Leg 8, Week 2 and 5 more days

On the way to Derry, Northern Ireland

So we’ve spent the last couple of days bobbing about under the Azores high, aka a massive wind hole. To reflect our various windless states, Visit Seattle has been renamed on the navigation system as “More wind please” after an optimistic “we’re going to getcha”. With 50+ miles between us and the nearest boats ahead, this high hasn’t done our 11th place position any favours as the other boats managed to break out of it earlier, but it has been great for bikinis on deck and wildlife spotting. WOne day, after a particularly sleepy brutal 2am start, we were finally awoken from our semi-conscious state by 1 or 2 whales swimming around the boat. These weren’t just whales in the distance either: they were up close and personal, you could see their backs and fins as they came up for air. In the end, the huge whales swam around us for an hour or so, surfacing every 5-10 minutes. Every time they surfaced, huge bubble craters were left on the surface of the water, filled with glassy water. After months of calling “Heeeeere Whaley, Whaley” with me, Lucy (whale whisperer extraordinaire) didn’t believe that we’d spotted whales at first, then she saw the amazing whale action and became a believer. As the sun rose, we all clustered at the bow trying to capture that perfect “whale plus sunrise” action shot. Suddenly, Whale action wasn’t enough for Lucy. Whales acquired rude prefixes as they refused to swim in front of the sunrise. We also wanted some Dolphins to frolic around them to make it even better but rudely, none appeared. We are clearly spoilt on this boat.

Unimpressed with photos being taken of me during whale-spotting

The totally calm water has made spotting other wildlife easy this week. We’ve had Portuguese Man of War jelly fish sail by – somewhat deadly but cool to see with their jelly sails above the water. We’ve also had regular visits by dolphins playing at the bow again, although they are definitely different species to those in the Pacific. We also saw some verrrrry lazy looking things that were somewhere between Dolphins and whales – bigger than Dolphins with no long nose but smaller than whales. What they were, nobody knows. It turns out these were pilot whales as we saw them again during happy hour one day when Huw was able to clarify. Apparently, these are the happy whales you would draw as a kid, lots of them swimming together. So much whale action!

When not whale-spotting, we’ve just been occasionally gybing on deck and mostly chatting. iPads/kindles are now the standard accessory that accompany crew members on deck to while away the hours. Lots of conversations have been had about Brexit (“how the hell did that happen?!” “We’re doomed!” “Glad we’re not at home right now”) and we’ve had fun coming up with names for the remainder of the England when London, Scotland and Northern Ireland break off to form a new UK and the rest is left. Our current name is “Middle England”. Not quite middle earth, but not far off. Alongside Brexit, sunny calm weather means there have also been lots of conversations have about life after the boat and our stopover in Derry. As we’re in Derry for 10 days, possibly more, some crew are considering flying home for a few days and then returning for the remainder of the race. I can see why they’d consider this: it’s actually cheaper than staying in Derry for that time and gives them the opportunity to see loved ones, but I feel I’ve got to stay. My adventure has been all about sailing home from Seattle, so as much as I want to see Steve, a cheeky flight in the middle for me would break the Clipper spell. Only a month now until race finish…

Now, the food this week has been exceptional and definitely deserves a blog mention. Yesterday it was Amancio’s turn to be mother. How we wonder what he could create if only he was in a proper kitchen! Despite being in a confined galley, Amancio managed to pull off lemon, ginger & herb roasted salmon with roasted tomatoes and risotto with a starter of fresh guacamole on crackers and then pineapple for dessert for 20-odd people. So, so, SO good. Seriously, we eat like kings on this boat. This was followed the next day by pan-fried herb chicken with a selection of roast veggies & rosemary potatoes cooked by Lars & Jan. I’m now writing a list of recipes so that I remember to make these meals back home. Nom nom nom…

After being becalmed for the beginning of the week, the wind has now finally picked up so off we go with downwind sailing in constant cloud. It’s back to foulies on deck as we all feel damp, but there have been some glorious moments. One of my favourites so far was helming with the code 1 spinnaker up, something I’ve previously found pretty scary. It was a beautiful day, suns out, guns out and I couldn’t stop grinning for the fact we were sailing. I was driving a 70FT YACHT in the middle of the ATLANTIC OCEAN. Ohhhhh yeaaaaaaaah! It was also rather gratifying later that night to sail to the Pirates of the Caribbean theme tune: so much more relevant when actually on a boat.

It’s now been a few days since the spinnakers have gone up, and helming conditions have varied quite considerably. I’ve decided I’m going to nail this helming malarkey (or just be slightly more competent) so I was really chuffed when I was congratulated on a stint during twilight of one watch. The nights at the moment are a deep, thick grey due to the fog making helming particularly tricky. I was only helming for 30minutes but I felt like a champion afterwards. Chaaaaaaampioooooon!

The lack of sail changes at the moment means I’m back on the calories in exceeding calories out, so I’m seeking exercise where I can. A leak from our water tanks mean that cleaning the bilges is a particular workout at the moment. This has to be done once a watch where 3 floorboards are taken out and an inverted bottle/sponge is used to scoop out the water that is then chucked overboard. This morning it was 7 buckets from 1 bilge and 3 buckets from the others: quite a workout once you’ve managed to get into the bilge, get yourself out with a full bucket, balance said bucket to prevent water from sloshing everywhere then get said bucket up the stairs, the finale being a long-range chuck of the water over the deck. Sweaty work. It’s made more sweaty today as there is a long rolling swell on the Atlantic, the first time I’ve seen this really outside of a storm. Every other wave, we’ll rise up so that we can see out over the ocean before swooping down in between the next wave. This makes seeing wildlife brilliant as they’re at the same height as you in the water.

