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.

Leg 1 - It's for real

Leg 1 - Liverpool, UK to Punta Del Este, Uruguay

Distance: 6,300 nautical miles (officially, much more in reality)

Number of souls on board: 24

Number of days at sea: 33

Finish position: 8th

We have arrived in Punta and what a good feeling that is. This first leg has lived up to all my expectations and more but it has also shed all apprehension about the length of the race as a whole. After 33 days I was not as excited to get off the boat as I expected to be. In fact, I could have easily just had a shower, a nap and headed straight back out on the water and started racing towards Cape Town. I love this race. Here are the highlights that have made it so.

Leg 1 Review

So this leg is a transatlantic crossing but mostly vertically as in down the length the of the entire north and south Atlantic….you know just because. We took off from Liverpool to great fanfare, a parade of sail and slightly un dramatic start as there was so little wind and so much tide that we had to motor across (sshh don’t tell the spectators they said). We quickly got settled into boat life in fact impressively so as I thought this would take everyone a little while. We then trundled down the Irish Sea and really didn’t do so well here as we ended up crossing the English Channel somewhere in 11th place. Ok, so we had a bit of work to do. 

Next up was traversing the ferocious Bay of Biscay. Our skipper pre-warned us that the Biscay has teeth and can bite hard. All we got was a gummy toddler gently sucking on a pinky finger. In fact, we had a brief wind hole. 

As we charged down the North Atlantic we got work trying to catch up with the fleet. Or not as the case was. What we did do though was a lot of rotation of roles on board. Especially as we started to get the spinnakers (codes) up we worked on getting all the crew comfortable helming and trimming particularly at night. Just to explain this, sometimes it's easier because there is a full bright moon to see the sail by and stars to line up with the mast or shrouds to keep on a course. Sometimes it's the opposite, thick dark cloud and no moon and you only have a compass and the instruments for wind speed & direction and your course to steer by. All these instruments are delayed so that they don’t swing around wildly with every little change in the wind and this results in a lot of overcorrection as the helms chase try to get in line with those numbers. We’re getting there and incredibly quickly I think.

So if you can imagine we are sailing down the Spanish and Portuguese coast (getting annoyed I didn’t make it to Lisbon to visit Fred and Maxi) past Tenerife and the Canaries and then parallel to the entrance to the Med. Then down along the coast of Africa outside the Cape Verde Islands towards the Doldrums crossing. This is where we had our big break. To sail between both halves of the Atlantic you have to cross the Doldrums/ITCZ/Intertropical convergence zone. This is where the trade winds on either side meet and is usually an area of little or no wind. With this in mind, Clipper put a corridor in place where we are allowed to use the engines within strict criteria. For us, this was all a bit skewed. The Doldrums had been pulled up higher by the developing Hurricane Irma. We were a little bit lucky as, from the back of the fleet, we could see the other boats parking up in the wind holes and managed to thread a tight line between two weather systems only getting caught in minor wind holes for a few hours and we came out in a much better position at 5th/6th. 

But all of this happened just before the motoring corridor. As we and the other boats sailed into this virtual corridor we were desperately trying to analyze the weather files in order to guess the right time to turn on the engine. We opted to sail on as long as we could and save our limited engine time. This didn’t work. Under the rules, once you have turned on the engine you must use it for the set distance and time regardless of whether you can sail faster without it or not. The weather changed and the others who had already used their engine time were able to sail on around us. Dammit. I have now bought three books on reading the weather to take on the next leg! Donations are being out to good use.

Once on the other side of the corridor the sailing was pretty straightforward. The wind was consistent and we continued to watch for developing patterns to try and take advantages. However, since everyone was in the same weather there were few positional changes at this time. 

About 6 days out from Punta it all got very exciting again with a developing wind hole. So now after 20 something days and 6,000nm there was the potential for the whole fleet to be equalized. Sensational. Team Liverpool tried to maneuver around and through the weather systems and needed up in a fierce battle for position with Team Garmin and Hotelplanner. This was exciting racing. 

