CAMBS girl Pippa faces iceberg on solo race to USA

FORMER Hinchingbrooke School pupil Pippa Hildesley is still fighting her way across the Atlantic Ocean in the OSTAR – the solo sailing challenge from England to the USA. Here is her latest blog from the boat – and unlike the Titantic, Pippa is managing t

FORMER Hinchingbrooke School pupil Pippa Hildesley is still fighting her way across the Atlantic Ocean in the OSTAR - the solo sailing challenge from England to the USA. Here is her latest blog from the boat - and unlike the Titantic, Pippa is managing to avoid the icebergs.

Yes I just sailed around one. An iceberg that is.

OK here is the story but perhaps, Mum you had better read no further until I have cleared the Grand Banks?

I have chosen a route to the north of my competitors, closer to the Rhumb line, which should be a shorter route, but is taking me for 100 miles over the Grand Banks (a group of underwater plateaus).

Most have decided not to venture up here due to the risk of ice and fog, but I felt if I am going to try and gain a couple of places, sailing a shorter route would be better and looking at the weather I was expecting light winds.

The fog on the Grand Banks is mostly caused by a warm wind from the south blowing over the cold waters of the Labrador Current. At the moment there is little wind and it is a cold wind from the north so the risk of fog is less.

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As dawn broke this morning it was hazy, but not foggy and I was within 50 miles of the east edge of the banks. The breeze was around 8 knots and I spent a great morning coaxing every ounce of speed from Cazenove Capital.

When I teach sailing I often say to my students that to steer well, they need to become one with the boat, not just to look at the instruments or tell tales, but to feel through their feet and hands and the breeze on their faces all the little signs the boat is giving about its performance.

That is how it was this morning. I would make a tiny adjustment, move a sheet a centimetre, wind up a check stay, drop the traveller, and after each adjustment I would go back to the helm and feel what the boat was telling me. In that way we are one, working together. If I am right, the helm is light, the speed increases and the boat feels sweet. If I am wrong, all the life goes from our movement and I can feel instantly the mistake I have made. In that way the boat does feel alive, reacting to my actions good or bad.

After a while the breeze died away and the sea around became ripple free, a piece of ironed silk, stretching as far as the horizon in all directions, utterly featureless.

By this time the precious was up, but for some reason the boat was still sailing, making four knots. The autopilot was driving and although there appeared to be no wind, we were going well so I decided it would be best for me not to touch anything, helm or sheet, to leave them to their seemingly perpetual motion and get on with some housework.

The sun had come out and I went below to empty bilges open all the hatches, prepare the kites for the next couple of days and top up the diesel tank.

When emerging from the aft locker, muttering to myself about diesel breathers and leaking jerry cans, I looked to the grey horizon squinting to try and make out the new object on it.

"Iceberg," my brain said. I carried on muttering about diesel, was about to jump back in the locker when it suddenly registered what I had seen.

That is the big problem with single handing. When you see an iceberg you desperately want to shout out to someone. "Flippin heck there's an iceberg!" I shouted it anyway.

After a bit of nervous rushing round wondering what to do, trying to take extra long distance pictures and feeling a bit anxious. I realised I was now travelling at three knots, the iceberg in the Labrador Current at around one knot and it was a couple of miles away. No rush.

We were, however, on collision course, and no matter which way I tried to sail, the thing was getting closer. I ended up having to furl the code zero, tack and go back on myself to get out of its way. But it was beautiful.

This was a proper iceberg in size - the main body was about the size of a large supermarket and three stories high. The colour was amazing. Those alcopop manufacturers have got the blue colour in their vodka ice drinks just right.

As the thing travelled it was pushing quite a large wave, also this electric blue colour, and bits were falling off it creating bigger still waves so its path in front was a tumultuous mass of blue and white boiling water.

I was totally in awe and have taken pictures that will never do it justice. In the conditions I am in there is no threat but I would not like to meet one on a dark and stormy night. I cannot believe I have sailed past an iceberg.

The last ice report I received showed only one berg in the 43N latitudes, but it is not surprising to see it where I did as I was traversing where the Labrador Current runs down the side of the grand banks, bringing its gifts from the north with it.

Perhaps this one will be on the next ice report as not long ago a low flying plane came and buzzed me and then went on to have a look at the iceberg.

I am not nervous that I will encounter any more. I think it is a bit of a fluke I saw this one, and I feel privileged. However, I a writing my blog now during daylight hours as I can assure you I will not be closing my eyes again until I have cleared the other side of the Grand Banks and got into some warmer water.

It is going to be a long and very cold night. I am even going to get the coffee out. Normally I would not use caffeine to stay awake as I believe any stimulant will mess up your natural cycle and you will have to pay with extra sleep in the future. But tonight I will make the exception