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

Monday, 1 September 2014

qingdao stopover

so here we were in qingdao. first three boats in. this meant we would get loads of time off right? wrong. it meant we had to take up the corporate slack for everybody else who was still getting a battering in the taiwan straits.

the boats who'd purposely left after us from hong kong had taken a total pasting in the straits, with wind speeds some 10-20 knots higher than we'd had. it was pretty unpleasant for us, so I dread to think what it was like for those guys. horrific.

however, my mate alli (from level 2 training) who was on GB had booked the intercontinental for a few nights, until she flew back to the UK. she very kindly said I could have the spare bed as it was a twin room and I was very excited about being in a hotel. it was very cold in qingdao, although not snowing which was a relief. even though I'm scottish, I bloody hate snow. unless I'm snowboarding. which I wasn't.

the intercon was luxurious. with a huge bathroom and separate shower. and dressing area with wardrobes and that. alli had exploded out into the room, but it was more than big enough to cope with two of us and all our sailing kit! the first night we just lay in bed and watched crap telly. it was epic, as alli would say :)

we had corporate commitments to do the first two days, plus I had the rig check to complete and hand in, plus the other usual boat maintenance and general stuff to be getting on with. everyone was wanting to do laundry but everywhere seemed to be drop and collect instead of do it yourself. there was one washing machine in the sailing centre but no dryer. interesting. we also had school tours to do. a full day of them. suddenly qingdao wasn't looking like the week off we needed before the pacific...

but we had to remember, some of the boats were still sailing. and some of the boats diverted to kk had been rediverted to hong kong, so were going to be really late. PSP only arrived the day before we left but had been granted another two days in qingdao before their race start. so the race to san francisco was also going to be elapsed time. hmmmmm...

anyway the corporate stuff went ok, we split up so we didn't end up doing everything and getting a day off. qingdao was the first time I'd got involved with the victualling as well, which ended up being a late night ride to a supermarket, getting a lift back in a truck. with me and james sitting in the flat bed of the truck waving at locals, who couldn't quite believe their eyes!

we lost three of the volunteers in qingdao, as paddy decided to stay with us for the pacific. we had several new joiners here too which was good. they wouldn't be able to get off until san francisco at least! all the new guys dived in to help with the boat stuff as they were really keen to get involved and get working. they'd been waiting for us in qingdao for a few days by this point, and were maybe a little bored.

after alli left to go home, I decided to stay in the intercon until the morning we left. this is unusual for me, but it was pretty cold and I'd got used to the bed. and it wasn't too expensive, and would be (I figured) the last time I'd stay in a hotel until we got back to london in july. I managed to get my washing done in the one machine in the sailing centre, but still had to dry it. I figured I would lay it out in my (very warm) hotel room and let it do the work. derek challenged me to make people out of it and take pictures. so I did:

fun trying to dry my laundry in the hotel...
I laid it all on the floor like people, with my warm weather gear on the right and my cold weather gear on the left. I thought it was pretty funny and it dried really quickly. not sure what the maid thought of it though...

then it was thinking about leaving again. the pacific. we'd all been silently worried about this leg. the pacific is a massive ocean and can be really dangerous. on the last race, there had been some extremely serious injuries there. and on the race before, one of the boats had been dismasted as well. we were worried. or I was anyway. the rumours of waves the size of houses were about to be proved or disproved. we were just pleased james was with us for this leg, he's a trauma doctor. and an anaesthetist. useful...

the postcard clipper were handing out in qingdao, about the pacific crossing. it's true, by the way...

leg 5 race 2: singapore to qingdao

after the disappointment of not getting redress on the way into singapore, and losing five crew members, we left singapore with one permanent transfer (ben) and four brave volunteers to head for qingdao. this was the race that we'd heard so much about in training, and in the theory class for me from our instructor, jan. it's the race where the conditions change massively very quickly. you go from shorts and vests in the heat, to full thermals and foulies in one or two watches. we didn't believe it would happen like that. obviously, it did. 

not too long after the start of the race, we started getting some worrying news from the other boats. one of the bottlescrews on the forestay - a structural piece of metal which allows for rig tensioning on the line running from the top of the mast to the bow of the boat - had cracked and the forestay had snapped. they had been diverted back to kota kinabalu, where we'd refuelled on the way in to singapore for running repairs. another boat had to divert there to drop a crew member off so she could fly home after her father died. these are the sort of things that happen on the boats and cannot be avoided. it's extremely sad, but a few folk had this issue on the race.

a day or so later, another boat lost its forestay. another diversion to kk. this was starting to look like a potentially serious problem. matt got me to shore up the forestay with both of our spinnaker halyards, which meant that should it snap there would be some extra support and not too much mast movement. if it had snapped while we'd been flying a yankee, the sail would still have flown but would have been quite saggy... I was also checking the bottlescrew and other forestay fittings for cracks or signs of other damage every watch.

then a third boat lost its forestay. that was it. race over. everyone was diverted to hong kong for fleet repairs. hammer down. in we go. we were determined to get there quickly, get it fixed, refuel and clear off for the second race start, which was going to be an elapsed time race. an interesting development given that elapsed time had deemed to be 'unfair' for us in the previous race as everyone would be in different weather conditions to us, however. I digress...

