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Freezing in the Cockpit

by Lia Ditton aboard "Shockwave" a few days into the race.

Wake up freezing in the cockpit

The latest update from Lia Ditton on the 35ft trimaran Shockwave in the Faraday Mill OSTAR Lia has been experiencing a few problems herself with the boat and has been drawing up an action plan to get it all sorted. On Friday she noticed that the genoa halyard is chaffing at the mast exit and will need to climb the mast at some time, to lash the top of the unit to the mast to stop the sail from falling down should the halyard fail. She has also noticed that the foil, with which the genoa is attached to the forestay with, is becoming loose and again this will need a trip aloft to rectify it. Lia is waiting for the conditions to ease, which is due shortly, before climbing the mast to fix the problems. She has sent us this report describing life aboard:

I bet Claire Francis when she crossed the Atlantic as the first woman in 19xx? never suffered from the wet boot. No doubt she had a trusty pair of Wellington-types with perhaps a flourish of a draw-string at the top. It has of course always been possible to wear more than one pair of socks at one time. Should she have had the exceptional misfortune of taking a wave down the boot, then there was probably the option of removing the inner sole [if there was one] and wiping out any remaining moisture with a stray cloth. Those of us who have embarked on the same transatlantic endeavour, but with new technology [the Gore-Tex lining with leather upper] on the other hand, are forced to suffer as pioneers of our time. Namely the wonder-boot has no removable inner sole and so forces its occupant to patrol the decks with two in-boot sponges that go 'squelch;' [a point for Research and Development amendment in the future.] They're great boots, I just can't find a way of keeping the sea from getting down the top of them.

As I was exiting the bunk yesterday after a spot of afternoon repose, I latched onto the answer! I may not be able to take the moisture out of the boot, but could certainly make an attempt to keep the dampness away from the sock! They really should make Zip-lock bags in a Ladies size 7-8, because the ones I have to hand come a little short of the heal. Not to worry, a few lashings of Duct-Tape soon bridged the gap and Lia was well on her way to offshore happiness. [It is the small things!] Having now put the 'plastic sock' twice to the test, I can confirm that a relative state of dryness has been successfully accomplished. However, one single factor had been carelessly overlooked: the chill. I have a pot of Vaseline, a handful of glow sticks and a hot water bottle? Answers on a postcard to Newport, Rhode Island America. At least I shall be better prepared for the way back! It is only while lying in the bunk down below, can one realise an appreciation for the hue of mid-Atlantic ocean waters.

On deck, the tone is dissippated by the surface turbulance of wave energy or reflects the cloud cover and activity of the sky. But in the cabin, with the survival hatch acting as an ensuite aquarium, I am exposed to 20 by 17 inches of concentrated colour. I was perched on the companion way step earlier, eating the offshore version of a cooked breakfast [haha] - sausage and baked beans out of a sachet, trying to describe this optical delight. One's natural instinct would jump to the label 'aquamarine,' but of course that is laughable, with its brusque translation being 'seawater!' More entertaining is the random colours of the stowage pockets, that were kindly made up for me: lilac, pastel green and shades of grey, which correct if I am wrong, are nearly the same shades as the pebbles in the bottom of your average fish-tank! I may have an excellent clothing sponsor with Gill Marine, but us Humans, have not yet developed Gills! [When experiencing the equivalent sensation of living in a puddle, the subject of water, wetness, dampness and dryness [the ideal!] become unavoidable topics of consideration.

