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

Sunday, 25 January 2015

leg 6: qingdao to san francisco

after staying in a hotel for a week (LUXURY!!) it was back to the boat at the very last minute for race start. being the organised type, I'd packed my small accessible bags and my day bag, and stowed my big bag the night before. it was just as bonkers leaving qingdao as it was arriving, but with the added excitement of one of the skippers passing out at the leaving ceremony...

PSP had arrived the day before, and were being given 48 hours grace to do their deep clean, maintenance and try to rest before leaving to catch us up across the north pacific. so only 11 of us left to motor towards the le mans start area.
derry trying to avoid us. me filming by the running backstay

the biggest change for us on board mission was going back to full mother watch!!! for the first time since we arrived in sydney, we were doing a full mother watch. we did the sydney-hobart on short mother as the race was only 3 days, and from hobart to qingdao we'd only had 12 people which isn't enough for full mother. on this leg we were up to 14, and those 2 made the difference!

food on this leg was particularly tight, as we had less than the original amount of crew, so the budget had been cut. the regulars on board were happy to see so many sea sick leggers, as it meant we could have seconds! selfish but true. they were only sick for a few days, and it was a long, hungry leg for us.

a few days out past japan, we managed to hank a dirty great mooring line that another (much bigger) boat had lost. it wrapped around the keel and with some persuasion by manoeuvring we managed to get rid of it.

manky big rope we hooked...

it was a cold one as well which didn't help. in fact it was so cold, that we had four folk go down with cold shock. thankfully we had an emergency medic on board who got them off deck, into sleeping bags and decided to close the accommodation hatches and open the engine room doors to warm them up. unfortunately matt was the first to succumb, but he wouldn't do what he was told and came back up on deck. this just made it worse and eventually he was made to go to bed and warm up.

derek, who was helming in the heavy weather, also went down meaning that sophie had to go and take over while he was heated up. unfortunately she'd been on the bow with me and kate, and all we were told was that she had to drive, not that derek was sick. we'd been taking the headsail down and were keeping ourselves warm that way. eventually we got the sail down and found out what had been happening. james, our medic, made sure that we were given hot drinks to keep warm. after the cold shock incident, we split our small watches into two groups of three folk, doing half an hour on deck at a time then swapping. we also put in the storm boards at the top of the hatch, which we hadn't even done in the southern ocean!

snow in the north pacific....weird...
code 2 going up. perfect hoist in a sausage!

the biggest surprise we had was when it snowed. for two days almost. mental. you just don't expect it at sea. gaurav, who is from india, had never seen snow before!

we did have some great kite sailing though. and some extremely fast white sail reaching! I managed 25knots at one point. there may have been screaming.... we also had some massive waves, and did a lot of reefing. the storm jib also made quite a lot of appearances!

don't look behind you but there's a massive wave coming

the mighty stephen dand reefing

ah the storm jib!

on this leg every boat had a sea scout volunteer on board. we had beanie, whose real name was james but we already had james the medic, so he was renamed :)  about a week out of san francisco, we started servicing the winches. everyone had been very careful about not losing bits over the side, but unfortunately beanie dropped a tiny wee bit of plastic on the last winch. he immediately looked up at me, in an extremely guilty fashion and I knew he'd dropped something... it was just a question of how important it was. turns out it was the feeder from the top section. annoying but not as bad as it could have been. his punishment was to whittle one out of wood, using another feeder as a template. it didn't take him too long and it worked really well! we used it for a couple of legs before it was eventually replaced.

he was also a pretty unshakeable driver in the heavy conditions. beanie, stephen and me were one half of our watch during the cold spell. one night we were doing our half hour stint when beanie was overpowered and the boat rounded up, and we broached. he managed (somehow!) to regain control before we went in the water but everyone got a bit of a fright. stephen fell off the side deck into the nav station hatch but was ok. beanie was slightly reticent about helming after that, but he got back to it the next morning and was absolutely fine.

during our split shift watches, we rotated on each watch so we weren't always with the same folk. one night when derek (our watch leader) was on his mother sleep, I was on with sophie. we'd just finished our half hour and stephen with his two guys were coming on deck to swap. sophie was driving and handed over to stephen. I was making my way slowly forward to the hatch, looking forward to the heat and a brew, when I heard sophie screaming. not just screaming, but absolutely terrified screaming. it's making my blood run cold writing about it months later, and I hope to never hear that sound again.

