Race Start: “See you in Seattle”

Race start wasn’t just a day. It was a full-on, exciting, haphazard, momentous weekend – and that was for someone who isn’t even racing the first leg! The Clipper boats were finally leaving London for Rio. What it must have been like for those leaving on Leg 1, I can’t even begin to imagine.

Ain't no party like a Visit Seattle Party
Ain’t no party like a Visit Seattle Party
The weekend began by arriving at the boat ready for the 15-16 crew party. The atmosphere at Clipperland (aka St Katherine’s docks) was electric: huge numbers of people were milling about looking at the boats, but only special Clipper folk with special Clipper wristbands could go down onto them.

Our boat was completely packed. 4 weeks worth of food, 20-odd people’s worth of stuff: it was really rather warm & “cosy” below decks and this was just in the UK. Think of the doldrums! Time to meet some more crew that I hadn’t yet met (there are 56 of us after all) then it was off to do some dancing. Any excuse.

Look! It might be a poor photo but HE’S HOLDING A SWORD!
For the Clipper crew party, hundreds of the Clipperati got together in London at the rather swish Grand Connaught Rooms. For once, we actually saw each other not in sailing kit. Turns out we all own normal clothes! Unsurprisingly, Visit Seattle were the first crew on the dancefloor and the last off with some most excellent moves in between. There was also much delight on the relevation that in his “action shot”,  our skipper Huw looks like he is holding a SWORD! Simply. Amazing.

For one reason or another (or just crap planning on my part) the next 2 nights were spent in a bunk on the boat, this time in my super-light sleeping bag rather than my normal super-massive Gauss bag. Lying there, it was quite surreal to think this would be my last night on our boat for 7 whole months. If I just hid in the sail locker, I could stow away to Rio…

(…I’m now writing on my phone from the sail locker. They haven’t found me yet…)

Sunday morning and it was Race start day. Although both later-leggers, Kate & I were joining the crew on the boat during the day to look after some drummers, so I joined the crew for breakfast. All dressed up in our official Visit Seattle kit (grey tshirts, green jackets), there was fun and laughter but also a little bit of tension in the air. I suppose it was a fairly big deal, sailing to Rio and all that.

Kate & I taking one last photo of the glorious-in-green Visit Seattle Crew
Kate & I taking one last photo of the glorious-in-green Visit Seattle Crew
The rest of the morning went by in a bit of a blur. Lots of prepping and photo taking. After hoisting our drummer up the mast, Kate & I stayed on the boat whilst the crew went up for their official send –off on the stage, processing in a line of little green men. We’re clearly going to be the party boat as there was dancing on stage and Huw admitted that we were all wannabe pirates. It was then time for goodbyes with people that I won’t see for a long time now, followed by frantic waving from supporters & fellow crewmates alike as Visit Seattle zoomed out of the marina. I didn’t want to stay and watch. That was it; Visit Seattle was off to swan about under Tower Bridge then sail to Rio.

The crew at their official send off. Dancing of course.
The crew at their official send off. Dancing of course.
I’m going to really miss my Clipper friends on that boat, even though we haven’t all known each other for all that long. After such a manic, sailing-filled month, it now feels a little odd the boat is gone and that my Clipper experience is on hold until April next year.  I’m already filling the gap a little by making sure crew, friends & family in the UK are kept up to date with blogs etc (ie. team stalker) and that we’ve got suitable parties organised, but it’s going to be a long time tracking them now. Visit Seattle is now just a little white boat symbol on a big grey digital ocean.

Follow the crew via Twitter @VisitSeattleRTW or search for Visit Seattle on Facebook

Visit Seattle - a little white boat on a big grey ocean.

London Delivery: the long way home

Beautiful image above courtesy of Shaun Roster shaunroster.com

Last week, it’s took me 4 days and 7 different modes of transport to get myself home. To be fair, it was 287 miles (as the crow flies). I did also get to take in the Isles of Scilly, various stations, Gosport and Old father Thames along the way.