when we arrived in hong kong we were met by helen! she had bags of stuff for us, and specifically a bunch of soya goodies for me! legend :)

me and paddy (from invest africa) set about removing the forestay from the boat. I tied a spectra strop between the deck fitting and onto the forestay above the termination to hold it in place. then me and paddy undid the bottlescrew and took that out of the equation completely. it was going to be replaced with two *massive* shackles and a load of dyneema, which sir robin would do and tension himself. it's the system he is used to on his open 40, so he was really the best man for this job!!

sir robin loops the dyneema while the forestay is slack
the dyneema is ground on to tension the forestay
the first finishing knot is put in and the dyneema cut
matt ties the finishing knots as sir robin watches
once this was done, the mast was really straight! I'd never seen it that straight. our mast has always had loads of pre-bend in it. then I realised that the inner forestay was pretty slack, so I went to tighten it. unfortunately the bottlescrew bottomed out and I ran out. it was going to have to stay a bit slack. it was fine with the running backstays on so I left it at that. we went for fuel, getting in just before they closed for the day. we went back to the yacht club to berth up and have our tea, then we motored out to get to the start line. most of the other boats either weren't in hong kong yet, or were going to stay the night and leave in the morning. they thought they'd seen some favourable weather coming in so were holding off. matt was determined we were leaving straight away. so we did.

we crossed the virtual start line and headed towards the infamous taiwan straits. nobody was looking forward to this. matt had described it as constant slamming off backless waves, which can't be surfed down. it was exactly like that. we had pretty strong winds, and it felt like it would never end. slam slam slam for days and days and days. we would travel around 190nm in 24 hours but only take off 20-30nm from our distance to finish. we had decided on a different tactic for this race, it was going to be a vmg (velocity made good - best speed to the finish) race. so ben built a spreadsheet and we raced to that. it worked really well. every time our vmg dropped below a set level we would tack to improve it. 

eventually we did exit the straits, but not before a few of the crew had suffered awful seasickness and we'd done a lot of headsail changes in horrific conditions. but this is racing. it's what we signed up for. well, not the seasickness, but the rest of it...

so we made it into the east china sea, and were expecting hordes of the chinese fishing fleet as promised by justin, the race director. that never really materialised, although we did see a lot of fishing boats. some of whom we think aimed for us!

after much beating upwind we made it to qingdao with everyone, including the boat, intact. but tired. extremely tired. the volunteers had not realised how hard it is to sail with only 12 crew. I think they had a new found respect for us at that point. it was also really nice to have mainly RTWers on board! 

the finish was really exciting for us on this race. we approached the finish line in the dark, with huge ships lit up like cities anchored up all around us. we had the kite up by this point, and the staysail for extra speed. we had been in third for a while, but as we approached the finish line we spotted derry~londonderry~doire off to starboard. they had taken a bit of a wrong turn or something and lost a bit of time. all this was academic as they had started behind us anyway so would beat us on elapsed time, but that didn't matter to us! we wanted to roll them on the finish line! and we did :) it was an epic feeling, but as we had arrived at night we couldn't get into the marine until the next morning, as the chinese are very strict on that kind of thing.

we stayed up all night and did the deep clean (again) so we didn't have too much to do when we arrived the next morning. this was a system which served us well the few times we did it. by the next morning, the three of us (GB, derry and mission) had met up just outside the city and were getting ready for our arrival, which we'd been told would be a massive deal. 

after the fireworks, heading onto the berth. that's aly and me waving on the bow :)

first of all, we had to get our photos taken with the skyline in the background, and after that we passed through the marina opening past the olympic rings. that's when the fireworks went off! then we berthed, the chinese border control came on and did face to passport checks with everyone, we were given beer and flags, more photos, then onto the pontoon where we were marched up the biggest, widest pontoon I've ever seen to the arrival ceremony. from before we passed the rings to this point the female drummers are playing the whole time. they must have been exhausted, with the three of us arriving together and invest africa arriving shortly after that. 

then it was onto the stage for the formal welcome, through the scrum of photographers and crowds there to see us all in. they gave us a beautiful red wool scarf and a toy horse (chinese year of the horse) and matt got a fantastic superhero cape as well. once the speeches had been made, it was more photos and then off to breakfast, provided in the olympic sailing centre.

after the welcome ceremony, with scarves and horses. we are so happy!!

on the way to breakfast, it was a bit crazy with people handing us babies, taking photos and asking us to sign things. it felt like a very long walk to breakfast! as we were going to the centre we looked over and saw derry come in past the rings and I commented to kate, 'they have no idea what's about to happen to them'...

singapore stopover

after nearly being thrown out of the country on arrival - apparently going through a gate makes you an illegal immigrant - singapore was a really good stopover. we had some time off, having done the deep clean at sea, and we made the most of it.

we were berthed at the 1'15 marina on sentosa island. the posh hotel had the most amazing pool facilities and they very kindly let us use their showers for the week we were there. amazing showers and luxury.

nothing much else to report. bought a dress. wore the dress. had a nice week in the sun!

except, that 5 of our tiny crew decided to leave us in singapore... we were now down to 7...

they all had their reasons; injury, financial strain, having discovered they'd learned what they wanted to on the race and they wanted to go home. there is nothing we can do to persuade them to stay. if folk want to go we have to let them go. it's hard, they're friends, you've been through a lot together, and they're leaving you shorthanded but you can't think about that.

