldn’t hear Jess – we sent our position out by sea mail. Old style: a message in a bottle. Using an empty water bottle, we scrolled up a position report inside it and then Tim threw the bottle overboard towards the rising sun. We feel this could be a safer method that the Concord aeroplane as we forgot to run through the aviation safety checks before take-off yesterday; whereas we know that the bottle will reach someone somewhere. Unfortunately the South Equatorial Current runs from east to west, and then runs south past Rio so it is more likely that the bottle will end up at the finish line than at the start line, but we did our best to throw it as far east as we could.

Tomorrow we think we’ll send the position report either in our stuffed boxing kangaroo mascot Skippy’s pouch as she hops off across the ocean to Cape Town, or perhaps we’ll borrow a computer at the Rio de Janeiro Yacht Club and send our report from there.

Quietly each of us is contemplating what lands means. This race may be the longest time in our lives we are disconnected from the greater world. No satellite phone and no radio communications has meant we’ve been living in a world only 52 feet long with 9 people in it. It has been as if no other boats or people or countries exist. World War III could have started and we wouldn’t know. Naturally we are anxious to be reassured that our loved ones are OK, and we guess that they are equally keen to hear from us. The tracker has been our only connection and it has been a silent one at that. The lights flash on and off. We trust that means it is working and that everyone knows where we are. The word ‘tenuous’ springs to mind.

Much of our thoughts revolve around the welfare of our fellow competitors after that rough first night of the race. We are completely ignorant of the events of the storm and we can only hope that everyone who needed rescue survived.

Land will brings us news. And it will bring us the complications of life beyond food, sleep, weather and sailing. Any landfall brings mixed emotions.

Meanwhile, we must finish the race. The Jib Top sailing today was fantastic. Boat speeds were in the mid teens and the warm water was flying over the deck. We bounced along and rode the waves in a way reminiscent of Day 3 of the race. Below decks it was hot and stuffy – hard to get sleep and generally conducive to getting queasy. On deck it was glorious.

Late in the afternoon the wind dropped and veered a little which is not what we expected. Neither was the large amount of high level cloud. Jess received her third weather fax of isotachs today which suggested that a cold front will come off the coast near the Rio de la Plata tomorrow night, with some troughiness ahead of it near Rio, hence the high cloud. This is bad news for wind speed. We must hope that we finish before tomorrow night. Also the large amount of cloud does not bode well for a good sea breeze along the coast line during the day.

Dinner was spaghetti bolognese garnished with alfalfa sprouts proudly grown on the aft deck. The fresh green herbs were small in size but big in impact. Our first fresh food in days.

During dinner we hit the 200 nm to go mark. Also, oil rigs appeared on the horizon. ENE of Cabo Frio is a large oil field with platforms, drill rigs and ships everywhere. We had altered course earlier in the day to avoid most of them, but the right hand shift in the breeze meant that we couldn’t quite skirt the southern edge of the field as we would like. Instead, we had to dodge them like we are in a slow mo video game of immense consequences. The rigs are eery things. The towers are lit like lighthouses, some of which have billowing smoke blown horizontal by the NE’ly wind. Others are lit like city apartment blocks built out over the water for the ocean views. Ships and tenders move between them. They are all very close together, as if they are establishing a new city on stilettos out here like Waterworld. Perhaps they are just waiting for Kevin Costner to sail past on his trimaran. The sight of all the lights and structures after days of nothing and before sighting land is an alien experience.

DAY 15
The definition of excruciating.

We screeched and flew through the oil fields last night at 15+ knots of boatspeed, changing sails like gears on a race car. From A4 to Code Zero, to a reef to the JT, as the wind went forward and forward on us and hovered in the 18-25 knot range.

In the early hours, 50 nm out from Cabo Frio, the sea temperature dropped by 2 degrees, the barometer plunged, and the wind stopped. We floated along with remnant breeze for a while and then the speedometer finally registered 0.00 knots of boat speed. We had expected some light air the other side of Cold Cape (Cabo Frio), but not this far out. A massive thundercloud stretched over our heads and was sucking up all the air around. Two hours later we had 5 knot SE’lies for a while that confused us but got us moving. And then again, at about 1000 UTC with 100 nm to go, we were becalmed.