My appologies! Have you ever tried to consume cornflakes on deck in 20 knots of true breeze?! Light a cigarette in a gale? Then you will have a basic grasp of the difficulty I had in eating a small packet of Chilli Con Carne last night in 35 knots apparent. Manoevering the spoon laden with brilliant red chilli beans and associated goo out of the sachet, number one, with a rubber glove on, number two, over and around the lifejacket [watch-out for the tether!] number three, and then up and around to clear the foul weather jacket velcro cover, number four, before hopefuly the majority of the spoon load makes it in past the balaclava without being taken out by a wave or having had the unwanted additional condiment of extra salt added enroute, is an obstacle course in itself! Having discovered a luminous flanel a short time ago, stowed unknowingly, by my shore crew pals, I was therefore pondering [and there is plenty of time for that] whether the flanel was intended as a bib or to suggest that having a wash [albeit soapless] before arrival might be a jolly good idea. Two further labelled packages also revealed themselves yesterday while I was routing around for AAA batteries in the grab bag - 'for when its not going so well,' and 'when you are really in need of help.' Apart from being a Community Chest reading 'Get out of Jail Free' card, or 'Beam-me-up-Scotty,' a Rubix cube or a helfy bottle of morphine [to pass the time] what good will two small gift-wrapped presents might actually do to better any unfortunate situation that might present itself? Best open them now then I thought! There is nothing more satisfying than making progress in a westerly direction, when partaking in a race which leaves the East for the West. Especially when you are trucking at a handsome 8-9 knots, according to the GPS. According to the GPS, that is because my Speed/Depth display was the first act of relative destruction. I had to unplug it! Apart from the stunning Type 2 Raymarine Hydraulic Ram autopilot which has so far put up with some fantastic weather extremes, there are few items [including myself!] which can stand the test to such an intensity of condensation, moisture, dribbles, spray and the odd soaking! People pay good money to visit a spa and expose themselves to conditions which are not dissimilar to those currently where I am perched down below. Exchange the coals for a small petrol generator originally purchased off E-bay for £30, replace the single towel with the luxury of one's entire wardrobe for the purpose of mopping and Shockwave, with aquatic sound effects and window to the sea offers a much more enticing package?! Anyway, excuse the side track, I believe that a drop of water might possibly have infiltrated the depth cable to somehow confuse it that I was constantly running out of water. Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding, SHALLOW reads the message across both autopilot screen and chart plotter. I pressed 'here' to acknowledge, from the cockpit, from in the bunk, from the deck, until we cleared the Celtic shelf and I came to the conclusion that ONE DOESNT SIMPLY RUN OUT OF WATER IN THE ATLANTIC! My second thought was- am I flying the main hull? Not flying as in ORMA 60 class trimarans fly the main hull [the day Shockwave does that, boy, am I in trouble!] but launching out of the water sufficiently to give the speedo a no reading. I clip onto the jackstay and crawl out to the port float to get a good look at the bobbing underside of the main hull and blasted by a jet of water through the tramps, clamber in retreat quickly back again. [Lia continues to patiently press the 'Acknowledge' button several thousand times further]. Until, ENOUGH! I was not expecting to cross the Atlantic and develop tinitus! Something somewhere was going to have to be unplugged! Not as easy as it sounds, when your entire system operates under the same conspiracy: the offshore union for marine electronics: Sea-Talk! Having dispensed with Speed and Depth, I was startled to hear that both Mollymalk [Ross Hobson] and Anne Caseneurve retired from the race in succession. The news came to me by Satfone on Friday morning, after I had woken up at around quarter to four, freezing and curled up in the cockpit. It was by no mistake that I happened to have spent my night clutching the autopilot remote; ready and waiting like a sleeping policeman. With three reefs in the main, we had been mashing into some hefty seas with gusts reaching the mid to high thirties. In order to avoid veering off to the Azores or going skyward on the chart towards Newfoundland, I was having to point pretty close to the wind. Shockwave can point an impressive 19-25 degrees true off the wind in a flatish sea. One cross wave in these circumstances had the 'Off course' alarms in chorus and myself dashing for the tiller before the backed jib dug in further to certify her 'in irons' and begin accelerating backwards. My vigilance seemed to have paid off: well I had at least leapt at the course correction buttons on more than two occasions in order to qualify the activity worthwhile. I stayed on deck a while longer to check that the patient was stable and dozed in 'The Armchair.' There was only one star visible in the night sky. If losing Speed and Depth was annoying, Friday comparatively was NOT a good day. My patience was being grated a little thin. I