Preamble (dated 22nd November 2005):
This is a circular letter I once sent to friends in lieu of a Christmas card. I wrote it in Hobart in Tasmania in February 1993, having sailed halfway round the world on "Heath Insured", a 67 foot steel, cutter-rigged sloop competing against nine other idential boats in Sir Chay Blyth inaugural 'subscription' round the world sailing race for amateurs, the 1992-93 British Steel Challenge.
I have just found it on an old 3.5 inch floppy disk whilst looking for something else. It is a bit rough, perhaps, but at the time I wanted others to have an idea of what the first half of our extraordinary adventure had been like.
Now I wonder if you might be interested. Here it is - warts and all...
Hobart, Monday 8th February '93
What can I say? The support I have got from so many people back home has been fantastic and I thank you sincerely for that. Others, overseas, have faithfully sent Christmas cards without realising that they will not get one from me this year (the same thing happened the other year when I was in Nigeria). To all of you I say a big thank you. I apologise that this is a circular letter, but I hope you get something from it. I started writing then realised, after a time, that a lot of what I wanted to write I had written before, so shamelessly, really, I have lifted chunks of reports and articles I have written to others and lifted them into this letter (thank you the man who developed the wordprocessor!). I meant to write from Rio, but the time seemed to fly by, and suddenly we were sailing again.
The first leg of this great adventure was very straight forward. The start in Southampton seems such a long time ago now. Maybe you've heard that we got caught up on the start line distance mark, and took several moments cutting ourselves free. My account of the incident was quoted from (I have yet to get a whole article to myself, although I did manage 850 words and my own byline in the sports section of The Times the Thursday before we left) in The Times and we got dubious publicity in several of the other major nationals. Any publicity is good publicity, usually, and no-one from Heath office complained.
So to the Race - after a couple of nights being bashed about in the Bay of Biscay we settled down to an unbroken 15 days and nights with a spinnaker up! Sometimes it was the 0.75 oz lightweight tristar, sometimes the 1.5 oz tristar, and at other times the 1.5 oz promotional triradial. Peeling one to another and straight into a gybe. Not bad for a bunch of over-enthusiastic, uninformed amateurs! Frustratingly the 1.5 oz tristar blew (a seam failed near the head - I was on the helm; it was at night, blowing 35 knots with the boat doing about 13-14 knots off the waves. Suddenly the damned thing was smiling at me. That lasted about a second and it blew) near the Azores to we were left with flying the promotional triradial. Very nice. Had the Atlantic wildlife been able to read I'm sure they'd have been insured with Heath Group. As it was the show was wasted on them, and anyway, due to some bad and inattentive helming (not by me...!) that blew too.
Our arrival in Rio was spoilt by the fact that, in their wisdom, the Race Committee had decided to make us race the last mile or so along the length of Copacabana Beach. Nothing wrong with that, you might think. There are, after all, some extraordinary sights to be seen. In Rio the men, and the girls bless 'em, have a fascination for the glutinous maximus. Bikini bottoms are nicknamed 'dental floss' owing to the thinness of the components, and the amazing distance they disappear up between the cheeks. Bums everywhere! Anyway, (we're back to the sailing now...) it transpires there is no wind along Copacabana Beach. The two yachts ahead of us struggled, we struggled, and the rest of the fleet struggled. To finish. Three and a half hours it took us to finish the last mile - I exaggerate not, there is no need.
By the time we eventually dropped anchor in Bogafoto Bay (there was not enough water to have us alongside at the Iate Clube - Yacht Club to you and me) it was gone nine in the evening and I was in a state of high dudgeon. Never mind, beers aplenty and off into town to find dodgy night clubs (the first one we found fitted the bill perfectly!!!). I've been asked if my sea legs meant I was a bit shaky on first standing on terra firma. Frankly I haven't a clue - hop juice had already rendered me so!
