Got a spare 5 minutes to help us improve our website? Take this survey.

Outside Online Archives

Demolition Sailing Derby

By Skip Novak

Courtesy of The Race
Sewing bee: Innovation Explorer crew works to repair the battered sails

American Skip Novak, 48, has sailed four Whitbread Round The World Races, survived 300,000 bluewater miles and helped set two ocean crossing records. For The Race, Novak is co-skipper aboard the 110-foot maxi-cat Innovation Explorer. While he and the crew of Innovation Explorer (which includes his wife, Helena) race one of the fastest boats ever built through the sticky calms of the equator and the howling storms of the Southern Ocean, Novak will post regular updates to Outside Online.

Aboard Innovation Explorer, January 28, 2001

We have just surfaced above the 50th parallel and into relatively warmer sea temperatures (7 degrees C). For the last five days we have been running below the Antarctic Convergence where the cold water of the southern Indian Ocean meets the near freezing water of the Southern Ocean. Here, sea surface temperatures drop to 2 degrees C and with it the air becomes decidedly frigid.

This mixing zone is a storehouse of nutrients and it is no coincidence that the sub Antarctic islands of Kerguelen, MacDonald and Heard, that lie astride the Convergence, are home to millions of sea birds and seals that feed on krill stocks who in turn feed on micro plankton. On the 26th we passed well south of the Kerguelen group but managed to get a faraway look at the rocky outcrop of MacDonald before gibing back to the north. There couldn't be a lonelier place on earth, unless of course you are a Great Wandering Albatross, who in these waters is king.

So far, and this is the worrying thing, the Southern Ocean has been unseasonably kind to us. We have not had any winds over 40 knots and no green water coming up through the net. But I fear it might be singling us out for worse things, judging by the reports from Club Med, 750 miles ahead, who have been hard running in what Dalton describes as a "horrendous" sea condition. And they have a damage list to prove it.

As we know, Team Adventure have had more serious dramas, impaling their main beam on big waves three times in succession over a week ago. Three strikes and you're out — even in ocean racing. They have left Cape Town after repairing impact delamination, but have lost four crewmen, two with spinal injuries incurred in the same incident. The consensus seems to be that they were pushing too hard. On Innovation Explorer we have five crew who had been involved in Team Adventure at some point during the last year, and to a man (I was one) they all harbored that fear of Cam's brash style of hard driving.

So we are not complacent and we are bracing ourselves for what could be our first serious blow to come as a low to the northwest of us is gathering steam. By tomorrow we should be on a beam reach shortened right down to staysail and three reefs in the main.

With the fleet spread out over three oceans, the standings are being more and more influenced by gear failure than pure boatspeed. Already, Club Med and we are "rumored" to be stopping in Wellington for repairs. It will be the only convenient bolthole this side of Cape Horn so it must be considered seriously. This is a demolition derby indeed!

More Adventure