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

Friday, 24 April 2015

leg 8 race 2: derry to den helder

leaving derry was incredibly emotional. the people of derry had been absolutely marvellous to us all week. they were so excited to have us there and made us so welcome. the (bonkers!) mayor, brenda, came and had her photo taken with all the crews, with her trademark double thumbs up! we slipped one at a time, hoisted our mains and formed up with derry~londonderry~doire at the front. we paraded up the river to the peace bridge, before turning sharply (we had to hold on!!) and passing the crowds extremely close to the river wall, past the pontoon and up past the tall ships and up to the estuary end of the river. derry did another lap of honour and the crowd went wild for them. 

once we'd completed the sail past, we formed up into our usual line and started motoring out of the river. there were loads of folk on the bridge again (thankfully no police this time…) and quite a few yachts and other boats following us out. it's a long motor through lough foyle out to the sea, and we had company the whole way which was really cool. we got out to the start area and there were even more folk there, sitting on the beach and on the headland. the red arrows were doing a display before we left - a wise idea not to have twelve extremely distracted crews trying to race while watching an airshow - but we like to think they came for us :)

the red arrows were amazing. we formed up in a line across the bay so the media guys could get some good photos. which they managed! we had a dead nice day, with clear blue skies and a lot of sun. then it was the ten minute warning, so banners and battle flags down, headsail and staysail up. we'd originally gone with the yankee 1, but on the way out the river the wind was building, so we'd changed to the yankee 2. we had a good start again, although we had a very near miss with DLL who crossed us on starboard. it looked like we would have cleared them, but matt always says 'you have to be in it to win it' and didn't want to crash in front of so many folk, so bore away and went behind them.

on this race, I had decided I wanted to try the watch leader programme. sophie was promoted to watch leader, and I was her assistant. a first for both of us!

everyone else had stuck with the yankee 1, but it didn't seem to have improved their speed too much, and everyone stayed together as we left the coast of northern ireland behind and headed for the west coast of scotland. I have never sailed up the west coast, and I have to say I am planning to do more of it. it is stunningly beautiful, even though we were going outside the islands, and I'd love to sail in closer quarters to them. which I am going to do :)

sophie had some issues with the starboard helm one day, but it clunked clear and we thought it was fine. a watch or two later, a loud bang woke us up. we got up on deck to discover the starboard helm was not working at all. matt and derek were down in the las having a look. one of the huge blocks had cracked and chunk had fallen off, and the frame of the block had exploded out. so now we only had one working helm. derek managed to split his head open getting out of the laz as well. what is it with him and his head?!?!?

we had more mixed fortunes going up the west coast, getting stuck in a wind hole then narrowly escaping it. the same wind hole got invest africa, qingdao and jamaica massively stuck and we watched the scheds as those guys got farther and farther behind. we know that feeling… the front runners were only around 15 miles in front and we were determined to catch them up. we managed a wee bit overnight by going a bit further offshore to get the wind, then lost it again just off lewis by staying offshore and the rest of the fleet got more wind inshore. after a few days we were at the butt of lewis and turning the corner, heading for cape wrath.

we knew we had a limited window of opportunity for the tides in the pentland firth. the tides there are among the strongest in the british isles, and the last time I crossed it (on a ferry) I spent the whole trip clinging onto a toilet, being extremely ill… our watch came on deck for 0600 as we approached the firth. the tidal gate was going to open around 0900 so we pressed on. we could see hoy and the rest of the orkneys on our left, and headed into the firth. 

the tide immediately started to slow us down, only 3 or 4 knots at first, but eventually as much as 6 knots against us. there was a lot of wind, and a healthy sea state, and at one point I was still getting 10 knot surfs, with 6 knots of negative tide! it was pretty epic helming on the low side, and I actually had a huge grin on my face as we blasted through. I did nearly run over a puffin and a guillemot though. sorry wildlife! I've never seen a puffin that close before, and I saw the whites of its eyes as it tried to frantically swim out of the way of the guardrail of the boat! richard then told me about a guillemot which had been fishing, and popped up out of the water just as I bore down on top of it. he reckons he could see the panic in its eyes as it struggled to decide whether to fly or sink. 

at the eastern end of the firth, there is a tiny island on the northern side. it has a massive shipwreck on it, and the most amazing eddies going on around it. they were only around half a mile long, but the sea went from almost flat, to churning for half a mile, back to almost flat on the other side. the weirdest bit was being able to see all three stages from the boat before we went through them!

once we were through the pentland firth and into the north sea, the oil rigs started. there are quite a few up there, and they all seem to have a guard boat hanging around to make sure no ships try to crash into them. we had a good run south through the rigs, and then into the two TSS areas which we had to cross at right angles before getting to den helder. we lost a lot of time and miles going down the east coast. invest africa. qingdao and jamaica had caught us up by this time and we were fighting to stay in 9th place. another wind hole meant that we slipped to 12th. the course was shortened, and we managed to sneak in front of invest africa to take 11th place. 

it was getting dark as we approached den helder, and we could see the funfair in operation as we motored in towards the lock. we were ready for a beer now!

finally into den helder!

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