justin the race director put out a call for volunteers to sail with us to qingdao. if they couldn't find 5 folk willing to swap, we couldn't sail to qingdao. it was a tense few days while we waited to hear what would happen.

he also called a meeting with us to try and find out why we were losing so many crew. I don't think, to be fair, we were losing any more than the other boats it's just that we were already starting out with a smaller number so it seemed worse. honestly, we were possibly a little defensive when we spoke to mark. we wanted to make it clear that it wasn't matt, or (we hoped) anything the core team were doing, but just circumstance and life getting in the way. this happens. particularly on a year long sailing trip, with injuries and folk at home getting sick.

finally we were told we were getting one permanent transfer from GB and four other volunteers from four other boats. ben from GB was a RTWer, and 3 of the 4 others were also RTWers. we had aly from switzerland, keith from qingdao, paddy from invest africa and the legend that is ross from old pulteney.

we were 12 again! we could sail to qingdao!


leg 5 race 1: brisbane to singapore

the hardest thing in brisbane was saying bye to jo and neil (our half worlders) and beth (legs 2, 3 and 4) but we knew that was going to happen. I'm not going to lie, I cried a bit when they slipped our lines and we left them behind. thank god for sunglasses...

once the main was up, it was clear that one of the reefing lines we'd run into the main that morning had twisted, so I nipped up the leach of the main to re-run it cleanly. sometimes it's the easiest way to do it!

after our fuse debacle, on the way out we laughed with our new joiners about the curse of mission performance... to keep in the spirit of things, and because we thought at this point we'd be eligible for redress, we did our own le mans start when we got to the official start line and headed off up the north east coast of australia.

kate and me failing on the squall preparation front...
we did well, making up loads of time, and having some great sailing before we got to papua new guinea. we spent 24 hours stuck between two islands, and every time we came up for watch change we'd look over and go 'oh god still here' until the wind eventually came back. we had loads of squalls and on-deck showers and sail changes, going from the windseeker to the yankees pretty quickly as the clouds came over us. the new guys got adept very quickly at reefing!!

it was during one of these headsail changes that I managed to injure myself. me and mike were hauling the yankee 2 out of the forepeak hatch when the boat slammed and I twisted and landed strangely. I knew I'd done something, but there were only 12 of us (as usual!) so I kept going. we were joined on the foredeck by stephen and the three of us got the y2 hanked on. we dropped the y1 and hoisted the y2. all good so far. then we started dragging the y1 back. it got stuck under the staysail, so we dragged the clew back and took it round the inner forestay. while we were doing that, I realised that actually I was in quite a lot of pain. I couldn't pull the sail back as I'd lost all the power in my lower back and legs, so I crawled off the foredeck and collapsed on the side deck. kate was driving and realised I was broken, and got rachel to get matt, after I'd clipped on so I didn't roll off the boat. 

matt and a couple of other folk managed to get me downstairs (I've no idea how) where I was helped out of my lifejacket and foulies. by now my lower back was spasming and I was a in lot of pain. matt had a look, put some deep heat on and gave me ibuprofen. I was trying to stretch the muscles, but it wasn't working. matt decided I needed rest and I was put to bed. not very comfortable, I didn't really sleep properly, and after a while the spasming had spread half way up my back as I don't like lying in bed if I don't have to! so that was that, I was man down for a few days. I kept getting up and trying to do stuff, but matt kept sending me back to bed to rest. after about 4 days of pain relief and rest, I decided enough was enough and went back up on deck, just doing light duties. after about a week I felt loads better and by the time we got to singapore I was absolutely fine. no tired muscles or anything. that was a relief.

while I was stuck in my bunk, me kate and sophie were plotting the second equator crossing of the race. as we were all now shellbacks, it was up to us, derek and matt to organise the ceremony. we decided that sophie was going to be lady neptuna, derek would be the bear (again!) and what exactly we were going to do to the poor unsuspecting polliwogs... there is an element of costume needed, and the wig was taking shape for sophie, and I made the capes for her and derek. me and kate wrote a haiku summoning poem (!) and sophie had to write her lady neptuna bit. 

sophie, derek and matt during the equator crossing ceremony :)

at this point we'd made up the 24 hours we'd lost at race start and were sitting in 10th position! then there was a huge windhole and we decided to go over palau where there was better wind and keep the boat moving. qingdao had already decided to do this and were going good guns. this was working out quite nicely for us, until the windhole cleared and the rest of the fleet started moving. once again we crossed the finish line in last place, but only 90 minutes behind garmin. so that was ok. we were still waiting to hear from clipper about any redress, they'd been very quiet on that front even though matt had repeatedly emailed asking about it. finally, after we crossed the finish line, we were told that there would be no redress as it was mechanical failure and a straightforward application of a rule. we immediately asked why it had taken so long if it was so straightforward and were really angry about it. but we'd raced well, caught the fleet and made up loads of time.

now for the motor in company through the celebes sea (due to pirates, which we didn't see any of incidentally) before the race restart down to singapore. the race office then decided there wasn't going to be a race b and we were told to motor to singapore, via kota kinabalu to refuel. with such a long motor in front of us, we decided to do a deep clean of the boat to maximise our down time in singapore. we stopped briefly in kk to get fuel, and weren't allowed off the pontoon. 