Our Saturday afternoon plans for a triumphant finish evaporated; so too any hopes for a good corrected time on IRC handicap. It was like arriving at Tasman Island after midnight in a Sydney-Hobart Race. The wind has shut down. Your race is over.

Late morning, a NW’ly filled in from direction 300 M. The direction to Rio? 300 M. So we tacked upwind for several hours in a light 8 knots of breeze.

A huge pod of ‘dalmatian dolphins’ played with us over the waves. At least 100 dolphins were ducking and diving alongside and beneath us, welcoming us to South America and all the excitement the continent has to offer. We took it as a good luck sign, but it wasn’t to be.

Our engine overheated. Instead of running at 81 degrees C and cooking the navigator at her computer like slow roast, now it was running at 94 degrees. No water was getting in to cool it. Rob and BA set to work replacing the impeller. It is not the easiest job even why on a dry dock so doing it underway was difficult. After an hour of sweat and tears the impeller was replaced and the old one held up for inspection. It was half gone. Most of the rubber vanes had melted away and it was surprising that any water was being impelled at all.

With a rejuvenated engine chugging away to keep the batteries topped up, we were on port tack towards the coast when the wind went left. Now it was a SW’ly. Jess hadn’t heard of SW’lies occurring near Rio … so we were a bit perplexed. Pro Mast Climber Tim went up the rig a few times to spot the wind. Massive cumulonimbus thunderheads were developing over the mainland and haze at the surface. No wind there. Meanwhile more cumulonimbus were sitting offshore in what look like a trough line. We were in the clear sky in between. Pointing straight at the mark, we kept going. At 5 knots.

Saturday night finish plans evaporated. We ate some more freeze dried food that we were hoping not to have to eat, but Snoady cheered us all up with a chocolate bar each for desert. And we all had The Last Shower. Having saved some freshwater overnight, we had almost enough water for everyone to have a quick freshen up before the finish. 60 seconds of water each. Charlie and Tim had declined, and then Charlie changed his mind. But the water had gone. Snoady the Gentleman gave Charlie his last body wet wipe.

The iPhones picked up some long awaited reception today. Before it cut out again we managed to download one grib file that said there would be no wind tonight.

This evening we have been tacking along the coastline in a weakening NW’ly. The tacking angles are so wide they could make you cry. We are not many miles, but at least several hours from the finish. Everyone is anxious and can’t sleep. We will all sit on the leeward rail tonight and will the boat onwards. Caprinha cocktails for Sunday morning breakfast, anyone?

Australia's Scarlet Runner team celebrating finally arriving safely across the finish line in the Cape Town to Rio Race. (Credit Trevor Wilkins)

Australia’s Scarlet Runner team celebrating finally arriving safely across the finish line in the Cape Town to Rio Race. (Credit Trevor Wilkins)

We crept into Rio under fickle winds and a bright moon. Boatspeed varied from 1 knot to 9 knots and back to 1 knot. The Brazilian guy on the HF Radio, Dodo, was a little confused when we reported our speed to him every five miles. “5 k-nots? 5 k-nots? Confirm. Confirm?” His thick accent and phonetic pronounciation had us all in delirious giggle fits. We could only laugh, as there was not point crying at our slow progress.
At 0701 UTC we crossed the finish line. Our shore team and a photographer jumped aboard. Beer and champagne started to rain. And the sun rose over the sugar loaf.

Rio. At last.
Ashore we heard the news of the fatality in the race. Our hearts sunk and we gathered for a minute’s silence before breakfast. The Maserati crew greeted us with smiles, and we congratulated them on their outstanding result.
Several days of sleep and Caprinhas are now in order.

This is Scarlet Runner, out.

By Jessica Sweeney, Scarlet Runner

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