Home    News    Photo Gallery    Contact


In the eyes of Jarek Kaczorowski - report on the second leg of the Mini Transat 2007 regatta

30th October 2007

After the first leg of the most important regatta in the last two years, I was convinced that all of my bad luck was behind me (collision with UFO) and that I could expect nothing worse within the next few years. Those who sail with me know how lucky I am. In the first leg, I took a remote position, but the time loss was not so big. I knew that if I sailed well in the second leg, almost three times longer, I could make up for the time I'd lost. Being among the first twenty was difficult to achieve, but not impossible. This is what I was thinking about all the time on Madeira .

After a few days break on Madeira I felt more than fine both physically and mentally. The boat had already been brilliantly prepared in every single detail, in La Rochelle . On Madeira, Goły made everything perfect. On the second day, after arriving in Funchal we were sitting together with our Slovenian friend Kristian Hajnski and Goły in a pub over a bottle of local wine, and after one hour we had plans of laminating new helm fittings. This time they would be made from carbon and not stainless steel. Next day, Marek vanished in the shop of a local club. He arrived three days later with a smile on his face, carrying customized yokes under his arm. 'Let the whales be afraid of you', he said. 'If you hit one with this, you will kill it, and nothing will even fall off'.

Three days before the start, together with Jura we started considering various scenarios for the first week of regatta. As further weeks were impossible to predict, we looked through weather maps of that area for the last 20 years in October. We couldn't find a good solution. The night before the start, we agreed that we'd sail west on the first calm day, and later keep to the right, west side of the route until we reach the Cape Verde Islands.

'I can't predict anything more, just keep to the shortest route and take advantage of any wind changes', said our weather guru. We went to sleep and Jure prepared sets of weather maps for the first week of the race. Last night, Marek was on the boat all day long. 'I've still got some details to work on. Besides, I don't know when I will see the boat again', he said smiling. I went to the hotel and I fell asleep like a baby for a good nine hours. That was the last time I fell asleep lying. Next bed in Salvador .

Dressed for the battle, our Slavic group, that's Andraz, David, Kristian, Sime and me met over the morning tea in a cafe. Jure gave everybody a set of maps, and for the last time we discussed our strategies for the race, and exchanged small gifts. We gave each other a hug with our eyes a bit wet, having in mind a saying that there are people who are alive, dead, or at sea. We jumped on our boats. Goły told me once again how to use the generator, charger, inverter and the camera.

'It's gonna be fine. You'll show them', he said. 'Yeah, I know, this time for sure. See you in Akrima in Gdynia '.

There were 3100 miles ahead to Salvador . In terms of weather, the route consisted of three completely different stretches. The first one, from Madeira to the Cape Verde Islands, means a north to north-western trade wind from the northern hemisphere, force 15-35 kn, steep unpleasant wave, from the stern. The second part are the doldrums (equator convergence zone, also called the equator silent zone), changeable wind force from zero to eight knots from all directions, mainly from the eastern hemisphere, during heavy storms soaring abruptly up to 35, or even 50 knots, changing from 100 to 180 degrees within two or three minutes. The third stretch is trade wind from the southern hemisphere, wind force from 10 to 20 kn, mainly from the south-east, sometimes changing into south or east wind.

Start as usual. A bit nervous, one general false start... and we're off. To my surprise, most boats sailed east off the shortest route, and we set off west, as we'd agreed with Jure. The wind slowly died down, and I was still sailing faster than the others. Usually, when the wind was weaker than 6 kn, I was one of the slowest yachts. Look what a surprise! I overtook more boats. There was no time to sleep at night. The wind still changed, so I had to turn the head sails every now and then: solent, reacher, code 5, mainsail, and then the reacher again...and so on.

I saw a few white lights in front of me on the right. They were ahead of me. I turned the sail once, then again and again, and in the middle of the night I saw a whole group of green lights, which means I was head to head or in front of them. I was bursting with joy. New mast and sails were proving to be excellent. This meant that in doldrums I would have a chance not to waste anything and possibly even gain. I felt I was growing wings . I decided to make maximum in the first stage. In the morning, I heard on the Monaco radio that I'm in the sixth position so far. The wind turned north-west and I decided to set the spinnaker. Trade wind appeared. The wind grew in force slowly all second night long.

The boat started planing.

