It’d been a wild week.
The last seven days have been some of the wildest I can remember in 30 years of sailing. After progressing to the northern tip of the Philippines we were faced with a decision of whether to try and cross the Straits of Luzon to Taiwan in very strong forecasted winds.
The two Ericsson boats waited 24 hours for the storm to abate but the rest of the fleet charged on, albeit cautiously. This was a tough call for every skipper, as breaking the boat could have effectively put us out of this and the next leg, if not the race! You have also to consider the safety of the crew above all else.
We were greeted by solid 45-knot winds which were gusting 50, as well as massive waves that were capable of lifting our 70-foot boat up and throwing it back from where it had come. This happened on two occasions but we battled on with three reefs in the mainsail and no jib. This is when the conditions took their toll on the fleet.
Puma broke its boom and returned to shelter and Telefonica Black apparently cracked the hull and came close to sinking but was able to return to Subic Bay. We were ok for a few hours until we came off a huge wave and landed hard, cracking our forward bulkhead in three places.
Click below to listen to Stuart Alexander talk to Ian Walker by satellite phone.
Immediately we stopped, dropped our sails, and headed back to shelter before the outer hull skin could suffer any damage. Subsequent to this both Delta Lloyd and Ericsson 3 have damaged their boats enough to pull into Taiwan for repairs and have been forced to suspend racing.
After a 20-hour stop at anchor our crew did a fantastic job re-laminating the bow with carbon and resin, which we carried onboard in case we needed to effect repairs. We also fixed our damaged sails before setting off once again.
On we pressed in slightly improved weather until we hit very rough seas near North Taiwan where the northerly Kuro Shio current met the 25-knot northerly winds, not a pleasant experience! I spent the most anxious night of my life fighting with the crew to control the boat and keep it slow enough to not break our repaired bow section again.
Every wave had the potential to end our race if not handled correctly and the night was pitch black, meaning the helmsman had to rely on instinct and the feel of the boat. I am delighted to report that we got through the worst, ever so slowly and now we have tracked across the China Sea.
As I write, we are again sailing at full speed in fourth position about to enter the Yellow Sea and pass Shanghai. We have just over 350 miles to the finish of one of the most epic legs of the Volvo Ocean Race ever. Three other boats lie in port awaiting repairs before they can continue in the race. If it was not for the skill and courage of my crew, that could so easily have been our predicament right now.
Ian Walker has won two silver medals at the Atlanta and Sydney Olympic Games and was skipper of the Team GBR challenge for the America’s Cup in Auckland in 2003. Now he is skipper of the Galway-based, Chinese-partnered Green Dragon team in the Volvo Ocean Race and is writing an exclusive commentary for The Independent plus talking to Stuart Alexander by satellite link from the boat during the 10 legs and 37,000 miles that take the fleet from Spain around the world to St. Petersburg.