"I'll hae nae hauf-way hoose but aye be whaur extremes meet..." Hugh McDiarmid

Sunday, 22 December 2013

leg 1 race 2: brest, france to rio, brazil

parade of sail leaving brest

so our second race start was very different to the first. DLL have a spectator boat full of folk and when we parade out with main up and all our battleflags up, we have to circle them. once the parade is over, we head straight for the start line, drop the battleflags and hoist our headsails. it's a bit of a hike out to the start line in brest, through building seas. at times we can see neighbouring boats' keels come clean out of the water. there were also lots of bowsprits going for a submarine...

the plan for this race is to head straight for finisterre (and its dreaded TSS...) across the bay of biscay. I've crossed biscay a few times now on the tall ships, so I know the weather could be anything but most of the folk on board have only ever heard of it, and are expecting foul weather. we did one crossing on the tall ships in shorts and t-shirts, but I can tell nobody on the crew believes me! even though matt reckons 90% of his crossings have been good weather too.

all the way across biscay we have kites up. they go up, they come down. sometimes intentionally. we start having kitemares. these become the focus of our blog, matt's blog and the rest of the fleet's blogs too. although at the time, we don't know it because we can't read them while we're at sea. we have email, but not internet browser. data is expensive and satellite time is controlled by either matt, or the media crew (me and hannah).

on the second night out of brest, I was driving the bus when the kite wrapped. uh-oh. this was (it turns out) the start of a fairly severe bout of post traumatic kite disorder (ptkd) which I would suffer from until well into leg 2... that night was also the first lesson in how powerful the lines on this boat are. we were all sitting in the cockpit when the lazy kite sheet started flogging. david got smacked pretty hard in the arm, and it immediately swelled up and looked painful. it didn't seem to be broken and that was a relief. I took a bit of a kicking as well, as I tried to climb over chris to get away from the sheet. my ribs and upper arms were bruised and I took the sheet to the end of my index finger, and immediately thought I'd broken it as it was so painful. thankfully I hadn't but it took a long time running it under cold salt water to convince me otherwise!

the next day (11th) we had our first kitemare. the halyard (line holding the kite to the top of the mast) snapped and the sail went in the water. it took most of us to haul it back inboard. the frustrating thing was the other watch were preparing to drop when it happened. once it was retrieved, the preventer snapped. this is the line which holds the boom out when the wind is coming from the side or behind us, and it stops the boom bouncing around. my level 2 instructor referred to is as 'the procrastinator' as he reckoned it didn't really stop us crash gybing, just slowed down the inevitable... anyway, we doubled the preventers up when we got it back inboard. what a day! we gave up on the kite for a bit and poled out the yankee 2, which resulted in better sleep thanks to there being no constant winch noise - the downside of kite trimming...

friday the 13th found me on mother watch with katherine. we made bread and katherine added what could only be described as a jam ciabatta to the lunchtime fare. at this point, we were using the premix which I didn't normally eat as I didn't know if the contents included milk. the jam ciabatta was just too tempting though and I had a couple of small bits. the premix has milk in. definitely. an uncomfortable 48 hours of a lactose intolerance reaction later and I'm sworn off it... the advantage of mother? the long sleep after the watch. I enjoyed it very much as I was lucky mother (so not back on watch til 1100) oh yeah :)

neil is teaching us all kite trimming. he is assistant watch leader to ed on this leg, a fantastic teacher and very experienced sailor as well. he is with us until brisbane, which seems very far away at the moment. we are all learning how to handle the kites under different conditions, and sailing with the kite at night under a big moon is definitely a highlight of this leg. we are seeing so many stars, and phosphorescence it is just magic. the conditions are pretty constant with good wind and big seas, and we feel like we are settling into the routine and the boat.

by the 17th, we are only a few days away from the dreaded doldrums, and henri lloyd are in sight behind us. they are steadily reeling us in, and matt decides we have to peel from the code 1 (bruce) to the code 2 (brian). this is not a manoeuvre we have practised, and matt says it's one of the hardest things to do on a boat. he talks us through it and we peel perfectly, although the halyard is twisted we can still trim while I go up the mast to swap the halyards over. he had prepared us by saying that he thought HL would be in front of us when we had finished the peel, but they are actually still around a mile behind when we're done. it's hugely satisfying and there are smiles all round. it doesn't stop them overhauling us anyway and leaving us behind :(

hello HL. after 2000 miles we are 400m apart!

the weather by this point was starting to flake up a bit with rain and squalls and light winds, typical of the areas around the doldrums (intertropical convergence zone or itcz). it had been pretty warm for most of the leg, and we'd all started sleeping in our underwear on top of our sleeping bags early on - not something I would normally ever do while surrounded by strangers! 