when we got to singapore, there was a surprise waiting for me. crispy!!! he'd flown from muscat to singapore to see me. because we were so late, he had to fly back the next morning (after delaying his flight in the first place) so we only had one evening to catch up. we had some beer and I saw him briefly in the morning before he flew out, so he could drop off the care packages folk had given him for me :)

Friday, 27 June 2014

brisbane stopover

this is getting harder as time goes on, to remember what happened. I am so far behind!!! sorry...

so we had a few days in brisbane after all. I met up with helen, who I knew from muscat before she and her husband, ifan, moved to oz with work. and very nice it was too. she got a quick tour of the boat and a photograph, and she took me into town for a tour of the south bank. we saw QPAC (where julie in oman used to work) and some open air bars before I went back to the boat. 

me and helen :)

QPAC on the south bank

there wasn't too much maintenance to be done in brisbane, although sophie and mike (garmin) had to do some sail repair on one of the kites. there were sails all over the grassy area by the marina.

brisbane passed really quickly and soon it was race start. we nearly lost stephen when we had to leave before he'd returned from a routine doctors appointment. we offloaded his bags and left the pontoon when he turned up. the locals loaded him and his stuff into a wee rib and came out and dropped him off. we were very relieved to see him!

after a quick parade of sail, we motored out towards the le mans start line. on the way, one of the large 400A fuses on board blew, leaving us with no power. we tried to fix it while on the phone to jay, but no joy. no spare fuses on board meant we had to go back to brisbane... we hadn't even reached the start area!

a few hours motoring back on a sunday night meant we couldn't even get a replacement fuse as everything closes early. a quick phone call to doug, the head of lighting at QPAC, meant we knew where jay had to go to get a replacement first thing in the morning, so we had a few beers on board (courtesy of chris) as we couldn't leave the boat, having already cleared immigration and technically being in australia illegally...

we discovered that the engineers on board the shadow yacht berthed behind us were all scottish, and they very kindly checked their own supplies to see if they had any suitable replacement fuses for us. but no, they didn't. shame. so an early night was had, and jay arrived early in the morning with the replacement and some spares!

the shadow yacht behind us on our solo return to brisbane :(
we eventually left around 24 hours behind the rest of the fleet, heading for singapore. as it was a time lapse race we were optimistic that we would do alright, as our start time wasn't logged the day before. we did our own le mans start and went north...

Friday, 2 May 2014

leg 4 race 2: hobart to brisbane

after a really nice few days in hobart, mainly involving going to customs house and the traditional quiet little drink celebration on the 1st of january, we were ready to leave on the 2nd. 

we had a pretty good start, made some good decisions and trimming like craig had taught us. as we were only 12 (including mike from garmin) we decided to split into 3 watches of 4 to start rolling through to brisbane. we were first off watch at 1800 and were just starting tea at 1930 to go back on for 2000 when the accident happened. derek had gone back down the starboard love tunnel for more jumpers and katherine was trying to get out of the heads. they kind of crashed into each other as we were heeling quite a lot and
they went from the high to the low side of the saloon. derek banged his head really badly and katherine smashed into the sink area with her ribs. the angle he was lying at and the fact that his eyes were open but glazed, I thought he'd broken his neck and was dead. later when we talked about it, so had matt. and ant, and mike. I went for a neck brace, and in that time derek had a seizure then slowly started to come round. 

while I was in the nav station looking for the brace, matt appeared and sat down. he picked up the remote for the radio and said 'mayday mayday mayday this is charlie victor two three charlie victor two three charlie victor two three'. my blood ran cold. this was serious. these are not words you want to hear. ever. he then went on to describe the emergency. it takes a really long time to issue a full mayday, and after what seemed like an eternity, qingdao responded with the news that they were turning back to our position. they had a GP on board and they would wait with us. the coastguard then came through saying they were sending a helicopter. 

back in the saloon, we got derek into the neck brace and onto the collapsible stretcher and strapped him down with sail ties. in this time, the guys on deck had dropped the main and headsails, but then we discovered the engine wouldn't start as the batteries were shorting under the bunks. with a bit of manoeuvering and taking the galley to bits, we got the stretcher up on deck for the helicopter and I stuck derek's sleeping bag on him and kept him talking and awake. gareth by this point had also dropped his sails as he knew he was taking us back to hobart. 

the helicopter arrived and made a bad noise, their engine warning light had come on so they were off back to hobart without us. the next thing we are aiming for a little town nearby to meet with a police rib who would take derek and katherine away. the rib appeared and they took stephen and mike on board, to help get derek across. we cut the safeties for the guardwires (nearly dumping sophie overboard in the process!), they lined up next to us and we got the stretcher across. katherine followed, with much complaining. she felt fine and I think was worried she wouldn't be allowed to rejoin. but we were going back to hobart anyway and it made sense to get her checked out, so off she went.

we realised that now we had zero coxswains on board - ed and mick had got off, and now derek was injured. we sailed most of the way back to hobart, then the wind dropped. qingdao had set up a towing line, so it was connected up to our bow and they took us up the river. berthing was going to be a different issue. they couldn't tow us onto the berth, we'd have to be pushed onto it. both boats put fenders out on starboard, and they rafted up to us on our port side. this way they could push up onto the berth. I drove most of the way in under gareth's excellent instruction, but once it got complicated gladly handed over to matt. around 0430, we were met by gillian, justin and mark on the quayside. 

