Leg 7 Race 11 - Home Turf

Leg 7 Race 11 - Panama City, Panama to New York City, U.S.A.

Number of souls on board: 19

Distance sailed: 2,287nm

Number of days at sea: 13

Finish position: 11th

 

We had a short stop in Panama City. Just a couple of days. But enough time off to get some rest and explore Casca Vieja (the old town) and catch up with some Tawnie and David Farinez in their new home town. The old town in Panama is very cool, a nice rum bar (Pedro Mandinga) and some very cool rooftop bars. 

But the really exciting bit was the transit of the Panama Canal and crossing under the bridge of the Americas. This was slightly less spectacular than I imagined. With the locks being smaller than expected but the magnitude and understanding of the engineering feat and the impact on global economy that was driven by the building of the canal did not go missing. Plus it was ridiculous to have a 250ft container ship squeeze into the locks behind you, so tightly fit that there wasn’t even enough room for fenders down the sides of her hull. 

Once in the Atlantic and clear of the shipping lanes we had another Le Mans start to kick off Race 11. We missed a tactical opportunity to head east at the beginning and instead remained with most of the fleet heading north into the Caribbean sea. In the end this wasn’t the right call as we never got the right angle to tack back east and the boats that did go east initially all did really well in this race. 

In fact we made all our mistakes early with a few calls that unfortunately didn’t play out in our favour. You do what you can, analyse the weather and the information available and try to make the best call but it doesn’t always go to plan. Unfortunately throughout most of this race the old adage “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” has applied and once a boat has or starts to fall behind the weather systems haven’t been kind and these boats have fallen behind. Such was the case for us, with wind shifts and wind holes making our progression even slower. 

We spent the race of the race trying our best to catch the two boats in front of us but with no avail. However it was a fantastic race. Beautiful Caribbean sailing. Fast sailing for the most part. And great team work. Beautiful weather too. 

Plus we caught a fish finally! We have carried a fishing rod thew whole way round the world and this is the first fish we caught. Now admittedly we haven’t had the rod out that much. We lost all our lures on Leg 1 and we are often sailing too quickly or too slowly for fishing. But in Panama I bought some new lures and set it up. We had three strikes the second of which we landed. Who knows what it was. To me it looked like a snapper but was dark green, it had a beautiful white flesh and tasted amazing - any suggestions. 

We are now in New York exploring this amazing city. It is insanely overwhelming at times with the volume of people and the consumerism after a nearly a year of the complete opposite. I have been able to catch up with some good friends as well - Ash, Cas and Jeff plus the Estera Crew. We have got an awesome set up here. The boats are based at the Liberty Landing Marina on the New Jersey side and it is just a short ferry ride or subway trip across to Manhattan. 

We had a spectacular motor in in the dark being completely awe-struck by the lights of the Manhattan skyline, passed the illuminated statue fo liberty and Ellis Island. Unfortunately due to low tide we couldn’t immediately enter the marina and were therefore also afforded sunrise over these same views. Truly amazing. 

I also have to shout out Ali B who trekked all the way up here to surprise me. It was a complete surprising and really endearing to have such a good friend make so much effort. Al has been my biggest supporter and follower of this race, I’m so glad ~I could get to show him the boats and introduce him to my skipper, crew and the friends I have made on this race. It was just a shame he wasn’t here for a Liverpool podium prize giving!

Now we look ahead to final leg. Mixed emotions starting to rise already. It will be immensely sad to leave this circus show but after such an intense year I am certainly looking forward to a break and a change. I don’t think I will know how I really feel until it really is over - watch out for tears!

Leg 7 Race 10 - The Downwind Derby

Leg 7 Race 10 - Seattle, U.S.A. to Panama City, Panama

Number of souls on board: 19

Distance sailed: 4,293nm

Number of days at sea: 30

Finish position: 11th…..a spectacular last.

Number of spinnakers torn: 4 

 

So what can we say about the first race of leg 7? Quite a lot actually. I had been really looking forward to this race down the west coast of the States. I have definitely worked out that I like warm and fair weather sailing…so sue me. Its just more enjoyable wearing minimal clothes and sailing in the sunshine and on flatter seas.

Seattle had been a great stopover. It was nice to be in familiar lands after China. Being able to buy toothpaste and deodorant simply and easily made the admin that is necessary in each stopover considerably easier and less stressful. We were also treated to mostly sunshine and clear skies which is unusual in that part of the world. Seattle has a beautiful scenery looking out over the Cascades, Mount Rainier and the Olympic National Park. My folks came up to surprise me and and Laura Colley Mallulla Titcombe also paid a fleeting visit. We can recommend the views of the city from the Columbia Tower Club 73rd floor.

This race has turned out to be one giant spinnaker run mostly in pretty light airs. I think we only had the yankee up for about half a day while all three spinnakers were in for repair, otherwise it has been one spinnaker or another the whole way.

We started the race with a short in port race that proved quite amusing. A number of the leading boats had not read the course instructions properly and were running in towards the finish line. However the finish line mark had to be rounded into to finish up wind - this meant we snuck into a third place finish. Unfortunately this doesn’t count for any points but was a nice boost.

We then proceeded to motor back out of the Puget Sound and down the Juan de Fuca straight. This is a beautiful area with incredible scenery of mountains and thick everglade forest. I will certainly keep it on my list to come back to and would love to sail up and down the coast but I hear there are a lot of bears.