All day long I managed to sail on the biggest spinnaker. The waves grew steeper. In the evening, they were already about three meters high - steep, short. I squeezed into the wave once, twice, three times. My heart was pounding, I looked at the speed: 10,12, 15, 10, 12, 14... I didn't stop, planning for a good few minutes. I looked at the wind force: 18, 22, 25, 20... the limit for the big spinnaker ("Beast"), eighty-five meters long, is twenty two knots. Then there's nothing but a thin red line - no control over the boat and you can either rip your spinnaker or even dismast.

'Don't crack up, you'll will be fine' and beneath 'I bet you won't give up', wrote Goły with a marker under the deck. 'Yeah, easy to say, I thought', wondering if he would like to be in my shoes now.

I am trying hard but the boat speed is still more then 9 knots. What I could do that moment was to set the reacher, but this meant working for ten minutes on the bow. In five minutes, I decided. Then horrified, I felt resistance on the helm. Rudder blade goes up - came to my mind. In that second, the wind tore the extension cable out of my hands.

'Don't break', I exhorted the rudder blade with Goły's words. Heel of 50 degrees, roar of flapping spinnaker, and the mast bending and pulling. Huge effort and I suffered no losses. My hands and legs shivering from effort and emotions. It all happened at 4 a .m.

'Enough!', I shouted aloud and I hit my fist against the deck. This is the third time in the last two years when this line broke with no strike and this always results in a lot of panic and confusion. Wind force is still around 25 knots, gusting up to 28. The night is pitch-black and I'm all sweaty . I decided to stay on the reacher till the morning. I have 48 hours left to Cape Verde Islands . I decided to press hard, 2-3 hours of sleep, the rest is work.

Past Capo Verde, I started to eat normally. I'd lost a lot of weight, but I felt great. I decided to gather all my strength for doldrums.

It started when I left the sunny ocean and got under the first grey, low cloud. The wind force suddenly fell from 15 to 5 knots and turned right by 100 degrees. Foresail up, spinnaker down. In an hour's time, 3 knots from the east - reacher up, foresail down, in 2 hours' time 8 knots from the NE - spinnaker up. And I did the same all day and night, and the next day as well. Two thirds of the route was behind me, there were no mechanical failures, all sails were untouched, and I myself was in good shape. I got the forecast and, horror of horrors! Violent storms with wind force of up to 45 kn were expected on that and the next night. Too much for my small boat.

And it was too much, indeed.

It all started around midnight. Suddenly, a huge squall with a 150 degree twist appeared, and two minutes later - such downpour that I couldn't even make out the bow from the cockpit. The boat literally flew, the mast twisted like an osier.

'Hold on, hold on just two minutes', I exhorted in a hushed voice. I quickly rolled down the first reef, second one, and the third one. I have everything perfectly prepared for this operation, so everything goes smoothly. But I still have too many sails set. The wind turns sharply right and left. Once I sail close reach, in a moment ideally along with the wind at the stern. I fasten the lifeline and I crawl to the bow to set the foresail. I succeeded. Situation under control. After an hour, nothing happens. It is all quiet. In two hours' time, another cloud, downpour, gale, and another wind turn. The same almost until midday. I try to receive the forecast but my medium wave radio only wheezes. I don't get to hear the forecast or the ranking till the end of the race. What a pity.

It cleared up in the afternoon and a 10 kn south-east wind settled in. Is it trade wind? I was glad. Is it the end of the scrum? I had a closer look at the sky in front of the bow: cirrus, cirrostratus, stratus, and low cumuli underneath. Signs of a cold system.

'Right, It'll be a tough one', I thought.

Next night was an experience I would never like to go through again. After dusk, enormous black clouds surrounded me. Every few minutes, flashes and thunders in every cloud. With three storms around me, I knew one of them would come my way. I was sailing at 4-5 knots on the line, straight towards the finish that is, so I didn't want to reduce the sail surface too early. I held my hand on the foresail halyard because with last night's experience still in mind I knew that as soon as the first blow strikes, everything will happen quick as a flash. From two a.m. till six, a dazzling flash, and a hollow, rumbling thunder straight afterwards. A few minutes' quiet. Then the same again and again. Suspense like in a Hitchcock. I was scared, to put it mildly. Surely, I would have owned it up, but at finish I spoke to other guys who felt the same. I tried to make fun of myself saying 'ha, ha - he's 40, he's got three children and he's afraid of a storm'. But that only helped for a couple of minutes. Then the fear returned 'What if it hits the mast? The whole electrics will go at best, and when the worst comes to the worst, the mast and boat will turn into dust, and I'll have to get on the raft'. I switched off all the electrics and followed the compass, just in case. The cloud eventually came, in 30 seconds the wind soared from 2 to 8 Beaufort's scale, I got turned by 120 degrees and started to struggle with the sails. It literally bucketed with rain, thunderbolts striking at the water once in front, once on the right, for an hour and a half. The longest one and a half hours in this race. What followed was a lot easier than this.