after some discussion, gareth agreed to give us brian (a coxswain) and jess to make up numbers and they left. they had to motor back to where they'd suspended racing and restart. news came in that derek had been airlifted to hobart royal which we didn't think sounded good but is actually just a matter of distance in australia. we got a few hours sleep then prepared to leave in the morning with henri lloyd, who were going to be leaving dry dock.

jay, the fleet engineer, arrived early the next morning to fix the engine so went out for breakfast. by the time we got back to the boat, henri lloyd were there loading up their stores and crew. they had decided not to race, as they had been awarded average points for the race, but would be our travelling companions up to brisbane. it didn't take him long to repair, and by around 0930 we were heading back down the derwent heading for the bass strait. again. third crossing in a month.

our marvellous volunteers! (l-r) mike (garmin), brian and jess (qingdao)

once again, the bass strait did not disappoint with some fairly heavy weather. why does it always hit us on the nose?! once across, we got brian (our code 2) up. this involved a bit of explanation as we don't have a brian on our crew normally, and now we had brian from qingdao on board! we had a really good kite run up the coast and it didn't take us long to get to brisbane at all.

me and stephen having a kite trimming 'discussion' :)

dolphins. showing off. they do this all the time...

predictably, after our delayed start, we were second last into brisbane. it was a long haul from the finish line up to the marina. and we wouldn't have much time for sightseeing. 

this had been the first race where we'd only had twelve crew and had to adapt our mother watch. normally for mother, there would be one person off each watch. these two would do all the cooking, cleaning and tea-making for the day. with only twelve on board this wasn't feasible. we decided to do it on a per meal basis instead. so one person from the on watch would cook, and another from the oncoming watch would tidy up and do the cleaning. this meant we were doing a meal once every other day. and it was exhausting.

but we were in brisbane. leg 4 was complete! derek would be waiting for us on the pontoon and we'd all be back together again. however we also had to deal with the reality that jo and neil (legs 1-4) and beth (legs 2-4) would be getting off and new leggers would be joining. me and jo had really bonded and I knew it was going to be really hard leaving her behind. but we weren't thinking about that yet...

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

hobart stopover, brief but welcome

so we had a few days in hobart in the finish up. henri lloyd and PSP had suffered some rudder issues, and both were lifted for repairs. poor jay. I bet he thought he was on a break until brisbane! the race start to brisbane was delayed until the 2nd of january, which meant that I was allowed to celebrate hogmanay properly! matt had previously threatened that I wouldn't be allowed off the boat as he didn't want any hangovers at race start. meanie.

while we were in hobart, the taste of tasmania food festival was on. local produce and beer were the order of the day which was a welcome rest from the usual stopover grind! I had the masthead repair of the kite halyard block to do, so me and derek did that one afternoon. that was the afternoon that the tv came to interview sir robin. somewhere on the interwebs there is video footage of me up the mast in hobart. I can't find it!

we were really sad to say goodbye to craig and nathan in hobart as well. nathan had suffered really badly from seasickness, but got stuck in as much as he could. craig had taught us loads and had a good time in the process. now we were taking his tips into the next race.

hogmanay came and went. it was fairly uneventful, with a night out in the town. I spoke to david, my brother, at the bells in scotland and persuaded him to come to derry to see the fleet :D

we lost some crew in hobart, and were down to 11 which is one short for clipper. they require us to sail with a minimum of 12, so they drafted in a volunteer in the shape of mike morawa, from team garmin. he's an aussie and a round the worlder so he was a great catch for us! with 12 souls signed up we were ready to go to brisbane. across the bass strait. for the third time in a month...

leg 4 race 2: the rolex sydney hobart yacht race

we were being joined by a reporter from the australian daily telegraph and a professional sailing photographer for this race. it was pretty cool having them on board. craig (the photographer) is also a professional sailor and gave us loads of good tips and training :)

nathan (the reporter, called GI journo) was reporting every day on his progress and the race, which was pretty cool. I appeared in the paper quite a few times!
our motley crew for the sydney hobart, not including our journalist and photographer!
one of the safety features of the sydney hobart which has arisen out of previous races, is that each boat is required to do certain things before they can cross the start line. we had to show our storm sails, which involved us hoisting the (bricked) trysail and storm jib so the committee boat could see we had them and they were appropriately painted bright orange. I don't think they were quite prepared for the massive smiley face our storm jib carries as a motivational tool... we were the only boat out of the 94 starters with a smiley face. I think there may be more next year :)

we also had to hail the committee boat and shout to them how many souls were on board, and wait for their response. without a response we couldn't cross the start line and our race would be discarded. once these formalities were complete, we could check out the start area.

the start area for the sydney hobart is almost as wide as the sound. there are yellow markers up each side of the race track, and the spectator boats are not permitted to be inside them. they are patrolled by police boats just to make sure. there are two start lines for the race, with two markers at the heads to make sure everyone does the same distance. the maxis and volvo open 70s start on one and everyone else starts on the other pretty much. 

