Leg 8, Week 2 and 5 more days

On the way to Derry, Northern Ireland

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

Unimpressed with photos being taken of me during whale-spotting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The birthday girl in all her glory

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

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

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

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!

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.  

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.

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.

“Only acceptable on the boat”

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…

  1. Running out into the street in your underwear with shower gel in hand whenever it starts raining
  2. Mopping the sweat from your chest with a tea towel during lunch
  3. Climbing over people in an up close and personal manner when manoeuvring around the boat
  4. Preening/grooming yourself in public, including open air waxing & shaving
  5. Getting undressed for dinner 
  6. Pooing behind a curtain (!)
  7. Announcing your presence whenever you arrive somewhere after dark 
  8. The prolific application of wet wipes being considered a “shower”
  9. Horror at the thought of brushing your hair inside rather than outside
  10. Holding out until 4.30am for breakfast
  11. Putting on the same clothes every day for up to 2 weeks
  12. 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! 
  13. Wandering around in your sports bra most of the time
  14. Bursting into song or dance at any given moment
  15. Sharing a bed someone but never at the same time 
  16. Brushing your teeth once every 24hours is considered frequent
  17. If someone tells you to grind, you jump up and wave your arms around in a circular motion rather than errr..grinding
  18. Pumping the toilet a minimum of 70 times just to wash away the…
  19. Purposefully waking people up from sleep at 2am
  20. Participating in a stampede at the prospect of being able to charge a USB pack
  21. A fan being a suitable thing to cuddle to send you to sleep
  22. Febreezing and hanging out a sheet to air for an hour constitutes as “washing”
  23. Taking up and replacing your floorboards every 6 hours or so
  24. Emptying water from your basement, every 6 hours or so
  25. Cleaning the loos and anti-backing surfaces 5x a day is not considered to be OCD
  26. Recording where you are on the hour, every hour in a special book
  27. Biscuits being an appropriate wake-up snack…nom nom nom…
  28. Putting your toilet paper in its own special bag rather than down the loo
  29. An improvement in your bowel movements being news that must be announced to the rest of the crew
  30. Getting overexcited about ANYTHING cold or hot depending on the Leg
  31. A 14 hour sleep being seen as a deserved reward for having stayed awake for a 10 hours in a row
  32. Bracing yourself against a wall being necessary to go to the loo
  33. Walking on walls. Try that at home!
  34. Falling asleep in public as soon as you go outside or when you’re supposed to being something (oooops)
So I cant even remember doing this! Oh dear…

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…


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


  • 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.

Leg 7, Week 2: Bobbing

Most of his week has been spent bobbing. Bobbing here. Bobbing there. Bob bob bobbing about in wind holes. 
We’re further out to sea than the other boats, about 200-odd miles off the coast of Mexico in search of stronger winds. Alas, stronger winds have yet to be found, instead, a wind hole for a day has cost us 200 miles behind the other boats so we’re hoping that they get the same in return. Despite the not-quite-so-brilliant racing though, suncream and shorts are finally out during the afternoon watches. It’s taken 11 days (and the mornings/nights still require trousers and midlayers) but now the breeze is warmer, we’re not wearing full foulies anymore and sunglasses are welded to our heads.

A Mia-Minefield

Skill of the week that I’ve been trying to crack is “navigating the deck”. You wouldn’t think this would be a challenge, but there are hazards everywhere. Quite a challenge for a calamity Hartwell. All across the deck, there are things to trip over, be they ropes running to winches, “ankle breakers”, handles to get yourself caught on. Yes, my clumsiness now been been fully established and my legs are sporting a beautiful selection of bruises. A lot of this (I like to think) is related to my tether alongside the suite of obstacles available. Our tethers ensure that if we go overboard, we’re still attached to the boat but it does make it tricky moving around on deck. At night and over 11 knots of wind we have to clip on with these tethers to straps around the boat, the result being that you feel like you’re dragging a small, misbehaving dog behind you at all times. It slows you down but it can also be quite good fun “clipping on” with the tether though when the boot is heeled over at an angle onto one side: it feels a little like a Via Ferrata in the mountains.