Brazil came and went. Marvellous place, really, but one had to watch oneself. No walking around at night, and watch your wallet at all times etc etc. Not as squalid as I was expecting, but then I did not venture in to the 'favellas' (the shanty areas where so many of the Rio inhabitants actually live). Corcavado (the statue of Christ) was magnificent, but Sugar Loaf was rather tedious. A cable car up there then only the cable car station and a couple of cheap bars at the top. Views not stunning (unlike from Corcavado from where they were stunning), and all rather shoddy. If only they had left the place to itself. From the ground the cable car station sticks up like a carbuncle, but if one gets on the sea side (in Bogofoto Bay) so that the c/c station is not visible the mountain itself is impressive. It is thought to be a volcanic plug, and one can almost imagine it rising from the ground on the very day of its creation.
The departure from Rio saw 'Heath Insured' involved in another start line incident; this time we actually managed to hit another of the yachts (Nuclear Electric). It all seems a long time ago now. We flew a protest flag for 24 hours, and flew it again on arrival in Hobart. We lost the protest so were penalised 2 hours. Frustrating, but there we are. Chay Blyth was very amused. ''9000 miles to go and they are not giving each other an inch at the start'' he was quoted as saying. Certainly no-one allows the fact that this is a round the world race with legs weeks long to make them cautious as the starts - one boat (Interspray) was 1 second (yes, one second) over the line before the gun, and perhaps should have had a 2 hours penalty as well. However the skipper is a canny bird and reckoned the flag officer's recall procedure (to which he did not respond) was wrong and that he was free. This turned out to be the case. In Hobart his case was dropped...!
We had a good second leg in many ways; there were vast contrasts to it. The trip down the South American coast was marked by frustrating winds (frustrating seems to be a word I use a lot to describe this adventure, but it is a race, and when things are not too well one sits on watch for hours frustrated by ones lack of good progress. Perhaps one should simply sit on deck and enjoy the 'event'. It should be enough, after all, just to sail around the world, but since it is race the desire to do well [indeed be the best] gnaws away at one all the time) which took one first this way, the frustrating winds this is, remember them six lines up!, and then that, but rarely on a good course. It got increasingly cold as we went south, and the crew took, eventually, to what became the norm in the southern ocean -i.e. the wearing of thermals and foul weather kit all the time. However we did have a most unusual day about a day from the Falkland Islands. The sun came out, the wind was steady, we had a spinnaker up, and all was seemingly well with the world.
I have to write reports back to our sponsors Heath Group in London. I dont do it all the time; frankly, even at the bottom of the world, there is little to write about. However on this occasion I did write, and I take the liberty of copying my report here (why re-describe it all to you, when I can call up my reaction at the time...)
The first bit is a preamble to Heath Group explaining that I had sent this report to Race HQ...
We have to keep writing reports to race hq, for their twice daily press releases. We don't write every day, but this is what I wrote to them today, because it has been a glorious one. It is now half past midnight. I came off watch at midnight and the faint bluey-purple of the failing light was still visible to the west. Now the deck is bathed in the silver light of a quarter moon (John Mac must be loving this bit...). anyway, back to the plot...
A remarkable day, 30th Nov '92. There we were, less than 200 miles north of Cape Horn, and on 'Heath Insured' we had the spinnaker flying on a perfectly bright, calm, sunny and warm day.
The crew gradually discarded foulies and warm kit as wind speeds dropped. We changed directly from the 2.2 oz asymmetric to the 0.75 oz tristar spinnaker. For most of the day 'Heath Insured' ghosted along, trimmers and helms squeezing boat speed from 5 to 10 knots of wind.
The deck became strewn with kit, not a space remained. Everything came up to be aired or washed and dried. And bodies too. The skipper led the way. After pondering the dial which said sea temp 7 deg C he stripped to his shreddies, grabbed a bucket and chucked a large lump of sea all over himself. Expletives were deleted furiously, but lather flew, and before long most of the crew were at it. Cries of ''Oh, that's better...'' and ''Cor, bloody marvellous...'' chided the stalwarts of the 'thermals-on-in-Rio-and-off-in-Hobart' brigade (of which, until today, I was a staunch member) who remained stubbornly clad.
