"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 :)