Where everything is on this blog

6 months on from the end of the race, and now everything Clipper is everything “Clipper 17-18”. That’s it, the 15-16 Race is old hat, we’re no longer “crew”. The race is now well and truly over. *Sniff*

Oh well. I’ll get over it (she says, crying quietly to herself). But in the meantime, if you do happen to be a lucky 17-18 crew member and are looking for some information, hopefully this blog can help you out. 

To make things easy, all the links you could possibly need to find things on this blog can be found HERE. You know, things like Crew allocation day, training levels and what to expect on Legs 7&8. 

Also coming soon will be a Leg 7&8 Kit list for later letters. 

Enjoy!

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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

Leg 8, Week 1: Noises

Knock knock
After 10 days ashore, I’m back on the boat, once more lying in my bunk wi my knees knocking from side to side with the motion of the boat. It’s the 6 hour off watch but I’m a little too hot, my sleeping bag being the beast at is combined with he fact we’re travelling with the Gulf Stream. It’s really rather warm below decks as the water temperature heats up the boat so sleeping is rather similar to what it was like in the tropics. Time for a blog instead I think!
Whrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

I was very glad to get back on the boat. Despite having a comfy bed waiting for me everyday in New York, I didn’t get he chance to recharge my batteries quite as I’d hoped on land and I missed the simplicity of eat, sleep, sail, repeat. Now I have the opportunity to sleep every 4/6 hours again, to think mostly about food all the time and enjoy the soothing whir of the generator to send me off to sleep once I’m in my bunk. I’ve actually done rather well on the sleep front this week as I managed to get 13 hours sleep after mother duty, was on deck for 3 hours and was then back off-watch for 6 hours after that. 19 hours of sleep in 24 hours? My kind of day! Breaking out of the watch system is never, ever a problem.


Whoooooooooooooosh

It’s 3.08pm on day 3 of the race as I write this, and the weather is definitely not what we had on Leg 7. It’s endlessly grey outside, with a constant whooshing as we surf across waves, very much like what we had during Storm Colin infact. Often, it absolutely hammers it down with rain, so below decks it feels like you’re in a floating angled tent. (Yep, we’re heeled over again). The deck transmits noise worryingly well so you hear every whoosh, wash and trickle when lying in bed. Up on deck, it’s been foulies all the way, some even cracking out drysuits it’s that soggy. I’ve often awoken off watch to the sound of so much water whooshing by that I quickly check the porthole, assuming that it’s rushing into our corridor it’s so loud. Luckily, That’s only happened once so far on day 1. Despite the grim weather outside, it’s tropical below decks so Every now and then, portholes have been opened to allow us some relief from the sweat box below. Unfortunately, unlike Leg 7, it’s definitely not dry enough for this. This is proven by the large waves that occasionally wash down the hatch into the galley or onto bunks where portholes are open, often ccompanied by “whoops!” Of joy on deck as those on watch surf down the rolling grey waves.  
Drip

A few watches in, and so far, time seems to be passing veeeerrrrrryyyyy veeeeerrrrryyyy s-l-o-ooooooowly. There’s lots to do on deck as we’re having to constantly reef and shake out reefs with the changing weather, but when we’re not, it feels like forever sitting outside, each of us motionless and dripping with water, trying to stay anchored to our chosen spot as the boat rolls and tips. We’re each sealed in: fashion for the week is walking trousers, merino long sleeved top, duvet jacket, foulies then boots and I damned well make sure that every toggle, strap and tab is adjusted securely to minimise water getting in. This generally means I get out of this kit pretty dry(ish) the only flaw being my boots. 2 days in and they are already squelching, their waterproof properties clearly long gone. Nice.

CRACK

For the first time last night, we went through the middle of an electrical storm, I mean really through the middle. We saw & heard lightening getting closer and closer until a huge crack was heard as a bolt very, very nearly hit the boat. We don’t think it did quite hit it as the electrics weren’t blown, however, apparently no-one saw the bolt go into the water. Again, being off watch meant this was an audible event rather than visual! A little too close for comfort perhaps.
Aaaaaarrrrgggghhh

Yes, a token bit of rage already. Being tired makes everyone a little more quick to anger on this boat. I’m back in the same bunk I was before, an upper one on the starboard side. Leo (my bunk buddy) has kindly got my huuuge sleeping back out for me so that I can get cosy and warm ASAP but I’m currently cursing this thing: with the bunk hitched up, I can barely get in! Water on the walls means my climbing technique is ultra lethal at the moment, resulting in me getting stuck earlier. Queue me stuck on my front in my bunk with my lee-cloth strap wrapped around my arms so I can’t tie myself in nor can I roll over to actually manoeuvre. This was quite amusing for everyone else though. The real argh is for WHALES though. THE OTHER WATCH SAW WHALES! Damn damn damn…

Heeeeeeere Whaley Whaley Whaley Whaley…”

Surely this has got to work eventually, right?
Aaaaaaaah! (As in “oh nooo!”)