it was kind of chaotic, but we weaved our way through the melee really well. we worked our way to the far right of the race track so we had clean wind and a great path through the heads before turning right and heading south towards the bass strait. again. our second crossing in a month. the clipper 70s were reasonably tightly packed, and as switzerland manoeuvered around us, they clipped our port quarter with their bowsprit. whoops. chris the engineer was summoned to fill the small holes they'd left in the hull, while a few of us tried to cobble together a replacement guard rail out of spare lines and gaffa tape.

switzerland before they hit us! rude...
craig's amazing picture of the start. you can see the damage to the rear port quarter if you look closely.

when the picture above was taken, I was sitting with chris on the rail and we were talking about what an amazing experience this race is. what better way to celebrate christmas and hang out on boxing day, we decided, than to do this iconic race. the start had been utter chaos and I think everyone was on edge with so many boats in such close quarters, but we'd got through it and the adrenaline was still pumping. it made me want to do it again next year, and we had only just crossed the line!

once we were out of the heads, we headed south towards the strait and tasmania. it was another fairly eventful crossing. the kite halyard stripped and we couldn't douse the kite. I ended up going north with the spare staysail halyard to sort it out. the head of the kite was stuck at the second spreader and it was big seas. I went up, attached the spare halyard to the head of the kite, and disconnected the kite halyard. the guys on deck then lowered the kite in a controlled way, dousing it. I then went north with the kite halyard to sort out the mess at the masthead.

another pasting in the bass strait followed. why does the wind always come from the front, regardless of which way you are pointing?? it's a mystery. eventually we reached tasmania and were more protected from the weather. we got to the mouth of the derwent river in the early morning, and tacked our way up to the finish. where gillian, the race officer, and beer were waiting. and some good news! no rig check, safety check or deep clean! hurrah!!! 

sydney stopover, or how to antifoul a boat...

the main operation we had to do in sydney was get the boat out of the water and antifoul her, before the sydney hobart. sophie's mission was to try and fix two kites, as well as get all the extra sail numbers fitted to the correct sails in the correct place, and paint the storm jib bright orange before race start...

going under the sydney harbour bridge, taking mission to the boatyard to be lifted
me, matt and neil took the boat round to the yard, where she was lifted. we'd had to take the backstay off - this is the steel line which supports the back of the mast - as she wouldn't fit in the lift with it still on. once she was up on chocks, we could see the state of her underside. it was pretty messy down there, and we found a length of rope was wrapped round the propellor, which stopped it feathering and had slowed us down without us realising.

the offending string, wrapped round the prop
our manky keel

evidence of kite wraps on front edge, and absolutely no antifoul ever on the keel...
the keel was in a genuinely shocking state. it had clearly never been antifouled. there was a clean line along the top where the black antifoul stopped. there was also evidence of the kite wraps we'd had in the previous race, particularly along the front edge. the guy from the yard who had the thankless job of cleaning the underside of the boat looked a bit disheartened at the size of the job in front of him. it took a lot longer to do our boat than anyone else's...

grimly, he set about jet washing the crud off the keel bulb. it took him bloody ages.

and he still had the rudders and hull to do as well.

it was also pretty hot. and those attractive white suits did nothing to cool us down...

eventually, he finished the keel, rudders and hull of the boat. we were a bit surprised to find a patch on the port bow where there was no antifoul as well, like there had been a hole and a patch done...

but she was looking pretty shiny, and after being given rollers and paint by rachel from maintenance we started work.

the primer is the grey stuff. the actual antifoul is the black layer. we had to put two coats of the antifoul on over the entire underside, including the rudders.

everyone else was given brushes, to dab and fill the gaps. we had rollers as there was so much to do!

when she was done she looked very smart!

there was working going on with the other boats all this time as well. sir robin was fixing GBs bowsprit, well more like reattaching it to be honest! what a dude, going up in the scissor lift and doing the carbon repairs himself. although he did nick a bunch of roller handles that we were needing to do the antifoul....

sir robin fixing GBs knackered bowsprit, post albany crash with PSP
while we'd been working away in the yard, sophie had been assessing the sails. the code 1 was taped up by her, helen, beth and anthony, then sent off to a professional sailmakers for repair. mark (the deputy race director, and previous skipper off derry in the 11-12 race) said he'd never seen a sail that trashed before. and in the last race, he'd had his spinnaker pole punch a massive hole in his mainsail, then saw through it to the boom. he'd seen some trashed sails! it was also decided at that point not to repair thor, as we were running out of time and crew to fix him as well as get everything else done.

I'd gone to the physio by now. rachel, who I was staying with, had been a gymnast and recommended me to someone. I wish I'd listened harder when she said they were pretty brutal with her. I found myself with a very nice man called adam, who became known as 'evil joaquin' because he looked very like joaquin phoenix and, being a physioterrorist, was very evil. he was quite pleased with the lump and proceeded to try and flatten it out using only his thumbs while I chewed the end of the table. and rachel laughed. meanie...

I had a couple of sessions with him and to be fair he got a lot of it out, but when we left I still had a bit of a lump on my sartorius (big muscle in my thigh).

we also had a lot of social time in the evenings, which we spent mainly in the yacht club bar. this is the cruising yacht club of australia, home of the sydney hobart. all the yachts were here by now and the marina was like a boat spotter's paradise! 'look that's a volvo open 70', 'oooh there's wild oats' etc. we were in heaven.

