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Veni Vidi Vixi - Veni Vidi Vixi - sixth blog - Captains two cents

I take my hat off to all you Captains.

This is hard. Really really hard. I recently told the crew one morning (as they sat eager to hear the days plans after a particularly tough night) that all this responsibility is at times too much. I just wanted an adventure with my family - a chance to have a lovely yacht in New Zealand by avoiding eye-watering shipping fees matched perfectly with a few years skiving off work.

Now it’s Atlantic lows, pitch-black crash gybes, unforcasted near gale force winds, unexpected massive seas, eyes glued to radar as we dodge angry lightening filled localised weather systems. I’m getting no sleep (haven’t had more then 3hrs sleep in a row for weeks), my wife asking why I’m concerned about one thing or another - I’m a planner by nature and want to have at least contemplated a response if the worst should happen at the worst possible time. I feel all alone at times carrying this huge burden knowing that the ground is 5,000m below and land almost two weeks away under our own steam. Its lovely having my wife and three young children on board - but with this added pressure I’m carrying a mountain on my shoulders.

But I constantly remind myself of something that was said to me a few years back. I had crewed in a yacht race from Auckland to Fiji and was bringing the yacht back again as part of a delivery crew. This was 2012 and the days of 12 hourly weather fax over SSB. We got over run by a storm - 70+ knots, massive 6-8m seas. It just kept getting worse. For the first and only time in my life I felt terrified - I’m not the calmest of guys but somehow find myself very calm and alert during dire situations (there’s been a few of these while racing over the years). On this evening I went down to ask the Captain “what the #$&& is going on - why are we in this weather???!!!.” It was clear this was worse then he’d expected, but he calmly advised me of this - “this yacht (a Davidson 55) can take everything thrown at it - it’ll handle more then the crew can. It just depends on the crew looking after the yacht and the yacht will look after the crew.” Somehow it all became ok after that. The storm got worse but we all pulled together.

With those words in mind that’s how I’ve made this all ok. We’ll look after VVV and VVV will look after us. Robin keeps the crew going and looks after the kids. I have two extra crew to help me with sailing. We’ve all practised drills as a team, have standing orders/procedures in place and we as a team all know our roll. We talk safety, strategy, swap ideas and confirm 3hr or standing watch rotations.

This would have been different had COVID not stuffed up plans of doing this instead with a few sailing mates and flying the family across. Or had we kept it simple (the old KISS philosophy), headed south till the butter melted the gybed across - mental note to self. Sailing with kids is great - ours are 7,7 and 8yrs and super resilient. They are no more trying on the water then on land. On balance probably better on the water - days at sea just simply wash over them.

We started out pushing VVV a bit and were doing well a week into the rally (3rd in division) when crew fatigue was setting in and mistakes were happening. With a heavy heart I pulled back on the reins and slowed VVV down and headed South for calmer downwind conditions (reluctantly as VVV does not have a spinnaker pole). The normally oddly quiet interior during overnight passages sounded instead like a freight-train in a tunnel. Broad-reaching with 12s and 13s regularly on the speedo. Performance gave way to preservation.

So now we just get on with it. Our yacht (a Hanse 455) handles everything so well and has earnt my faith since we moved onto her at the beginning of the year. We had already experienced big seas, high winds and hand steered through days of tough conditions - all before we arrived in Las Palmas.

We have morning and evening briefings, I have weather from multiple sources at my fingertips (I’ve learnt patience through less then 1kbps iridium satellite download speeds), and it’s mostly very accurate. Thanks to my wife, we all eat extremely well. Nothings broken or feeling overly worn (except our new sails all being severely punished) - touch wood as we are still 6 days out.

So despite all my proceeding words I never lost confidence that we will all safely arrive in the Caribbean. For me, it comes down to months of planning and preparing VVV. We have an answer to most eventualities.

Without a shadow of a doubt we will all be better for it. I’ve learnt so much about myself, about people, about leadership and trust.

We are six days out from Saint Lucia. The sun has come out, genniker finally hoisted, the weather is settled and I feel all the tough work is behind us.

Hats back on Captains - in the words of the late great Sir Ed Hillary let’s “knock this bastard off.”

When you arrive in Saint Lucia you would have each earned your rum.

I’ll be more then happy to join you for a further rum or two - Paul

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