That was the sound I made as we broached whilst I was on mother watch (aka tipped over to an extreme angle violently). Whilst we mothers galliantly held on to the veg prepared for the nights dinner, 4 cereal boxes decide to fling themselves out of one of the galley cubby holes , land on me and absolutely COVER me and the galley in muesli, somehow entirely missing Leo. Add in some rice noodles into the mix and it was a strong, dusty look, muesli in my hair, on my face, down my clothes. Muesli, German muesli everywhere. It took hours to clean up having made its way into every possible place in the galley (linseeds: spawn of the devil to clear up). The irony wasn’t lost on everyone that it was me that was covered in muesli though. Now had it been granola…
Aaaaaaaah! (as in “this is the life”)

This is the life. The last few days of this week has returned us to the calmer waters and the flatter boat of leg 7. It’s still chilly at night but it’s now easier to move around, easier to sleep and all-round, more positive. I’ve been living on this boat for the best part of 2 months now but have to keep reminding myself what a special experience this is. Standing on deck and looking out to sea, you become conscious that you really are in the middle of a vast OCEAN on a PLANET, and wow, isn’t it big: 1,300 miles in, still around 1,800 to go before we get to Ireland. Some highlights his week have been when we had 2 beautiful vivid rainbows at sunset against a golden sky, shortly after accompanied by Dolphins. 


We’ve had dolphins playing around us today too, around 20-30 of them slowing down with us as we’ve bobbed into wind holes and then speeding up as we pick up speed. If you stand at the front of the boat, you can see them swimming directly below you, sometimes up to 8 at a time dancing across the bow, surfacing for air or demo-img a little jump every now and then. It’s amazing that they don’t bash into each other or the boat. You can see them so clearly that individual dolphins can be distinguished by the marks on their backs. And what did we see the other day? A WHALE! Yes, finally, huge plumes of water could be seen in the distance from a whale swimming by. We saw a little of its back as it dived but no tail. Still, finally, whale action has been spotted. Lucy and I can now finally rest from calling out “here Whaley Whaley Whaley” relentlessly. We knew it would work in the end, it just took 8 weeks or so.

Leg 7, Week 6 and a bit: Trimming with Colin

It would seem I’ve  a bit slow putting these up – oooops! May 2016

The brief nature of our Panama stopover means that we’ve all been counting down to New York since this race began. Again and again, conversation turns to what we’ll do there, what we’ll eat, how we will prioritise a duvet day. Despite 44 hours on land in Panama, it still feels like we’ve come straight through from Seattle having suffered all of the adjustment drawbacks from a stopover with none of the refreshment.

As of the beginning of this week though, somehow we’re with the front pack of boats. Miracle! For once, we have boats all around us and visible on our navigation system to compare against. To make sure we stay in the front pack, the focus is now on adjusting the sails constantly (“trimming”) for maximum speed, quite a change from the previous race where sails could be put up and left for days. Now, there are always a couple of us stationed on the grinder, ready to grind like hell whenever required to adjust the code 1 Spinnaker when we’re flying it. Whilst the trimming seems to be paying off for boat speed, the previous harmony of our watch has been disrupted, terse words being exchanged as sail changes and adjustments are debated by the experienced sailors on board. I’m just happy to do what I’m told being still consciously incompetent at this sailing malarkey. 

Over the previous week, we raced up past Jamaica and are now just north of Cuba, the Caribbean Sea darling. Notes from home muse about how beautiful it must be sailing through the Caribbean islands. Have we seen any islands though? Have we hell. It’s like the coast of Mexico all over again, just blue, blue, blue with the occasional bump in the distance pretending to be land. To be fair, we have seen genuine land a couple of times by the end of the week, but it’s mere bumps on the horizon or more often than not, giant ships masquerading as land. The Caribbean Sea is different to the Pacific though. At night, there is more glittering phosphorescence in the wake of the boat. In daylight, there is less wildlife but more seaweed (and boats) bobbing about everywhere. The amount of seaweed proved to be a bit of a problem one day as a large chunk of it accumulated on our keel, slowing us down. Apparently it was nothing that a 360 turn couldn’t rectify and The nights are a little is was true. Round and round in circles…


Slowly, it’s getting a touch cooler too as we progress north, the sweat a little less intense as we lie in our bunks particularly at night. I’ve even cracked out the silk sleeping bag liner on occasion, I’d forgotten what it was. Having said that, I’m now at the point where my bunk it truly disgusting as the nature of sharing means it never really has time to air and dry from the sweat bath it continues to get. I’m hoping to get it up on deck and dry it our during mother watch which will now be with my bunk buddy Jon “The Koala”. The sheets we have on the mattress are a lost cause though, only boiling the life out of them may return them to a state of cleanliness. Thought you would appreciate these grim details!

