Gale Force for CAMPER-ETNZ


What have we done to deserve this? That was the thought running through the mind of CAMPER navigator Will Oxley as he and his soaking wet team mates took a pounding from the elements on their way to France.

As the Volvo Ocean Race marks 50 days until the first In-Port Race in Alicante today, the CAMPER team have been battling gale force winds and huge seas as the tail end of Hurricane Irene whips through the English Channel.

There’s no sign of a let-up either, with the CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand crew facing at least another 12 hours of uncomfortable sailing through the Bay of Biscay before they reach their destination of Lorient.

“We’ve been bashing upwind pretty much since we turned the corner of the UK,” Oxley said on a video call from the boat. “Our storm jib continues to be the sail that sees the most hours. The conditions are pretty unpleasant – big breeze and upwind.

“After the first 50 waves it gets a bit old. We’re trying to find out what we did wrong to deserve weather like this.

“We had a Force 8 gale warning on Wednesday night but it really only got up to about 35 knots. We had a triple-reefed main and a storm jib up and we fell off some pretty big waves.

“We’re not getting very far at the moment – the direction we are trying to go is the direction the wind is coming from. Unfortunately it looks like there’s more upwind sailing in store for us across the Bay of Biscay.

“At least we have our health!”

Despite the discomfort, Oxley said the rough conditions were good training for the team, back on the boat following a long hiatus during which CAMPER was shipped to the UK and refitted in Felixstowe.

“It’s always good to get a sail in like this for practice but I think did enough of it back in New Zealand,” he added.

“We are spending a lot of time dodging ships. On Wednesday evening we had a 300-metre container ship which we had to alter course to get behind. There’s plenty to keep us busy.”

The crew might all be soaking wet but the weather couldn’t dampen the spirits on CAMPER, a team made up mainly of New Zealanders and Australians.

Oxley, himself an Aussie, joked: “With no Poms on board there’s been a lot of abuse about the English weather!”

CAMPER is expected to arrive in Lorient tonight before heading back to their Mediterranean base in Palma de Mallorca next week.