we passed through the scoring gate in 3rd and got ourselves a much needed extra point. there was a massive rainstorm on the 0600-1200 watch on the 19th which allowed me, kate and sophie to wash our hair and have a shaving party, much to the disdain of the boys. matt complained that it 'smelled like girl' on deck but we were happy :)

that night we had the most incredible thunder and lightning. it rolled around us for hours. at one point the storm clouds surrounded us apart from a tiny corridor of light directly in front of us. every time we got hit by a bit of wind though, it dragged us back into the storm away from the exit. it really felt like we'd be stuck in there forever. 

the next day we were all casual on deck trimming the kite when we were hit by around 35 knots suddenly. the boat heeled over massively, with water coming over the low side winches. I was dumping kite sheet feet at a time to try and give the driver some steering control back and we eventually got the boat back. the high point of the watch was seeing a massive turtle bobbing around in our wake! massive!!

helming in the entry to the doldrums

I did eventually helm again, briefly, as we entered the doldrums. I didn't want to, but ed can be quite persuasive and mildly threatening...

so hot I slept in the hatch cover!

there was one night it was so warm that I couldn't sleep down below at all. I had been eyeing up the hatch cover for some days. it turned out to be pretty comfortable :)

all through the heat of the pre-doldrums, we had been having some fairly funky dreams. mine revolved around kite trimming. from my bunk. below decks. quite how I thought I'd managed to run the sheets to my bunk I'm not sure, however it kept me awake or on the edge of being awake for a few days. it turns out loads of folk were having that dream, amongst others.

on the 21st we finally entered the doldrums proper. the barometer had risen and there was no going back. we went in in 1st place, but would eventually leave in 11th some 10 days later. we were aiming for a wind tunnel that matt had spotted on the grib files (weather information) and had gone a lot further west than the rest of the fleet. at this point we started sleeping on deck in nests built from the bunk mattresses. it was more comfortable as there was some breeze at night, and it also meant we were proper sleeping ballast for matt. a few nights me and kate slept on the foredeck wrapped in headsails! the condition of being allowed to do this was that we had to wear our lifejackets and be clipped on to the jackstay all the time. we complied happily and had some of the best sleeps of the doldrums here :)

I did another mother watch on the 22nd with katherine and we talked a lot about how by our next turn, we should hopefully be in rio. how wrong we would be, but at the time it cheered us up in the horrible heat. the clouds and squalls in the doldrums were pretty awesome and days were filled with just trying to get the windseeker (wendy) filled so we could move at all. we spent large portions of time being completely becalmed, although we did sometimes go north accidentally. our daily runs were very low and morale was being sapped day by day.

mission sent us a brilliant podcast while we were stuck in the doldrums, which really helped to focus our thoughts. they are such great sponsors, always appearing with a podcast when we absolutely need it.

ah the doldrums. rubbish...
with everyone getting a bit grumpy and sleepy in the heat, mistakes started to happen. we nearly snapped the boom at one point while grinding the spinnaker halyard up one day as we didn't realise the mainsheet winch was still engaged. the main halyard shredded a bit at the jammer under the strain and I was sent up the mast to swap the topping lift onto the top of the main so we could run a new main halyard. it ran in really quickly and I went back up to swap the main back onto its new halyard and bring the topping lift back down. 

partway through the doldrums, leigh has a hospital appointment. I have been resolutely not signing up for the onboard email as it's another expense I can't really justify, but when I don't hear from her I start to consider it. on this race, I have been doing a lot of testing for tony at mcs, as the video upload isn't working. luckily for me, he is able to set up my email account and get it active while I'm at sea and for that I'm really grateful. email contact is established with leigh and the news that her hospital appointment has been fine and she isn't back for another 3 months cheers me up massively. I hadn't realised how much email would count on the race, but it really does. I'm keeping it :)

the news that the axis of the itcz is moving south with us is not great. we can't seem to outrun the doldrums. we eventually escape in the evening of the 29th. it's the longest doldrums crossing in the history of the clipper race. we are in 11th. this is not good news. morale is pretty low, as everyone reckons that the order the fleet come out of the doldrums is generally the finishing order. we need the points!!

on the 30th matt realises that the windex is a bit off. he sends me up to 'realign' it (with my leatherman) but the swell is massive. I am bounced off one of the more solid fittings at the top and think I have really hurt myself. I have a dead arm and am in quite a lot of pain. I finish the job and smear myself down the mainsail back onto deck. when I get on deck, I just lie there. folk realise that I might not be ok and mick comes over to check on me. I tell him what happened and he helps me out of my harness and into the saloon below decks. katherine, who is our medic, checks me over and decides ice is the best thing. except we are on a boat. we have no ice. what is the alternative? a massive block of cheese. oh good. I am lactose intolerant! oh well. after the cheese icing I am feeling a bit better and the bruise is starting to come out. it's a bit difficult to move around with only one arm as well, so I go to bed for a bit.