will confess now to being a minor speed freak and watching the bows plummet four sometimes five feet off a wave cap into the belly of another, killing 9 knots of perfectly good speedŠ into 4, was not my idea of fun. Not to mention being shaken like a bean in a coffee grinder while clutching onto the bunk inside. For the purposes of moral, I needed occasionally to take the helm and go tearing off in the wrong direction, in order to maintain focus. And there was much to think about. I had patrolled the forward decks in the usual fashion, the night before, checking for oddities and noticed that the jib halyard line was chafing hard at its mast exit point. Inspecting the halyard post qualifier [a mere five days of offshore exposure] had high-lighted the same problem. If I didn't go up and lash off the jib top to the mast, the halyard potentially might snap and leave me temporarily [until I can rig another one] jib-less. Not a welcome thought, after hoisting the storm jib yesterday for inspection and watching Shockwave slip carelessly sideways. In looking up at the halyard exit, I noticed one of the bungee cords that pull the top masthead backstay forward out of harms way, on the leeward side, was swinging freely. As my eyes scanned down they stopped at a screw rearing its head from the jib furler foil. Aaaaaaaah! What carnage! I have never looked at a roller furler set-up and thought, 'Wow that works well!' Mine was clearly no exception. Several screws holding the pieces of foil in place on the foil core had vanished and a one inch gap had now appeared between two plates, like a toothless grin. I was going to have to go up. I was GOING to have to climb up. So I did my best to postpone this activity - texting Abes [Shore crew manager] on the Satphone, for advise and best course of action, until about 4 in the afternoon, when I thought right: I am GOING up. The internal battle flag was on standby hoist. Spa bond, check, mixed with stick in pot and cling-film over top, check, new screws, check, Dacron tape [for over the top of the screw heads] check, sikaflex gun loaded and ready to squirt [for gluing down the dacron tape] check, Duct-Tape, self-amalgamating tape [just for fun], electrical tape, jumbo zip-ties, plasters, line for lashing, CHECK. Okay, so I am in harness, I have checked the masthead light is on [what the hell!] , that the Sea-me is not registering radar transmission from any ships, that the autopilot remote is round my neck and that the carabiner for my brace line is not likely to get hung up. Both Jumars [climbing handles] are in place and I have one foot in each stirrup, when I look right. I have not seen anyone, ships, yachts or heard a murmur on the VHF for days and what do I see? A huge freighter. And what course is he on? Collision course. Has he seen me? How do I know? And so, I nearly climbed the mast, but scrambled back to the cockpit instead in a flurry, stuck in the tiller and hand steered the hell out of the way. Close call. Morning broke quite literally with a crack of light on the eastern horizon, that gradually got prised open as the hours rolled by. I was fishing forwards to describe it, but fell short. My poetic linguisitcs appear to have got diverted early on in the week in efforts to describe the most horrid sensation of perpetually wearing wet boots. Alas! Not feeling that I must strictly adher to the 'breakfast,' 'lunch', 'dinner' piter-pater of everyday existance [it was 5 in the morning, I had missed quote un-quote dinner and who was there to complain?!'] I decided to opt for a steak and potatoes with vegetables rather than granola with milk and blueberries. As depicted by the grossly un-enticing label, it was exactly that: non-descript veggies with lumps of stodge with chunks of meat textured but not meat-flavoured alleged meat, which wasn't too dissimilar to last nights beef stew with dumplings in overall flavour. [Alas my appetite is starting to wane!] Just as there are those who plant tomato ketchup on top of every meal, I am at this point, without ever having been an avid fan, ready to join the school of hot-sauce on everything. [So Abes, Simon, Andy, James, Grey, if there's any of that on board somewhere , please CONFESS!] I was woken at around 4-5, by the wind shift alarm. She had finally clocked SE. Not having been able to receive weather files for some days now, I have been holding out for the 'Text book' low, to pan out in true RYA fashion. Astoundingly this has so far gone as planned! We marched into the depression until Thursday, at which point the skies began to clear [the cloud broke into small freckles] and alarm bells rang- uh-ho Low centre no more wind perhaps. At this point we hung a left [turned to port] and headed south to mash into some nasty seas for a day or two as the wind clocked us round back onto a more favourable course as the front passed over. Now actually heading on the course which could take me to the finish [if it could just hold out for approx 15-20 more days?!] I appear to be back among the ocean rollers as if I'd never left the front at all and the breeze is pumping out a good 20-25. Back to School for Lia? Perhaps. In the meantime I shall sit patiently, hoping that once the Weathernet server, just once, maybe, will not time out on me and I will be able to glimpse what is ahead.

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