The sailing this week has mostly been downwind, which means spinnakers have pretty much constantly been flying. This is quite an achievement for VS as usually the bowsprit is hanging off somewhere which prevents these massive sails from being flown. With our shiny new “FrankenSprit” installed in Seattle though, kites (another term for spinnakers) are good to go. As a sailing novice, steering the boat with these kites flying is pretty damned scary. If you you mess it up, it can end up in disaster. We haven’t done anything quite as spectacular as the 2 day sail wrap that the crew managed on Leg 2, but some examples we’ve experienced of getting it wrong so far are: 
1.A kite flying over the top of the boat to end up trailing in the water behind, 

2. Getting a twist in the kite then accidentally dropping it in the water, the sail then ripping as it was pulled it out due to the weight of the water in it.

Incidents like these have meant many an hour for Karri & Dana – our sail Chiefs – working on the sewing machine to repair kites, be it night or day. Damage needs to be repaired quickly so that the kite can be used again ASAP, as Murphy’s law is that the kite that is broken is the kite that you need. On the more positive side, kites have been quite entertaining when they need adjusting, Huw sending Dana up one of the sheets (the ropes that control the kites) so sort something out in the harness. We’re pretty sure this was done just for fun, but we got some amazing action shots of Dana. Dana is mighty but tiny so it looked like we’d sent a child to fly in the air. 

On a few occasions, we’ve sailed upwind with “white sails”: the Yankee and staysail. This is generally harder to mess up so on the very few occasions we’ve had this, I’m straight back at the helm as pee training. It’s quite pressured though: there are lots of very experienced people on this boat now and ensuring a straight course is important to make sure we’re covering as many miles in the right direction as possible. The cry is always “focus!”, and any time you’re asked if you’re “on course”, that’s inevitably when the zig zagging begins. You also get blamed for splashing people (which is secretly quite fun). Waves people, waves – they’re unavoidable!

Having seen things done a couple of times now, I have more confidence to get stuck in. I can now identify very small, simple problems and fix them (woohoo!). This week saw me making sail ties during “craft club”, helming more, actually go onto the bowsprit to adjust something (wet but very cool, suspended above the water) and just generally being a shadow of other more experienced people.
Disappointingly, we’ve not seen much wildlife still, although what we have seen appears to be the jumping kind. Dolphins jumping alongside the boat, squid jumping onto the boat at night. Flying fish jumping into anyone when they get the chance: you experience a substantial thud of fish to your body, a quick return of said fish to the sea and then it’s below decks with you to wash off the area that was hit. People have always said that flying fish smell but I didn’t ever believe them. I do now. They REEK! How can a fish fresh from the sea smell so much? These fish are amazing to see fly though, they can go above the water for a good 10m or so. 

The night watches are now enjoyable for their stars: I’ve spotted the ISS a couple of times and the planets are clearly distinguishable alongside the Milky Way. Other constellations are revealed through Amancio’s Stars app: you hold it up to the sky and tadaaaaa! Amazing. We’ve also had the joy of learning about Greek mythology on night watches, listening to reggae or electronic tango whilst sailing through the stars and a lot of 60s music. All good. In the day, the music is always upbeat: conveniently, Emily appears to have multiple playlists where I know ALL of the songs. The poor people on this boat are having to suffer my singing practice. 

This week I cracked and washed my hair on deck after 10 days of greasy, salty mankiness, Emily helped using a jug of fresh water. This felt absolutely amazing. Since then, other people have been washing more and more which is a bit of a surprise. I’m not sure how I feel about getting covered in salt water at the moment, so I’ll stick to the industrial wet wipe showers for now. I’m sure I’ll crack later.

Leg 7, Week 1: Adjusting

It’s 3.10am in the morning and I’ve just come down below deck. Outside, the Pacific is nearly flat, just the slightest puff of wind in the air and no stars. Everything feels like it’s matte black: with no wind, no reflection on the water, no moon and the air humid.
This first week at sea has not all been like this, it’s rather been one of adjustment. When we first left Seattle, we were soon into choppier seas as we motored out to race start at Port Townsend: an 18 hour trip from Seattle alone. The race hadn’t even started but sea sickness soon kicked in, infact I think I as the first to succumb despite the sea sickness pills. The next 2 days were not particularly pleasant. As it got a little rougher (we’re still talking not a lot of roughnes here), the sea sickness got worse. To manage this, I now carry little biodegradable dog poo bags to conveniently puke up into. I also had to retire to bed through one watch as I was feeling so rough. The up & down motion from back to front of the boat meant that I only really felt OK lying flat in my bunk. This was where I wanted to be and never leave, particularly not at 2am in the morning for a night watch.

