Leg 6 Race 9 - As cold as the cold wind blows

Leg 6 Race 9 - Qingdao, China to Seattle, U.S.A.

Number of souls on board: 20

Distance sailed: we’re going to call it 6,000nm

Number of days at sea: 29

Finish position: 10th

Damage: very little

Injuries: none

Stupid moments we won’t tell my mother about: just 1!

 

The mighty north pacific they said. A race to endure not enjoy. Well that was true. No, this was not my favourite race but I can say I feel proud to have completed this part of thew race. Very proud.

We started with horrible light winds. Totally unexpected for this leg but we sat drifting around and moving only 500 miles in the first 6 days. This essentially added an extra week to the whole race. But you got to be careful what you wish for. Once we had made our way into the middle of the pacific, miles from any human contact, the big north pacific low pressure systems began to swing through the fleet. One of these in particular produced 75 - 100 knot winds (hurricane force) and 14+ meter swells (known as “phenomenal”) and battered the fleet. Luckily we all made it through with little damage or injury but there are certainly a good few stories circulating around the fleet here in Seattle.

But despite this rough weather the biggest challenge for me was not physical but mental and emotional. A constant fight to keep myself motivated and competitive day in, day out…watch after watch for 30 days. That’s 75 watches. 75 times I had to climb out of a warm, semi-dry sleeping bag to put on cold wet clothes and climb up onto a freezing cold deck blasted with wind, rain, sea spray and occasionally sleet. No lazy Sunday lie ins. No days off. 

As a watch leader on Liverpool 2018 boat, part of the responsibility lies in motivating the rest of the crew. It took great reserves of energy to get myself motivated to get on deck not to mention trying to excite our crew for another headsail change. “Come on guys, let’s go drag a heavy sail around where we can barely balance enough to stand up while icy buckets of water are thrown at your face…..oh and we will probably have to change it back…..but not till the sweat has dried and you are really really frozen”. 

How do you do this? I would love some advice, expert or otherwise. It has been a steep learning curve. Can I give anyone else advice on this? Not really. I was lucky to have a great team who motivated themselves and me. I led from the front. Literally. I tried to be the first one on deck and the last one off. I would try to be the furthest forward on the boat, dragging the heaviest part of the sail, getting the wettest and the coldest. But I have to say this wasn’t always the case. And that is the only real suggestion I can give. You need the power of a great team to get through these conditions. The guys and girls that keep you motivated. Keep the laughs. Remind you that this torture is meant to be fun. To stand next to you getting just as cold and wet and waking up to do it all again 4 hours later again and again and again. But with each rotation of the hands around the watch face, each time the date window rolls forward one more day we were closer and closer to the end. Closer and closer to crossing the mighty North Pacific. Closer and closer to where we are now standing tall as proud sailors having survived an ocean very few are inclined to sail.

There was a really low moment I can recall. 7th April. Same situation as above. Cold, wet a little bit bored and insanely tired. I don’t think my toes have warmed through in the last 5 days. My finger tips are still numb when I wake up. Back home in Cayman everyone is waking up full of excitement for Simon and Harriet’s wedding. These are two of my oldest and best friends and most of my favourite people are going to be there for one hell of a party. And its going to be warm! That was a dark day.

What else do you want to hear about? The layers of clothing I had to wear? The list is long. I had on a merino wool base layer top and bottom. A thermal base layer top and bottom. Ski socks. And a thin insulting fleece. These items I never took off, seriously I slept in all that inside a double fleece lined sleeping bag. I was still cold and my feet never warmed up. When I woke up I would put on waterproof socks, a fleece lined mid layer salopettes, a down jacket and another fleece. Then my foul weather gear or dry suit. My boots. A fleece lined hat, neck buff, fleece balaclava and gloves. All of which was generally slightly damp all the time. All the mid layers that I didn’t wear to sleep in would get in the sleeping bag with me so that they were warm when I went to put them on.

On these boats, we would get wet on deck and below deck surprisingly. The condensation forming from 20 people and the cooking would leave consistent drips all over the boat. When you leant against a wall your back or bum got damp. We became like ninjas to get out of your waterproof layers and into your sleeping bag without touching anything. We would also get damp under layers from sweat. What is gross, I had one shower in the whole month. For the last two weeks I didn’t even change my boxer shorts. Gross. 

Or how about the fishing net we got caught in in the Yellow Sea. It was unmarked on AIS and we only managed to spot the small white boys at the very last minute as we ran into it. We just about managed to get untangled and freed off before the colliding with the fishing boat that was reeling us in! Unfortunately over the next day we realised we were sailing slow so at first light the next morning we dropped the sails and Nano jumped over the side to take a look. We had arm full of monofilament netting caught around the propellor shaft. Nano spent an hour and half in the water diving under the boat cutting the netting off and pulling it on board (think of the wildlife). But once we got the sail back up the problem was solved. As well as this we were constantly checking the rudders and under the boat (using the Garmin Virb) for weed we we had to continuously shake from the boat using the boat hook and leaning right over the back.

Something that was surprising about this great big storm we had (supposedly the biggest the Clipper race has had) was that it was not that terrifying. The waves were indeed big. These great walls of grey, blue and white water. And the wind was howling through the rigging. But running down wind and down waves was relatively comfortable. It was a lot of work on the helm, but down below you barely noticed save for the occasional really big surf. On deck looking forward and concentrating on the numbers and sails there was almost not enough time to notice. You really had to stop and look back at the oncoming waves to remind yourself what you were. Its also a decent credit to the boats themselves, after all they were built not just to handle this sort of thing but to be raced in it. 