During the race, we get position reports every 6 hours. We compare how everyone is doing and plot them onto our charts to see where each boat is positioned and how they are doing in the different weather. But every now and then we are close enough about 13-20 miles from another boat and they appear on our live chart plotter through AIS system. We can then see a live feed of their boat speed and course. And this is how we spent the last 3 days of the race with Garmin. Constant calls from the helm to the nav station…. “What speed are those *&£%^@% doing? What’s there course?” And then either cheers when we were doing better or angered attempts to re-trim the sails when we weren’t. This match race carried on and I spent two and half hours freezing in the dark rain on the helm trying to catch them on the final night. I only handed over the helm because I could no longer move the wheel my hands were so cold (well, it wasn’t that cold I was just severely underdressed having spent most of the leg in shorts and t-shirt).

We didn’t make it. Hotelplanner and Garmin both crossed the line in front of us. But as we came round the final corner where they both were still packing up. After six and half thousand miles of sailing and 33 days at sea we finished within 33 minutes of each. Insane. No way did I expect that. Certainly made finishing 8th a little easier to swallow. 

We were welcomed into Punta amazingly well. One of our crew members, Nano, is the Mayor of Punta del Este’s son. So this is his home port. This was his big moment and there were plenty of fans waiting, a small sea of pink lined the breakwater and chants for Liverpool could be easily heard. I made Nano get in the harness and we hoisted him up the mast with a large Uruguayan flag to wave as we waived other flags on the deck on his behalf. We also started chanting the Uruguayan national anthem which Nano had us working on for the last day and a half. 

Orientales la patria ooooo la tumba……

Crew and Fun

The Liverpool 2018 crew is awesome. Each and every one of them. There was only one low moment, one low day in the whole race. As Pat Rap attested that wouldn’t happen in a normal month back at home let alone when crammed into a 70ft can with 23 randoms only getting 2 hours sleep in every 8 hours.

I had only one low day after we tried a routine gybe in the early hours of the morning and got the Code 1 sheet caught. We didn’t manage to free it before a gust caught the spinnaker in the wrong position and tore it from two foot below the head all the way down both edges. I had never seen such a big hole in the sail and nearly cried. On the Clipper race if we can’t fix these things we are deducted race points. I thought for sure I had cost the team three points for not spotting this mistake. In fact, Mikey and Helen, our sail repairers, managed an incredible fix on the boat and we have not lost a single point for it. It better not happen again.

There was so much laughter throughout the entire leg. The weather was mostly good and the boat flat making daily life easy but it was all the jokes and laughter that made this such a good leg. Because of this, our cheeky skipper blogs and amusing crew blogs as well as our bonded team partying habits we are building a reputation as a fun team and seem to be pulling lots of others into our web. 

The best moments were shaving the mullet, the charges and fines in Neptunes court for the equator crossing, extreme iSpy and the jokes made laughing at each other - Storm Jib! Snatch Block!

Nature

We saw pods of dolphins. A couple of pilot whales, although nowhere near as many as I expected. Flying fish. Gannets that would follow the boat waiting for us to disturb the flying fish and then swoop in and chase them along the waves. A tiny little bird that stayed with us for 3 or 4 days - Captain Jack Sparrow (we no know he wasn’t a sparrow…or necessarily a he).

But the absolute best bit was the photoplankton or phosphorescence or bioluminescence or nauti-lucas (Spanish). This is little plankton in the see that light up when they are disturbed. If you have never seen it in Cayman do yourself a favour go on a Cayman Kayaks tour and I promise it is cheaper than Leg 1 of the Clipper Race. As we drive through the water at night the wake of the boat and the rudders cause the disturbance so the boat looks turbocharged with the glowing wake. In the Doldrums we had a few dolphins come by at night. In this glow they looked like torpedoes charging in and out from the boat like scenes from Pearl Harbour…..unfortunately the boat wasn’t moving fast enough for me to pretend I was Matt Damon in a fighter plane but this was the single, most beautiful and incredible moment of the whole trip. The approach to Punta was also pretty spectacular, I don’t know if it is off flow from the Rio Plata or not but the last evening's sail had such bright nautilucas that we could see all of the white caps. In the South Atlantic the nautilucas has this weird effect where little pockets of it explode like mini lightning clouds off the back of the boat. Tom Watling I will describe this in much detail when I am back…and thank you for your donation.

