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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

https://youtu.be/Nkt6NHZ5AVU

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

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

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Leg 7, Week 5: Panama & beyond

44 hours in Panama

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

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

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

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

Ever so slightly over-excited about ice cream

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

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

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

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

#farmertan #tourists


Crossing the Canal

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

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

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

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

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

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

A whole new race

So…

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hate heeling over.

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

Team Building Weekend – the unofficial write up

I feel the 450 word write-up I was tasked to do for Clipper didn’t quite do our team building weekend justice. Here’s double that with stolen pictures just for kicks.

I’d been looking forward to team building weekend for quite a while. You see, it had been a WHOLE 4 WEEKS since I’d indulged in any sailing / sailing chat so I was beginning to feel some withdrawal symptoms.

After navigating some rather dodgy country roads, I rocked up in the green machine with Jan and Amancio at a rather cute farm in Kent. By 2pm, we were all gathered. Many of us already knew each other in the room, be it from crew allocation or from prolific Facebooking, but there were still quite a few people to get to know. That was soon put to rest when our lovely team building committee split us up into groups of 3 to go on a scavenger hunt around the farm.

I was put into a team with James and Huw. Cue chicken stalking and prize hiding as we went for the ultimate chicken selfie and tried to sabotage the other teams efforts (one team and all that of course).

A feathered Team Huwer

The scavenger hunt then ended with us all playing a  “Clip on” challenge where we had to navigate the obstacles in a courtyard whilst being clipped on to a rope, each of us having an impediment. Now, I’m pretty impressed I didn’t hurt myself doing this as I was blindfolded. James, Huw and I achieved a good time getting around the obstacles, the final challenge being to use my contribution to the team building weekend: neon day-glo face paint. I’d made sure that this was suitably silly enough and wouldn’t result in any allergic reactions by testing it out on my work colleagues the day before.

The effects were GLORIOUS. I’ve never seen such a good looking bunch of day-glow lunies before in my life! My mini team went for rainbow. It was a strong look.

Looking pretty cool
Looking pretty cool

Way too happy about marshmallows
Way too happy about marshmallows
By this point, it was time to crack out the BBQ, assisted by a smidge of drizzle. Emily had done an amazing job sourcing food and we even had the delights of Spanish nibbles from Amancio – cheese and jamon. So…much…food….so…much…wine. I also did my traditional “there’s a ping pong table I MUST PLAY and get overly competitive!” bit. Cue Jonathan and I getting a bit mesmerized by table tennis rallies.

Post BBQ & Wine, we retired to the communal room for some team song selection where Joe sacrificed his arm to getting Wifi, it only being available in one spot above the fridge (we’ve picked “Geronimo” by Sheppard). This then became a rather serious discussion about how we would manage stopovers in port during each leg. I did find it a little challenging to take this seriously, however, as everyone was still covered in dayglo paint. We all got it sorted in the end.

Really, how could you take this lot seriously?!
Really, how could you take this lot seriously?!
Post-discussion, we retired to the pub around the corner. Here the conversation moved on to superheroes, jamon and I’m not sure what else. We stayed for a fair while, Pablo managing to fall asleep at the table. Our bunks then called around midnight.

Understanding the crewThe next morning, we all gathered for a personality profile session. Joe had sent us all questionnaires to complete before the session so we could understand a bit more about each other, each of us being split into Myers-Briggs personality types. I’ve done this a couple of times already, but it was fascinating to see where everyone came out and understand the strengths we could all bring  I’ve finally embraced my inner crazy lady and changed from ISFP to ESFP, but it was good to see quite a few people were similar. Cue all of those in the “SF”  group going “Oh no, he’s all on his own!” as James was the only “NT”. Appreciate that’ll only make sense if you’ve done MBTI.

Aliens in the water apparently

After all that insight, we got our walking boots on and headed out for a stroll around the delightful Doddington Hall Gardens in the sunshine to work up an
appetite for lunch. We didn’t really “work” much – cue much lazing about near ponds, discussing Swallows & Amazons and following owls around (as you do). Despite our laziness, a roast dinner was very much appreciated as our final activity together. Only then was it revealed that we needed to do a blog write-up of the weekend for Clipper to be submitted by 9am the next morning. I volunteered (I quite enjoy this blogging malarky), resulting in frantic quote & photo gathering etc. for Clipper write up.

Just chilling

Team Huw = Team AWESOME

Team building weekend was brilliant. Everyone was up for a laugh and it looks like we’re going to have a great time all together. It was a shame we couldn’t have had more of the lovely Team Huw Crew there that we’ve all met along the way there.

Looking forward to the race even more now. And hoping for a neon sponsor. 

Sweating & Grinding on Level 1

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

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

1. That it would be so much fun!

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


2. Lots of sweating & grinding is necessary 

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


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

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

Practicing knots on deck
 

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

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


5. That you can never have too many carbs

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

 

Preparing carbs in the galley
 

6. You will be physically punished.

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


7. Delayed Onset Knackeredness Syndrome

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

 

The super-snug yellow beast in action.
 

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