So we are here in Seattle. We were warned about the amount of rain and yet we have had nothing but sun. It is a beautiful city in the sunshine. Very easy to get around and it is nice to be back on familiar turf after our stops in China where everything is easy and understandable! I have had an amazing surprise from my folks who showed up unannounced and Mrs. Laura Titcombe has come to visit. Incredible. 

For the Cayman guys remember to keep buying sunglasses to support the guy Harvey ocean foundation. Thanks again to Peripheral Life and Style and Elliot Brown Watches.

Leg 5 Race 8 - Attack of the Chinese Fishing Fleets

Leg 5 Race 7 - Sanya, Hainan Dao, China to Qingdao, China

Number of souls on board: 18

Distance sailed: 2,081nm

Number of days at sea: 12

Finish position: 3rd - another podium!!

What an interesting race. Truly one hell fo an experience. We had an exciting race start with Sanya pushing us and Garmin out of the start line so we were over the line last. We raced down to the giant Buddha statue and were 4th around this mark then the race really began charging up the East China Sea. The wind was building and on the nose, perfect for our Liverpool boat and we climbed further up the fleet. The first nights saw us passing some massive oil rigs which was disconcerting to be sailing along at night but having enough background light to see everyone on deck perfectly fine.

As we passed Taiwan we received our heaviest weather but luckily it only last a couple of days and no one suffered too badly with the sea sickness (although someone didn’t make it out of there bunk and a bundle of mattress protecting sheet and sick was found stuffed down the side of a bunk making an awful smell nearly 5 days later! 

The wind shifted round behind us which was a nice surprise because we had expected a tough upwind slog the whole way. We popped the spinnaker and then the fishing fleets attacked. These fishing fleets creep up on you. First you see a couple of boats on AIS then as you get closer they just multiply and multiply. We counted 100+ boats on AIS at one time. You would be sailing in a constant circle of lights on the horizon. Pretty unnerving to be charging to towards lights on the horizon (i am only used to this meaning land and buildings) at 10+ knots with a spinnaker up. We had an difficultly half an hour trying to sail low enough to miss a massive fishing net - too low and we would wrap the spinnaker, too high and we would wrap the keel. We passed 150m from one boat. We hit a net but fortunately it bounced straight off the keel. All very interesting sailing. 

Another issue we had as we entered the Yellow Sea was the amount of seaweed, which we assume was kicked up by the fishing operations. We tried to fish it off our rudders but eventually there was too much and it was slowing us down. So I get woken up early for my watch by Nano handing me his neoprene top and shorts as he climbs into his wetsuit. “Hey bro we finally get to go for that swim we keep asking Skip for”. This would have been fine if we were still in tropical climates but I knew the water was already freezing. “Umm, don’t you think this is a one man job I said!”. But no, we wanted to do it as fast as possible to reduce the time we were stopped for. So the spinnaker was dropped, we rounded up into the wind and Nano and I left off the side with knife in hand to clear the weed from the rudders and check the keel.  Needless to say you have never seen two guys move faster, the water was baltic. 

The next amazing part was as we cruised up past Shanghai. Dodging the cargo ships and tankers coming into and out of one of the worlds busiest ports. I don’t think you will ever feel comfortable sailing closer to a ship than it is long. Passing a 100m from a 300m boat is terrifying. 

As we neared the finish we pushed so hard. We were in 4th place but had Sanya just 5 miles in front of us with a couple of clever gybes to be made to get to the finish line. One wrong move, one bad call from them and we would have them but unfortunately we didn’t manage it. We both sailed well but they managed to hold their lead. However, a we fought through a patch of very light wind all of 3 miles from the finish line and made it across the line we were radioed by Seattle to tell us we were in 3rd. PSP who had been in 1st for almost the entire race were caught in the wind hole we just passed through and had been for a number of hours. They hadn’t crossed the line yet. So we had such in with a cheeky 3rd place. Our second podium. We were ecstatic. 

 

Qingdao has been an even weirder place than Sanya. We are stationed and the Wanda Yacht club which is on an island purpose built just 4 years ago. Its like sim city or a toy town. Everything is new and relatively unoccupied. Slightly creepy. The hotels are amazing but there are no bars or places to go other than tiny local restaurants. The Wanda Yacht Club must be the grandest yacht club in the world its incredible and they put on the most amazing welcoming ceremony. All the skippers are presented with a red cape - a tradition given to returning generals who have been successful. We are treated like celebrities with the local visitors desperate to say and take photos with us. 

We have had a fantastic prize giving party and now I will take some time to catch up on rest, prepare the boat and prepare myself for the mighty pacific crossing. We set off on Friday and it is promised to be 4 weeks fo torture. We will see about that. 

 

Again I would like to thank Peripheral sunglasses for their support and contributions. If you need a new pair of decent sunglasses that are cheap (and stop you buying into that massive Luxotica conglomerate - Oakley, Ray-Ban etc) check them out and add me to your basket to send 50% of the price of the sunnies to Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation. www.peripheralls.com

 

P.S. Jakey Fagan - the East China Sea and the Yellow Sea have lots fo rubbish. It must be coming off all the fishing boats. We haven’t seen any of the big clumps or floating trash islands but a constant passing of plastic bags, bottles and thanks of wood. Afraid I wasn’t able to catch any good photos for you though. Will keep trying though.

