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

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 :)