Somewhere at the latitude of 2 degrees north, leaden clouds stopped besetting me and the wind blew 12-18 knots from the SE, ESE at times, which meant sailing close reach or even halfwind, and no-one else is faster than me sailing like this. I pumped 100 litres into the left ballast tank, I moved the keel completely windward, tied 5 twenty-litre drinking water tanks to the deck, filled them with ocean water using a bucket, and did some 380 miles over the next 2 days. Having had scarcely any sleep for three days, I managed to take a 5-hour nap without a break. I was fresh again and I could switch to the 2-3 hour sleep mode. The sun shone during the day, the moon was getting bigger in the night, and I was sailing fast, keeping exactly to the route. There was no reason to worry.

For two weeks, I tried calling mini boats on the FM wavelength everyday, all in vain. I didn't know if I was tenth or fiftieth, but I kept telling myself that I was closer to the former. I sailed fast, uninterrupted. Everything worked out fine, and even in doldrums I was doing some several dozen miles per 24 hrs. It had to be good. Sometimes, I was nagged by doubt if those who had taken the eastern route, did not get the south-east wind earlier with a bigger left turn and are now running two knots faster just behind the horizon. A packet of lyophilized food, chocolate wafer, and a 15-minute nap was the best way to get rid of those thoughts, and the optimism came back. Finally, one and a half day before the finishing line, Herve - 518 dropped me a line. He was 12 miles west off my boat.

'Where are you in series boats?', I asked.


'Is your medium wave radio working?'

'It is.'

'Have you any idea where I am in proto', I asked without much hope.

'There's a big confusion. Half of the Argoses haven't been working for a few days now, but I'll check the ranking from five days ago. I've got the notes', and after 2 minutes, 'You came 16 th '. 'That's great, thanks', I was glad.

Next morning, I saw a white spinnaker to the east. It was Herve. It was blowing 8-10 knots, so he was a bit faster. I had a pivoting keel and water ballast, so I could take on 2-3 knots of wind force more on the spinnaker than he did. The wind blew and died down until the evening, once Herve came nearer and once he sailed off. We both constantly changed the sails at front: reacher, fractional, mainsail, fractional, reacher again. Neither of us made a mistake. We raced as if it was a Sunday race though the bay, not the final leg of an exhausting rally over the Atlantic . He came in 15 minutes after me. At last, on channel 72 FM, I heard an announcement I'd been waiting for so long: 'Five zero eight. This is PC Course. You just crossed finishing line. So, you are fifteenth.'

'Hurrah, finish!!!', I shouted at the top of my voice. I dropped down the foresail, then the mainsail, I sat down on the deck and the power supply cut off. My head was empty. I coudn't even move. A rubber dinghy came by; a local sailor jumped on my boat, took the helm and towed me towards the port. It was 1 o-clock UTC, my boat time.

Although is was quite late, on the pier there were Jurek Boj, Andrasz, Kristian, the Czech crew: David's fiancée, Lucka, Jaroslav the cameraman, Libor the photographer, Daise from, the regatta office, and a small crowd of other people. Rockets were fired, my favourite piece by APTEKA´Bosa Nowa` sounded in the speakers. The girls kissed me, the boys hugged me. A big dark-skinned lady wearing a folk dress greeted me with the local equivalent of bread and salt - tray full of fruit. I got a nicely wrapped shirt saying 'Salvador de Bahia', and local a map & guide. Then Kris took it all gently out of my hands, mumbling that there was one more thing that needs to be done and... suddenly I was thrown into the water on my back. And so, the tradition had been preserved. Everybody who reaches the finishing line of the Transat is treated like a winner, and the winner is tossed in the water.

I missed Goły at the finishing line. It was as much his success as it was mine. I quickly got changed in dry clothes and gave him a ring. It was five in the morning in Poland . - Marek? This is Jarek. I'm there. Nothing fell apart or ripped. Everything's all right. We talked for half an hour.

From Salvador de Bahia,
Jarek Kaczorowski




The other news

More news of the TRANSAT 650 Project





 © Jarosław Kaczorowski    Home   ::   News   ::   The Race   ::   Capt. J. Kaczorowski   ::   Yacht   ::   Sponsors