Leg 5 Race 7 - Good terrible but not terribly good

Leg 5 Race 7 - Airlie Beach, Whitsundays, Australia to Sanya, Hainan Dao, China

Number of souls on board: 18

Distance sailed: 4,665nm

Number of days at sea: 24

Finish position: 6th

So a bit late catching you all up with this race. Hmm, what to say. By quick summary it was a good terrible race…but not a terribly good race. 

We started the race with the fleet’s first Le Mans start after motoring out of the Whitsundays and through the great barrier reef. The start was in very light winds and it we quickly learned (read: stole) a new idea on flying our Code 1 spinnaker in light airs using it to reach along at a 50 degree apparent wind angle (spinnakers are generally used to sail downwind and 50 is basically fully upwind). 

With our new found enthusiasm after such a good race up to Airlie there was lots fo energy on board and we fought pretty hard. We tied ourselves to the half the fleet that headed almost straight north, avoiding the scoring gate and a potentially massive wind hole. This paid off for us and put us into 5th position about a quarter of the way into the race. Here we seemed to stay. 

We worked our way through the Luzon straight into the East China Sea. We tried a tactical call on the weather to cut off the corner and hopefully allow us to catch up a bit with the leaders. 

Of course, as is the Liverpool luck, the wind hole we thought we were skimming moved in an unforecast manner and enveloped us allowing the the leaders to pull slightly further ahead. Unfortunately it also allowed Seattle to sail up and over us seeing us stuck in a windhole. 

A mid fleet finish not too bad. And a grand welcome to China. We had a fantastic crew with all our new Leg 5 joiners and have to thank all of my watch for a fantastic attitude and positivity it was a very fun leg and I loved sailing with all of you.

Oh and did I mention we managed the magic trifecta? Yup, we broke all three spinnakers in one race. I have truly pissed off the sail repair team this time.

We have all enjoyed Sanya. It has been an amazing experience with the change in culture and particularly the lack of English anywhere. Sanya is a top holiday destination for the Chinese and Russians. So ordering in  restaurants involved a lot of pointing and hoping - but still yet to eat the delicacy that is chickens feet. Communication with hotel concierges and waiters is almost directly through Google Translate and Waygo apps. 

We ventured down to the beach where there was a beautiful boardwalk full of restaurants and bars with a relaxed atmosphere by day and a party atmosphere by night. The grand central park had the group dance sessions and tai chi on going. I took a tour to the jungle and a Liu family village but these parts seemed very “put on” and much like going to Epcot, Disneyworld and a little bit fake. 

Now we set off again up to Qingdao in northern China. The expectation is that it will get ridiculously cold and be very windy and upwind which makes for a slow slog and boring sailing. We will see.

Leg 4 Race 6 - Serious Racers Now

Leg 4 Race 6 - Hobart, Tasmania to Airlie Beach, Whitsundays, Australia

Number of souls on board: 21

Distance sailed: 2,109nm

Number of days at sea: 12

Finish position: 3rd! Finally a podium!

 

To steal the lyrics from Nirvana’s Lithium “Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah, yeeeaaaaaaaaaaaah, yyyeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaahhhhhh”. 

What a race we had. We sailed so well. Our tactics and routing were spot on. We were amazing! We left Hobart and made our way through the Tasman Sea…again….for the third time. As we reached the south eastern corner of Aus we had a critical decision to make. Head inshore or stay offshore. We went inshore in very good company with Sanya, Seattle and Qingdao. Only trouble was we didn’t stand a chance of out sailing these guys. But up the coast we went. 

Then Claire Bear made the most magical call. She read from our speed and course coupled with the current forecast charts we received that we were struggling deeper into a current. But the others were going in the same direction. So we tacked and headed back closer to shore. It looked like a terrible tack. We nearly turned back three or four times. We were basically going backwards. We lost the others on AIS so couldn’t tell how badly we might be doing. Once we broke free of the current though we shot off. Wind and course came round, boat speeds shot up and we flew but the Bondi Beach. When the next scheds came in we were in first. The other rushed over to join us and battle commenced. 

We thought we were screwed. How do we, 10th placed Liverpool contest with 1st placed Sanya (first without even playing a joker yet), consistently performing Seattle who sail the most unbelievable angels up and downwind and Qingdao who have scored points in every single scoring gate so far? I have no idea. First Qingdao dropped off, they didn’t make it out of the current quickly enough. We fought up the coast jostling positions. Then Seattle dropped off and we were one on one with Wendo and Sanya (G.O.A.T? Or just the 17-18 race). 

It was so intense. We knew every tack had to be perfect. We had to be quick to call the currents and wind. We had to be so careful with our proximity to the shore as we had a Clipper imposed 2 mile limit. We made so many headsail changes, put reefs in, shook them out. We totally knackered the crew but the saving grace was the warm weather and water. But a huge effort from everyone on bored. It showed us we could be a racing team. We can get the boat speeds of the other boats. We can handle a southerly buster just the same.

