October 19, 2019
“And then I found that water was entering the boat”
Irina Gracheva shares the details of the first stage of the transatlantic race Mini-Transat – from La Rochelle to Gran Canaria – in an interview with Andrei Petrov
– Irina, congratulations on the successful completion of the stage! How was the race overall? Did something new open for you, or did you encounter exactly what you expected and what you were preparing for?
– Thank you for your congratulations! As for reality and expectations: this, after all, is not my first such a long race, passed alone. At the preparation stage, last year I took part in the regatta from Le Sables d'Olonne to Azores and back, and this is 2 times 1300 miles each. Then it took me 13 days to complete the first part of the distance, so I already had the experience of a long stay in the ocean. However, now not everything has turned out to be familiar to me.
To begin with, that completely unexpectedly for me at the very beginning of the race I was very sick of it, and for the first two days I felt very bad. This condition is not new for me, but during this long season I, as they say, got rid of it, and did not feel much discomfort anymore. And here is such an unpleasant surprise! I think this was due to the fact that in Biscay at that time a wave was observed remaining from the previous cyclone, the direction and large dimensions of which did not quite correspond to the wind in which we were going. And the body reacted in its own way to these unusual conditions. As a result, I barely lasted these two days and could not collectively go through the change of weather fronts, missed the opportunity to compete for a tactical advantage at this first stage of the race.
But then it was time for pleasant surprises. I, with some apprehension, waited for strong tail winds off the Portuguese coast, knowing from my own experience that I can carry a full sail only if I drive it myself. It is impossible to trust the boat to the autopilot when the spinnaker is installed, it is prone to broaching.
Before, I always had to choose: go without rest and carry full sails or lose in speed, reducing windage. However, this time, despite the fact that in gusts the wind reached 30 knots, the boat behaved much more calmly and carried out a full sail quite confidently. We were preparing in advance for this segment of the route just beyond Cape Finister, where wind was expected to increase to 40 knots. The gain really came, though not as large as predicted. I went over the edge – that was right, and we originally planned it. At this time, it turned out that the boat was sailing perfectly under the code-5 storm spinnaker, gliding from the wave, and the autopilot copes well with it. It was harder to go with less wind (about 20 knots), but under a large spinnaker. Here already had to completely switch to manual control. There was a moment when I went without rest continuously for more than 20 hours, including working with sails and taxiing. On the one hand, there are not so many, but after all, there are already several days of journey behind, and several more to come …
– And how do you deal with overwork in race conditions? Just as a motorist does when, feeling excessive fatigue, he stops for 15-20 minutes to sleep?
– Well, the option to “stop” is, of course, not about us … But – yes, you reduce the windage, put on the autopilot and go to sleep. In the situation that I talked about, it was relatively easy for me to hold out for so long without sleep, because I knew that this wind would end soon and I could rest. It was only a matter of time, it was only necessary to be patient. In general, it will probably be right to give rest to the body if more difficult conditions await you. If you know that it will be easier ahead, then it’s better to strain and work properly. It is more correct both from the sports and from the psychological point of view.
With sports it is clear – speed is important. And psychologically it turns out that when you give all your best, you give all of yourself to the race and know that you are doing everything you can, then you do even more. But when you give up, give yourself an indulgence, then later it turns out to be very difficult to agree with yourself: you begin to reproach yourself and scold yourself for this weakness. For single people it is very important to be able to negotiate with yourself. Listen to your body, decide when you need to give it a rest, and most importantly – decide to relax, then do not scold yourself for it.
– In general, was there enough strength for the entire race?
– Yes, and now it’s clear that I acted correctly. And I also liked the strategy chosen for the race: how to go after the Finister, the moment of turn, how to pass the gate, where to meet the wind, etc. It all worked.
– Did you manage to avoid serious technical problems?
– Well, not quite. 300 miles before the finish, I found that water was entering the boat. It turned out that it penetrates the body through a gap in the transom. The fact is that the attachment points of the steering wheel feathers to the transom are additionally reinforced from the inside with plates. The load on the supports during movement is large – on the lower, for example, about a ton. At some point, one of the plates peeled off, and the steering wheel began to push through the plastic. A gap was formed, which expanded over time. There was still a long way to go, and it was necessary to decide what to do: look for some way out directly on the water or go to the shore for repairs. Here, it’s not only a matter of eliminating the leak – if the steering wheel does not have at least one fulcrum, it does not work anymore, it breaks, as the draft is skewed, which ensures synchronized rotation of the wheels. Getting up for repairs is a huge waste of time. What can be done on the go? Significantly reduce the area of the sails in order to relieve the load on the steering wheel … But, for example, even in tacking or gulfwind it does not help, the leak cannot be eliminated.
