The final race from Den Helder to Southend went by in a blur.
Gone were the jokes about 5 more days: this race was going to be just 36 hours long, the shortest of the entire Clipper Race. To ensure we rested before the crazy day that would be London-arrival, the race start was planned for Thursday afternoon so that we’d finish at around 4pm on Friday; plenty of time for a sleep. The forecast was for some serious upwind sailing, so out it was with the Stugeron again. Preparing for race start this time, however, was a doddle as Emily and I had been sleeping on the boat during the stopover. No manic taxi rides carting our stuff around, we just woke up, hunted breakfast (croissants, of course) and then at 12pm we were off through the locks. Time to do that Parade of Sail malarky. As we had plenty of people on deck and the stugeron was kicking in, I took the parade of sail as an opportunity for a nap. This means I missed the military boats guiding us, missed the final views of Den Helder and probably other stuff too. Reflecting on these blogs, I seem to have slept through quite a bit of the exciting stuff on this race actually…
Any way, after parading up and down for a while/napping, our race start from Den Helder was as per that in Derry: first across the line. Alas, there were no cannons this time, but once we’d crossed the line, we jostled with other boats for position, even having to ask for “water” at one point to ensure that we weren’t grounded.
Before the race began, we all agreed that we’d adopt a serious racing attitude and make sure that we were on the high side whenever possible. At its most extreme, this resulted in people “sleeping on the rail”, aka sleeping on deck rather than in their bunk, legs over the edge on the high side. A less extreme approach was to sleep in your bunk if it was on the high side (score!), but lie in your kit rather than getting tucked up so that you could move if needed. This seemed to be a pretty sensible approach apart from the tacking: on the Friday of this race alone there was significantly more tacking than the rest of my race put together! Every 5 minutes it seemed we were tacking, making our dedicated rail-sitting somewhat challenging. It went something like this:
Helm: “Ready to tack.”
Everyone tries to gracefully get themselves off/ falls off from the high side into the cockpit with varying levels of success.
Each person goes to a station, one person on each of the staysail winches, yankee winches, running back stays and 4 people on the grinders as we have the majority of the crew on deck. Queue much crew-tessellation as we all try to do a job.
Boat tacks. Go team.
Tack complete, everyone scrambles up to the new high side and tries to wedge themselves in for another 5 minutes before the next tack.
Tack tack tack. So much tacking.
In combination with the tacking, a key feature of this race was that we were playing with the big boys: LMAX and Derry. These were the two premier boats, battling it out for first position in the overall race. Somehow, we managed to sandwich ourselves between them, Derry actually covering our moves at one point with LMAX chasing us behind. This didn’t feel real: surely we were actually at the back somewhere and this was some sort of portal that was letting us watch the 2 top crews battle it out. Surely?!
The proximity to Derry and LMAX made the atmosphere on board tense, everyone constantly looking out for where they were and asking how we could adjust our tactics to make up more speed. As this race was so short, the distances between boats were tiny: Derry just meters ahead. Relief was felt when LMAX managed to break their Yankee sail somehow, opening up a more authoritative gap between us and them. Derry, on the otherhand, were so close we could taste first position. So. Close.
To keep our mind off the tense situation, most of us were on deck on the high side (whichever that chose to be during those 5 minutes) watching either British coastline or Derry. With the sun beginning to set, Vernon rightly pointed out in no other situation would you be happy to watch boats for hours at a time. On the race, it was all you needed for entertainment. Well, perhaps a few more things entertained us than just that…
Other entertaining things seen on this race were:
The colour of the water: a pale green/turquoise, the first time I had seen it that colour during the entire race. Contrasted against an almost violet sky, it was really quite unusual. I’ll miss the endless skies and seas.
Gas rigs lit up like mini-blackpool towers in the distance
The many, many wind turbines aligned in perfect rows
Tripod Martians from War of the Worlds guarding Kent, more commonly known as WW2 outposts.