Monday: St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly, to Gosport via Lands end, Exeter, Salisbury & Portsmouth. 

Small plane. Massive excitement.
Small plane. Massive excitement.

A pretty exciting beginning to this trip. After a weekend in the Isles of Scilly, I crammed myself into a tiny plane along with 4 other tourists to get back to the mainline. Although only 11 minutes long, the flight was very exciting: you could see through the front of the plane and I was chuffed to fly over the FastNet yacht race too. Only catch was realising that Cornwall is actually really rather far away.

I’d naively assumed that south coast of the UK, everything is really close to each other. There’s a reason I didn’t continue geography past 14.
Turns out Gosport is a long way from Lands End.

With our flight landing at 2pm, there was no way I was goin to get to Hosport for the 5pm delivery arrival time. And rightly so, there was no way my boyfriend should have to make a 3 hour diversion to take me there. Cue a long train journey from Exeter to Porstmouth via salisbury. The result was a somewhat later arrival into Gosport culminating in the galley seats as a bunk for me as all the proper bunks were full. Cue hot bunking for the rest of the week.

Tuesday: Gosport to somewhere in the English Channel.
Farewell Gosport my old friend. After 6 months of visiting the place, this may be the last time I see GosVegas.

All 12 yachts set sail at 10am to deliver the boats to London. Settled conditions and some warm-up Mexican waves sailing out of Portsmouth made for some rather pleasant sailing.

Lined up for out mexican wave
Form an orderly que…most of the time

In contrast to level 4, we weren’t racing this week, we were merely “delivering”. This meant a pretty straightforward sail around the south coast, punctuated with some comedy media moments.

Whilst the rest of the crew race the world, I’ll be looking after media on shore (follow us @VisitSeattleRTW). This will become a distinctly off-shore role during Legs 7&8, however, so it was time for Ana (our crew media champion) and I to get some practice in with the shiny new cameras we have to record the race.

A very camera shy crew meant we media team mostly ended up interviewing ourselves. Despite this, we got some great little interviews. Saturday Kitchen Live is also going to be given a run for their money with “The Sunshine cafe with Mia & Leo”, created whilst on mother duty cooking pasta. This was followed by Sail Storytime with Karri. Think we were all perhaps a little over-tired.

Wednesday: somewhere in English Channel to Margate.
Day 3 brought a lot of time on engine and a lot of time at anchor. After sailing through the night, we arrived outside Margate where we anchored for to wait for the other yachts to arrive.

This gave us all some time to use. Cue lots of rope work, prepping new ropes to be rigged etc. Having hot bunked, I seemed to miss a fair chunk of this having not been woken up in my port side stealth-bunk. I did make myself useful though by cracking out the media kit and buffing up on interview techniques. Ana and I even got a crew blog done. Wonderful.

Thursday: Margate to Buckinghamshire via St Katherine’s docks, London.
A long, slow, engine-tastic day but what a place to sail into!
More media action was had on this day as we motored up the Thames in convoy, a beautiful procession of Clipper yachts. As we approached the city, we were informed that the crew had to all be matching. Frantic kit finding began as we all searched for matching items. Matching kit also meant the perfect excuse for crew hairstyles and crew facepaints done with style by Emily. This was enhanced further by diamantes for team media (critical piece of sailing kit).

Just a casual one of us by the O2

When we finally entered St Katherine’s docks, it all became rather real. All of the yachts lined up in their finery, ready for the open week to come. Alas, it was only half an hour on deck before I had to scoot off for the final part of my journey: the train back to MK. My boyfriend was delighted to find me in the same clothes I had last seen him in, but all in all, a cracking way to get home.

It was great to get the chance to sail our boat into London with more of the mighty Visit Seattle crew. The next time I sail on CV23 (our yacht) now will be in April. It’ll be an even longer journey home then: 12,000 miles from Seattle rather than 287 from the Scillys.

This just got real

Today, I’ve been in London seeing friends around what I’m now calling “Clipperland”.

St Katherine’s docks is awash with Clipper signs, carnival dancers and tourists and this is all now getting rather real.

