I am currently cruising down the edge of the exclusion zone, heading for a rendezvous with the Campbell Islands under New Zealand for Christmas time. I have perfect southern ocean conditions, 30 knots gusting 35 that allow me to keep a high average speed and surf down the huge swells with small safe sails. Several days ago when I decided to keep heading East when the strong front ran me down I had this scenario in mind and knew that if I could stay fast enough to keep up with the system I could put serious miles into Arnaud and Fabrice.
If you look at the race tracker you'll see that Louis Burton, who escaped with the first depression, is now 580 miles ahead of Nandor who escaped in the next storm. I am now 280 miles ahead of Arnaud and should stay in stronger winds for longer than he can and I hope this is my opportunity to make my escape stick. Once these gaps are established it's very hard to catch up because one has to jump from one weather system to the next. Here's hoping my move works!
Escaping isn't easy however as I discovered both in the last storm but also last night when I had to gybe around the corner of the exclusion zone. While running down the no go zone, the wind continued to increase until it was gusting 40 and the boat was pitching down the valleys of the swells and sending up walls of spray that made for white-out conditions in the light of my headlamp. Clouds covered the moon so I was on my own for the maneuver with just my headlamp and foredeck light to judge the moment to gybe. I waited until a lull in the wind showed me my moment and I was able to pull the 170 square meter reacher around to the windward side and run downwind like a bird with one sail spread out on each side of the boat. With the big sail through I was able to accelerate the boat on a wave to take the pressure off the mainsail so I could bring it across without shock loading the rig. Like comedy, gybing is all about timing but the pressure is higher as one false move when choosing when to release a barber hauler, swing the keel, swap the backstays or grind on the sheets would result in more than just a joke falling flat!
Shortly after the first, I had to gybe again to take on the new course and again the sky was black and I had to pick a lull when the wind was blowing less than 30kts. Just minutes after my final maneuver for the night the sky cleared to reveal a beautiful starry sky and a powerful moon that would have made my life a lot easier just moments before. Clearly the joke was on me but the thousands of gybes I have done since I started in the Mini Transat in 2009, and the muscle memory I have created, served me well when I needed it and I'm still here, ready to gybe another day.