Watch leading

I was asked to be a watch leader on this leg due to my previous sailing experience. Actually, it’s terrifying to think I am one of the most experienced sailors on the boat at this stage. I can see Shrek and Grumps shaking their heads….well its everything I’ve learned from you. 

This basically made me, along with the Skipper and the other watch leader, in charge of the boat. We are trying to keep an eye on everyone's safety on the boat, do some coaching and mostly keep the boat going as fast as possible in the right direction. This includes making calls on when to change the sails or change direction and the three of us spend a fair amount of time in front of the chart plotter with the weather files both day and night. 

I haven’t been able to work out whether I enjoy this role or not. The responsibility scares me and some of the time I just wish to be up on the bow or driving the boat and listening to someone else’s instruction. Equally, I have enjoyed being so involved in the tactical decisions and trying to learn about weather routing. Feedback from the crew has been mostly positive as long as I put on my outdoor voice. My family won’t believe me but there have been no tears from any of my watch! So I will continue in the role as long as the crew and skipper want me there. 

Daily life

Most of this sailing was totally glorious. Shorts and t-shirts. Tan lines from the lifejackets. Sleeping in either a puddle of sweat because it is so hot down below and all you have is a tiny battery powered fan or by wedging yourself in between the sails in the sail locker because the hatch is open and there is an ounce of breeze flowing through the boat. Every couple of days we would attach the firehose and pump and have a pressure washer type saltwater shower at the back of the boat and spray the decks to cool the boat down. Because of the warm calm weather at times we were able to do a fair amount of clothes washing as well so slightly fresher boxers and t-shirts were an absolute delight. 

However, there are two sides to daily life on these boats depending on the conditions. When we are downwind sailing in relatively calm weather the boat is flat. This makes cooking and daily chores like cleaning the heads, brushing teeth and emptying the bilges pretty easy. You can get better sleep. Everyone is happy and full of energy. The opposite is upwind sailing into a bit of breeze and waves. The boat is at times at a 35 - 45 degree angle. Literally. And bouncing or slamming off the waves. The wet floors become an ice rink. And simply moving around the boat takes strength and effort. Your sleep becomes more interrupted and people start to get a lot more tired. We were pretty lucky on this leg that there were only very short stints of this type of sailing, Only a couple of days at a time. I am told this is the big battle for the next two legs. Wish me luck.

Punta

We have been in Punta for a week and a half now and we leave for Cape Town on the 4th. It has been amazing here. Thanks to Nano and his family for looking after me. We have been partying a lot with all the crews. We have been to an asado (braai, bbq) for the whole fleet and another just with Nano’s family. The Uruguayans own every other nation in terms of doing a bbq right. Check out some of the photos. In Nano’s house there is an entire granny flat in the garden dedicated to the asado grill. 

Thanks

Thank you to all who have donated, sent messages of support and comments. Apologies if I have been short with replies. The donations have been amazing. Allowing me to get a much needed hotel room for some time off and to sleep in a real bed not my bunk on the boat. And big thanks to the care packages received from my folks and Peta, Tom and Matt. Thanks go Dani and Neil for all the photos.

Thanks to Elliot Brown for a truly awesome watch. Peripheral Life and Style for the awesome sunnies. Check out both these companies and my poser photos for their stuff and you too can look as cool as me on a boat.

Leg 0 - Get packing

Here is the kit I am taking for the next year of sailing. I am limited to 20Kgs but this doesn't include my foul weather gear, sailing boots, dry suit or sleeping bag. 

