Level 3: A bit of a mash up

Level 3 was a bit of a mash up between Level 1 & 2. It began with another day of learning as per Level 2, followed by the long days sailing and long nights sleeping of Level 1. Limited wind, limited drama, sunshine and A LOT of learning meant it was a good way to spend a week! I’ve returned a whole lot less knackered but looking a whole lot more like a teabag for it.

Relaxing on the ever-so-spacious Clipper 70

The first day of Level 3 was spent in a classroom learning the official ISAF way not to die. Needless to say, quite a lot of sugar and coffee was required to stay alert through the day, but after several hours of numb bum syndrome, it was back to Gosport Marina. This week we were staying in the very Clipper 70ft yachts we’ll be racing around the world in – no more tiny 68ft boats for us.

Each day we woke up at 6.30am for a rather early breakfast at 7am before heading off sailing for the day, returning sometime after 9pm. The theme for this week was repetition: hoist hoist hoist, tack tack tack, gybe gybe gybe, drop drop drop but STILL I managed to get something wrong pretty much every single time.

Asked to lead something: got it wrong.

Asked to solve a problem: got it wrong.

Asked to hop on the pedestal and spin my arms furiously: now there’s my niche!

I definitely think I’m better suited to being an obedient rower in this situation rather than the cox. I’m consoling myself that at least its better to make these mistakes cruising the Solent rather than racing across the Atlantic. Think it might be a bit more important to get it right then.

A select few Team-Huwers on deck
A select few Team-Huwers on deck

The week had plenty more stand-out moments, albeit a little random when you put them all together:

“Apple chat” – an example of the many comedy moments experienced on the boat. As a result of this, I’ve decided than Sean from my crew is an ideas machine and that Huw is definitely good value when it comes to amusing conversation.

Helming with the Spinnaker up – this is basically the huge sail you can have at the front of the boat that puffs right up. I really enjoyed helming during my previous 2 weeks of training, but it was a different kettle of fish with this flying. The challenge was to keep the sail inflated at all times; move too far one way and it would deflate. Move too far the other, and it would deflate. Was definitely feeling the tension with that sail up.

Wooling & singing – after the mild peril of managing the spinnaker whilst it was flying, each time we retrieved it, we had to stretch the damn thing the length of the boat, roll it up, then tie it with wool every meter or so. As fun as this sounds, it was made even more so doing this at the front of the boat below decks, the result being two of us feeling a little queasy whilst sail-wrangling. The upside of this was that I discovered singing helps fend of sea sickness for me. Unfortunately, the only songs I could think of were Enya “Sail away” and “Tequila, it makes me happy”. Level 3 was indeed a musical mash up.

Happy bowline faces
Happy bowline faces

Tying one-handed bowlines – given that I used to really struggle doing this knot with two hands, I now feel like a pro being able to tie a loop around myself with one hand. Good if I end up off the boat needing to tie myself back on. Bad if I end up off the boat trying to tie myself back on and accidentally chop my hand off in the process of doing so (quite likely). I’m going to stay on the boat and save that knot as a party trick instead.

Lovely view of the boat being deep cleaned as I nursed my head. Fool.
Lovely view of the boat being deep cleaned as I nursed my head. Fool.

Stepping up into the boom – wouldn’t recommend this one. I ended up spending my last hour on the boat with an icepack on my head after walloping my head. I think I may be genetically pre-disposed to this as my dad has a sailing helmet, he’s hit his head so often. Calamity Hartwell.

Finally, the thing that’s really made all of these training weeks so far are the people I’ve met. It’s amazing how quickly & easily you get on with people literally all in the same boat, even when you release the full crazy (important that my future crew-mates are prepared). For example, Ros & I took up the comedy challenge of coming up with ever increasingly ridiculous things that we should buy for the boat from the crew fund (Ros, this makes you a most excellent person).  Our future skipper despaired at this somewhat, but unfortunately for him, it only made it more amusing. So far we have planned an on-deck jacuzzi with gazebo to go over the top and drink cocktails in.

Clipper 70 Post-Jacuzzi installation. Only minor modifications required.
Clipper 70 Post-Jacuzzi installation. Only minor modifications required.

I also suggested a stopover challenge for crew to dress up as ninjas and trophy other team’s mascots (a fair bit of wine had been quaffed by this point). Unreasonably, Huw was not impressed. I think it’s a cracking idea.

I’m now off to find 22 ninja suits ready for team building in June before returning to Gosport for Level 4 in August. It’s going to feel a long 2 months before I get on a sailing boat again; can’t wait for final week of training!

Level 2, In pictures

Apologies have to go to Dana, Tiffany, Rupert and Lucie for the prolific photo nabbing, but I know that the Hartwell & Dodman clans will appreciate being able to see them on here.