Lying in my bunk has not proven to be as simple as it sounds as on a couple of occasions, I’ve had to cling on in my sleep whilst the boat rocks over. Normally, everyone shares a bunk with a person on the other watch, but as we have 19 crew on board, we have uneven watches. This means I am in the exceptionally lucky position of being the 10th crew member of my watch aka I have a bunk to myself. This is pretty wonderful. It does take a certain amount of ingenuity to get into my bunk though as its one of the upper ones. Currently, I cry “Ninjaaaaa”, get both feet on the wall, duck my head under the bungee line I’ve rigged up to hang my kit, get my back against the edge of the bunk and then kind of pivot myself in horizontally. 9/10 times I bang my head on the pipe casing that runs down the centre of the ceiling of my bunk. This also makes it quite tricky to take clothes on and off in it. But once I’m in, I tie my lee cloth (a cloth that runs down the edge of the bunk) to hold myself in and I’m away. 

As I lie there, the boat creaks, grinds and whistles around me. I hear the other watch walking about on deck alongside the whirring of the winches when anything sail related is adjusted. Every now and then, the motion of the boat becomes more violent; my bunk angle becomes a bit more precarious as we rock over onto one side, the brief feeling of weightlessness increasing as we slam over each wave. This is when I usually tense up and wake up, fearing the the shouts I can hear above mean something serious. Often there has been a big BANG as something under tension has broken or perhaps a titanic-sinking-like groan. And then (so far only once) the “all hands on deck” call gets shouted down. The tension in me increases as I wonder what has happened; I shimmy out of my bunk as quickly as possible and then get into kit to get up onto deck (on this occasion, a spinnaker sail had popped off and was in the water). I’m not sleeping easy on this boat.

Waking up in particular has now become a horrible, horrible thing as it distorts time on this boat. We’ve been split into 2 watches doing 6 hours on / 6 hours off in the day and then 4 hours on / 4 hours off during the night. This means you have a minimum of 3 “good mornings” a day, making every day feel 3 times as long. I’ve been at sea for 5 days but it feels like 3 weeks already. Tino, a RTW crew member, jokes that we have 53 weeks to go before we get to Panama. It certainly feels that way. The watches take their toll: the first couple of days I nodded off on deck both sitting and standing. Apparently it takes everyone a while to adjust every leg.

Alongside distorting time, adjusting to the watches has made me realise how much of a morning person I am. Just being in the sun makes me feel so much better, the 2am-6am watch in contrast is an exercise in keeping my eyes open. When it’s still, I’ve taken to doing stretches and some mobility exercises on deck to wake me up more thoroughly on this watch as you tend to have been woken up from your deepest sleep. It’s quite a challenge trying to do this in my current clothing of choice though: underwear, long merino wool base layers, midlayer duvet suit topped with full foulies- waterproof salopettes and smock. on top of that. Exercise is tricky so I’m not going to be able to climb stairs in New York, let alone go rowing back at home! If no “exercise” on deck, we do usually have music on to keep us awake, even at night. This is brilliant when the stars are out (so far only 2 nights good and proper). We’re still relatively close to shore (75 miles out) but the visibility is amazing. Endless stars some nights, clouded black others.

During daylight hours, the weather has been cracking for the last 3 days (what feels like 9). We’re currently in a Pacific high which means bright sunshine, blue skies…and not a lot of wind. We’ve barely moved at times which makes for a lovely soothing experience but isn’t great for racing. We’re in 11th place already. That’s effectively last as Cljpper Telemedhad an issue with their boat before race start so are several hundred miles behind. This means they’ll be feeling the chill more than us: you really can feel it getting warmer everyday. The RTW crew have warned us newbies of the delights to come when it gets hot. I already find myself sweating a lot on this boat, particularly below deck (could have something to do with the GIANT sleeping bag I own). What’s it going to be like by week 3?!

What has been better than I expected so far are the food and the people on this boat. I was a little apprehensive in Seattle as we didn’t spend much time together s a crew, but it’s turned out to be fine. I think we’ve got a good mix of people on each watch, there is a lot of laughing and everyone has been very good showing newbies how to do things. There’s so much to remember! It’s also been intriguing to discover that the boat has its own lexicon; something that initially confused me in Seattle when speaking to the crew. Why were they speaking like that?! After 8 months together, it’s an interesting mix of of influences from around the world. So, here’s a brief introduction to the art of speaking “Visit Seattle”:

  1. When ending a sentence, make sure that the last word is elongated and rises in pitch. Ideally add an “s” on the end too. For example, “Thank you” becomes “Thanking yoooooooous”
  2. The standard response for most questions or statements is “What the hell?!”. Pretty much interchangeable with “yes”, “no” or any alternative answer. This response can be somewhat off-putting at first so don’t be surprised if you get a weird look back from the uninitiated. 
  3. If there is even the very slightest chance that some innuendo could be implied from a sentence, you have to add “That’s what she said” on the end. A Leo legacy.
  4. If celebrating a success, “BAM!” Is the appropriate phrase. 
  5. “Chicken No Bone”: impossible to translate.