Around dinner time the wind got up a bit. We peeled from 0.75 oz spinnaker to 1.5 oz and 'Heath Insured' is now bowling along at 8.5-10 knots bang on target for the tidal gate at Le Maire Strait.
All good stuff.
Vivat Cape Horn...
So - all well here. Crew in good shape and looking forward to 'the corner' tomorrow. Today Barry Pickthall (yachting correspondent of The Times), who is at Cape Horn lighthouse and with whom we and the rest of the fleet are in touch, reported weather at Cape Horn to be ''2 knots of breeze from the west'' and added that it is as calm there as anybody can remember...
Let's see what tomorrow brings.
1st December 1992
To the Father of 'Heath Insured'
her Skipper and Crew
We passed one mile to the south of Cape Horn this day 1st December 1992 at 1551 hours LMT. The day was sunny, bright and clear, the sea calm and the wind blowing 35 knots. We had up No. 1 Yankee, staysail and a full main. We were making 10.8 to 11.5 knots on a heading of 230 deg m.
We had Pride of Teeside one mile behind us, having passed her earlier in the day.
We popped the cork on your bottle of champagne, gave a drink to Davey Jones and toasted you by name. We gave three cheers to the Skipper, to the Horn, and to 'Heath Insured'. It was a magical time and our only regret, as it has been on the entire trip so far, is that you are not with us.
We tried to call you via Portishead, but by the time we got through it was 2115 hrs GMT and you did not answer.
You ride with us as we push on into the Southern Ocean and we look forward to seeing you in Hobart.
This comes to you with our best wishes.
After that we were straight into bigger seas, higher winds, lower temperatures and huge distances. There was nothing between us and Hobart except thousands and thousands of miles of unforgiving ocean. Initially the wind built just aft of the beam. As we went in to our first night in the Southern Ocean we had up the No. 1 Yankee, the staysail and a full main. The wind was blowing just over 40 knots and we had a following sea just aft of the starboard quarter.
The helm, at which I found myself standing as the light failed completely, was heavy, and one had to get a lot on quickly to stop the boat screwing up to windward. After about an hour the waves and the wind were about right and I managed to get 16.5 knots of speed surfing off a wave (the boat carried the speed for a few seconds only, but it was exhillerating). I still had some helm on, however. About ten minutes later the same combination of wind and wave came, except that this time the wave was perfect. I started to put some helm on, but realised she was very light on the wheel. I straightened the wheel, it all went even lighter and off we went. The speed started building from about 12 knots, and just went on building. Nothing on the helm, sails full, wind blowing hard. 17.3 knots! The skipper stuck his head out of the doghouse, laughed and stuck up his thumb (he has a repeater on the log in the doghouse). It is still the 'Heath Insured' record, although 'Group 4' are claiming 21 knots (true, I'm sure) when they came off a wave just after having rounded the Horn the next day.
One of the most notable incidents for us was going to the aid of 'British Steel 2'. At about 0530 hrs LMT in the morning we heard a report that she had lost her mast. That day, and the one following, were a bit special. This is how I described them in a draft article to Barry Pickthall at the London Times (from which he only quoted, although he said he'd use it in full...)
'Heath Insured' in Mid-Ocean Refuelling Mission
Since British Steel 2 lost her mast in the southern ocean, the amount of fuel she had remaining on board, and thus her capacity to motor to a landfall, has been of great concern.
At 1500 hrs gmt on 17/12 Adrian Donovan, skipper of 'Heath Insured', contacted 'British Steel 2' and offered to rendezvous and pass fuel across to her. 'Heath Insured' was some 140 miles north of 'British Steel 2' at the time. The offer was accepted and 'Heath Insured' immediately changed course for an agreed rendezvous point.
'Group 4' and 'Pride of Teeside had been in touch with 'British Steel 2' and suggested they divert to the rendezvous also. However 'Pride of Teeside are well north of the rest of the fleet, and so will rendezvous with 'British Steel 2' at another time.