As we rounded Fraser Island, edging into that dreadful current we spent so much time avoiding another southerly buster was due. We reefed down and got prepared. It took longer than expected to hit and in this time us and Sanya could barely make any headway north for being so underpowered just slowly drifting east in the current. Seattle caught the buster and screamed up the inside. Race was back on.

We just chased hard up the coast now in full downwind mode, fastest, most confident helmsmen on the wheels (thanks Roy, Nano, Jacob) to try and catch them. As we raced inside the barrier reef and the whitsunday island we lost it. Our tack line chafed through. Terrible seamanship on our part and it cost us 2 places. 

It didn’t matter. We screamed into Airlie Beach in 4th and were awarded 3rd after a slight infringement of the coastal limit by Sanya, We were up the top fleet. We had a fun race. We were bloody ecstatic. We were ready to party - well we are Team Liverpool and we had arrived within 40 minutes of 1st place. What a night out it was.

Unfortunately we are now saying goodbyes to an abnormally large number of people. None of our leggers are carrying on. A few of which have been a part of the Liverpool team since day 1 and I hadn’t really taken the time to imagine they would ever leave us. Carrie (the nicest lady in the fleet), Red (the twattiest guy in the fleet), Paulie (the weirdest guy in the fleet) and Steve-O (the best recycler in the fleet) - you aren’t leggers, just half-worlders and you are such a huge part of our team it is going to be emotional saying goodbye. I just need to be told which emotion!

Continue to thank Elliot Brown Watches, Peripheral sunglasses and importantly all those still making generous donations to Mac and Tack. Particularly a huge shout out to Grumpy for an outrageous donation, I am feeling the pressure to deliver a suitably wild story of how your donation has been lavishly spent….but it will certainly not be suitable to publish on here!

 

Leg 4 Race 5 - Competing with the big boys

Leg 4 Race 5 - Sydney, Australia to Hobart, Tasmania

Number of souls on board: 21

Distance sailed: 640nm

Number of days at sea: 3 1/2

Finish position: 10th (9th place line honours) within the Clipper Fleet. 54th overall.

 

Wow. What an awesome city Sydney is. Shame about their lockout laws but the weather was spectacular, people generally friendly. Commuting on a ferry in the sun? Beats the Thames clippers. Fantastic to catch up and catch some waves with the Lachie (only while KPMG Cayman is sleeping I promise he is not dossing around). But mostly it was really cool being shown around Kia’s new city and home in Manly and to hang out with Red in his home town.

After a fantastic stopover and Christmas in Sydney with the family, Christian and Darren (Moonies and Jenks you were epically missed) it was time for THE SYDNEY TO HOBART YACHT RACE 2017. To say I was frickin’ excited could only underplay it. This is a race I had dreamed about doing since I watched the documentary on the disastrous 1998 race as a kid. I had this beautiful moment to reflect on this as I took the first morning ferry from Manly across the harbour with the sun rising behind the Opera House. 

A few hours later the serenity had lifted and Sydney Harbour was manic. The Clipper fleet paraded down passed the Opera House to the Bridge and then back up the harbour to the start lines. To be motoring along next to the most elite racing machines in sailing today was a little yachts dream - Wild Oats XI, Magic Carpet, the mighty Comanche, Black Jack, TP52s, 1929 Dorade and on and on. 

It turned out to be a race for the history books. Comanche stole line honours fro Wild Oats after Wild Oats was penalised for an infringement not he start line. The first 5 boats across the finish line all beat the previous record set the year before. The new record now being held by Comanche. 

For us it was glorious spinnaker runs almost the whole way and with some classic tricky conditions coming up the Derwent river into Hobart. We had such a tight finish. We were chasing Team Great Britain hard up the Derwent with Dare To Lead hot on our heals. Unfortunately we never caught GB and were pipped over the line by Dare. I was pissed. We should have drove them out of the line. It was exciting racing though. I came up the dock to meet Mum, Dad, Kia and Christian fuming. Mum reminded me that it really didn’t matter, that I had just completed the Sydney Hobart for the first time and had been dreaming of doing this since I was about 12 years old. They always say the right thing don’t they!

We finished in 3 days and 4 hours. Chuffed with that. The whole Clipper fleet was separated by only an hour and a half. That’s good racing.

 

Hobart put on a show for us. What a stopover. New Year’s Eve was a =n amazing a surreal combination of meeting up with best friends - the old ones with Freddie, Tara, Sarah and Clutts for tour of my boat, food and drinks at Taste of Tasmania and dancing (obviously) and the new clipper family for the midnight fireworks on Liverpool boat party. 

A few of us hired a mini bus, bought $12 tents and drove up to Friendly Beaches and Wineglass bay. This is an extraordinary part fo the world’s coastline. Untouched massive beaches. We set up camp and a little bonfire. Had an amazing sunset and were graced by dolphins packing the shore break (Marty!) at dusk. 

The next day I got a full taste of the kindest and generosity of the Tasmanians. Nano and I missioned to Clifton Beach to try and catch a surf. This involved hitch hiking to the beach after we found out the busses didn't go all the way. On arriving, there was no where to rent boards other than a surf school with some foams…but the waves were perfect. 2-4ft beach break with an offshore. Not a foamy kind of day. But with Nano everything works out, he started to chatting to this guy working in his garden. This guy turned out to be Richie. What a legend. Richie invited us to take our choice of his exceptional quiver, offered me his favourite wetsuit. We were sorted. Fours hours later there were two serious international ocean sailors with un-fade-able smiles. But Richie still extended his hospitality further, inviting us into his home to have beers, meet his wife and daughter and share stories. If I, or any of you, can emulate even a portion of his attitude, kindness or generosity we will have a beautiful world to live in. It reminded me of my friends Chris and Norm who looked after me when I was a ski bum and a certain Kramer. Share your good fortune/karma cause it might come back one day. Preach!