By now late at night, we finished the race at Southend in 2nd place, a mere 29 SECONDS behind Derry. 29 seconds! We had been a boatlength behind them for a while but were unable to catch up. I was pretty chuffed though: second place meant that I would now have a complete set of tiny flags to celebrate my race. 1st, 2nd, 3rd plus Social Spirit: BAM!
With such close racing between ourselves and Derry, both crews exchanged 3 cheers after crossing the finish line. This and the preceding race were so different to the other races in that the crews were so close. Turns out seeing other boats is the motivation we need to perform well.
We were so happy coming over the finish line. To celebrate, on went the celebration playlist prepared shortly before the finish and out came the disco bulb for the motor up to our anchor point where we would set off again at 4.30am in the morning. The only shame was that most of the speakers on board had died by this point, so disco-celebrations were short. We also needed to get the boat prepped for going into our anchor point in Southend: head sails and main down, anchor dropped for the night. It was then to the bunk for a quick nap before waking up at 1.30am to do some casual anchor-watching at 2am. My final 1.30am wakeup – HURRAH!
The half hour of anchor watching quickly went by doing some exercise (I was hoping better late than never) then faffing around (maybe accidentally napping too) for a bit before waking up the next watch. They had had a couple of hours sleep so we got a couple of hours sleep before the 4.30am motor. The next day was going to be BIG.
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.
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.
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.
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?!
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!
Today it’s my birthday, and as it’s going to be a fairly unusual one, I thought I’d try and capture what daily life entails on Visit Seattle. I find that off the boat, I quickly become blasé about life on the boat, but I’m sure re-reading this in the future, it will look anything but normal. So, 24 hours on Visit Seattle. Here we go:
2nd July 2016
0000: Birthday begins with Emily singing “Happy birthday” to me from companionway as she is Mother. Damp, wet and cold but Woooooo!
0030: Do some exercises to warm up whilst sitting on the floor of cockpit (aka move my arms a bit). Floor quickly becomes a wall as we heel over so instead I stand on what was before an obstacle, leaning back now and then to stay upright when the boat really tips. Better clip on twice for luck. Short tether will stop me from falling from my chilly perch.
0045: We’re flying a kite but the wind has shifted so we’re now broaching. We ease the main out to help us bear away to stop this so a call is made for the preventers to be eased too. Clip, clip, crawl and I’ve moved 2 meters from the back of the cockpit to the front to sort out one of the preventers (lines that prevent the boom from swinging across and wiping us out should we accidentally gybe). Kneeling is required because the boat is still at a stupid angle. I listen out for calls from Amancio who is re-running the preventer on the foredeck: “grind”, “ease”. I wrap the other end of the line around a winch, put the handle in to grind, then have to use my body weight at this angle to turn handle.
0100: Remain perched by the preventer winch in case it needs to be adjusted again. My body is bent over my legs to stop the rain and spray getting into my hood. I can see the clock in the galley from here; nearly time to wake the next watch.
0120: As closest to the galley, I go down to wake the next watch. The first challenge is clipping and climbing over several taught lines to get to the hatch, then unclipping over said lines. Eventually, I end up pivoting on my belly on the companionway ledge to reach stupidly-placed my clip. Oooo my abs!
0125: If I’m going to wake the next watch up, it’s foulies off so that I don’t drip water everywhere. First, off comes the life jacket. Then, off with the woolly hat and undo all the various tabs and straps sealing me into my foulies at the wrists, waist and ankles. That done, it’s off with the foulie smock (always a challenge) followed by salopettes. God these foulies stink. I’m left in my duvet-like midlayers but I’m still bloody freezing. My hands are like ice.
0130: Off I go down each corridor to wake the off-watch. My chosen method is to call their name, say “Good morning” in an enthusiastic manner then put the red light on to get them up. They’re pretty dead to the world at this time of the morning.
0135: Back into galley to put the kettle on. This is pretty quick for once as the generator is on so I can use the electric kettle. I prepare 4 teas and 2 coffees for the next watch. As they slowly emerge into the galley, I let them know it’s cold (not that it’s not obvious of course). Get lots of “Happy birthdays” in return.
