Leg 8, Week 3: Just 5 days

After 10 days of mostly drinking and eating in Derry, I had mixed feelings about getting back into the boat. Being in the UK, it had almost felt like we were at home and I was prematurely crashing despite there being still a few more weeks to go! As a result, I missed out on the final Derry festivities but the next day made up for it: huge crowds turned up in Derry to see us off, lining the banks as we processed up and down the Foyle. Even as we travelled up the river to race start, boats were alongside us, shouting at us and celebrating all of the way. This was great for us: an excellent opportunity to practice our waves pre-London. The bank was so close at points we could hear messages from the crowds, all of us shouting “Thank you Derry!” in response. Derry has to be the friendliest place I’ve visited to date.

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So this was it. The penultimate race to the Netherlands before this adventure was over.

We were warned at crew briefing in the Guildhall that this race was likely to be rough and that the real challenge would be dealing with the tides at Pentland Firth. Time it wrong and it would act like a gate, shutting you in whilst the other boats ahead sailed on. As this race was due to be short (6 days max), an mistakes were going to cost us dearly. Clearly it was going to be exciting!

For the first time, we had a proper race start, aka not a Le Mans start at sea. The boats came perilously close together as they all weaved back and forth between each other, waiting to cross the start line at Greenhouses. It felt like we were getting very close with there being just 12 boats; what the Sydney Hobart race start was like I can’t imagine! Either side of the estuary, there were crowds to see us off. Cannons at the start sent a shiver down my spine as they reminded me of the rowing bumps races I was missing this year. 4 minutes, 1 minute and so on. The cannons made me nervous, although I needn’t have worried: this race wouldn’t involve anywhere near as much physical pain as a rowing race.

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Here we go! Race Start
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Us somewhere around Race Start looking pretty cool

The next 2 days then passed in a sleepy Stugeron-fuelled haze as I struggled to remain awake on any watch despite being within sight of nearly all of the other boats. Despite not having been sea-sick since Seattle, I still made sure to take the pills at the beginning of a race just incase an unusual swell set me off. At first, we had the Spinnaker up and it was what felt like constant gybing. For the first time, I actually got to helm during a couple of gybes – even though it was just a few, I briefly felt like a pro.

For the first time in the whole race, we were constantly in close proximity to the other boats. This gave us a chance to check out their Spinnakers and it was stunning to see how the other crews’ kites had fared. Verdict: dreadfully. There were awkward shaped spinnakers galore across the fleet with many a repair making them look like patchwork quilts. Our kites, on the other hand, were mint in comparison. This may have helped what was to come…
Somehow, we seemed to do pretty well this race. Racing to the top of Scotland in the dark, we could see 8 sets of lights behind us as we polled a nice, consistent 4th. Otherwise, it was foggy so even though boats were very near by we couldn’t see them, they’d just loom out of the fog every now and then. This meant that despite the close racing, we didn’t always feel it, the fog concealing the true proximity of the other boats.

When it wasn’t foggy, we definitely did feel the proximity to the other boats, Visit Seattle coming rather close to a few of the other crews on more than one occassion. My favourite was a rather interesting moment with Unicef whilst I was on the helm. All around me, everyone was exclaiming at how close Unicef was as we made a bit to cut infront of them. Would we make it? Would we make it!? I went for”eyes in the boat” approach. We made it. I didn’t even see them.
The second close call whilst I was on watch was with LMAX in the Pentland Firth. This was particularly satisfying as we flew in front of them, giving them a cheery wave as we went by. Yes, US in front of LMAX. HAHA! Oh How novel.

The highlight of this race and possibly of my entire race was going through the Pentland Firth. This was only the second time in my life I had been in/near to Scotland and as per the first visit, the weather was stunning. With clear blue skies, the view of the Orkney Isles was stunning, the visibility so good that we could see the abandoned crofters huts along their edge. A clear, chilly, summers day. Such good weather and views means I can never, ever go back to Scotland. It’ll have no choice but to rain on me then.
Passing through the Pentland Firth was when we managed to sneak into first place on this race, passing PSP, Danang, Derry and Clipper Telemed through some lucky tack timing. At one point, PSP, Danang and Derry were all travelling along in a lovely little line, one behind the other, nicely primed for us to overtake. I went to sleep with them on our starboard side: when I woke up, they were gone.

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Our birdy friend & I

After this sneaky maneuver, it was then a case of hanging onto the lead to Den Helder: a drag race down the North Sea. En route, we were interrupted by a small sea bird trying to land on the boat. Eventually, the bird was successful at landing, repositioning itself every time we tacked. Shortly afterwards, rather lost pigeon tried to the same. Pigeons clearly aren’t made to land on boats, nor are they made to fly over the sea. I can only imagine that things didn’t end well for our poor pigeon friend. When not being entertained by birds (it’s the little things), once again, we resumed asking Amancio how far we had to go to the finish, conscious that the competition was barely 10 miles behind us. There must have been disbelief across the fleet when they realised we were in the lead and probably more disbelief that PSP were the boat chasing us – the two crews that earlier in the race had been consistently last!

Coming down the North Sea, passing the many, many gas rigs lit up like Blackpool tower, I finally woke up good and proper having ditched the sea sickness tablets. The conditions were nothing like that predicted, they weren’t needed. The final 24 hours were then very tense as we anticipated light winds with PSP just 6 miles behind us. Would we be able to hang onto first?!

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One of the many rigs encountered in the North Sea, sinister in the distance

YES!

FIRST PLACE FOR VISIT SEATTLE!

We couldn’t believe it. Somehow we’d won a race, and what made it all the better was that we won into Den Helder, Jan’s home port. Visiting Facebook after the race, it was clear that our Shore Support had been following our every move.  After crossing the finish line, we turned back to cheer in PSP as they also crossed, it being somewhat early in the morning. Never have 2 crews been quite so happy! It was then out with the prosecco, out with the disco ball! Time for some #danceifyouwanttogofaster. First into Den Helder!

 

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Look at that white boat go!
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Disco balls & Prosecco
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