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

Monday, 1 September 2014

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'...

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