Great way to end 2016
I was contacted in October last year by Charles Caudrelier, skipper of Dongfeng Race Team who I sailed with during the last Volvo Ocean Race. He was helping to organise the purchase of a racing yacht for the Chinese sailing team ‘UBOX’, owned by Wang Bin. Wang Bin currently owns a Swan 80 which he and his team sail in China but he was looking for more of a race boat. Having followed the Dongfeng project he got in touch with Charles to see if he would help him find a suitable boat. After some searching Charles found a Cookson 50 in Sydney, Australia which was available, he then suggested to enter the upcoming Sydney-Hobart race which he would skipper with a mix of Western and Chinese crew for a test of the boat and training for the Chinese crew. Charles asked me if I would like to come along. A trip to Australia to go sailing… let me think, yes!
The project was split into two trips to Australia. Two weeks in November for training and sorting the boat and then again in December to arrive just a few days before the start on Boxing day. We arrived at the boat in November and hoped to go sailing straight away but due to the boat just being bought, everything took a bit longer than expected. After a few days of organising and sorting all the gear that boats come with, we were ready for the first outing with the boat and the Chinese crew. We had a total crew of 12, 4 French, 7 Chinese and myself, I can describe the first day as absolute chaos. We had the normal little problems with a boat we didn't know, we had never sailed together and the Chinese guys spoke no English and we spoke no Chinese, so as you can imagine it was fairly entertaining.
Once we got into the routine of things, it got a bit easier and the sailing improved. We started each day at 7 with gym. Then eat, then work on boat for a few hours. Eat, then out sailing till about 6 pm. Eat then sleep. The Chinese were all capable sailors but hadn’t much race experience or doing sail changes and manoeuvres on this sort of boat. Wolf, who was one of the Chinese sailors in the last Dongfeng project now lives in Sydney and he joined us for the training and in the end the race. He turned out to be vital as was the only guy who could speak English so his named was called a lot! I think it drove him a bit crazy in the end but he did a good job. We had a fairly big mountain to climb to be ready for the race, besides the obvious how to sail the boat there was preparing the boat, food, spares, personal gear etc. It all went on and built up but we took it as it came and the Chinese guys were great once they understood what needed to be done. We left Sydney after the training block tired but having achieved a lot.
When we returned you could tell there was a race about to happen, there were a lot more people around, plus the fleet were out sailing and training very regularly. We had a couple more training days and then we focussed on just getting the boat ready for the race, we also had some new sails which only arrived two days before the start so plenty to sort out. We had no idea what to do for food but this boat had a freezer and a gas oven onboard so in the end my grand parents made the food and froze it in containers that we could put straight in the oven. It made a great change from freeze-dried food! The start day was nuts, Sydney harbour is packed beyond belief with spectator boats and people dotted all over who were watching from the shore. There was a fleet of 90 boats taking part in the race ranging from 100ft down to about 30ft. This makes for some seriously different boat speeds coming into the start line! It was a classic summer day in Sydney, hot, sunny, and a lovely NE seabreeze. Perfect.
The forecast was good for the race, mainly downwind which is very different to the normal race were there is a lot of upwind. For us we sailed upwind, tacking out the harbour then hoisted the spinnaker and we were off. We were flying down the coast line with building breeze which got up to 25-28 knots and we were launched, 20-25 knots of boat speed in big rolling swell. The strongest breeze was in the middle of the night, and it was a dark night, no moon and pitch black. All you could see were the flicking red numbers of the instruments, no idea of the sea state and where the next wave would come from. All was thundering along and we were nearing the point where we had to do a gybe to change direction. The boat has a canting keel which swings from side to side and is moved by a hydraulic ram. The hydraulic ram is powered by the engine, before the gybe we tested the keel but it wouldn't move. This was a big issue as if we could not resolve it we would have to retire. We found one problem but that didn't fix it but eventually came up with a solution and got it moving again. During this whole time we were testing the keel moving every now and again whilst the boat was hurtling down waves which wasn't very fun as each time we tried the keel it put the boat close to spinning out.
The rest of the race passed quickly with very fast but very wet reaching conditions. When I say wet it was wet, from the normal spray over the deck, then it also rained from the first night till the end of the race, inside and outside, wet everywhere. We arrived at Tasman Isle the turning point to go into the Derwent River and the finish. It was only about 40 miles to go but the wind shut off and we spent many hours drifting and wondering if we would ever finish. This is always a very frustrating way to finish a race but very common. We eventually got moving again and arrived into Hobart to a big crowd down to see all the boats coming in and a very large Chinese crowd. We had finished 1st in class and 3rd overall, which I think turned a lot of heads as we finished ahead of a lot of the pro teams. It was a very nice end to a tough but rewarding project. After a few celebratory beverages… I headed back to Sydney for a week to visit all my family there which was fantastic and it went way to fast then back to France after another 24 hours on a plane!
All for now