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CSM'S BLOG: FROZEN DAMP KITE WRESTLING ON SPARTAN

I have a secret. I am ashamed to admit this but until today I have been harbouring a shabby stowaway in the forepeak. I bundled him in there about ten days ago just before Christmas and he has been there ever since. Sure, I've made sure he was secure and I've kept going up there to have a look at him but I've not had the heart to do anything about the situation. Until today.

You may remember the interesting line I took out of Cape Town - how the blue line, the yellow line and the green line all went like this towards New Zealand and the red line went, well, he went like that - straight down about ninety degrees off the general direction chosen by  everyone else. Well, during those insufferably long days going South on the red line there was a certain moment, a tip over if you will, when it became clearly apparent to the crew that the skipper had, in the words of the Knight from ‘Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade’, “chosen poorly”. This led to a certain amount of frustration and grumbling in the ranks which in turn led to a somewhat fatalistic, stoic air to the watches. It is, after all, a little disheartening in any endeavour to have a velocity of zero towards your goal while your competitors are hot footing it there with seemingly seven league boots.

Towards the end of this period of light airs the number 2 asymmetric kite, the A2, had been getting a little restless as we neared a gybe point and I was running particularly low in an attempt to reach out towards those elusive Westerlies to the South of our position, hoping to end the torment as soon as possible. Running this deep with the wind almost directly over the back of the boat gets you where you want to go but it is not hugely fast as the mainsail is almost entirely covering the kite from the wind's perspective. Sailing with this aspect also creates a circulating air flow behind the main which makes the kite unsteady and prone to gyrating in ever wider circles as though looking for something to ensnare and mate with. On the Clipper boats last year the unlucky victim was always the inner forestay (oh the painful memories..), which our symmetric kites would latch onto with a steely grip and never let go if you gave them half a chance.

On Spartan it seems the object of desire for my flamenco-hipped Dacron associate aloft was the control lines for the snuffer sock that hang in the middle of the fore triangle when the sail is flying. Ten days ago in a particularly sloppy swell pattern, just before I could do anything to stop it and most insultingly exactly as I was looking at the kite thinking “God you're being well-behaved in all this” he suddenly collapsed, swirled, filled, collapsed, grasped the lines, swirled, filled and then fluidly began his ugly constriction.

In mute appreciation of the A2's self control and precision I watched as the sail effectively furled its self up of its own accord;  neatly, tightly and completely from top to bottom all in approximately 30 seconds. Really, if you could somehow hone the skill, rationalize the practice it would be the greatest step forward in downwind sail management since the invention of the snuffer. Just clap your hands twice Sir and Voila! Your sail is furled. There was little to say really. I think the closest analogy would be perhaps the reaction of an angry parent having discovered their wayward child has just set fire to the garden shed. There is a point where you are just so far beyond angry all you can say, through gritted teeth is “Tommy I'm so disappointed, get in the house.” In the same manner all I could think was “A2, you shame me. Get in the forepeak, I don't want to even look at you.”

And so neatly and hideously ensnared in itself, probably a little confused why this masterstroke had gone down so badly the A2 was unceremoniously dropped into the forepeak, and the hatch slammed shut.

Since then luckily there has been enough wind that I have not had to think more about this incident. But he has been in there lashed down tight, bemused waiting for me come and undo the carnage. Today, finally driven by guilt and a building need for my sole downwind accomplice, I undid those lashings and started to work through the problem. Now, this sail is the size of a tennis court, it is all white and it is wrapped around two 100ft lengths of half inch line in the manner of a Chinese finger lock. The room in which this magic trick is to occur is 3 ft high, 10ft long, tapered somewhat towards the bows and home to at least two other similarly sized but thankfully well behaved and packed away sails. This therefore is not the ideal locale to attempt such jiggery-pokery.

I shan't trouble you with the details of the operation. Safe enough to say it was repetitious and arduous and there were some angry words exchanged, swearing even. Yes I did use a knife and I'm sorry no, unfortunately the control lines didn't make it.

I can conclude this sorry tale by saying that I have today discovered another exciting side of Open 60 racing they don't tell you about when you sign up for all this. Frozen Damp Kite Wrestling and that I am no longer on speaking terms with the A2. I might add that I have a very sore head from whacking it on the deck beams all day long in my impromptu Umpah-Lumpah sail loft but that thankfully I also have a correctly stowed, suitably chastised and ready race asymmetric kite.

Ah! The New Year I nearly forgot! Happy New Year to everyone and good luck for 2011! Thank you for your messages - I really appreciate all of them :)