Once we were back in the Pacific we lined up for another Le Mans start. This all went smoothly but that was about it. Due to some nervous flying the spinnakers on the first night with a new watch leader in marginal conditions we sailed (in company) a slightly further route offshore. During this time we continued to drop back. When we did launch the kite the same continued to happen. Very quickly we were struggling in different winds from the majority of the fleet and fell further and further behind. Add to that the fact we (when I say we I mean I) tore all three spinnakers in the first 5 days and we were nearly 250 miles behind within the first week. 

It was insanely depressing. A week into the race and already fighting thoughts of just giving up and cruising the rest of the way. We kept each other going, fantastic emails from friends, family and loved ones helped to buoy our spirits and most importantly we had seen other boats gain or lose this distance in a matter of days on previous races. All could not be lost.

We set about our usual attitude. Spend a lot of time coaching the new joiners in spinnaker flying. Test out some theories on what might make us go faster and keep trying our best and pushing hard. It is certainly a lot easier to do the latter when you have the other boats on AIS range to compare your boat speeds to. We have done a fantastic job of this. The new joiners are flying the spinnakers beautifully with very little input from us coaches. The gybes, drops and hoists run incredibly smoothly. 

Apart from one incidence where a gybe went wrong. Bad enough that Lance (skipper) flicked the engine on to spin the boat through the gybe as the spinnaker was wrapped round the forestay in a funny way. While doing this we lost one of the sheets over the front of the boat and before the engine could be pulled back into neutral we had caught it in the propellor. We couldn’t get this undone. The next morning our hero and sexy Uruguayan, Nano, went for another very cold swim. But sue to the swell action lifting and dropping the boat he felt unsafe and unable to get under the boat to the propellor. So we neatened up the trailing lines as best we could and continued on our way looking for a calmer day. 

Finally that day arrived. We strapped all the fuel cans and our MOB dummy to the end of the boom and swung it out as far as it would go to try and heel the boat over. Nano jumped in and was able to reach the propellor and free the line. Amazing. Off we went. However, of course the boss went to check the engine ran fine and realised we had no drive. On inspection the gearbox adaptor plate was cracked and split. So no engine. The really funny thing was that this hadn’t split when he looked before. He also noticed that the drive shaft was further back than it should be and not aligned with gears. Had someone been trying to crank the spinnaker sheet too hard when it was caught in order to free it and therefore yanked the prop and drive shaft backward causing this issue? We will never know but we now had no engine.

Surely this is no problem in a sailing race? Well we were expecting to use the engine towards the end of the race in order to motor through the doldrums and reach Panama in time for our canal booking. 

Anyway, as we sailed south, the temperature rose….and then soared. We cruised down the Californian coast and then the mighty Mexican coastline. Did you know Mexico has more pacific coastline that the US (excluding Alaska)? It is fricking huge. Very quickly I was in nothing but boardshorts, even by night. At times we were just 30 miles from the Mexican coast and could see big mountains and the lights of various lighthouses. There was plenty of sea life particularly in the calmer days often we say turtles , dolphins boobies and seagulls.

This part of the race was characterised by light winds and we did our best to play the angles and shifts to Mae any gains we could on the fleet. We caught up a little but it was not enough. The worst part was the rest of the fleet were all so close to each other. Fighting tooth and nail for every half knot of boat speed in what must have been very tense but incredibly exciting racing. Unfortunately Qingdao who had led the entire race finished in 8th. Gutting for them but one hell of a finish.

Once the race had finished we still had a huge number of miles to motor. And we had no motor. So we continued our sail in order to rendezvous with two other boats who would tow us through the windless patches. During this time I had one of the best days on this whole adventure so far. 

The racing had finished so there was no pressure. The wind had picked up and we had about 8 knots fo boat speed with the Code 1 up on a beam reach. Fantastic sailing. I had a great conversation with Mikey Star why helming. We played some great music from Bob Dylan, Juzzie Smith, Bendouin Soundlcash and Ben Howard. We interspersed the heat fo the day with salt water bucket showers and finished the evening with a snooze on the foredeck lying on the sails watching a bull blood red Mexican sunset. It reminded me how nice it is to sail when cruising. To sail in nice places. It is also why we came on the Clipper race to do something so different from the every day. This was exactly that, it was even distant enough from the everyday that we have been living on the race. It was exquisite. 

The other nice thing about the race being terminated but still being at sea is the opportunity for learning. We have a ton of books on board on sailing related stuff. And I have been reading tons to take the opportunity to soak it up while I am in this environment. There was a book on VHF radio licenses and one really good one “How Boat Things Work”. I have also read “A journey for madmen” and fantastic read about the stories of the sailors who took part in the Golden Globe Race - a race to be the first solo non-stop circumnavigator held 50 years ago. The Chairman of this Clipper Race, Sir Robin Knox-Johnstone being the only one to complete that race and the winner.

With it being a relatively long sail and the heat we were all looking forward to reaching Panama. Thoughts were drifting to pool parties, cold beers and air conditioned hotel rooms. And of course the excitement that awaited us in crossing through the Panama Canal.

Despite the poor result it was a fun race. We had a great crew and the dynamic was fantastic. If we forget it was meant to be a race then it was a truly lovely sail down the west coast of the North American continent. That’s certainly how I will remember it.

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!