Sailing: This is crazy. I'm scared. How do we get out of this?

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The Independent Online

Nearly two weeks into the leg – some 3,000 miles of the wildest ocean conditions imaginable and here we are with five boats within 10 miles or so of each other. We spent the afternoon with three of them in sight.

Nearly two weeks into the leg – some 3,000 miles of the wildest ocean conditions imaginable and here we are with five boats within 10 miles or so of each other. We spent the afternoon with three of them in sight.

We have had our fair share of dramas – a broken wheel, a broken pole end, a full on reverse in huge seas and 30 knots of wind to remove a forest of sea weed off the keel, a wild uncontrolled gybe in the pitch black. I guess the others must have had similar experiences that will keep them in bar talk until the next race – and yet here we are still side by side.

I write this some 800 miles off the Australian coast – we are sailing along in what seem for a change to be almost pleasant conditions. We have made our way out of the worst of the Southern Ocean and the water temperature has soared from 3C to a truly tropical 11. The boys look tired but happy that the weather has improved enough to get into a regular routine and the boat is beginning to dry out.

My memory must be short. It is no more than 10 months since I was down here last, but only now do I remember thinking: "That is definitely the last time I go down there." I guess it's the good bits that linger – the fantastic surfing conditions that go on for days, the huge sense of achievement you get. The terror, freezing cold and total wetness eventually get forgotten.

Anyone who races boats like ours in the Southern Ocean and says they have not been scared is either mad or stupid. I don't mind admitting that in the last 10 days or so I have been terrified on a number if occasions.

Here is just one instance. It is the middle of the night, I am in the navigation station looking at the chart when suddenly the boat rolls violently the wrong way, there's an almighty crash and we are pinned on our side. Once I get my orientation back I fight my way on deck.

It's completely black – a kind of blackness you can't experience any where else – the sails are flapping wildly in a gale and the boat is completely on its side. "This is crazy", I think, "I'm definitely scared now – how the hell are we going to get out of this?"

Head count – five voices tell me every one is still on deck and seemingly in one bit. Nightmare number one is averted – so is nightmare number two, amazingly the mast is still in the boat. Not for long though unless we get the wild beast of a spinnaker down. The noise of the flapping sails is so loud I can't hear a word from anyone. But we all know what to do – get the spinnaker down before it pulls the mast down or destroys itself.

Everyone gets stuck in – the off watch are up now having been rudely awoken by being turned upside down. They know the seriousness of the situation so very little is said.

Disaster recovery mode takes over. In 25 minutes the boat is back on its feet and on course. Another hour of exhausting, freezing work tidying up and putting other down-wind sails up and we are back up to full speed.

Everyone is wet through and tired out, the watch system has been totally messed up – the knock-on effect will deprive all of much-needed sleep for a day or so to come.

Despite this the thing on everyone's mind is, "how much have we lost on the leaders?" My mental arithmetic tells me about 20 miles plus – a huge knock-back but there you go – just another pleasurable Southern Ocean experience.

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