This week, we’ve finally had stars again like we did during the first week out of Seattle. You’d think that this would be a more common occurrence, but a combination of the moon waxing and waning plus nightly storms meant stars were a rarity on the approach to Panama. They are back out in all of their glory, as have been our vocal chords this week trying to stay away during the night watches. More than once, 4 of us have been singing a diverse array of songs to help the time go by, from hymns to hip hop. What all of the songs are united by is our lack of knowledge around the words, everyone having perhaps a chorus sung before we move onto the next one in search of lyrics we know.

It’s 14.13 boat time on Saturday 4th June and we’ve just crossed the scoring gate line for this race in (fingers crossed!) FIRST PLACE! We’re about 70 miles ahead of most of the other boats, the only boat potentially threatening our position being Garmin who are currently in stealth mode. Sneaky Garmin. This is the first time Visit Seattle has ever crossed a scoring gate line with the potential of scoring and combined with the ocean sprint points we won could make this our most successful leg ever. Woohoo! As we crossed the finish line, I was in the nav station making sure the position and timing was recorded for posterity and then Boom, out with the celebratory tunes on deck. It’s now just 950 miles to New York albeit with some fruitier weather on the way in the form of Tropical Storm Colin (what a brilliant name for a storm!). Time to get back on the Stugeron I think. Gulp.

It was later revealed that sneaky Garmin in had been sneaky and passed the Scoring Gate around 15 miles ahead of us. We’re not ones to complain though – second place = 2 extra points which will make a difference at our end of the leaderboard. Woohoo!

The combination of Colin plus rough weather meant that for the remainder of this race, all energy was focused on keeping the good ship Visit Seattle sailing as fast as possible rather than blogging, taking photos or anything else. That’s why the details will now appears little sparse…

https://youtu.be/Nkt6NHZ5AVU

Tropical Storm Colin (seriously, “Colin?!”) was quite brilliant as a taster storm. At no other point during the leg had we had really rough weather, so in many ways, it was good to experience one in preparation for the Atlantic. The storm hit good and proper whilst I was off watch but matured as we were on deck. What seemed huge to me (nothing compared to Leg 6 Pacific of course) waves rolled across, water spraying off the tops of them. Everything was grey, grey and awesome. What I’ll never forget it how our 35-tonne boat surfed down waves during this storm: we’d have 2 planes of water on either side of the boat of azure blue water as we made the most of each wave. at one point whilst crawling up to the bow, my foot was on the edge of the boat when one of these plumes sprang up, I was convinced this was going to end very, very soggily for me but instead it was a blue wall rising up that never came onto the deck. Very cool. As Colin was a taster storm, he only ended up lasting about 8 hours but we had rough sea states for a good day afterwards as residue.
It was then the final 2/3 days of the race, spent with a sense of nervous apprehension on the boat. We knew we were in 3rd and that we had GB, Lmax and Derry behind, all of which have reputations of going fast and being on the podium. GB was the key threat, first 20 miles behind, then just 15 for the final 2 days, now 15 miles is not much of a gap – could we hold onto our position and stay ahead? Bob kept us positive with brief motivational speaches during happy hour (and peanut butter crackers). Amancio, our navigator as well as victualler, was constantly asked “how are we doing?” By everyone he passed. He should have had his answer recorded so he could just press play. We were all curious as It was now crucial that we did everything we could to maintain our lead, a key tactic being to ensure at helms steered as straight a course as possible to get us to the finish as quickly as possible. Now, I’ve had a couple of occasions where I have done some cracking s-bends whilst steering so I was very conscious that I may not be the best person to be steering. This did really get to me once where after 15 minutes of trying and failing to hold a straight course, I had to call it quits: the pressure was a bit too much at this stage of the race

Finally, at some random point in the ocean, we crossed an imaginary finish line to claim our first ever podium in the entire race. Around 5 miles before hand (so about half an hour) I was woken with the rest of the off-watch for the occasion. Everyone was on deck cheering as we counted down to the final point, a very small cup of prosecco given to each person in celebration. We couldn’t quite believe it: we’d actually claimed 3rd place and we’d done it super speedily. It had taken us just 10 days in the end to complete a course that should have taken at least 2 weeks. To New York!

Leg 7, Week 5: Panama & beyond

44 hours in Panama

Just over a day after Costa Rica, we finally arrived at a Flamenco Marina in Panama. Time to get up, hastily stuff some clothes into a rucksack, put on the Visit Seattle school uniform for a quick photo and then LAND! 