Leg 4 Race 4 - More Disaster

Leg 4 Race 4 - Fremantle, Australia to Sydney Australia

Number of souls on board: 21

Distance sailed: 3,028nm

Number of days at sea: 16

Finish position: 10th

 

So Leg 4 (the all Australian leg) is split into three races. Part 1 or race 4 saw us take off from Fremantle head south into the southern ocean again and round the bottom of Tasmania before turning to head up the Tasman sea to Sydney. 

Fremantle had been a very hectic stopover. We were only there for 5 days after arriving very late due to the ordeal we had suffered on Leg 3. Whats more, due to all the damage suffered on Leg 3 across all the boats and the issues with the forestays the Clipper maintenance team were exceptionally busy and so almost the entire stopover was filled with maintenance work to get the boats ready. But the best bit was arriving into Fremantle tired and worn out and to have Kia and Christian waiting on the dock waving like idiots. I got to spend the evening and the next day away from the boats catching up and downloading. I may have bored the hell out of them but it was just what I needed and I can’t explain how nice that was. I also got to catch up with Mr. Alexander Blott aka Blotty…one of the truly greats.

I would love to tell you that the race was pretty uneventful. But that just doesn’t seem to be the way Team Liverpool 2018 liked to do things in 2017. First up we tore another spinnaker! This time it was our Code 3 which we had rigged to hoist and as we waited to double check with the skipper a big wave came over the bow and washed it over the side. When a spinnaker gets in the water it gets very heavy very quickly. It took a whole team effort to pull it back into the boat inch by inch and the drag it suffers in the water tore a huge whole into it. The wind strength was too much to fly the code 2 and we were just about to enter the Elliot Brown Ocean sprint. 

Bugger. We were now screwed for the Elliot Brown Ocean sprint. And during the sprint we fell off the weather front we were being pushed along by letting the leaders gain extra miles and putting us into different following weather systems.

As we sailed further south into the southern ocean once again there was some joy. We saw some more typical southern ocean conditions than we had done on Leg 3. Big following waves and wind. Great fun and insanely hard and physical on the helm. I’m going to blow my own trumpet here but I am pretty chuffed with one mega effort where I put in 7 hours of helming in a 12 hour period. Matt Diaz eat your heart out! Pretty exhausting stuff. 

But then disaster struck again. We had a broach. With the big man Nano on the helm fighting to recover it and his super strength we snapped a a link in the steering chain. Quick as a flash Nano sprinted to the other helm and recovered the boat. What a hero! As things settled down Fretts and Pretty Ricky dove into the lazarette for a couple hours and came up with the fix. Of course this wasn’t enough for Liverpool. Once recovered Lance, Claire and I were debriefing in the nav and I asked Lance what the plan would be if the other steering unit went. “That’s not going to happen” came his response….but 20 minutes later the woodruff key that translates the wheel movements to steering unit snapped and our poor pink panther was flying around in circles. Over the next few hours we battled to keep the boat under control and get some steering back. Another fantastic effort from the team.

The steering failure us further back in the fleet, missing another passing front. And so the real frustration began. As we sailed up the Tasman sea, passed the Bass strait and towards Sydney we met with wind hole after wind hole. The weather was a nightmare playing complete havoc. I was totally impressed with Claire’s efforts on the routing but on so many occasions there was so little she could do. Throw in a few adverse currents and we were yet again screaming at the sea to give us a break and slightly late arriving into Sydney.

It was all worth it though. I had been looking forward to arriving into Sydney since I signed up to the race. It is a sailing Mecca, Kia and Christian’s new home, it signalled Christmas time and the family coming to visit and is one of the most iconic cities in the world. Sailing into Sydney did not disappoint. The relief on either side of the harbour, the greenery, the bridge and the opera house was simply spectacular. With all the little bays, and the solid wind you can see why this place produces so many of the world’s best sailors - shame that didn’t include Redman.

We were lucky to be berthing at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia. Home and host club of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht race. Docking up alongside and across from a number of elite and famous racing yachts started the buzz for the next race immediately. But first, some time off and mega R&R with the family….not to mention a haircut and getting rid fo the beard!

Leg 3 - Emotional Turmoil

Leg 3 - Cape Town, South Africa to Fremantle, Australia

Number of souls on board: 20

Distance sailed: 4,500 nm

Number of days at sea: 26

Finish position: 8th

Pairs of Peripheral sunglasses down: two lost to the vicious ocean; one broken by violent moving boat.

Holy shit! Sorry kids, but this was one hell of a tough leg. Don’t get me wrong, that is how it is advertised to us but I expected it to be tough in a very different way. I imagined it would be tough physically with cold weather and big storms but it was the mental and emotional side that I found difficult. 

The best part of this race happened right at the start. Unfortunately our skipper, Lance, was really ill with pneumonia but being the ex-marine he is, he wasn’t about to let his boat sail off without him. This gave me the opportunity to helm the start out of Cape Town! Pretty exciting to be behind the heel of a 70ft, 32 ton race yacht only a few meters from 11 other equivalent boats….even better when you get the start near perfect. 