we'd been hit on the high side by a massive wave, after one of the yankee sheets had snapped. peter was lying against the guard rails with his lifejacket inflated but ok. stephen was shouting 'sophie! sophie!' but I couldn't see her. I unclipped my safety line and ran back through the cockpit to the helm, scared about what I was going to find. I didn't know if sophie would be lying on the after deck with a broken leg, or worse. as I passed the front of the helm, I could see her clinging onto the guard rails on the outside of the boat. she was tethered on with the spectra helming strop and screaming. I clipped on to the nearest strong point and grabbed her left hand. then I dropped her hand, because I was double gloved. so I put my sealskinz mitten in my mouth, pulled it off, spat it out and grabbed her again with my neoprene glove. this time I didn't let go.

she'd been sitting next to the helm as the sheet snapped and the boat heeled the wrong way. the wave had picked her up and flung her backwards over the guard rails. thankfully she was still clipped on with the helming strop so wasn't going anywhere, but we still had to get her back into the boat. shortly after I'd got a hold of her, I realised I couldn't pull her in myself. seconds later, matt appeared behind the helm and grabbed her other arm. between us we managed to pull her back inboard. my heart was racing at the thought of what had just happened. by this time, the other watch were on deck and the clew had pulled off the yankee 3 with the flogging. a team were mobilised to go to the foredeck. normally we'd be at the front of that team, but I had to look after sophie. all my years of lifeguard and first aid training kicked in at this point, and I wasn't letting go of her. we sat for a while in front of the helm, squished into a tiny space hugging each other. she was calming down and I didn't want her to get too cold, even though she was in a drysuit.

once the yankee 3 team had gone up to the foredeck, we moved slowly through the cockpit, making sure we were both clipped on and moving together. I got her to the hatch and down the stairs, then I put the kettle on and made hot chocolate. I reckoned she needed the sugar! she was really shaken up, but sophie doesn't stay that way for long :)  immediately she was like 'we need to get on deck and help out' and I was like 'oh no. not you' and kept her downstairs. eventually everything started to calm down. sophie finished her hot chocolate and I put her to bed, having got her out of her wet foulies and drysuit. matt and james the medic came down and checked on her, and I stuck the kettle on to make everyone coffee or tea or hot chocolate.

we had just found out about andrew taylor from derry that night. he had gone overboard while not clipped on and had been lost for 90 minutes. out of sight of the boat. I can't imagine what was going through the crew's minds for that length of time. oneDLL had assisted in the search, and thankfully he was brought on board hypothermic but OK after an hour and a half.

it wasn't all terror and screaming on the north pacific leg though. about halfway, the clipper office got in touch with me and asked if they could have some photos of sophie, kate and me, along with answers to some interview questions. they were going to run a piece on the three of us, as we'd lost so many crew and round the worlders. we decided to get some interesting photos, so proceeded to pile out onto the bowsprit, and orla took the photos. not sure what matt would have said if he'd come on deck to find 75% of his round the world crew on the bowsprit! we worked out that if we'd fallen off, between us he'd have lost his chief of staff, sail maker, bosun, media person, watch leader and assistant watch leader!

setting up for our 'fearless females' shoot
fearless females
don't tell matt.... 
slightly less terrifying photo for clipper ;)

the injury that I'd had on leg 5 with my back/hip had started to be a problem after around 3 weeks on this leg. it was so bad that I couldn't stand up, sit down or lie down without crying. after some experimentation, james found the right combination of painkillers that meant I could at least sleep. I was still going on deck throughout this, but it was incredibly uncomfortable. I wasn't much use in sail changes but I could still drive, although for much shorter periods of time. I was miserable. and to make it worse, james started to beat me at backgammon....

as we sailed under the golden gate bridge (the finish line) with our code 2 up, we were joined by a spectator boat full of people. they got pretty close, and there was a bit of pressure to get the drop just right with our new audience. thankfully we had a textbook drop and the kite came down beautifully. unfortunately, when we started the engine it caught fire, as one of the big pipes had split. some of the boys were doing a temporary fix while we were trying to wool the kite and it got a bit cramped downstairs for a while. 

matt decided to sail in as close as we could get and keep the engine for berthing while the boys got it fixed. this meant it took us a bit longer to get to the marina. we were aiming for the yacht club right next to the baseball ground and there was a game on. it was quite an amazing view from the boat!

why hello, san francisco! nice to see you :)

much as I hoped my back would just get better, like it had before, it didn't. by the time we arrived in san francisco, I was dragging my left leg behind me and couldn't get on or off the boat using the mooring lines. it was clear I was going to have to go and see a doctor when we berthed. 

my old flatmate from university lorna, her husband david (who I'd sailed with on the tall ships) and their daughter (my fairy goddaughter!) were waiting on the pontoon for me which was amazing. lorna is a paramedic. she took one look at me and told me I had to go to a doctor. and it was non-negotiable.

but we had sailed across the north pacific!! 

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