From the start of the race, we knew there was a chance that we wouldn’t get to stop in Panama, so we were delighted to discover that we would get to stay in Panama briefly as we were scheduled to cross the canal on Sunday morning. We lucked out here as Mission Performance who arrived shortly before us had to leave the next morning, giving them just one partial night on land. We, on the other hand, could have 2 nights in a hotel. 2 WHOLE NIGHTS!

I’m not sure what I expected of Panama, but I didn’t expect my first view to be of skyscrapers in the distance, a contrast to the tropical jungle that otherwise surrounded the marina. Our first challenge one eating off the boat was walking: wow, walking further than 70ft was hard. As soon as we could, we were in the nearest bar to cool off from the walking exertion, bizarrely a Lebanese restaurant called Beirut. There we had watermelon juice and were able to drop off laundry to be actualy washed rather than just freshened up with sea water. Fingers crossed that it would return!

The highlight of arriving in Panama had to be the ice cream shop Emily and I discovered on the walk to the hotel. We discuss ice cream so many times on this boat that to a actually find a parlour with so many different flavours was AMAZING. BEST ICE CREAM IN THE WORLD. We were absolutely knackered after more walking to get to hotel, but the ice cream proved to be highly restorative, just enough sugar to get us to the hotel. Totally justified.

Ever so slightly over-excited about ice cream

At the hotel, there was yet more delight when we confirmed it wasn’t a shack and had the modern comforts of beds, air conditioning and a shower. I was first in the shower as Emily chose to cool off on the floor (as you do) and Lucy connected to the Wifi. Shower for me then. The shower was AMAZING. BEST SHOWER IN THE WORLD. Feeling clean felt so good…and yet so foreign. Turns out the tan wasn’t just dirt and bruises after all. 

The rest of the afternoon was spent focusing hard on rest, relaxation and wifi before we wandered back to the marina to pick up some bits and pieces and get some food. This is when we realised in our newly freshened state that unsurprisingly, the boat stinks. NOT AMAZING. DEFINITELY NOT THE BEST SMELL IN THE WORLD. Stinky boat.

In the evening, we quaffed Pina Coladas, ate meat & seafood platters with fantastic views over Panama City before wandering back to the hotel to the sound of live music as bars entertained the guests. it was a relatively early night; we had real beds to look forward to! Lucy, Emily and I were confused to wake up on sharing a room to discover that none of us were taking a shower despite the noise of pouring water. It was rain, lashing it down outside, but this was warm rain. I had to prevent the impulse to run outside in my undies, shower gel in hand. No boat showers here, we had a on-demand, temperature controlled fresh water shower we could use whenever we wanted. Oh the luxury!

Saturday was our opportunity to explore Panama a little more so a group of us got taxis into the Old City for the afternoon. This was a real contrast to the skyscrapers in the distance; beautiful in a delapidated way. Panama hat shopping was a mandatory, as was the Panama Canal museum. Unfortunately, watching football appeared to be mandatory too so instead, a few of us sat outsider the bar showing football and found more ice cream instead. Ice cream, everywhere! It was then to a Panamanian restaurant for dinner. A combination of being on the boat for 5.30am the next day and potentially some of said Panamaniun food being a bit dodgy meant many people then did not have the best start to the next day though. Our taxis failed to turn up so our stay in Panama was completed with a 15 minute sprint-walk to the boat to a beautiful sunrise and the sounds of the rainforest around us. 44 hours in Panama done.

#farmertan #tourists


Crossing the Canal

100% deet. That’s what we went for crossing the canal. Although there were not as many biting insects as expected, nor was the Canal quite as expected.

Here we go! Off into the canal
The bridge of the Americas
Snuggling up to some slightly larger boats

After slipping lines at around 6am, we had a “pilot” join us on the boat to steer a Visit Seattle through the canal. Through the bridge of the Americas we went before entering the vast lock system. Ourselves, PsP and Danang were tethered together to form a Clipper-raft following a huge ship through the locks. We were on the outside of this raft, so at each lock, men with ropes and a precision aim would throw ropes to us that we would tie into. These men would then literally walk us through the lock as they filled: up we went on the Pacific side, down we came on the Atlantic. Each lock had 2 sets of vast steel gates, these being the original ones installed in 1914. Coming down the locks on the Atlantic side was particularly impressive as you’d start st the same height as ships ahead of you before lowering down.

It took a day to traverse the canal, what we didn’t expect was a 6 hour stop in the middle of the canal in the rainforest as we waited for a new pilot to join us. I was on watch for this afternoon, and shortly after we stopped, we could see rain approaching in the distance along the river. Serious rain. Quickly it was down with the Visit Seattle banners and the sunshade we’d constructed out of a tarpaulin. On went the foulies, down came the rain, the heaviest I’ve ever experienced. And that was that for the afternoon: soaked on Seattle, knackered from being up so early with crocodile hunting plus dancing to entertain us. Apparently Dana spotted some crocodiles. I didn’t see any. Probably a good thing.