But thats about where the fun sailing stopped. Even just trying to get out of Table Bay and down the Cape Peninsula was frustrating with about a thousand wind shifts. One particular one drove us deep in towards the coastline due to some oversight by the crew member at the navigation table. It was a pretty scary moment when in the dark I came on deck to see white water/surf break on the not so distant horizon and then watched the depth sounder drop from 80m to 20m...19m...17m...12m. A quick spinnaker drop and a tack got us clear of any danger with only 3m under the hull. Unfortunately this was not the deal for one of the other boats, Greenings, who were slightly behind us ran aground and remained there. By the morning the hull was washed up on the beach and totally irrecoverable. How did we/they manage this? Who knows but I think as ocean racers we had become used to having nothing around us, nothing of concern from a navigational stand point for hours on end. So probably whoever was responsible for the navigation at that time didn’t pay enough attention and when the wind shift caught us we were driven round so that instead of sailing along the coastline we were instead pointing into it. 

Unfortunately this has ended Greenings' campaign and the boat has been taken apart and removed from the South African coastline. The Greenings crew have mostly been accommodated on other boats going forward. 

We then charged straight south deep into the Southern Ocean. At one point we were as low as the 444th parallel. It was ridiculously cold. The drysuits were worn all day everyday with up to 7 layers underneath. Mid layers didn’t come off even when getting into my sleeping bag. At times my hands were so cold after a four hour watch that I couldn’t operate the clip on my tether or undo my lifejacket to take it off. 

Leg 3 is supposed to be “the Southern Ocean Sleigh Ride” as we were supposed to skirt over the top of a series of low pressure systems. This would usually result in down-wind, down-wave conditions. Unfortunately the low pressure systems were pulled quite far north leaving us on the underside of them and upwind sailing for nearly two weeks. These Clipper race boats are designed for downwind sailing. They do not go well upwind. We usually sail them at a true wind angle of approx 60 degrees to get best VMG. In these conditions the boats are heeled over at 40-55 degrees. I am not kiddding. This makes everything very difficult. Moving around the boat, going to the loo, bracing yourself to eat dinner or look at the weather in the nav station and getting into your drysuit all become a huge effort. On deck you need to be well locked in to a post, winch, corner or simply hanging on to something fixed to stop yourself from being flung about. The boat is also crashing into and off of 15-20 foot waves, so on top of all the extra exertion just to get about daily life your sleep becomes seriously interrupted. You become so unbelievably tired. A lot of internal dialogue is needed to motivate yourself to get out of bed, trim the sail, make the crew a coffee. In sailing this upwind stuff is called “beating” I can tell you we took a beating.

During this time we got word that the Unicef boat had a man overboard incident. Luckily he was tethered on and ok. But it certainly frightened more than a few on my boat. 

Shortly after the main low system when the weather had eased a bit we had a disaster. Most of the crew were below having lunch when we heard an incredibly loud bang. Claire and I sprinted on deck. I was looking over the side of the boat for a hole and looking behind the boat to see what we might of hit. Claire was looking up the mast to see whether a halyard had snapped and then we both saw at the bow that the forestay had broken. (The forestay is the forward most fixed wire used to hold the mast up. It is a key piece of structural integrity however the mast will not necessarily come tumbling down without it…..but it could). Quick as a flash Claire started giving instructions to the crew on deck and she absolutely nailed it. The helm bared away, we eased the main and ran downwind. I ran onto the foredeck and started running all the spare halyards forward to the bow and Claire got them ground on tight. Then we dropped the yankee we were flying on that forestay. I have to say how impressive Claire was with clear orders and knowing exactly what to do. What had happened was that the shackle holding the forestay to the chainplate had split and opened over 90 degree - its rated to 7 tonnes!

Over the next day, with input from the race office, we set about fixing the forestay. This involved a bunch of hairy moments including JV and myself being lowered over the bow about neck deep in water to try and undo a shackle we thought would fit. So I have pretty much been for a brief swim in the Southern Ocean. When that didn’t work our Skipper came up with a pretty ingenious fix and we cracked on. During this process I had to climb out on the end of the bow sprit while the boat continued to sail on at speed and surf up and down waves. Pretty sketchy. As I lay on the bow sprit every now and then I would see the water rushing up towards my face as we surfed down and bottomed out on a wave. I would stop the work I was doing and wrap my arms round the bowsprit in case we plunged under. One of these times we took a huge plunge, I was completely submerged and the Southern Ocean ripped my nice Peripheral “Green Out Wraps” from my head. When I got back to the cockpit the helmsman (Elvis) told me he clocked 18knots on that wave….a new speed record to be broken in future.

The forestay shackle also broke on two other boats within 24 hours. This was at a time when the closest possible help was nearly 1,800 miles away, well out of helicopter range and nowhere near any regular shipping channels. With this in mind the race office put the whole fleet on a restricted sail plan limiting which headsails we could fly in order to reduce the forces on the forestays.

A few days after the forestays had been we received the most horrendous news. Great Britain had had a fatal man overboard incident. This sent massive shockwaves across our boat and I am sure etc entire fleet. So many questions were being asked. We all wanted to know what had happened, how our friends on team GB were coping. 