Arriving into London on Thursday night I think made most of us on Visit Seattle realise that our adventure is imminent. It’s not just walking past posters anymore. It’s not just the interview, the training or the preparation anymore. Standing on a 70ft Yacht in St Katherine’s Docks, Clipper flags all around; that’s when I realised that this is it. I’m actually a crew member on a yacht that is going to sail around the world.

All around the docks are signs providing information on each of the teams. You can’t really see it, but MY NAME is on THAT SIGN by that TINY/MASSIVE YACHT! (depending on how you look at it) !

My name on an official Clipper sign! Oh Yeah!

9 months ago, the thought of signing up for this hadn’t even entered my mind.

How did I end up doing this again?!

Its not just about the posters anymore . But they are still pretty exciting…

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.

Hello “Visit Seattle”

For a whole 3 days, Team Huw (my team) was the only Clipper boat in the fleet without a sponsor. Sponsorless. Lonely/too cool for a sponsor. All by ourselves.

Team Max had been announced (PSP logistics). Team Olivier had been announced (LMax). Where was our sponsor? Speculation suggested we could be Henri Lloyd (free gear? Yes please!). I was up for us clubbing together and sponsoring our boat CV23 ourselves.

Luckily, CV23 will not have to have Team Huw faces emblazoned on it as yesterday, it was announced Team Huw = Visit Seattle!  As my part of the race starts from Seattle I’m pretty excited about this.

We’ll be sailing in green around the world as it’s the “Emerald City”. I sense a Wizard of Oz theme could come into it somewhere.

The details are now all in place: I’ll be sailing 12,000 miles from Seattle to London via Panama, New York, Northern Ireland & the Netherlands on Visit Seattle.

Our boat will be in St Katherine’s dock to see from 22nd august, hopefully in all it’s shiny green glory. It’s now just 18 days until the race begins before the long 8 month wait.

Team Building Weekend – the “official” write up

A mere blogette, but for all you Team Huwers, here’s the write-up from this weekend. 

Team Huw brought colour to Kent over the team building weekend.

19 crew members arrived from across Europe at a farm in the “Garden of England” prepared for a weekend of getting to know each other, but perhaps not the chicken-stalking, owl-hunting, pond-dipping and face-painting that ensued over the 2 days!

The event kicked off with a scavenger hunt around the farm. Challenges included getting up close and personal with some feathered friends to capture a “Chicken selfie” followed by a “Clip-On” challenge. Mini-teams of 3 had to clip-on and navigate obstacles across the farm, the final challenge being to see who could paint their faces the most creatively. 20 minutes later and everyone was working the neon look, Skipper included!

The fun continued into the night aided by a BBQ and Stormhoek wine – a heavy helping of drizzle included to give create an authentic British experience. We also sorted some very serious team issues: the team song. After the original team song was nabbed by a rival crew, it was up to the Kent contingent of Team Huwers to listen to many of the remaining 55 songs and come up with an alternative. Much debate and the odd bit of dancing later and business was concluded in favour of the pub where conversation moved onto superheroes and spanish ham. Everyone in the team is now looking forward to what Victualler Amancio has in store, particularly the potential for Jamón the boat (not Jambon as I previously spelt it. Oops). Quote of the weekend had to be from from one crew member who shan’t be named: “I’ll go commando if it means we can have Jamón on the boat!”

After a night in bunks (the sleeping platform of choice for Clipper crew members), the morning was dedicated to getting to know each other even better than a few glasses of wine could facilitate. Joe lead a team session to help us identify the strengths of each personality type in the crew to understand each other better on the boat. We then soaked up the sun strolling around Doddington Hall gardens where botanical knowledge was shared, owls were spotted and even ponds were dipped. All this fresh air helped everyone work up an appetite, so it was off to the local pub for roast before leaving our separate ways, all agreeing that it had been a great weekend.