0150: The next watch head up on deck, then the rest of my watch come down sodden from the last 4 hours. I nip to the heads whilst it’s free at this point to get out of the galley as everyone else needs the space to get out of their foulies. I then retrieve my huge sleeping bag from its cubby hole at the end of my bunk and wrestle with it to get it flat. I then hoist the bunk up to a more accurate angle to stop me from falling out.
0155: Retrieve iPad from charging in the galley so I can write this blog.
0200: Right, mid-layers and base layers off. I hang them up on a bungee with karibiner clips by my bunk so they fit behind the door nicely. I climb up into my bunk ninja-stylee and try to get into my sleeping bag liner plus sleeping bag. Yes, I’m that cold. Now, to hot water bottle or not to hot water bottle?
0205: Success! I’m in and snug. No hot water bottle though. Time for a quick blog a la bunk.
0220: Blog done, ear plugs in from my keeping place in my bra (got to remember these details). Sleep!
0515: I’m woken by a shake on the arm. Wow I was asleep. The red light has gone on in the corridor and I snuggle down and begin a 60 second countdown; just one more minute. I reach 0 then start again. Then I realise I must get up, so it’s time to shuffle out of my cosy sleeping arrangement and rummage in my centre cave locker to find my extra-warm merino bottoms. I think I’ll need them; it sounds absolutely horrible outside, the sound of rain lashing above me. Merino leggings on, I then pummel my sleeping bag with my feet to the end of the bunk and kick it into the end cave locker. I’ve only recently discovered it’s much easier to get it in there that way rather than rolling it up.
0520: Leggings on, I partially swing myself out of my bunk and try to reach my seal-skin socks that are sitting on the generator pipe, but the bunk is hitched up too high. I can’t reach them so Ros kindly passes them to me as she goes by. Socks go on to seal in the leggings and stop me from getting wet feet from the floor. I then climb down and put on the long sleeved merino top over the short sleeved one I’ve slept in to stay warm.
0525: I retrieve my midlayer salopettes from behind the bulkhead door where they are hanging, pop them on and seal the leg tabs before putting on my rather damp boots. It’s then off to the heads before anymore layers go on, a mere 3 steps away. Zip, curtain closed!
0530: Another 3 steps from the heads and I’m in the galley, standing on the starboard side by the wet locker where our foulies are stored. We still have some fresh bread left from yesterday that Rachel baked as a treat, so rather than crazy sweet cereal, it’s lovely soft wholemeal bread with a thick dollop of peanut butter on top for breakfast; probably my healthiest breakfast to date on this boat. Be gone foul Cheerios…at least until tomorrow.
0540: A few steps back to my bunk and now the midlayer jacket goes on over my salopettes, only after tying my hair in a low ponytail and putting on my buff though to make sure I’m sealed in again the horrible weather I can hear. I contemplate adding another layer after being cold in the night but decide against it.
0550: It’s all back and forth, back and forth getting ready for deck. To the wet locker: I retrieve my foulie salopettes to keep me dry on deck. Off come the boots again, on go the salopettes over my midlayers and then back on with the boots, my foulies sealed over the top with tabs. I then wrestle myself into my foulie smock. Woolly hat is put on too, then hood up to allow my life jacket to go on. I then seal myself right in, doing up all of the neck and mouth flaps so that you can only see my eyes. Raaaaaaah…bring on that weather!
0600: Up the steps and up on deck. It’s not quite as bad as I thought up here: not absolutely horrible as anticipated, but only moderately horrible. Maybe I didn’t need quite so many layers. I undo the piece of my smock that goes over my mouth so I can breathe. The other watch are all still on deck as they’ve been asked to remain to help us gybe. The wind is pretty strong which could make it tricky: the more people on deck, the more people to (hopefully!) make it go smoothly.