Through the day 'Heath Insured' made best speed through changeable weather. 25 knot winds in the morning gave way to frustratingly light cyclonic winds in the early afternoon. Then, in the space of half an hour, the wind backed 130 degrees and increased to 25 knots. In the space of one hour the crew made seven sail changes.
Regular radio contact was kept with 'British Steel 2' and 'Group 4' during the day. 'Heath Insured' and 'Group 4' eventually made the rendezvous point with 'British Steel 2' (over 2000 miles from the nearest landfall, in the middle of the loneliest waters known to man) together, at 0730 hrs gmt 18/12 (half past midnight boat time), having sailed all day from different parts of the southern ocean to get there.
'British Steel 2' presented a tragic sight. Without a mast to carry the eye high she looked unnervingly low in the water. ''An albatross without wings,'' agreed a number of 'Heath Insured' crew.
It was decided that fuel be passed across on a heaving line in 5 gallon jerry cans. The weather and sea had moderated - 15 knots of wind and a 3 foot swell. Separated by just 30 feet of water, and with 'British Steel 2's movements lurching and ugly, the operation called for precision and skill.
The transfer started at 0802 gmt (0102 hrs boat time) and proceeded without a break for something over one hour. 14 times full jerry cans were dragged across that heaving gap and the empties returned. At one point a box of goodies came back from 'British Steel 2'. Marmite, sweets, a CD of 'South Pacific' and another containing a track called 'Hands Across the Sea', some pasta - great generosity from a boat likely to need all they've got over the next few weeks. ''All on 'British Steel 2' want to thank you on 'Heath Insured' for what you have done, but I don't know quite what to say...'' is how the 'British Steel 2' radio operator put it, falteringly.
The transfer complete 'British Steel 2' slipped away into the darkness. 'Heath Insured' made sail and commenced racing again at 1000 hrs (0300 hrs boat time) 18/12.
It has been an odd few hours, and several of 'Heath Insured's crew are a little moved. Said Carol Randall, ''That's the saddest sight I've seen since the start of the British Steel Challenge''
From 'British Steel 2' skipper Richard Tudor's voice came heavy with gratitude. He and the crew are shattered to be out of this leg, and are striving to get to where their repairs can be effected. They realise, however, that their situation is critical. They are a long way from shipping lanes and later they will need more fuel...
The incident is over and we are racing again. There are still some 2900 miles of ocean to cover before we get to Hobart. Weather forecasts suggest some busy days ahead, and we are having to nurse the boat. The very lower shroud, the failure of which caused the demise of 'British Steel 2's rig, is jury rigged on 'Heath Insured'. There is a preventer fitted and all steps are being taken to ensure that it holds. However the southern ocean has many characters, some of them vicious. There is much still to do...
Previous to our meeting 'British Steel 2' we had had an incident too. Our forestay went and we had to take a bottle screw from the aft lower shroud, re-rig the forestay and then jury rig the aft lower (port side). It was not what we would have wanted, and it happened in an area of large icebergs with many 'growlers' (the little pieces - ''little pieces'' what am I saying? These damned things are the sizes of houses themselves..!) associated with them. Any of them could have sunk the boat at a stroke, and we had to run off downwind (giving us a course of about 045 deg true when we were needing a course of 245 true to get us to Hobart!). The seas built up until we had a thirty foot following sea. Never mind we got the job done in about 4 hours, and hardened up once again.
24 hours later the jury rig was not looking good. Off the wind again (this at 0200 hrs in the morning, cold, wet and windy) but that did not work, so we went the other way - feathering into about 20 knots of wind. The job took another four hours (not by me, I need hardly say, but by the skipper and a couple of very good engineer-types we have on the boat - I was helming) but when it was done it looked good, and we sailed for some 3000 miles with the lower shroud bound up with miles of spectre, two bottle screws laid horizontal, and the whole thing strapped together with a couple of 'D' shackles.
