Level 4: Dance if you want to go faster

It had been a couple of months since my Level 3 course, so it was with excitement and nerves that I approached the final level of training before the race. Level 4 was going to be about staying at sea for a week and racing. The last time I was out for a while on the boat was Level 2: an adventure, but I came back somewhat lighter due to sea sickness. Would I get sick again? How bad was I going to smell? And more importantly, how was I supposed to sail let alone race the boat?!

This week was the last Level 4 training course and the first time that all 12 Clipper Yachts were out racing. We were a select group on Team Huw: just a casual 11 crew. Turns out that’s the perfect number for a very fun week!

Being super-keen, Emily & I arrived at 7am on the first day. There was much excitement getting our shiny new red waterproofs and it was great seeing so many people from previous courses in the que all ready for the final week of training. No more practice kit for us. We were proper Clipper Crew now – allowed to wear red.

Rocking the red foulies

The first couple of days involved getting into the watch systems, a race start and sea sickness. We were split into 2 watches, each watch on deck for 4 hours then asleep for 4 hours. Our skipper Huw was not so lucky. Just as it will be in the race, Huw was the only pro sailor on board on this course. This meant he he had to catch sleep when he could, face-planted on a giant beanbag below decks when not having to deal with us lot. In the meantime, my watch (the mighty Starboard watch) became a mostly nocturnal crew.

The mighty starboard watch working hard. Selfies don't take themselves.
The mighty starboard watch working hard. Watch selfies don’t take themselves you know!

8pm – midnight was our favourite shift. 4am – 8am not so much. Upsides of this were cracking sunsets, sunrises and one glorious night where we could see the milky way, shooting stars, phosphorescent algae AND dolphins all in the space of half an hour. We would then have to wake up the Port watch for their night shift. I have never had to wake up so many sound-asleep people before as I did in this week. Quite a lot of shaking was required. I felt really bad.

Our 12noon – 4pm shift mostly involved dancing, speaking in stupid accents and occasionally playing with face paints as we always seemed to be in the French Doldrums on our watch. No wind, no sailing.
Things got a little more exciting when we went off-watch at midnight one night as the wind was rising. As Port watch came on deck, the conditions deteriorated, meaning those of us below decks got very little sleep for the next 4 hours as we worried what was going on above. Cue the vang getting broken but the whole crew now appreciating that you can’t pull the boat out of the water using it, however hard you try.

Flaking a sail – we did occassionally do something in the day!

Unlike Levels 2 & 3, I actually did a mother-watch this week. Somehow, I’d managed to escape it until now! Amancio, our crew victualler, had prepared an excellent menu: I ate better during this course than I do normally! Luckily for me, the boat wasn’t at a 45 degree angle whilst I was trying to cook nor was I feeling sea sick. The first couple of days were pretty rough so most of the crew were ill.

One of the best parts of the week was racing alongside 12 other boats after a “Le Mans” start. This is when all the boats line up side by side at sea, the crews staying at the back of their boats. When he start gun goes, everyone runs forward to raise sails and pick up speed before the other boats do. Has to be said we weren’t the best at this. The adrenaline was high, the enthusiasm was high – it was just a shame we didn’t really know what we were doing…

Life at 45 degrees

It was a real learning experience this week as we were mostly left to ourselves to sail the boat as Huw sorted out the rest of the fleet below decks as the “lead skipper” (I like to think we were trusted to do so). This didn’t make for a particularly impressive race performance, but we did manage to adapt to the conditions and probably had way more fun than the winning boat. Everything in moderation right?

The whole crew sleeping in moderation. We had this skill sorted.

After spending most of the week racing or at anchor at night, our final day was spent on “skills and drills”. Much hilarity ensued as Emily & Karri were launched off in the dinghy in search of the ice cream boat (alas it was broken), we transferred miscellaneous food items to other boats, had a casual trip up the mast and challenged another crew to a on-water dance off. Cue most of Team Huw (now known as Visit Seattle) lining up on the side of the boat dancing to Taylor Swift “Shake it Off” with a pre-rehearsed routine. Oh yes. A strong performance.
Leo has made a brilliant video capturing the week including some of this fine dancing:

After a 2 month long gap between courses, it’s now only just under a week before I’ll be back on CV23 to sail from Gosport into St Katherine’s docks, London. This will be a different experience again as we’ll have double the number of people. After that, it’s the final week before Team Visit Seattle sail off to start the race. In a way, I almost don’t want the race to start: it’s been so fun getting to know everyone on the crew, and with a large chunk of them off sailing, it’s not going to be quite the same back here in the lovely England. No more sailing here for a while: it’s back to the computer screen to track the crews and back to rowing to get my boating fix.

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