My understanding of the events are as follows. Simon was on the bow doing a watch change when a big wave knocked him over the guard wires but he was still attached by his safety tether. The other crew on the bow were not able to pull him back into the boat. As they scrambled to get a halyard onto him the clip of his safety tether had become lodged under one of the bow cleats twisting the pulling force at a funny angle. Before anyone knew it the clip on the safety tether had opened up and there was now an untethered man overboard incident. With all credit to Andy (GB skipper) and his crew they managed to get back to Simon in some very rough conditions and had him back onboard the boat within 36 minutes and just 3 attempts. Unfortunately Simon had drowned. The following day Simon was buried at sea. By all accounts Simon was a truly great man and sorely missed by his family, team GB and all who knew him.

All of these events posed challenges and built on top of each other, especially as we all became more and more tired from a physically exerting race. For me as a watch leader I was often asked a lot of questions about the events from what I sensed were very scared crew. I was constantly trying to find the right answers to re-assure my watch and instil confidence in them to continue while never hiding anything and always giving them as much information as I had. But trying to re-assure someone that the mast is not going to fall down and they will not be lost overboard is fine until the reality hits that these events could infact occur. I tried to be a good example, spending as much time on deck as I could despite the cold and wet. I tried to be sure to be on the bow whenever anyone else was up there. I tried to give people the option to let me know if they were scared or didn’t want to do anything…and I promised to cover for them in if they did feel incapable of doing a task. 

There were a bunch of other incidences on more minor scales. We had a full blown broach and blew the spinnaker halyard which put our Code 2 in the water and severely ripped it. We ripped the code 3 as well. We had twists in the spinnakers and tack lines that blew when they shouldn’t have. It beat on us hard. While it is hard to complain about anything in light of Simon we certainly felt that nothing seemed to go our way. My catch phrase was “for f&%*ks sake….give us a break” and could be found screaming it at the sea.

We were pretty low I would say. We still had each other for motivation. We had a good crew who could still make jokes and keep each other cheered up but it wasn’t the same atmosphere as the previous legs. On my watch we seemed to have a bit of a break-through about 5 or 6 days after Simon’s burial. Most of the watch were hunkered down in the cockpit and I asked them how they felt. I shared some of my own thoughts and emotions and they were echoed back to me. We shared our frustrations with the race up to that point…..and then, I don't know what triggered it but we had a big laugh about it all. It helped but certainly didn’t massively change anything. 

The leg was a tough one. I am so glad I took part in it. I now know I can handle these challenges but they are still hard and hopefully the guys I share our beautiful pink boat with will agree. They were certainly super stars for holding their mettle and pushing through. No one stepped down. 

All we had left was an easy straight shot into Fremantle……or not. A large wind hole help up the fleet and we were three days late into port. You really couldn’t have scripted this shit!

Leg 2 - Power Reaching

Leg 2 - Punta Del Este, Uruguay to Cape Town, South Africa

Number of souls on board: 21

Distance sailed: 3,700 nm

Number of days at sea: 15

Finish position: 5th

The last few days in Punta were filled with final bits of maintenance work and enjoying the last of the pleasures of dry land but by the time are start came around I was itching to get back on the boat. I think this is a pretty similar feeling for most of the crew, particularly the ones who really enjoy the sailing aspect of all this. 

We had a cracking race start, screeching towards the start line on port tack (this is risky as the sailing rules give priority to boats on starboard tack) with Skip on the wheel and myself trying to call the timing and position of other boats. It might be quite a nerve-racking for Skip to do this when from one side of the boat he can’t see behind the sail to any other boats and must trust someone else to get that call right. He must also be an idiot to put that trust in me! This time we got it right and were over the line first. In these long ocean races such a good start really won’t affect the racing it is simply exciting and gets the team pumped for the race ahead. 

As we rounded the last mark off the eastern most point of Uruguay we shook out our reefs and set a course for 120 degrees on the compass. The significance of this didn’t dawn on me at the time but throughout the race, and looking through our log book, this was largely the most common bearing we had. It illustrates the nature of this leg as it was a “straight shot” across the bottom of the globe sailing along the great circle line between Punta and Cape Town.

Our game plan was pretty simple for this race. Follow Dale. Dale (skipper on Dare to Lead) would be sailing into his home port having made this crossing 47 times before. Despite its simplicity this seemed like a strong and stable plan. What could go wrong? Well, with the wind largely coming across our port quarter we had the boat rigged with a full main, staysail and the yankee 1. This was a pretty aggressive sail plan at time in the first week and we often found that we weren’t just burying to toe rail (top edge of the hull) but the entirety of the guard wires under water (safety wires running around the boat). This is genuinely a pretty scary way to sail the boat as it is fully heeled over to 45-50 degrees. But this seemed to work for us. We had good boat speed compared to the other boats and after a few days we were in the lead……shit……what now……game plan was ruined and we seriously considered trying to slow down to let Dale catch up!

We decided that with the weather reports we could interpret and our positioning that we would make a play for the scoring gate. This rewards the first three boats through with some extra points. After some exciting sailing against Qingdao and Seattle we nipped through the scoring gate as the second boat snagging 2 extra points. This was a great feeling to know that only 5 days in you already had points on the board however as the scoring gate was slightly off the great circle line we had been pulled out of position and lost a few places. 