I stayed with rachel at her parents house in a northern suburb of sydney. rachel is the younger sister of my friend sherry and I am so grateful to them for letting me stay, even if it was only a few nights. her and lawton, rachel's boyfriend, really looked after me and I enjoyed staying in a house for a few days! they also very kindly invited me to spend christmas with them and their parents, who had just got back from visiting sherry in the uk. there I was on the other side of the planet, having a family christmas!!

kate had decided to fly back to the states to spend the time before christmas with her family, and she flew back on christmas eve. matt had made sure we got christmas day off to rest before the race start on boxing day morning. and we were all very excited about that!!

leg 4 race 1: albany, western australia to sydney

this is one of my favourites. thanks prue :)

the morning we left albany, we loaded an extra crew member onto the boat. billy the cameraman would be joining us for the whole leg, leaving us in brisbane some weeks later.

I was, predictably enough, up the rig when we slipped lines and left albany. I had been lubing the main sail track at the last minute when we cleared off the pontoon. I also had to run the HF aerial, after we snapped our original fixed antenna in the southern ocean somewhere. whoops.

once all that was done, it was time to get it together for the parade of sail. there were loads of folk on top of one of the big hills next to the bay who'd obviously decided that was the best view! we paraded around the bay in a neat line, then prepared for the race start. a short inshore course then back out and into the southern ocean again.

another month, another parade of sail...

we kept nicely out of the way at the start as usual. up the front, GB and PSP had a little scrap, resulting in them both having to return to the pontoon for repairs. it turns out GB had gone to tack and stalled, wiping out PSPs port stanchions and wheel. they had, in the process, torn their own bowsprit clean off. they looked very strange without it. as we had suffered the loss of one of our liferafts in the southern ocean on the previous race, GB were diverted across to us and donated one of their packed liferafts. they would then receive the two bagged liferafts we were supposed to be collecting before leaving albany properly. this was really good of them, and it allowed us to pass on our commiserations to the crew before heading off. how gutting for them :(

it wasn't too long before we had our own dramas to deal with. before we'd even left the sound, we'd wrapped the yankee halyard round the forestay and I had to go back up the rig to sort it out! three trips north before we'd even got out of sight of albany. a new record! after much faffing around, going up and down the forestay, and yelling while billy the cameraman filmed, we got it all sorted and I was back on the deck.

we had a few days of fairly calm sailing, with kites up doing nice mileage, then the weather started to build. we decided to go for thor, our code 3 heavyweight kite. he'd been repaired after ripping his head off on leg 3, so we threw him up but five minutes later he'd gone again. much to jo and sophie's relief (they'd repaired him in albany) the head had ripped in a different place - the repair had held! once we'd got the majority of him inboard and down below, I was despatched up the rig to retrieve the head, which was flying nicely from the top of the mast. 

right. at the top. it's kind of bouncy. and that's a lot of sail actually. doesn't look like much from the deck!!
ah. I don't have any spare lines to drop this down on. and it's heavy! uh-oh...
the deck crew thinking thank god they're not up there, and what the hell is she doing?!
is this my favourite photo of me ever? why yes it is. wearing the head of thor like a cape. I'm BATMAN :D
the guys grab the head and take the weight off me. which is a relief!
nearly down. the guys are ready to grab me so I don't end up in the water. that doesn't happen by the way...
that was pretty bouncy!!

so it didn't really take that long to get the head down. but it was a dead bouncy ride. I decided to go up and down the shrouds instead of clinging and swinging to and from the mast. this was the best way to get up definitely, but with the weight of the head on the way down it was quite tricky manoeuvering.

I had an epic bruise on my right thigh where I'd bounced off one of the spreaders. I think it was the one where I managed to switch off the gopro then drop it on kate while in the air...

the bruise took weeks to fade, and left a massive lump in my thigh. it turns out, after seeing a physio in sydney when we got in, that it was actually a haematoma and the lump took some shifting.

when I got down, billy interviewed me for the documentary which was a bit odd. not sure if they'll use it. I guess we'll just have to wait and see!

after that, it was back to normal sailing in fairly heavy seas. a few folk were still suffering from seasickness but most of the new guys had recovered by then.

we did manage to get screwed over by a windhole again, this time south of tasmania. we'd gone wide to avoid it, but it moved meaning we didn't have to go quite so wide. the rest of the fleet powered through closer to tasmania and started heading north. this was going to be our first bass strait crossing. of three. in a month. whose idea was that? oh yes. sir robin. we'd heard about the strait, that it was like the bay of biscay, sometimes flat, sometimes lumpy. I'd crossed biscay several times on tall ships before crossing it on leg 1 and to be honest it had always been pretty flat. I wondered if the strait would be the same.

no. no it wasn't. the wind was on the nose for most of it, and the seas were really lumpy. a few of the guys fell over with seasickness again in the changed sea state. thankfully by now I had not succumbed for ages (touch wood!) and was fine. it was while we were crossing the bass strait that we experienced the most amazing thing I've seen so far on the race. we call them the tron dolphins. it's a fantastic combination of dolphins and phosphorescence. you can see them coming from about half a mile away, just lines of bright green heading straight for you. incredible. I will never forget it. this is definitely my favourite thing to see. out of everything thus far.

