Happy Christmas from the Southern Ocean

In the unlikely setting of a sunny Southern Ocean day, flying the biggest
spinnaker under a blue sky, we dream of home, of friends, family and loved
ones (and beer and steak).

It's friday and you'll be heading home to your families soon so we thought
we'd send you our best wishes for a Happy Christmas!

Ciao!
Marco & Hugo

Send us a message at www.marconannini.com/sms or send us a present at
www.marconannini.com/help

Surfing into the Pacific Ocean and a reminder of our luck

Yesteday we passed Cape Leeuwin, about 500 miles to our north and have
now, geographically speaking, entered the Pacific Ocean...

Battered by strongest winds yet! Riding the storm

There we go, did i mention anytime over the past few days that this
freaking place is a bit windy? We are running under triple reefed mainsail
and staysail and earlier we got flattened on the side like a dinghy in a
gust that read 57.8 knots on the one surviving wind instrument... This
hopefully is not meant to last long, and it'd better not as we are sailing
at full speed towards the ice limit at 45S, if the wind does not drop soon
we are in trouble, i dont want to have to sail any higher in this sort of
winds but we are not allowed to sail south of 45S, we'll have to make a
call if these conditions persist.

War of attrition: Southern Ocean damage

I may sound boring if i reiterate that we're still in 35-40 knots of wind,
we have not seen anything less than 25 and anything up to 55 for the past
week and inevitably we've suffered some level of damage.

Australia is now only 750 miles above our heads but the finish line still
some 3100 miles to the east, it's a long bloody way to New Zealand!

The first major item to pack up was the Watt&Sea hydrogenerator, the
bracket that holds it on the back of the boat buckled as a side wave must
have pushed the leg with great force, the leg itself is bent and for now
it is unserviceable.

Secondly, and more frustratingly, one of the two NKE wind wands has packed
up as a front swept over our heads, it read 55 knots minutes before
ceising to work.

Riding the Southern Ocean horses: 52.7 knots top wind gust

Even the novelty of riding the back of a Southern Ocean low wears out
after a while, it's amazing what you get used to, we've been below, hatch
closed, for the past two days pretty much eating and sleeping and riding
this mad highway averaging around 12 knots but with surfs well above 20
knots, the maximum wind we recorded so far was 52.7 knots but otherwise
has been anywhere between 33 and 48 knots. Unfortunately with such a
wide range we can't really put any more sail up as we have to be careful
about the top end and the gusts so we are a little slower when the wind
drops, up and down all the time...

Giant waves crashing over the boat after mad surfs

The low that two days ago gave us a kicking upwind has moved to the SE and
now we are running in the strong following winds behind the cold front.
All looks ideal on paper and i'm sure it must look exciting to see us on
the tracker dashing at twice the speed compared to just 48 hours ago...
down here however we are getting a little more entertainement than we had
anticipated, the wind has piped up to 40-45 knots, which i hear you say,
is to be expected, there seems to be always a lot more wind than
predicted... as early as this morning we were flying the small spinnaker,
but then we changed down to the solent and now we are flying our staysail
with reefed main and still occasionally hitting 20knots surfs...

We are thorugh the storm without any damage!

Storm is over, back to normality. After a couple of nasty and
uncomfortable sailing days we just hoisted the small spinnaker and are
finally heading east at decent speeds.

Getting away from the worst of the stormy low

A few hours ago we tacked south follwing Phesheya's example to distance
ourselves from the worst of the winds of the low pressure north west of
us. By the time we tacked the wind was already blowing a full force 7
gusting 8 yet according to the grib files we should have had about 20
knots of wind and it was due to get a lot worse...

Wet, cold, unpleasant bashing

So, the front came through, the wind went around from Northerly to
Southerly in a very short space, within an hour we were reaching in 30-35
knots of wind in a very very confused sea state, absolutely horrible, boat
thrown left to right, surfing, then bashing into a wave, then knocked
sideways, waves of frozen water crashing over the cockpit making even the
shortest trip to trim a sail extremely uncomfortable.

I run the heater for the first time, the exhaust pipe had come undone from
the unit resulting in all the smoke invading the cabin, very unpleasant, I
couldnt open any of the hatches due to the waves and just waited a long
while for the air to clear.

Running away from the front like a good Italian soldier

The cold front is about to reach us, behind us i can see broken clouds and
some blue sky here and there, it rained earlier and the wind has kept on
backing.

Finally into the trade winds

The struggle to reach the stable trade winds seems to have lasted an
eternity, the fleet progress has been very slow compared to the schedule
we had imagined when leaving Punta del Este and only Cessna at the front
has been keeping steady averages since reaching these steady winds a day
ahead of us.

So far and for several days we seemed to have fairly stable winds at night
then we'd get stopped during the day in flukey winds and sudden rain
showers caused presumably by the high temperatures and moist air becoming
unstable. This morning for the first time the winds held strong after
sunrise and the sky is unmistakeably changed, little white fluffy clouds
are scattered regularly around instead of massive cumulus formations
typical of the unstable air masses of the last few days, see the photo for
an example.

We've emerged from this section of the race in second place squeezing a
lead of 60 miles over Phesheya, our gamble to go offshore at Cabo Frio
paid off eventually. I think we can now expect a drag race to the doldrums
where things could get shaken again. I may be wrong so we'll certainly
keep a watchful eye on the Dutch and the Southafrincans and try cover our
backs from a likely attack...

We had a few issues with the NKE electronics suddenly losing the boat
speed reading, then the compass reading, all misteriously working again by
simply powering off an on the system, luckily all the problems occurred
in light airs and not while sailing with the big spinnaker in strong winds
like during leg 3 when a similar failure caused the boat to go off in a
big gybe resulting in the big spinnaker to be torn in half (and
subsequently repaired in Punta del Este).

Another misterious source of worry came from the primary alternator we
rely on to charge the batteries, for 2 consecutive days it seemed to have
given up the ghost, only to wake up gingerly this morning and resume
service as if nothing had ever happened.

So far, save for a spinnaker sheet which I quite stupidly lost overboard
during a manouvre we havent really had any damage or serious problems,
let's hope things carry on like this to make Charleston a stress free and
cheap stopover. The budget has long ago been totally depleted. In Punta we
were being hosted in free accommodation by the Yacht Club Punta del Este
and for the other expenses i relied on the generosity of many readers who
have sent donations through www.marconannini.com/help which i'm very
grateful for. We're hoping to find a host family during our relatively
brief Charleston stopover and hopefully the price of food will be no where
near the inflated prices of Punta del Este where an espresso could cost
over 3 euros! For now we're getting in the swing of our freeze dried diet,
the last fresh item, an apple, was eaten yesterday.