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.