Christmas was an interesting time, and at the risk of being boring I repeat here another telex which I wrote for the Heath office in London. By the time I was writing this we had decided to try and save the office money, so it is written in telexese - i.e. a lot of consonants have been taken out. I hope the gist of the message is still there. I have left it just as I sent it, so it refers to stuff about which you will know nothing, but you might get a flavour of what gets sent out of the boat...
kier, john mackenzie-green, jonathan, mavis n jackie and all
at the various heath offices
mny tks 2 u all fr yr kind xmas grtngs. the news re hbrt pub was a wlcme xmas present indeed n mny tks fr it frm all on brd. its frustrating though to be stuck out here with headwinds for the last 1500 miles knowing we have our own private pub waiting - yes john the fingers are coming out even now ......
special tks also to welsh offce fr the whisky (only a drop in the custard -hnstly - ths is a dry boat whn on the wet...) to be cnsmd on arrvl hbrt.
also spcl tks to dundee office fr the dundee cakes. david spratley ws a major star in the glly on xmas day. all srts of 'special' food ws srvd. hwevr the cakes were a highlight. moist and fruity (like most of the crew aftr 6 wks at sea really...).
finally mny tks to all of you fr kindly providng fathr xmas with provendr fr the crew. all were delvrd wth great florish by a fully decked-out frthr xmas who lookd a little like ken. he hd a steer of the boat bt sd hs beard n hood blindd hs view of the compass n instrmnts. certnly he ws hopeless... sleighs require a diffrnt technique no doubt.
ws bright n clear n the boat movd wll undr reefd main n small
headsails. it all strtd at midnight wth the whole crw cmng tgthr
to sing carols arnd the wheel. this was immediately followed
by a headsail change at
(mavis - tks fr yr call bkng - p/head tried to gt bck 2 u bt sd thr ws a fault on the line.)
agn - mny tks to all fr kind support. at ths xmas time we r at the point of no return. in the nxt few hrs we wll crss the dateline n wll be 'coming home' from then on. we all wish all of you a very happy and prosperous new year. pls pass this on to all involved with heath, from reading to rio
donovan and all crew
And so into Hobart. What joy. I simply cannot heap enough praise on the place, but by way of illustration (here we go again....!) I repeat below a copy of a report I wrote for The Mercury newspaper which is one of the main newspapers in Hobart and Tasmania.
B E G I N S
'Heath Insured' in Hobart
British Steel Challenge Round the World Yacht Race competitor 'Heath Insured' crossed the second leg finish line in Hobart at 1659 hrs local time on 6th January. Since leaving Rio de Janeiro she had sailed non stop for some 9500 miles and 52 days, down the South American coast, round Cape Horn and across the southern ocean.
The voyage was an exhilarating experience for all on board, but 52 days is a long time, and the Tasmanian landfall was eagerly awaited.
The people of Tasmania, but particularly those in Hobart, have taken the British Steel Challenge yachts to their hearts. The welcome afforded to 'Heath Insured' as she came alongside Elizabeth Street Pier lived up to the highest ideals of Aussie bonhomie. At an impromptu party hosted by Heath Group's Hobart office 'C.E. Heath Casualty and General Insurance Limited', certainly the beer and champagne flowed, but it was the enthusiasm of the ordinary people in the street, many of whom were at the pier that day, which so delighted the crew.
But then Hobart is a sailing town. The visiting British Steel Challenge crews see sailing boats everywhere and at weekends they throng the river, racing and cruising. 'Heath Insured' arrived in Hobart about 5 days after the Sydney to Hobart Race competitors had left to return to Sydney. That famous race had produced the usual jamboree in Hobart, and its people seemed delighted to welcome the British Steel Challenge on the back of it.
