Medusa’s challenge – Tim Luke

Tim and Medusa, First finishers Jester 2018.
Transatlantic Summary (non technical):
The stressful bit was getting Medusa to Plymouth a couple of weeks before the start. Then, with 72 hours to go, discovering that the replaced battery monitoring system had failed again and needed replacing during a Bank Holiday.
Crossing the start line on 7th May was a relief. The forecast was for two gentle days followed by our first bashing. That’s what happened and the bashing set the scene for the next month. Sunglasses and sunscreen were irrelevant until 4th June.

Squalls encountered crossing The Bay of Biscay were exciting. The first cloud, resembling a dark atomic mushroom, signalled it’s intent. Despite being ready for the “Biscay Blaster” it nearly flattened us, with water lapping into the cockpit. After dumping the main sail I had to quickly release the genoa to get her upright. Tactics for the next 24 hours were soon adapted! It sounds dramatic but this was a straightforward problem experienced numerous times winter racing the Laser. A much greater challenge was working out how to get the weather forecasting equipment working. This wasn’t a priority in Plymouth. I needed to work out why the robot couldn’t understand my requests. The help desk, technically brilliant but with apparently no nautical knowledge, hadn’t encountered anyone as good with computers as me or on an Apple system! His “What exactly are we trying to achieve here?” might have generated a stronger reaction had he been a metre away! Between squalls, concentrated detective work was needed. It was very satisfying to crack something that no one can help you with but restful to get back to the diminishing Biscay Blasters.

Of the North Atlantic routes I’d planned to take the intermediate one, heading for 40North 60West, the southern point of the potential ice region. The wind encouraged a south-west route towards The Azores for the first week before allowing progress to the west. The weather pattern was Low (rough stuff) followed by pleasant sailing and the occasional frustrating becalmed phase. The further west, the rougher the rough patches became. This was great for detecting Medusa’s last remaining leaks but meant the cabin was permanently damp. No big deal, I’d dispensed with socks by this stage but my feet didn’t dry out until the sun came out in June.

We reached the ice zone further north than intended and had a choice of heading north- west, straight into the path of another trouser filling forecast or drop south away from the bad weather and the potential for ice. By early June I’d had quite enough of a North Atlantic experience and was ready to run away from another threatened gale. We weren’t getting as badly bashed as we had been in the 2016 Azores trip but a head lining / ceiling had come down and a cupboard door frame had buckled out of shape from slamming into waves. I’d re-read Denis Gorman’s book about the 2010 Challenge and fancied some of the sunshine sailing he’d enjoyed on The Azores line, around 38 North.

Going south worked in terms of warmer temperatures but the strong winds came with us for just one last time. However, a bit of sunshine makes a nasty looking sea feel almost benign! 3rd June was the day to get through with the worst of the wind forecast between lunch and the evening. I spent the afternoon huddled under the hood avoiding the worst of the spray but soaked through, poised to dump the main if we were hit hard. Mid afternoon, just as things were getting threatening, I spotted something out of place, which soon turned into the lead dorsal fin of a fast approaching pod of dolphins. Up to 30 of them with 6 airborne at a time. We only shared one another’s company for five minutes but it was as if they were saying, “don’t worry mate you’ll be fine.”

After about 6 hours it was still blowing and I was starting to get cold so went below and left it to the trusty Aries wind vane steering gear to look after us. I’d intended but failed to buy a spare pair of oilskin trousers before the start. Bad mistake, as my quality Mustos, after 4 years brilliant service, started leaking whilst crossing Biscay. A month later they were officially ****ed but still usable, in the warm weather, on a commando basis. This was preferable to climbing into my dry suit. The overall effect of my failure to invest meant that by the end of week one all my underwear and most trousers were “ready salted.” I’ll know for next time. Meanwhile thank heavens for wet wipes and Sudocream!

From 5th June it was shorts and T shirt sailing and most of the time we were going in the right direction, west. There was just one last big obstacle, The Gulf Stream. I’d heard and read about it stopping boats in their tracks, sometimes for days. That never happened to Medusa but we were taken about 80 miles off course to the East, a reasonable price to pay with only a few days sailing left. The forecast was for northerly breezes, ideal but they never materialised. Instead it took us three days of beating in light westerly breezes, often against the tide to cover the remaining 90 miles to the Newport Rhode Island finish. Humpback Whales made up for several hours becalmed and there was time to get all the cushions dried out on deck as we crawled slowly towards the finish. For the last 5 miles we were joined by Norm Bailey and Dianne from Newport Yacht Club along with Jester legend Guy Waites who completed the challenge in a 21’ Corribee in 55 days, the last 3 without water! Norm guided us past Brenton Reef, the final hazard before crossing the line and heading in for much-needed shower, food, beer and bed after 41 days sailing – longest sleep, 75 minutes. Tina’s flight was too late to see the finish but she was there once I’d cleared customs, scrubbed up and in time to help me home on very wobbly legs.

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