we cross the equator on the 1st of october. it turns out only ed has crossed in a sailing boat before, so we are all summoned by neptune (ed) tomorrow morning to be judged. alan has been fixing my arm and shoulder with a bit of light massage which is really helping so I am feeling better as well. I think about the equator crossing ceremony shoot and decide to mount both the gopros somewhere and film on the handheld myself. 

the ceremony is pretty funny. derek is awesome as the bear and there is some skanky porridge/bilge water combination in a pot to cover everyone with. we are quite conservative with each other, because matt is going last. an opportunity to cover the skipper with goo? yes please. he crawls on his hands and knees through the cockpit between the two lines of crew and reached neptune. he kisses the (dead) flying fish on neptune's stick and nearly retches. then the entire contents of the pan goes over his head and down his back. we're going to pay for this, but we'll enjoy it first! with everyone on board inducted into the gang, the cleanup begins. matt gets the fire hose out and starts his revenge. then it's back to sailing the boat. we are going into the ocean sprint phase soon and god knows we need the points. we're told that racey racey is the way forward and everyone agrees to sleep on the high side while we're sprinting. some of us will be on mattresses in the companionway as there are not enough bunks on that side. mothers are allowed to sleep on the low side so they're not disturbed by the watch changeovers.

the watermaker, which is a tiny desalination plant and a great piece of kit on the boat, is leaking massively into the bilges a few days later. I wake up thinking we're sinking as the entire on watch is bailing out below decks. eventually we discover a hose has come off under the companionway steps. once it is refitted and the water is bailed, we are clearly not sinking. hurrah!

the kitemares continue. the code 2 goes up knotted, so we drop it and hoist the code 3 instead. it's pulling us too much off course so we drop that too. into the saloon on top of the code 2. chaos ensues.

by the 5th, the front of the fleet are starting to arrive in rio. PSP are among them. yay! the bromance boat is going to win the leg! we are really happy for them, but wish we were nearly there too. I had hoped to be in rio so I could call leigh on her birthday but that's not going to happen. she'll have to make do with an email from the boat instead. sigh.

matt takes time out very seriously...
on the 7th we pass through what seems to be a whale migratory route. they are everywhere. showing off for us and getting in the way generally. we have loads of water in the crash bulkhead which needs bailing every day, sometimes twice. not a pleasant job unfortunately but I don't mind doing it too much as I am quite small.

me and kate take loads of photos and laugh that this is matt's version of time out for the grief we give him. we are nearly in rio and looking forward to a beer!

we tack down the coast, avoiding a massive reef and travelling through a huge oilfield. invest africa are behind us and they have started to motor as we need to get to rio soon. switzerland are in front of us and try as we might we just can't get to them. it's frustrating sailing as we had been doing so well. on the 2200-0200 watch the day before we reach rio, we get stuck in a massive trawler net. disaster! we sail out of it though, using the yankee and staysails to reverse carefully out. I sweat these sails up on my own a few times. it's hard work and I'm wrecked but we need to do it. it took us a while to clear, all the time the two trawlers who have cast these nets between them are hovering around like anxious parents, hoping we don't need to cut their nets. 

on the 9th we arrive to rio, around 2000 local time. we had a good final run with the code 1 up and matt driving the bus. as we turn in to the bay the wind dies, giving us an opportunity to see christ the redeemer up on the hill (lit tastefully in bright pink). as we drift across the finish line, another clipper 70 appears like a ghost out of the dark. it's PSP, our bromance boat. we go a bit mental, having not seen another boat since HL passed us before the doldrums. what we didn't realise was that chris hollis had our new leggers out on a training sail and basically told them they were going to wait as we were nearly there. there was a lot of jumping and waving and screaming. it was really emotional and such a lovely thing to do. then they were gone, off to the pontoon as there was a do on that night that chris had to get to. 

we were guided in by mark on the rib to a pontoon a little bit away from the rest of the fleet, and were met by gillian, some other clipper staff and christiaan from mission with BEER. matt had decided we were going to do the deep clean that night, but the plan swiftly changed and we went to the bar instead and saw some of the other crews. 

what a leg. we had been 1st, almost last, spent 10 days in the doldrums, had so many kitemares and experienced the sea at her best and worst. the highs and lows are indescribable. but we'd come through it, and were so much stronger as a team. I made so many good friends on that leg. some of the folk were only doing leg 1 and we'll miss them so much the rest of the way round. but some are returning and that will be great.

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