Two of our clever crew had GoPro Cameras that got some cracking pictures & videos. I’m now seriously considering buying one – I could totally justify it for Via Ferrata alongside this. Think of the action shots!

Click on a photo to see a larger size

Level 2, Part 2: Sea Sickness Survival

So, Level 2 – the actual sailing part. (All photos shamelessly borrowed from Level 2 Crewmates. Thanks guys!)

The purpose of Level 2 training was not so much about learning how to sail a yacht but more about how to live on a yacht. This was about spending our time out at sea 24/7, sailing at night and experiencing the watch system. We left Gosport on Sunday to spend 4 days at sea, travelling 307 miles total. 1 of those days was spent being spent holed up in Fowey Harbour in Cornwall due to bad weather, but those 4 days felt like a MONTH! Feels like I’ve condensed a lot of life experience in over the last week. Here are some of the joys…

My happy sea sick face.
My happy sea sick face. Not. Photo nabbed from Nikki.

Sea Sickness

I’ve never experienced sea sickness before, and I never want to again. As the winds picked up and the boat begun to rock  on Sunday night, many of us ended up being sick. We were sick in the loos, sick on deck and unfortunately for some, sick in bunks. The worst part, however, was the transition between getting out of your bunk and going on deck.

In our bunks, we were all chucked around as the boat heeled over and ploughed through waves. You have a cloth tied alongside your bunk to stop you falling out, but the sensation is really quite odd; like bouncing in slow-motion on a bouncy castle/trampoline with the occasional rugby-tackle as a large wave hits the boat. Staying horizontal in the bunk was fine, but when it came to getting out – well – that was the horrible part. Cue trying to get clothes on as quickly as possible whilst being chucked from side to side. This really made me feel nauseous, so for the first 24 hours, I spent quite a lot of time lying on my belly on the deck, head out over the edge just waiting for the nausea to subside. This, combined with the watch system and the delightful recipe below meant I felt the roughest I have ever been in my life, physically and visibly. I didn’t recognise myself in some of these photos at first.

Clipper Recipe for Manky Sailors

  • Take 10-14 slightly bonkers but fresh people.
  • Place each in 1 set of clothes.
  • Add a few drops of Diesel & the smell of cooking.
  • Mix in fresh sweat and 3-4 gallons of sea water – make sure you top this up every day!
  • Once everything is mixed together, shake vigorously to ensure sick & bruises form.
  • Roast in a sleeping bag for 2-3 hours every 4 hours, allowing a nice salty crust to develop.
  • Leave to marinate for 4 days on a yacht, wet-wiping and brushing teeth whenever your people are stationary enough to do so.
  • Once your crew is looking and feeling really rough, remove from the yacht and serve to the general public.
Looking hot at Fowie. Good one Lucie.
Looking hot at Fowie. Good one Lucie.

Sea sickness meant I inadvertently did the 5:2 diet last week. Luckily, we had Fox’s Crunch Creams on the boat. This is a biscuit very close to my heart, as the last time I ate them in any quantity was during a rather traumatic Gold DofE expedition when I was 16. 10 years later, they came to my rescue again!

When the steering snapped

On Wednesday, we had the wind behind us to sail downwind back to Gosport. This meant we had some pretty “lumpy” seas (a Huw Fernie definition) and keeping the boat on course at the helm was particularly difficult. The 5 of us from Starboard watch were just about to switch with the others when Ash yelled “Get Huw, we need the emergency tiller!”. Whilst Rupert was helming, the steering had gone and we had no way to control the boat.

As this was only Level 2, it took a few moments for us to respond to Ash’s call. Within minutes, however, Huw was up on deck (he moves FAST!) shouting at us to get the Yankee down (the big sail at the front) to slow our speed. I was the nearest to the front of the boat, so moved as quickly as I could to the bow to try and pull the sail down.

We had one of the smaller Yankee sails up, but these are still pretty massive, so it took a huge amount of effort to even get hold of the sail to try and pull it down, it was flapping so strongly in the wind. I managed to grab it but as we couldn’t control our direction, I lost my grasp and the sail inflated again. I was clipped on, but I can see now how people end up going overboard! On the second attempt, I managed to grab hold of it and by then the rest of the crew had joined me. With some calls of “2, 6, heave” we then managed to wrangle the sail into the boat between us and tie it down. When we turned to face the back of the boat, Huw & Ash had managed to rig up the emergency tiller, steering the boat between them. The emergency was over, but everyone was on edge for quite a while after this with the fear something else might go wrong. In hindsight, it was great to get a taste of some drama as anything could happen during the race. Our arrival back in Gosport at 1am was also all the sweeter for it.

Loving an hour on land at Fowey
Loving an hour on land at Fowey. Another photo stolen from either Lucie or Rupert.