When the cold front passed, I tried to increase the load on the front sails and at the same time slightly started the mainsail, and inside the hull I made emphasis for this plate from the emergency tiller. I must say, the emphasis rested on parole, literally, on pure friction, but it worked! It was possible to squeeze the gap and stop its spread throughout the body, although it was clear that the whole system walked, “breathed”. I think that the problem arose due to the improper repair that was carried out on the boat before me: the previous owner had already strengthened the transom under the supports, but this was not done in the best way. But in the end, I still normally reached the finish line, and I loaded the boat already to the full. When I was engaged in the elimination of the accident, I was afraid that I would lag behind my closest rivals, but it turned out that I had lost only a couple of miles at that moment.
– Do you already have an idea how to carry out repairs?
– Yes, I understand what and how to do it, but I do not want to do this myself, but entrust the work to professionals. Still, this is a very busy and responsible place, so I want the repair to be carried out responsibly, beautifully and professionally. Using the necessary equipment, tools and materials. The question, in fact, is small, but the consequences can be very serious.
– Does transom seem to be a weak spot on a mini? Several boats immediately faced serious problems associated with this particular constructive part …
“I would not say that.” The problems were different for everyone and just localized on the transom. And in the case of Pavel Rubal, a collision occurred … I would call an electrician the general problem of the first stage. After all, many boats had problems with power plants, many went and finished “on hand”. These problems manifested themselves in different ways. For some, the batteries did not charge; for some, the main power supply failed. On serial boats equipped with lithium batteries, it is forbidden to have a generator operating on methanol, so many go on solar panels. But often those who could take a generator with them refuse it, since together with a supply of methanol it gives huge excess weight. As a result, people did not have enough solar panels, because during the day they are not always at an effective angle, and the charge received with their help is not enough for night work. On the one hand, one can feel pride in those yachtsmen who were forced to steer all the time independently and at the same time showed good results – at such moments even my own achievements begin to seem less significant to me. But, on the other hand, you understand that, to a certain extent, problems with the electrics are the result of insufficient attention to this issue during preparation or a conscious choice between saving weight and reliability.
– Back to the route traveled: the distance is long, the fleet along it is scattered quite strongly. How often have you been in visual contact with other participants?
– Constantly! Within five miles, there was always someone nearby. This is not surprising, since the strategy of passing along the coast was almost the same for everyone – stick to the west. Therefore, I have always observed at least a few rivals on my AIS. At the last year’s regatta, which I already spoke about, the riders had many options how to get to the Azores, so they all went their separate ways, and for a week I didn’t see anyone. And then it was different. To be honest, I’m even sorry that it happened: I like to walk alone, and then, at the intersection of courses, I rejoice at unexpected encounters along the way.
– In general, what information about your position, about the position of rivals do you have in the race?
– We do not know exactly who and how is going – we can only speculate. We see ourselves relative to the general line, we receive by radio data about our place and the places of our rivals, which are determined by the distance to the finish line. But this is, after all, very conditional information that does not allow us to judge who exactly is located where and where it is being sent at the moment. But she helps to navigate. It gives an idea of how successful your decisions are when you compare the change in your position relative to your closest rivals.
– Did you happen to encounter something else interesting, unusual on the way?
– Yes, there was another pleasant surprise related to sails: I was able to significantly improve the speed performance of the boat when driving under a large spinnaker. So, for example, in the backstage, with an average wind strength of 10-12 knots, I managed to go for a long time, keeping up with the new production boats of the Maxi project, which I had never been able to do before. In addition, I noticed a significant difference when moving into a strong wind now and in the spring, when the air was cold. If earlier I could hardly take out the middle spinnaker in a cold wind at 20 knots, now – and I mentioned it above – the boat steadily went under a large spinnaker even in a stronger wind. I do not fully understand the physics of the process, but experienced racers confirm this fact: warm and cold air at the same wind speed exerts different pressure on the sail. They say that in the second stage, when crossing the Atlantic, the air is warmer and a wind of 30 knots will not be a problem at all.
– And what, besides repair, are you going to do in the time remaining before the start of the second stage?
– I would like to have a good rest! Since I was here in the Canary Islands, I will allow myself a short trip to Tenerife. And I will prepare for the transition across the ocean.
905 October 19, 2019 # 9588