Rain in Panama – now the rain-reference point for the rest of ky life
Attire varied to deal with the rain

We went off watch at 6pm which meant we missed the centre of the canal system made up of Lakes and rainforest. Apparently there was very little to see in the dark, just huge passing ships in the night (literally). We woke up for the 2am watch to the final few locks on the Atlantic side lit up by the lock-lights. 1 day and the Panama Canal was done. On to the Caribbean!

A whole new race

So…

  • West “coast” of north & Central America: tick
  • Panama Canal: tick
  • Next stop: New York

Looking racey off the start
The race start for Race 11 was originally planned to be on Monday afternoon, falling on our off-watch. Many of us on Starboard watch were suffering from fatigue as the Panama Canal crossing meant we’d missed out on our first 6 hour sleep and the race start meant we would miss our second. Whilst the port watch had had 2 X 6 hour sleeps within the first 30 hours, we were running on around 5 hours sleep total over the same time period. Groggy and grumpy: we were all very groggy and very grumpy. The previous evening in Panama, I’d also been up with Emily whilst she was ill. I became a bit of a safety hazard on deck as a result as the tiredness made me feel sea-sick again and I swayed around (I don’t have control of my legs at the best of times) so was sent down to snooze. Luckily for us, a lack of wind meant race start was delayed until the morning, finally we could get some sleep.

Before we could crack on with race start however, that night brought the first big squall hit for my watch on this leg. We were motoring along nicely and then minutes later, the wind had picked up significantly. Suddenly, the boat was rocking over as we although we had just the main sail up, it was too much for the wind in this instance. Tino called for a reef to be made (when the size of the mainsail is reduced), we Sprung into action and then the rain began. By this point, It’s been around 8 months since I’d last done a reef so I was pretty clueless but was able to help pull the sail down at the mast. The rain was quite something though: the squall came on so quickly we were drenched through in our shorts and tshirts, dripping for the remainder of the watch. Oh the drama!

The next day, it was time for our Le Mans start. First bought there was a magnificent sun-halo, the first I’ve ever seen. So pretty. Anyway, the Le Mans start involves all 12 yachts lining up in a row somehow with one skipper calling the minutes until the start down the radio with an improvised horn sound for extra drama. No cannons on here to start the race. Whilst the countdown is going on, we were all allocated jobs (being somewhat bleary eyed having been woken up for the start). We then huddle towards the back of the boat, ready for that final “horn” at which we all ran up to our positions to hoist sails as quickly as possible. This was going to be an upwind start, so white sails were hoisted, off we went and so began the heeling over.

Heeling over. I’ve decided I hate heeling over.

Heeling over is when the boat tilts on its side going upwind, rocking over to what feels like extreme angles. Everything about the boat changes with this. What was an obstacle before becomes a critical platform to stand on, what were walls become floors and moving anywhere takes a huge amount of energy and perseverance. This angle of sailing is what you see on all the Clipper “action shots” and it does make everything more dramatic. For around 48 hours straight we were heeled over this week, absolutely nothing compared to other legs but a bit of a shock for Leg 7 crew after the flat downwind sailing of the previous stint. Heeling-anger has now joined my angry list to accompany lack of food, lack of sleep and heat. So much anger on this boat! The heeling-rage came in particular when trying to get into my bunk, which is now no longer my own luxurious private cave as I’m now sharing with Jon. Most of the time, the boat has been heeled over so that my bunk is on the high side, except my bunk being an upper bunk means this is really high. At first to ensure I didn’t fall out, I got into the bunk and then Emily adjusted my pulley system that tilts the bunk for you. 2 minutes later and I was clinging on to whatever I could as the bunk fell away from me. My first run in with the bunk. After successfully adjusting the bunk so that I was less likely to fall asleep, I woke with a jolt to find myself propelled onto the Lee cloth – a little too close to falling out for my liking. It was another sweat-rage moment: out I got to adjust the bunk in my undies only to knock over the cool box I use as a step containing what felt like 1000s of cans in my slightly delirious state. Lots of noise and swearing later and the cans were returned, the bunk hoisted and I was back in it. Except now, because the angle of the bunk is so high to prevent me from falling out, I’m in the hottest pocket of air you can get, all of the heat from the boat rising to the high side. Add to this the multiple bruises I’ve incurred from falling everywhere trying to move at an angle on this thing and AAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHH! 

I hate heeling over.

(It should be said that I’ve since adjusted to heeling over a little: everything is about adjustment on this boat. Heat isn’t the same issue it used to be, soon the angle won’t be either. I live in hope.)