All of the above meant I’ve done some serious character building over the last week. I keep finding new bruises every day and have been completely wiped out for the last 3 days. Having said that, it was a great week with some genuine joys during that completely made it:

Helming at night

Out of all the activities I’ve done on the boat, this is my favourite to date. I was grinning like a crazy woman as we ploughed through waves in Force 7/8 winds at 2am. The targets to navigate by were stars, lighthouses and glittering buoys. The challenge was to keep the boat on course and not to wash your crew mates off the deck. There were only 1 or 2 waves that soaked everyone when I was helming, and I only nearly washed Marta off the deck. That’s why we all clip on to the boat at all times. As well as being a mental challenge, helming was also great for building up the guns as it was physically hard work to move the wheel and combat the waves. Somehow, I ended up helming for 4 hours straight on the final night (helm-hogging clearly) so my back and shoulders are now feeling the pain (in a good way!).

The view out of Fowey. Photo taken by Rupert.
The view out of Fowey. Photo taken by Rupert.

A breather at Fowey

Tuesday was forecast to be the windiest day of the week, and we ended up spending the day on a pontoon at Fowey as a result. Given that we’d all been pretty sea sick for the past 36 hours, it was great to have a break. As the wind was so strong, we were stuck on the boat until a water taxi was persuaded to pick us up in the evening. This meant some cracking games of hangman with my awesome crew and the opportunity to go up the mast. A casual hoist up 90ft or so by my crew and I could see some great views, using my legs to make sure I didn’t swing too wildly.

Dolphins & Puffins anyone?

At one point, we had 5 or so Dolphins swimming & leaping alongside the boat. That was pretty cool. Apparently you could hear us all squealing below decks with excitement. I’ve also since learnt that the tiny black birds I saw flapping for all their might were Puffins!

Not feeling sea sick!

Once I’d finally got over being sea sick, I loved the motion of the boat when on deck. Despite being kitted up in foulies all week, I’ve still managed to get a burnt nose through standing on the back of the boat watching the waves chase us. There was a real beauty to it as well as being exhilarating – the back of the boat was up and down all the time like a roller coaster.

Level 2 has definitely brought it home how tough the race is going to be next year, but I’m so glad we had the week we did. It’s only 2 weeks now until my Level 3 training and I’m not looking forward to getting sea sick again. I am looking forward though to hopefully having another fun week sailing faster with another crazy set of people.

Level 2, Part 1: Sea Survival

A month ago, I returned back from Level 1 training thinking I’d had a pretty hard week learning to sail. Now I know better.

Level 2 training for the Clipper Yacht Race was unlike any other experience I’ve had to date.  I suspect I’ll be saying that quite a few times more as this Clipper malarkey progresses, but really, it made my first week of training feel like a distant, happy holiday. It was such an epic week, it justifies 2 whole blog posts.

The first part of Level 2 training was a Sea Survival course, aka “A million and one ways to die and how to avoid it”.

24 of us went back to school for a day by sitting in a classroom learning what to do should we need to abandon ship for whatever reason. We even got a handbook with some lovely little tidbits to keep us encouraged, for example “Chapter 6: Find the will to survive”.

My go-to book on how not to die!
My go-to book on how not to die!

Some of my favourite bits from the day were that you can drink turtle blood to keep hydrated, that fish eyes are like juicy sweets and that you should keep an eye out for shifty looking crew members that might want to cause you some damage (reassuring!). Luckily I was sitting next to Steve from my Level 1 who had a real knack for finding the scariest/most amusing parts of the book.

After spending most of the day in the classroom, we retired to the pool for 2 hours of bobbing around in lifejackets and getting into liferafts. We all got to know each other rather well during this; towing each other around the pool by the armpits, cosy-ing up in liferafts etc. The video isn’t of my course but demonstrates what we had to do.

Overall, it was actually pretty fun. The take-home message, however, was that you don’t ever want to end up in a liferaft if you can help it. Even in a pool, a liferaft is not a nice place to be.

10 wet, soaking people crammed into a small bouncy-castle-come-steam-room swimming with water = not that fun.  A nice big yacht is far more spacious and accommodating, so I’ll be doing absolutely everything I can to stay on them going forward. At least I now know what I need to do should I ever have to get into a life raft. Also now a pro at jumping in the pool in style. Life skills.

Once sea survival was over, we all returned to Clipper Training HQ to meet out skippers and get ready for another week on the 68ft Clipper Yachts. I was going to be spending the week with Ash & Huw training us. This was great as Huw is my race skipper and there turned out to be 5 of us from Team Huw on the boat!  After a full nights sleep on Saturday night in a bunk, we prepared the boat and set off out of Gosport Sunday afternoon. The next 4 days felt like a they lasted a month.