0605 – 0700: Gybing. I first go to the starboard side of the boat to help bring the new spinnaker sheet across to be run for the other gybe, handing it to Ana at the stern and then back across the pit it goes to the primary winch. Huw then tells me to go to the port stern winch to ease off the preventer and then bring on the running back stay as the gybe goes on to support the mast. Huw is always on deck for changes such as this. I ease the preventer as before. Then I pull the running back stay line by hand around the winch to move it the 6 or so meters from its current position at the shrouds to further back on the boat. To do this, I’m also supposed to free the tricing line that keeps the back stay at the shrouds but I forget to undo the coil of rope – I always do this. The line gets stuck as the pulley system it runs through isn’t at the right angle. Huw kicks it, it runs, I continue pulling, sat wedged between the spinnaker sheet and those grinding on the pedestal. Gybe done, I help attach the wrap net at the gate. Off go the other watch for a sleep, our watch settling in for the next 6 hours.
0700: I settle in the cockpit by the grinders ready to grind or trim where needed. I love grinding (purely in a sailing context). Aaaaaand chat…
0715: I’m about to take over trimming the kite from Chris when Amancio calls me to helm next. Apparently I’ll be OK in this weather as I’m strong (HA!). Time for a bit more helming practice it is in strong winds then *gulp*. I navigate my way across the deck back to the helm, then clip onto the high side next to Amancio. He tells me what we need to do: 50-60 degrees on the compass, 120 apparent wind angle, juggle the waves. I step behind him in the helming cage, take the wheel and he shuffles out. I’m in control.
0715-0745: I’m on the helm for 30 minutes trying to keep the spinnaker flying downwind in the swell with the wind coming at an angle of 120 degrees. My shoulder muscles kill after half an hour from combating the waves to keep us on course. Jesse stands with me at the helm to make sure I’m doing it all OK. I manage to pretty much keep on course but it’s taking all of my concentration. Focus…
0745: Hand over to Dana on the helm as Amancio did to me. Phew, time to give the arms a break for a bit. I sit infront of the helm and gaze out over the starboard side of the deck at the sea. Grey, grey, drizzly grey. It’s like being back in the UK!
0745-0800: Nod off on deck whilst sitting. So much activity after all (not every day is like this). Whoops.
0800: Chris asks if anyone wants coffee. COFFFFFEEEEEEEEE! Milk with a sugar to wake me up please. Now where was I…
0810: Coffee arrives, passed along the deck from person to person in the little blue plastic cups we have on the boat, cracked on the inside from 1000s of hot drinks and so offering you a little taste of everything they’ve contained before. Sugar was definitely the right move. Yum yum yum.
0815-onwards… So after 8.15, I totally failed at blogging due to getting caught up in the excitement of birthday. It’s now all blurred into one, but roughly, here’s what went on:
I’m still sitting by the helm chatting to Dana and Jesse occasionally when Amancio appears at the galley hatch with what looks like a water balloon. What is that? Whatever it is, apparently he’s aiming for me but he misses and it slides off the boat. It was a water balloon!
2 more water balloons are hurled by Amancio at me. This time I’m ready *assumes ninja pose infront of the helm*. The first one lands at my feet. The second one lands near Jesse and Dana behind me but we’re not sure where. Perhaps it’s in Dana’s hood for later?
Emily cracks out the glittery tattoos that Dionne gave me. Unfortunately, they’re not terribly effective at adhering to faces, so people sit around with jay clothes held to their faces for 20 minutes or more. Is it a tattoo, is it a horrific injury to the face?
Dana finds the eye patches her Mum gave her. OH YES!
Add eye patch to my sailing kit. Commence birthday pirate photo shoot! Lets see if any of these are posted by Clipper – I’d love it if they were.
Emily has come out on deck in the rain following her mother-duty sleep. Emily definitely doesn’t like rain. Rain is bad. Her foulies are not her friend in this situation.
Sometime around 1100, I go downstairs for the first time this watch to discover balloons and “happy birthday” banners adorning the galley. Brilliant!
1200 and it’s luuuuuunch cooked by Jon as Lucy. Quesadillas, nom nom nom. So many wrap-based meals on this boat.
After lunch, the other watch go upstairs whilst we eat ours, but they then come back downstairs to sing happy birthday to me. It’s then cake, and not just any cake : an amazing multicoloured cake made by Ana with candles and sparkling candles. Yaaaay!