 Warning: the majority of the above can sound a bit stupid in a British accent, so you’ve got to say it with confidence and add your own flare. “Chicken no bone” in a Home Counties accent rather than Bajan is probably the hardest to pull off. 

I am really hoping to see a whale this leg. And what did we see today? A Shark, sea lions AND baby Dolphins! The shark was a fin, gliding through the water in a stealthy manner. The Dolphins were dolphin-like, being Dolphins. The sea lions looks totally bizarre: we couldn’t work out what they were until I saw one another time and spotted it’s sea lion head, otherwise they look like giant slugs diving through the water. Wildlife galore.

Leg 7, Race Start: Waving

As a follower of the Clipper Race, race start has always been a bit a bit of a mystery. Following, you see the photos, you know the time when the race has begun, but the rest of it is a mystery. What comes before? What’s the build up?

It turns out that the afternoon before race start, all crew were called together for a race briefing. Sat in a conference centre, the briefing went through the race course for Seattle-Panama and Panama-New York, weather, safety, even the Bermuda Triangle. The key output of this was that Panama would not turn out to be the stopover we anticipated. The first revelation was that the race could end early. Not since 2008 had this race successfully finished in Panama. The doldrums meant that most races had to finish at an earlier, pre-determined gate with the rest of the race completed under motor to get to Panama on time. For this race, 4 gates had been set up and it was likely the race would end at one of them. The second revelation regarding Panama was that the marina we expected to berth in wasn’t complete. For one reason or another, it was likely that we would be anchoring by the canal, waiting to be called through to cross. There was a chance that we would get into port: we just wouldn’t know until we got here. So, nearly 7 weeks to New York straight it is then!

Following the race briefing, we had a crew briefing on our boat where Huw took us through what our approach to the race would be and what watches we would each be on. Tino & Jan were watch leaders. My watch was: Tino, Amancio, Dana, Rosalind, Emily, Alex, Lucy, Jon, Bob & I. We went to a nearby hotel afterwards to talk through how we wanted to act as a watch (intention: push harder than before). It was then back to Emily & I’s apartment to pack everything into dry bags, ready to be on the boat by 9am the next day.

Race Start Day

What better way to start an ocean yacht race than with donuts at 7am? We figured the boat was going to be donut-free for the next 7 weeks, so Emily and I used this as an opportunity to pack in some tasty tasty sugar and ring home one last time. It was then to the boat in a taxi to accommodate the sheer quantity of kit we had despite it being a mere 10 minute walk away.

Once on the boat, the morning was spent doing final preparations for the race. For me, this meant filling up the water tanks using the slowest hose in the world followed by disposing rubbish whilst others stowed fresh food on board. Final coffee runs were made (this has turned out to be exceptionally tragic as the cafetière on the boat was BROKEN) team photos were taken of us in our green kit and then the processing began. We processed up high, then officially processed down to the boats following a marching band. We processed (being the home crew) holding a number 12 flag. Apparently this represents the fans for the Seattle Seahawks football team. I was just hoping that it didn’t represent our finish position.

Next up was boat processing. Each boat reversed out of the marina to their team song, we again being last. This is when the relentless waving began – more smiling and waving than I’ve ever done before. What is London going to be like?! People were lined up all along the edge of the marina and on top of the trade centre in Seattle with the water packed with yachts. Everyone was waving at us. Add a helicopter taking photos into the mix and we had to wave up as well as down and across. It was pretty cool to be fair. What followed next was a “parade of sail” where the boats all lined up nicely and went up and down the bank for a bit. A fireboat was in the middle of the course spurting huge plumes of water so whenever we passed this, the wind would pick up and the temperature would drop. Once we’d paraded up and down a couple of times, it was time for a man overboard drill and we were off. Off out of Seattle for an 18 hour motor sail to Port Townsend where the Le Mans start would be a day later. Finally, a race start where I was on the boat rather than watching it happen from afar.