Leg 7, Week 4: Motoring

How did I manage to miss this?! My blog post from the week preceding Panama…

Our lean, mean, washing machine

After nearly exactly 3 weeks of racing, the race was finished at the 3rd gate before Panama. Our off-shore route may not have paid out as we hoped, but we did beat PSP and Danang to come 10th plus 2 extra points from the ocean sprint. with the race now over, the engine has now been switched on and we’ve met up with Mission Performance (9th place), PSP Logistics and Danang to motor together to Golfito Bay, Costa Rica to refuel. Despite going as fast as we can, progress is slow (might have something to do with the the fact we’re towing PSP at the moment!) so it looks like there will be no stopping in Panama. That’ll mean by the time we get to New York, we’ll have spent the best part of 7 weeks non-stop at sea. Yikes.
Motoring has had a couple of impacts on the boat: the hot just got hotter, the entertainment has reduced and time seems to have slowed. We’re quite low on fuel so the generator is now hardly ever running (so no more Kindles, IPads of such the like for many) and with less sailing, time passes more slowly. It feels like over a week already since we started motoring and it’s only 4 days since it was first switched on. On deck, we look a bit like a travelling band: there’s always some washing drying out the back and people snoozing on deck.

The engine on means extra heat below decks, particularly at my bunk which is the top bunk directly opposite the engine door. The Intense heat means for the first time I’ve been angry on this boat. Twice I’ve woken up in a bit of a sweat-rage: the first time, it was swearing then straight to the sail locker where I passed out folded between two sails to catch some breeze from the open hatch in there. Apparently I looked so hot, Karri came and saved me with wet kitchen roll for my head to make sure I had the injured soldier look going on. The second sweat-rage was after being woken up by the engine door being opened only 1 1/2 hours into that day’s big 5 hour sleep, waking me up wit blast of heat and noise. Emily and I retreated to the galley (a full 3 steps away) feeling somewhat grumpy, but I decided that I had to get sleep so returned to my bunk whilst the rest of the crew went for a swim off the side of the boat. An inquisitive turtle came and joined them as they swam in over 3,000 meters of water. For me, on the other hand, sleep wins every time. Sod the turtles, give me my bunk! Raaaaaaarrrrrr!

As we get closer to the equator, the weather is visibly changing with more squalls (tropical storms) and lightning. Nearly every night, we can see the most fantastic lightning displays in the distance. We’ve not yet got close enough to hear them, but huge anvil-like clouds rise up, pierced by forks of lightning often accompanied by the moon or sunrise for extra-drama. Boat time is now out by about 2 hours vs real time, so each watch always gets to see a full sunrise or run set depending on time. Sunrise at 4am is a little bizarre though. 

Once there is light, squalls now often appear in the distance as broad menacing dark grey clouds, the rain and even water spouts clearly visible pouring down from them. Today, a nice squall at 7am provided the perfect opportunity for a fresh water shower. Immediately, some of the off-watch were upon to deck, swimming gear on and shampoo in hand (it’s all action on here). The rain didn’t quite last long enough to rinse our hair properly but the fresh water felt so good. After prolific showering in week 3, we’ve had to the ration the water for washing to ensure there is enough to drink, so a bit of fresh rain was divine. No longer am I exfoliating myself with salt every time I apply suncream!

Nights on deck are now positively bright as we’ve had a week of the moon being at its fullest. White, gold, lemon: the moon appears idifferent shades and sizes depending on the night, the reflection shimmering on the water. We’ve also had lots of dolphins visiting us this week and turtles are 10 a penny, they can often be spotted swimming off the side of the boat. Suspicious Boat law decrees that we’re not allowed to call them turtles on here though: “flippety flop” being my term of choice to replace the t-word.

Despite the bright moon, night watches are still no easier, the urge to sleep being so hard to resist. These watches, do however provide a brilliant opportunity to discuss the minutiae of life, the key subject being favourite meals. Conversations around breakfasts, brunches and alcohol now mean I have a clear view of what my favourite combinations would be. Indecision regarding food will no longer be a problem after being on this boat: favourites are now all clearly formed in our minds. Please someone get me a bacon, black pudding and egg roll. How I wish…

In between motoring, we’ve had a couple of sprints of upwind sailing when the wind has unexpectedly picked up. Gone is the flat, lazy character of the boat swapped instead for life at an extreme angle where rock-climbing skills are required to do anything. This has provided a great opportunity to practice helming though – my favourite so far. I had a fun little race with PSP the other day, trying to balance speed with wave-juggling where we steer to stop the boat slamming down. PSP didn’t know we were racing, but I won. Boom. 

This week has also seen the biggest storm to date, one we handily named “the Death Star”. As sunset came, a huuuuuge arc of black cloud lay in wait for us appearing to take up all of the horizon. Vernon and I were on mother duty all day, so we didn’t get the full “doooom” impact of the storm approaching as we were sweating down below. Instead, foulies were donned on deck in anticipation of a vast amount of rain that in the end never appeared. Rather than being a mega-squall, the Death Star turned out to be a spectacular electrical storm. We stayed dry and we were treated to a light show. Boom.