On arrival the crew of 'Heath Insured' received generous offers of help and of accommodation. Invitations to 'barbies' were everywhere and bars all over town reduced their 'happy hour' prices. Said an elderly lady from up-town Hobart ''I don't suppose I can do anything to help, but if I can I'd very much like to''. The whole thing was summed up by The Cruise Company at Brooke Street Pier. They have several boats and offers a variety of tours up and around the Derwent River. A crew member of 'Heath Insured' went to enquire about tour prices. The Cruise Company man laughed. ''If you people can sail 9000 miles to get here, I'm not about to charge you to go up the river. Anybody from the British Steel Challenge, crews, families, friends can take tours on my boats for free...''
Compliments of Terry Hickey Autos Pty Ltd a sleek Mazda 626 Estate car has been put at the disposal of the skipper and crew. They are in no doubt as to which car is ours - it has 'Heath Insured' emblazoned down both sides.
British Steel employee Steve Stamp, a 'one-legger' on 'Heath Insured' for the Rio to Hobart voyage, injured his right leg on the trip and was literally a 'one-legger' for the last three weeks of the journey. In Hobart he has received the best medical treatment, had a fracture and torn ligaments in the knee diagnosed and has been into hospital for an exploratory operation. "There was talk of my going straight home," said Steve, "but I told them I was getting marvellous treatment here and would have an operation in Hobart. I'm glad I did. The people at the Heath office in Hobart have been fantastic - fetching and carrying me all over town. I'm off on Wednesday to have more treatment in the UK. I'd stay here but me and the family are missing each other.'' ''My knee's worse than Gazza's, you know," he added enthusiastically.
And so it continues. The crew of 'Heath Insured' are being accommodated at the Customs House Hotel in Hobart. It is an old, historic, building down by the waterfront, run by brother and sister Paul and Karen Jubb. Food and drink play a big part in the lives of offshore racers when on shore. At the Customs House Hotel the beer is cold and the food is good, plentiful and cheap. Nothing is too much trouble and the crew of 'Heath Insured' are comfortable and happy. Word has got around. Most other crews have found the place; in the bar it's a party every night with Paul and Karen smiling to the end.
All of which has boosted crew morale and work on the boat has proceeded smoothly. 'Heath Insured' fared well in the southern ocean. Certainly she had rigging problems, but these were contained. The mast is good as is the boat generally. Work done has been of a routine nature, servicing winches, stripping down the watermaker etc.
Now there is time for the crew to relax. Some are going to the mainland, others are indulging themselves in Tasmania's 'Holiday Isle' reputation. Certainly there is much to enjoy here and the tourist industry seems well organised. Whatever they do the crew of 'Heath Insured' will be well rested and ready for the rigours of the third leg. The 'Tassie' welcome has been marvellous and the departure from Hobart on Saturday 13th February might be almost as big a wrench as the one when departing from Southampton last September.
E N D S
How the next leg will be we do not know. The weather in the southern Indian Ocean has been very bad. The Antarctic icecap is further north these days than in recent history, and the organisers of the Vendee Globe Round the World Yacht Race (singlehanded out of France, non-stop, west to east - a 120 day dash) have requested their racers to come north. A friend of mine (Alan Wynne Thomas) who was the only amateur in that race has been forced to retire with multiple fractures of 6 or more ribs and a collapsed lung (he nearly died) following a knockdown south of the Kerguelen Islands. We are going the other way (from east to west) and are required to leave the Kerguelen Islands to port, i.e. go north of them, but even so Alan experienced gale after gale after gale, and we have to go into that lot. Its a long way to cape Town. (One good thing about Alan's retirement is that he sailed without assistance, in great pain, showing huge tenacity and guts, to Hobart. I was able to meet him here and several 'Heath Insured' crew sorted his boat out for him. Odd to see him, and wife Margaret here, when I expected to swap stories with him near Henley on Thames, where we both live, next summer.) Funny old world, and those who sail long distances around it are a bit funny too. I'm feeling a little peculiar now myself!
Best wishes to all - again many thanks for all your kind greetings. I apologise again for this being a circular letter and also, now, for the fact that it is so so so long! (over 5000 words to here the WP says!)