we had a pretty quick crossing, and were soon on the south east coast of australia, powering up to sydney. bruce, our code 1 lightweight spinnaker, was flying and the wind was building, so we were preparing to drop him and hoist our code 2, brian, instead. the wind was quicker unfortunately, and poor old bruce exploded in our faces. the head was stuck at the top of the rig (sound familiar?) and the body had split into two other pieces - one wrapped round the keel, and the other wrapped round one of the rudders. an all hands call got the off watch out of bed. me and derek were pulling the clew in when the pressure went entirely. we looked at each other, then realised that we were now only pulling the clew. this is the bit where the sheets attach to the kite, and this is how we normally retrieve them. whoops. the rest of the sail had separated from the clew. what were we going to do now? who was going to tell matt?

it turned out we didn't need to tell matt. we both turned round at the same time, looking massively guilty and I think he just knew. we gave up on the clew at that point, and concentrated on dragging bruce in over the bow. there was a couple of folk at the back trying to drag in the section which was stuck on the rudder as well. eventually, we retrieved the body parts inboard. it took us ages. there were only 10 of us functioning at this point as well, and we were supposed to be going off watch shortly after it happened.

once the body was in, I was despatched up the rig again to retrieve the head. this was fairly straightforward as bruce is lightweight, and there wasn't as much sail up there this time. I took a spare halyard anyway, having learned from thor how heavy bits of sails can be! we got the head down and by this time it was light, and well into our off watch. we were all completely wrecked with the effort of retrieving bruce and missing out on sleep. I think it took us around 4 hours in all from start to finish.

we got the code 2 up and kept powering up the coast. or so we thought. the wind gods, who it seems actually hate us, had another windhole in store. it took us three days to sail the last 100nm to get to sydney. the windseeker was up and working hard, but it was so soul destroying to be going so slowly. all the way up the coast we were going 'is that sydney?!' but it never was. when we eventually got to the heads we were so relieved! we ended up tacking through the heads and up towards the finish line.

constantly tacking to the finish line
a happier (and smaller!) crew to reach sydney there never was!

once we crossed the line, the media boat came out to take these photos. then it was mainsail down and flaked, headsails down, yankee packed away and into the marina to berth. the marina was really tight to get in and out of, along with all the sydney hobart yachts being in, matt did an awesome job of getting us in there and berthing. we did have to reverse all the way out before eventually getting in as a yacht decided they just had to get out right at that exact moment. grrrrr. it wasn't too long before we were moored up with a beer in our hand. in sydney! for almost a fortnight. we would spend it getting the boat ready for the iconic rolex sydney to hobart yacht race!! a dream come true :)

Friday, 14 March 2014

albany stopover

oh dear. I am a terrible blogger. who knew?

so I find myself in my hotel room in qingdao in march writing about a stopover that happened a month before christmas. forgive me if it's patchy, at some point on this leg I stopped writing in my diary as well and just started experiencing the race. at the same time, I stopped taking photos with my own camera and am now relying on the media camera footage.


so. the albany stopover. after our exciting finish and emotional reunion with dave of the medevac, followed by a night in the white star hotel - still in our foulies - we had the deep clean, rig check and maintenance to do.

the volunteers who ran the boat shed were amazing all week. garmin arrived after us, around 0300. we'd been in the pub and went down to meet them in, some folk had gone out in a rib to meet them in the sound. sir robin was there, and a bunch of crew from all the other boats. and so were the volunteers. having got the call saying garmin were arriving, they got out of their beds and headed down to the boat shed to get the barbecue on and make sure they were welcomed and fed after customs had finished with them. and all with massive smiles on their faces! they also supplied us with hot breakfast rolls and tea all week.

the locals in the town were really interested in the race, and we would always be chatted to if we were in a coffee shop or restaurant. I had a long chat with the lady who ran the health food shop while buying vegan chocolate :)

albany was also the first stopover where I had a night in a hotel. thanks to the lovely sas for organising and gifting a night in the best western to me! it was bloody lovely! a proper bed, laundry done and free decent internet was really needed. a couple of hours on skype followed, and a really nice takeaway. I think I managed about three showers in 24 hours…

I reckon there is one vegan who lives in albany. both the restaurants I ate in had a single vegan option, and the coffee shop which became my regular haunt were happy to modify my order without complaint. I had looked forward to a decaf soya latte for some weeks by then, and when I ordered it, the lady who served me asked me if I wouldn't prefer almond milk. oh my god. yes I would. it was the best latte I'd had since camden in august, and fixed that place as my favourite coffee shop in albany, possibly australia.

even though we were there a week, it felt much shorter, and all too soon we were preparing to leave. at the crew brief (which I didn't go to) the winners of the media prize and photography competition are also announced. I found out when our crew got back to the boat that we'd won the media prize! probably as a result of our CCTV and medevac footage :)

the weekend that we left, the town had a food and crafts fair in the boat shed. it was really busy and brought a lot of visitors to the boats. we did a full day of boat tours on mission, and for me the highlight was explaining to an open-mouthed 9 year old about the 'what happens if you run out of food' discussion we'd had on leg 1. he clearly thought he was bringing up a unique topic, not realising that mission is a unique boat :)

with all the jobs completed, food and new crew loaded on board, we headed off back into the sound to start leg 4.