As crew member Mia Hartwell summed up (OR ANOTHER TEAM MEMBER – VOLUNTEER PLEASE!) “It was brilliant to have the opportunity to meet so many of Team Huw and the coordinaters did a cracking job of organising such a fun event. Everyone really got involved and it’s nice to finally put some faces to names!”

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

Sweating & Grinding on Level 1

So, the first part of my Clipper race adventure is over! Last week, I completed the first of 4 weeks worth of training I have to complete this year. 

20 of us arrived in Gosport last Thursday afternoon to be split into two boats.  I had fully expected it to be a pretty gruelling week having read other blogs. There were, however, a huge number of things I didn’t expect and that I’ve learnt since:

1. That it would be so much fun!

The crew on CV3 (our 68ft floating home for the week) was absolutely great and completely made the week. Not to forget Emily our Skipper and Paul as first mate. We were pretty much constantly laughing. Inhibitions were lost pretty damned quickly which helped, so much so we became the “party boat” out of the 2 level 1 crews sailing that week. Hilarious.

2. Lots of sweating & grinding is necessary 

Not just for late nights in dodgy clubs apparently (not that I’d know – thanks Sam!). I’ve learnt a whole new language over the last week, and apparently only just scratched the surface. Luckily,  there is a large helping of innuendo with many of them so it was highly amusing for all on board. 

3. I need to build some serious muscle and spatial awareness

This is mostly for the sweating and grinding (to hoist the sails!) and for lifting the very heavy sails & ropes on deck. On the command of “2, 6 heave” we managed to moved things between us, but it was seriously hard work. The Circuit training that I do for rowing paid off, but more upper body strength is required. Time to build some guns. Alongside that, the system of lines and knots needed takes some time to get your head around. Spatial awareness has definitely been improved after just one week.

Practicing knots on deck

4. That MK is apparently so dodgy that dangerous parts of the boats are named after it.

Boo 😦 clearly no one in my crew had ever visited properly. “But I’m not actually from Milton Keynes, i’m from a village outside it don’t you know”. I think my protests just confirmed their suspicions. 

5. That you can never have too many carbs

Every single meal or break involved biscuits or pasta. Now this no bad thing, carbs being my favourite food and lots of energy being required. I am, however, looking forward to veg this week (having just had more spag Bol back on land).


Preparing carbs in the galley

6. You will be physically punished.

And not just by being made to clean disgusting bilges on the last day. Through a combination of scrambling around on deck, handling ropes and lifting heavy objects, I am battered, bruised and aching, not to mention weather beaten. My hands and knees in particular felt the strain, but quads hurting too today from all bending and lifting. Ow.

7. Delayed Onset Knackeredness Syndrome

During training, I really didn’t feel hugely tired. Yes, I was weary at the end of each day, but I felt pretty chipper each morning despite some late nights. This was no doubt helped in part by my super cosy sleeping bag (still on love with it), but on reflection, I think I was running mostly on pure adrenaline. I know this because today I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. Things didn’t stop swaying either until this evening. Positively falling asleep at my desk today despite being back on land. 


The super-snug yellow beast in action.

There’s so much more I could and hope to write about level 1, but DOKS is compelling me to sleep. Thanks must go to Jen for the photo of me on the deck – possibly the only one of me actually doing something related to sailing!

Learning the ropes

…or knots should it be said. According to the Clipper handbook, I need to crack 8 knots before I step on a boat. And with just a week to go before my first week of training, I have cracked one. Just. One. Knot. This isn’t even the the most crucial knot (the bowline is what I must know apparently). All I can tie at the moment is a figure of eight and my shoelaces.

It’s not for want of trying. Each week, I’ve been having “knot tutorials” with a seasoned rower and ex-sailor at my club (thank you JK!). We’ve covered a couple of knots that I can master at the time, but can I remember them now? No. 

Cue kitchen struggles trying to attach a chair to a rope. The chair is still not attached to anything and my rope looks like this:  


Learning practical skills has never been my forte, but it appears I need to get A LOT quicker at picking them up. 

Fun week ahead now frantically learning the ropes ready to start training!