Other than duties below, on deck there are 3 main responsibilities at moment: helming, trimming and grinding. Helming involves the concentration I described earlier, trimming involves holding onto the kite sheet (rope) for long periods of time, your hand turning into a claw from hanging on too tight. Grinding mostly involves sitting in style but being ready to jump up and work the pedestal arms at a moment’s notice. Grinding is my particular favourite (I like to think of it as high intensity interval training, just with really long intervals), trimming is not. When trimming, you’re supposed to look at the kite so that you can tell the grinder when to grind, but for some reason, I find this deeply soothing. Finally I nodded off whilst trimming, only to be caught by my crew mates (usually I can get by with resting just one eye at a time, one eye open, one eye shut). Despite nodding off, somehow, I was still holding onto the rope. I fear this may be repeated.

Whilst all this “action” has been going on, the Clipper a Race office have extended the race course for us, adding on an extra 500 miles to prevent the lead boats arriving in Derry to early. We’re currently in 11th place, so we’re not the biggest fans of this extension as it takes you around a random rock north of Ireland. As an alternative, Tino has written a blog post to the race office suggesting a different course around the other side of Ireland. I would LOVE IT if we did this, chances of it happening? Low, very low.

As we’re heading further north, it’s getting very much colder on deck, so we joke that we’re dressed for the British summer, ie wearing most of the layers we own. Time seems to be passing very, very slowly, not helped by the race extension to Rockhall: a tiny rock waaaaaay out west. For 3 days now, we’ve been 5 days out from Derry. Time is standing still. The only advantage of being out here are the nights: we’re now so far north that it no longer truly gets dark at night. Even at 2am, there is a smudge of light on the horizon – I think in retrospect, that’ll make this extension worth it.

On our final day of week 2, the weather has got rainier, colder and upwind making us even more keen to get there. Rain lashes into our faces, our foulies are permanently drenched and for many of us, our feet wet as boots give into the water. I’m sitting writing this blog now in said foulie bottoms and boots at a silly angle whilst it tips it down outside: I’m not looking forward to putting my sopping wet smock back on. But, it’s been a great week for birthdays. Two days ago it was mine (a separate blog entirely) and now it’s midnight on the 4th July: Emily’s birthday!

Emily’s birthday didn’t get off to the best start as a storm hit that night, the result being Lars breaking a rib after falling around the helm. Emily’s birthday did, however, involve LOTS of face paint, the best being Emily herself when she fell asleep with “it’s my birthday” written on her face alongside a USA bow tie in her hair and a lei around her neck. Brilliant.

The birthday girl in all her glory

The running joke in this boat has been is that it’s always “5 more days” to Derry after this was our ETA for several days running at happy our (our daily team update from Huw). This sums up how it’s felt on the boat this week: so, so, slow. Every time we ask, it’s always 5 more days to Derry. The race extension to Rockall hasn’t helped as we managed to rip our code 2 spinnaker down the middle on the way there, the very first time this has happened to Visit Seattle during the race. This is pretty good going to be fair, as this has happened to other boats several times during the race. The trip to Rockahll took us closer to Iceland than Ireland as every watch we continued to get colder. Despite it being July, my feet end up icy cold every single watch despite trying various combinations of sealskin socks, normal socks and plastic bags. My boots are just so wet, nothing seems to work. This means I’ve now cracked out the sleeping bag in all its glory along with cosy socks plus a hot water bottle from Emily, IN JULY. Just to warm up my toes. On the way back from Rockhall, which apparently just looks like a Christmas pudding in the middle of nowhere, the weather was somewhat fruity so trying to stay in said sleeping bag was a mission as I was on the high side. Luckily, I can wedge my knees by the pipe that runs along my bunk to stop me from falling out, but it’s not been the best week for sleep. Only 5 more days…

What feels like 5 days later, we’re now bobbing about by Rathkin Ireland, about 25 miles from the finish line and spirits are not particularly high. As we’re literally going nowhere, the disco light has been cracked out and everyone rather than dancing is glued to their phones trying to connect to 3G signal. No one is particularly happy. On one side, we can see Scottish islands, on the other Ireland. The wonderful thing is the smell though: the smell of British green, like it smells in the Lake District when it’s been raining. I’ve been standing at the back of the boat doing some deep breathing – so good.

About 30mins later…Happiness returned in the form of WIND! Jesse sweated up the staysail in the ridiculously light winds we had then literally, KAPOW! The wind picked up and before you know it, we were storming it to the finish line at a ridiculous angle. We only had about 40minutes of watch left at this point and around 2 hours to go to the finish line. Unfortunately, this did mean waking up from a deep sleep to experience race finish: not an exciting prospect when you’re in 10th place. Ah well, all part of the adventure! I did make sure that I got back into bed as swiftly as possible though to take advantage of my hot water bottle in there. Off to sleep and then before you know it, we were in Derry with just 5 minutes for me to get up, into kit and on deck. Go go go! Derry here we come…

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