I made a little video to illustrate the kit and quick demo of "getting ready for a day in the southern ocean i.e. the works. 

Special thanks to Peripheral for all the sunglasses. These are light, tough, plastic framed, polarized sunglasses perfect for sailing. Thanks to Zhik for a discount on the boots. Thanks to Musto for helping with almost all the kit. Thanks to Elliot Brown for an indestructible watch.

So far the items I am most excited about are listed below:

- Musto waterproof, fleece lined, peaked cap - this is warm, dry and you can keep the ear flaps out the way if you need to hear what is going on. If the hood on your jacket is up the peak helps to move the hood with your head.

- Musto dry suit - no chance to wear it yet and I have certainly haven't mastered getting it on and off but I think this will be little cocoon.

- Musto fleece mid layer.

- Fishing/Driving gloves - waterproof and warm for cold nights on the helm.

I will let you know what works and what doesn't once I have gone through the range of temperatures from equator to southern ocean,

Leg 0 - Race Prep, Let's Go

I have no clue to where to start these musings but bear with me. Having finished at work (the legendary Estera Cayman), packed up the Cayman life and decamped back in the UK things got really fun. 

I have been able to catch up with tons of friends mostly apologising for hiding across the Atlantic for the last 4 years. Best of all these were Flora and Steino’s, Jack and Alice’s and Sam and Tasha’s weddings. Thank you all for having me. 

Sometimes repetitive but never tedious, there was a lot of talk about the Clipper race at all these catch ups which just got me silly excited - coupled with 4 weeks of training in-between I cannot wait for the start in Liverpool on Sunday 20th August.

We are the bright pink boat aka The Pink Panther, CV20, Liverpool 2018, Team Lance, Team Heather.

Training

The Clipper training is pretty damn good. The training skippers are extraordinary, they are hugely qualified and can keep calm when teaching 20 sailing novices (not all who totally grasp the English language) on board a 70ft 34-ton yacht on occasion in a Force 8 gale. Shout out to Dave W, Dale, Paul, Spanish Alex, Nigel and Carol. 

Every crew member must do the same four weeks of training to ensure consistency. So no matter your sailing background you have to do it all. The Clipper training puts a lot of emphasis on the safety aspects and we have now all completed RYA Sea Survival course and an ISAF offshore survival course along with our RYA competent crew certificate not to mention countless man over board drills. 

These MOB drills are pretty thrilling. Each boat has a life size and weight man overboard dummy, usually called Bob. Bob is about as surefooted as Bambi on ice and never seems to be tethered to the boat. At any random moment, the training skippers may give him a gentle push over the side and the crew has to spring into action. The real life practice has been invaluable and gives us all a lot of confidence in the rest of our team mates in case anyone does go over - fingers crossed I will never write about that.

During all this training we have crossed the English Channel a number of times, sailed round the Isle of Wight and had everything from 1-knot wind to 44 knots. We have worn through mooring lines in the middle of the night, snapped staysail sheets and even knocked the West Shambles cardinal (a giant metal buoy) which had us checking for a hole in the boat before the race has even bloody started!

I have also volunteered/been nominated as the medical assistant on board. This meant 2 extra days training to practise putting in IV drips and sewing up pigs trotters. My two failed attempts at medical school definitely prepared me well for this role.

But the best bit has been meeting so many fantastic new people both on my team and on the other boats who I will be sharing this journey with over the next year. 

So on to Punta Del Este, Uruguay. I’ll check in once I’ve got settled there. Thank you all for the support and encouragement so far (especially those who have donated and “bought me a beer”) and thanks as always to Peripheral Life and Style sunglasses and Musto.

Elliot Brown

I applied and have been chosen to be one of the two ambassadors for Elliot Brown Watches (www.elliotbrownwatches.com). I love these guys watches. They are pretty damn tough and they prove this by fixing a number of them to the clipper boats going round the world.

So there will probably be a significant amount of shameless product placement in photos and videos. Check them out, they are awesome.