As the saying goes: "a smooth sea never made a skilful sailor", and I think this saying is a fair reflection of Team SCA's experience of the infamous Southern Ocean in leg five of the Volvo Ocean Race.
In just 24 hours we experienced some of the most spectacular and nail-biting sailing you can imagine. After a total wipe out that completely shredded our sails, the boat was a complete mess. It's the kind of mess where you don't really know where to start and the deck was completely littered with sheets, halyards and broken batons.
Fortunately the whole crew were safe and we did not suffer any major injuries, but it did mean a few days of wading in debris.
I spoke briefly a couple of blogs ago about our sponsor SCA's Bodyform brand and its 'Live Fearless' campaign, and this incident couldn't be more fitting of the campaign's ethos of challenging your fears.
When everything happened it was wet, brutal and cold and we were surfing down the swell in 20 to 25 knots. We were happily speeding along when we had a few small wipe outs. I looked out at the girls on deck - they were struggling, scared, and you could literally cut the tension with a knife.
I knew things were getting bad when we heard the call, "all hands on deck" and what occurred next happened very quickly. Before we even had chance to put on our gear so that we could lend a helping hand, the squall hit us and pressed us down on the starboard side. With the full force of the Southern Ocean pushing me down, I just remember thinking that there was no way I could physically pull myself back up.
At the same time the front sail exploded and landed in the water, acting like a huge anchor that made the boat incredibly hard to steer, forcing us into what is called a Chinese gybe. This is where the upper section of the main sail moves across the boat whilst the lower section and boom remain on the original side of the vessel. The big problem this is that it means all of our weight distribution was completely on the wrong side, pulling the boat under.
When the boat is so over-heeled like that, there is simply no possibility you can operate it. The girls had to climb a mountain just to find the rope to ease the sails, while at the same time, desperately trying to stay on two feet. At one point I saw Abby literally hanging from a piece of rope on a winch - who knows what could have happened if the boat had kept going over.
After this exhilarating experience, I am in complete agreement with Sarah, one of the amazing women who faced her fears in one of Bodyform's challenges, who said: "being fearless is a state of mind." I think we were all in a fearless state of mind last night, and we all automatically went into a carefully planned strategy to remedy the situation.
Looking back, the situation was unexpected, scary and dangerous, but I certainly didn't have any feelings of fear at the time. In situations like this, adrenalin automatically kicks in and you just get on with it - which is all the more important when you're in a situation, like ours, where you are so heavily reliant on one another.
All in all it was a damaging situation but we finally managed to get the boat back under control, by bringing the deck back to a horizontal position and pulling the sail back on board.
Take a look at some of Team SCA's predictions for the Southern Ocean, which seem to have been pretty accurate so far!
If you're interested in watching Sarah face her fears in her Bodyform 'Live Fearless' challenge, you can do so here:
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