Life on board was really good. Our new joiners had settled into the groove really well and were making a good contribution to the boat. The crew that were still on for leg 1 were showing the experience they had gained and I saw a lot of people with a significant boost in their own confidence. This was amazing to see and made my life a hell of a lot easier. With my watch happy to go on deck and sail while I stayed below to chat with Lance and Claire about the weather or tactics meant any time was much less stretched. I can’t thank my watch enough for this as it made leg 2 much less stressful experience than leg 1. 

Friday 13th October - disaster. If you don’t believe in superstition try this on. On Friday 13th everything went wrong culminating in our steering wheel breaking off just as it went dark. No problem, we shall move to the other steering wheel. Except that the compass light on that side was out. In the dark the compass is our live feed for direction. The electronic instruments suffer from dampening and delay and therefore driving to them usually results in slow reactions or massive over corrections. The compass is key when it is dark out. That is bad luck and if it had happened any other day I would have ignored it. 

It was considerably colder on deck and below. When the wind shifted round to the south the drysuits came out. This southerly wind blowing up from the Antarctic was so cold at night that I would regularly be wearing three mid layers beneath the drysuit along with two pairs of socks and hiding deep behind the large collars and hoods of the drysuit. It was time to break out the fisherman's gloves. These are essentially super thick marigolds with a fluffy lining. You can’t bend your fingers once they are on but they do the trick to keep the hands warm and dry. 

The down side to this cold was the limit it put on the social interaction between the two watches. We were generally pretty desperate to get off deck and down to the warmth below and our sleeping bags, As opposed to the first leg where the heat downstairs forced people up on deck into the breeze. It was also harder to have our team meetings as we didn’t all want to be sat on deck in the cold. 

So I shouldn’t really describe this next part as I will get an earful from my mother. During the race there was a need to replace our reef 3 line. This is the one furthest up the sail that shorten the sail down the most. Not wanting to lower the mainsail for fear of slowing down too much we decided it would be best for me to go up in a harness and re-thread a new line. Trouble is there isn’t much to hang on to up there. We were still sailing fast and at one point clocked 18 knots while I was up in there. Wozza on the helm also had a few waves to deal with and these would send me catapulting away from the sail. Some of the videos we took shows the violence of this. It is the only time I have felt scared on this boat. Although ultimately still very safe and I had an easy way out, there was a thought that this might be the way I would get injured and have to drop out the race. And that can’t happen.

We continued trucking along doing pretty well. We were mostly happy with how the boat was performing as we rode out the different weather patterns. With all the weather approaching from behind there was very little that could be done to avoid or manoeuvre away from it. 

As we drew in towards Cape Town it all started to get really exciting. With the boats narrowing in on the finish line and a final few days left the pressure mounted…..and we caved. We made two calls to our detriment. The first was being a little too scared to fly the spinnaker on one night. This allowed the other boats to put some miles on us. We went from being the back of the leading pack (4th) to the head of the chasing pack (4th). This also meant we had gone from chasing with nothing to lose to defending our position with everything to lose. Mistake two came a on the final night. We got caught in a bad patch of wind that was gusting heavily and causing the boat to repeatedly broach. As we struggled to get the boat under control and were heading in the right direction it gave our nearest rials, Seattle, time to sneak up on us,. As we recovered we decided to drop the kite and continue under white sails only. However, Seattle had seen our kite so decided to put theirs up. While we fought hard to keep up our boat speed and sail the same deep angles we couldn’t manage it and they edged away from us as the glow from Cape Town grew on the horizon. With a last ditch attempt we turned dead downwind and goose-winged the main and yankee (this is not a common approach on a race boat) meaning we could aim directly for the finials line. The idea was that with Seattle having to sail gybe angles back and forth and us going straight we night be able to make up the distance albeit at a slower pace. It worked…..but not well enough. We crossed the line 1.6miles and 27 minutes behind in 5th. 

Such mixed emotions. On one hand we had drastically improved from 9th to 5th without damaging the boat or sustaining any major injuries. We had learnt a lot about our sail plans and pushing the boat. But I was gutted to give away a place on the final hurdle. Does call into question what leg will suit us best to play our joker card…..but I’m not giving anything away. The enemy might be watching.

Cape Town has been absolutely awesome. This is really one of my favourite cities and having just been here in December last year I feel quite comfortable. Thanks to Kiara and Rich for an epic day trip through Beau and Groot Cosntantia and a little boogie at Cafe Caprice. I now have a couple days off to surf with the sharks and do a few cultural things. All suggestions welcome. 

Huge thank you to all have donated so generously particularly since the last leg - Wolfies and Gillian. And to Peripheral Life and Style Sunglasses and Elliot Brown Watches. If you want to buy a pair of Peripheral sunglasses please go online and “add me” to your basket before checkout, 50% of the proceeds will go to the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation with my support.

Now I am keen to enjoy the last week here but absolutely beside myself with excitement for the next leg. Bring me the southern ocean. Our most direct route from here to Freemantle will take us well below the 40th parallel and therefore into the Southern Ocean. The Southern Ocean is uninhibited by any land mass. Therefore the weather systems and waves build to mammoth sizes. This is not sailing for the faint hearted and I am told it separates the men from the boys. How hard can it be? How cold can it be? How big can the waves really be? For now all I have is stories and gossip from previous racers so we will have to go find out for ourselves.