After what felt like 3 years, we eventually arrived in Costa Rica. I’d been on the off-watch, but was woken up to discover some most excellent things:

  1. Dana had made pancakes for which the “reserve” jar of peanut butter had been cracked out. Pancakes, peanut butter & maple syrup = delicious.
  2. You could SMELL land. Green, humid wafts from the rainforest carpeting the hills of the bay we were circling. It smelt absolutely amazing, exactly like the hot houses at Kew Gardens.
  3. There were dolphins playing around the boat. But as we were being towed around Golfito bay at this point, our engine wasn’t on so below decks you could HEAR the Dolphins! YOU COULD HEAR THEM! Very, very, cool.
  4. We were 1 hour away from refuelling at the marina. LAAAAAND!

Our experience of Costa Rica was of a small marina bar, a road and a vast expanse of rainforest that backed onto the road. I’ve always wanted to see rainforest, so it was brilliant to finally do so, the smells and sounds so exotic. We were lucky to be allowed off the boat, so immediately it was to the bar for some ice cold beer, Coca Cola (the conditions being right for drinking this: when you are really, really hot) and fooooood! After a month at sea, walking up a pontoon was a bit of a challenge and somewhat surreal after so long talking about land and anything ice cold. Some language confusion meant a bit of rage from Lucy when our burger order was given to someone else, but a burger & Pina Colada after a month on the boat was just what the doctor ordered. Tino then bought the boat a couple of wheelbarrows of ice so that for the next couple of days, everything was ice cold. Ice cold drinks, ice cold water, ice packs to prevent the bunk-sweat. Ice ice baby.

Arriving into Costa Rica

Leg 7, Week 3: Sweating

Week 3 and it’s finally hot. During the day watches, the sun spends most of its time directly overhead making shade elusive. We all literally hot-foot it across the deck as the sun heats it up to a searing temperature. On the rest of our bodies, sun cream is a mandatory otherwise burning is guaranteed, either that or exceptional tan lines. Some of the best tan lines so far involve tiger feet, deck-shoe tans and then of course, life jacket tans. I’m just working the “Siberian glow”, a term coined in honour of Lucy who is also rocking the milky white leg look. Big hats are now coming out too to protect against the sun. I was really chuffed with mine: huge and green and then poof! Off it went overboard to join the Dolphins. Sun visors only it is now then. 

The heat means our life jackets now weigh heavy on our shoulders having absorbed what I can only assume is sweat. The smell is delightful (not) and to prevent chafing, most of us are now sporting rather fetching gingham tea towels as neck scarves, referred to as “sweat rags”. Lovely.

Gingham sweat rags in action

During the night, below-decks has the same heat as above but with an intense humidity. Lying in our bunks, we are all covered in sweat. Sleeping bags have been rolled up and silk liners rolled out as a token gesture. Port holes alongside each bay of bunks provide a little relief allowing the breeze to creep in if the boat is moving outside. If we’re not moving, or the portholes are closed for washing deck, you are gradually woken by the increasing humidity. Breathing becomes a bit of an effort: you try to breath deeply for some cooling relief, but all of the air is hot and sticky, just like you. Many people now take a pillow and fall asleep on the sails in the sail locker rather than stay in their bunk as the hatch is left open in there for air to circulate (only when there is no risk of water getting in of course!). There are also a couple of fans rigged up at either end of the boat to help circulate the air, but these only come on when the generator is run, approx. 5 hours a day. We’ve now been asked to preserve fuel as it gets more likely we’ll have to motor sail into Panama, so the generator and therefore fans are being run less frequently now. Crew that have already done hot legs had the cunning plan to buy USB powered fans in Seattle, so these are rigged up in lots of bunks. Everything is USB powered on here, a cubby hole at the front of the galley being stuffed with electronics on charge.

Real relief from the heat can only be found by being on deck at night when there’s a good breeze or by applying copious quantities of talcum powder to make you feel slightly less clammy (everything I own is now a dusty white). There are nights though when the humidity outside is just as bad. You come below and everything is wet so out it is with the talcum powder again. We’re still a good 10 days from Panama, so I’ve been assured that this will only get worse by RTW crew. 