I’m given multiple cards from the crew, my New York apartment buddies, Emily and then also my very own packs of Oreos from Emily. Even the ‘Double Stuf’ ones. Very lucky Mia!
3 pieces of cake later (well, it is my birthday) and it’s definitely time for bed
I open and read my cards from home, attempt to hang them above my bunk and fail. Write a birthday email to Steve to let him know how my day has gone. There I discover emails also from both sets of grandparents and Sarah. Very, very lucky Mia!
1300: Sleepy time
Sometime in my off-watch: Restless sleep. Too hot and can smell burger cooking. Mmmm Burger…must be nearly time to get up. Write blog for a little bit then…
1715: Ergh. “Good morning” means I should get up. Just a bit more blog…
1800-2200: Similar to my earlier watch but involves some birthday bilge cleaning to spice things up. Woooo bilges! Chris very kindly did my antibac duties on the previous watch. I then have to tend to media duties, aka writing a birthday blog and uploading photos from the last few days to Clipper. This involves me going down to the Nav station at the back of the boat and squeezing in behind whoever is on the Nav PC to work on the Media PC. Out comes the memory card from the camera, on go the photos to the PC. I then select the best to upload to the Clipper server, switch over the Internet from email to media and tadaaaaa off they go. I send a couple from my birthday pirate shoot. It’s worth a try. Right, time for my final stint on deck for the day.
2200: The watch is over and the bed time ritual starts all over again! Foulies off…
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.
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 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…
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.
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.
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.
Living on a 70ft racing yacht for long periods of time means that you have to adapt your lifestyle somewhat. As the angles, temperatures and sleep patterns constantly change, standards slip and before you know it, we find ourselves doing something that is perfectly acceptable on the boat but that we’d consider ridiculous or bizarre on land. What is quite amusing is how many of these become unacceptable as soon as you step on land, but also how some of them don’t. So here we go, things that are only acceptable on the boat. Warning: it’s a tad grim…
Running out into the street in your underwear with shower gel in hand whenever it starts raining
Mopping the sweat from your chest with a tea towel during lunch
Climbing over people in an up close and personal manner when manoeuvring around the boat
Preening/grooming yourself in public, including open air waxing & shaving
Getting undressed for dinner
Pooing behind a curtain (!)
Announcing your presence whenever you arrive somewhere after dark
The prolific application of wet wipes being considered a “shower”
Horror at the thought of brushing your hair inside rather than outside
Holding out until 4.30am for breakfast
Putting on the same clothes every day for up to 2 weeks
So looking forward to putting clean underwear on that you tell everyone before you do so AND then once you’ve done so. This is world news people!
Wandering around in your sports bra most of the time
Bursting into song or dance at any given moment
Sharing a bed someone but never at the same time
Brushing your teeth once every 24hours is considered frequent
If someone tells you to grind, you jump up and wave your arms around in a circular motion rather than errr..grinding
Pumping the toilet a minimum of 70 times just to wash away the…
Purposefully waking people up from sleep at 2am
Participating in a stampede at the prospect of being able to charge a USB pack
A fan being a suitable thing to cuddle to send you to sleep
Febreezing and hanging out a sheet to air for an hour constitutes as “washing”
Taking up and replacing your floorboards every 6 hours or so
Emptying water from your basement, every 6 hours or so
Cleaning the loos and anti-backing surfaces 5x a day is not considered to be OCD
Recording where you are on the hour, every hour in a special book
Biscuits being an appropriate wake-up snack…nom nom nom…
Putting your toilet paper in its own special bag rather than down the loo
An improvement in your bowel movements being news that must be announced to the rest of the crew
Getting overexcited about ANYTHING cold or hot depending on the Leg
A 14 hour sleep being seen as a deserved reward for having stayed awake for a 10 hours in a row
Bracing yourself against a wall being necessary to go to the loo
Walking on walls. Try that at home!
Falling asleep in public as soon as you go outside or when you’re supposed to being something (oooops)
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…
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!