Wooling spinnakers below deck is particularly tough: after wrestling sails one day, I emerged dripping onto the deck, rivers running down my face, neck, chest and arms. Normally, this would immediately call for a shower (although normally, you’d probably have some sort of temperature control to prevent said sweat-fest). Luckily, Visit Seattle is a luxury yacht now equipped with a deluxe shower system. The boat has a seawater pump for scrubbing the decks, now handily rigged up at the back of the deck so every evening, there are at least a couple of people having a shower, a volunteer pumping the sea water over their heads. We hear that on other boats a bucket of fresh water for a shower following mother duty is a treat. Visit Seattle, on the other handmade is now the “Pacific Pampering Parlour” aka a 70ft racing yacht. If they created the Clipper advertising posters using shots from this leg, you’d get a rather different impression of this adventure.
After my wooling-sweat-extravaganza, it was time to get the bikini on, the scrubber out, some sea water poured on me followed by a rather warm fresh-water rinse to briefly wash the sweat and sunscreen away. The shower-fresh feeling only lasts arout 20 minutes, but it’s a pretty glorious 20 minutes. Hair washing is its own separate challenge: after washing it once 10 days in, the greasiness appears to have diminished. 10 days later my hair is now due another wash. How is that for a low-maintenance hair regime? I do brush it daily though to avoid the dreadlock that Emily had to have cut out in Leg 1. That makes it more socially acceptable…right? 

The advantage of this being a hot leg means we have the opportunity to wash clothes alongside ourselves, sail ties having been rigged upon the back of the boat to dry them. After some brief experimentation, I’ve concluded that merino wins everytime in the heat so I’ve joined the washing club. In contrast to the base layers, mid layers and the full foulies of week 1, it’s now either a merino t-shirt or a sports bra on deck plus some shorts of course: it’s just too hot for synthetic kit.

Anyway, back to the HEAAAAAT. Bit of a theme going on here…

Intense heat means I can never sleep when our 6 hour off-watch falls during the afternoon. Pools of sweat collecting mean I always wake early, giving me time to write this somewhat epic blog. Already, my iPad is getting sticky as I’m writing this and I am covered in sweat in my bunk – yuck.

Melting in my bunk. So hot, and not in a good way

The heat has its blessings though. The day watches are beautiful: blue up above, blue ahead 
and all around. The sky is often cloudless and sitting at the bow of the boat (the front end) all you can see ahead of you is blue. Looking back from this point, you get to see the boat behind you in its entirety and are reminded what you’re sailing on. It’s easy now to forget that we’re on a 70ft yacht. Sitting on deck or being in your bunk has become so normal that having a view of the full boat is a great reminder of how unusual this is. More importantly, I also saw dolphins playing around the front of the boat whilst I was sitting up front alongside a speedy turtle passing by. No whales yet though. Heeeeere Whaley Whaley whaley…

In sailing news, we’re now heading east to curve around towards Panama as we’d been taking the off-shore southerly route until now. Spinnakers, white sails and the wind seeker have all been out but infrequently changed due to light winds during this week. This means whole watches can go by on deck with nothing to do except talk, contemplate and perhaps snooze. Often, you’ll come onto deck at night to find bodies everywhere, sleeping forms suggesting a massacre. Otherwise, there might be music playing accompanied by the soft chatter of mixed conversations as the prior watch linger on deck, reluctant to head into the inferno below. The stories of being on the same tack for a days are true: it’s very, very pleasant but it becomes quite a shock when we actually have to do something. In the pursuit of activity, the daily deck wash now becomes something to look forward to to get some exercise. With so many snacks around, calories out are definitely not overcoming the carb-rich calories coming in. Having said that, the warm weather has come as a welcome relief to crew that were on board for Leg 6 where it seems a tonne of energy was used just keeping warm. Not a problem this leg!

A highlight of this week has been the Ocean Sprint: we did some slick sail changes and helming and beat the nearest boat by 2 hours, completing the sprint in a cheeky 10hrs 1 minute. Chocolate-coated cherries from our sponsor in Seattle were cracked out to celebrate our win of this – a first for Visit Seattle. That’s what you get for going directly south during a sprint. This should mean we’ll get a valuable 2 extra points for this race: every little helps to stop us from being last overall!

A crew of 20 people means that mother watch falls every 10 days for each of us, so this week, Vernon and I were back in the galley together cooking up a storm. This proved to be more of a challenge in remaining hydrated than cooking, sweat pouring off us all day (nice). After all was done, we cooled off on deck in the evening, Dana providing entertainment having eaten too many chocolate cherries and so becoming a Caberet act. I was happy to assist by providing a spotlight above her. The height is coming in handy every now and then. Also entertaining has been the allocation of nicknames to new crew, Dana (“Hobbits”) coming up with some corkers. My favourites are: “Koala” for Jon (because he keeps falling asleep in deck, cosy in his eucalyptus tree), Vern-Diggidy-Dog for Vernon (just because) and Buttercup for Lucy (following evidence of her dedication to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups). My name is Bubbles, to reflect my personality. I think it’s rather nice but with such a snap-tastic name as Mia, I’m not sure it will stick.