Day 6 (Thu 07 Dec 2017)
Day 6 (Thu 07 Dec 2017)
Contemplating Cape Town and Poltergeists
All being well, in less than 48 hours we will be in Cape Town. Many thoughts are already turning to our arrival and what to do while we are there. Some of us are lucky enough to have loved ones who will be there to greet us which makes the impending arrival more special. For me this is especially true as an aim from the start of the leg has to be in Cape Town by 20th Oct, my wedding anniversary, so as to be able to share it with Bronwen, my wonderful wife.
Many are making plans of what to do and see while there, quizzing those who have been there before for the best ideas, the city tour, wine lands tours (oh yes!), table mountain, the cape of good hope, … the list goes on. There are so many things to do that the conversations can go on for ages.
This second leg has been very different from the first. Being much shorter certainly changes everyone’s perspective which impacts the whole atmosphere. There seems to be less intensity but more efficiency. Everyone from Leg 1 has grown in competence and those who joined for leg 2 have all fitted in well and it has been a pleasure to see them all grow into the role of ocean sailor. The changes within the crew have changed the mood and dynamics of the group, not better or worse, just different. The weather and seas have certainly been different with the cold, the wet, the larger seas which wash over the deck (and anyone who happens to be on deck!) all making an appearance.
This leg has certainly been more of a test of our personal equipment. Those with dry suits have been wearing them and all foulies, boots and gloves have been tested by very wet conditions. Not all have passed the tests with gloves and boots sometimes faring badly. But for those progressing to Leg 3 this has been a useful trial run.
The common theme is the continued presence of the poltergeist. You put something down and within a few hours it has disappeared. The Engineer’s and Bosun’s lockers seem a favourite haunt for the poltergeist but any item anywhere on the boat seems fair game to the demon. Usually these items reappear a day or so later pretty much where they were placed, such as Paul’s gloves which reappeared on the top bunk rather than the bottom, or the Port Watch sweet bag which vanished and reappeared. Not everything is so lucky and my hat and gloves are yet to rematerialise. Let’s see what the deep clean can uncover …
So yes, it has been a very different leg compared to the first and Cape Town will be a very welcome sight when we see it. It will be a welcome respite before we take on the challenges of the southern ocean.
To today should be the last day of this race. Barring any final glitches we should cross the finishing line soon after midnight. Provided we can stay ahead of a few hard pushing boats we could come in in fourth position. So we are pushing hard too with the Code 2 spinnaker up, making best possible progress to the finishing line.
However I am missing all the action as I am on mother watch today and have been up since 6am cooking, cleaning and serving. It was frittata for lunch and will be pasta bolognaise for supper. The sauce is already made and, if I may say do myself, tastes good! We will be finished with our duties by 8pm following which we would normally be allowed a full night’s sleep. So it will be a bit of a dilemma as to whether I stay awake through to our arrival or get some sleep.
In some ways I am sorry that this race is coming to an end. It has been a great Leg for me with some great crew mates. It will be a shame to be saying farewell to those who are leaving after just a couple of weeks’ sailing. But on the other hand it will be wonderful to see Bronwen again and to be able to spend some time with her in Cape Town, a city we both love.
I think that some of us are disappointed that we are unlikely to get a podium finish having at one point having led the fleet. Who knows what may have transpired if we had not gone for the scoring gate, would we have managed to stay in front of Dare To Lead and be leading the fleet into Cape Town or would some decision or mistake have left us further down the fleet? There is no point speculating. We made our decisions, we are happy with them and will live with the consequences. We are, however, all round of our achievement in this race and should we finish in fourth we will be happy with that.
There is a big front following closely behind us do it may well be a somewhat damp arrival into Cape Town but that won’t dampen our spirits. We will all finish with our heads held high.
Following mother watch duties, I go to bed for some much needed sleep. I feel guilty as this is the last night of the race and here am I heading off for a nice 8 hour sleep.
Maybe I should have stayed up, when I wake up I learn that Visit Seattle have managed to pass us during the night. So we will be in fifth place rather than fourth. This is a blow but can’t be undone. The light winds on this last stretch don’t do us any favours and it seems to take forever to complete the last couple of miles to the finishing line.
Crossing the line we prepare the boat for our arrival, dropping the sails, raising the forestay banner and battle flags and getting ourselves corporate!
I wonder how it feels for those back at home knowing that their loved one is living on a 70ft boat currently somewhere in the middle of the south Atlantic. For me, being on the boat feels safe and normal. We live our lives from watch to watch and day to day, confident in our boat and crew. There is no concern, no worry, just the normal routine but something triggered the thought in my mind, it is probably harder for those watching from a distance. They are not aware of the mundane details of our lives on board that make everything feel secure for us. Not that it changes anything to say it, but we are all fine in our routines and daily tasks, safe in the knowledge that we have a good sound boat and a competent skipper and crew.
Mmmm, Friday 13th. Sometimes things just go wrong. From what I can remember, the day was ok but that has already faded into the distant memories as so much does. It was dark with a heavy sky at the beginning of our watch. Stephane first up on Helm with me there as Helm Support to watch over and guide him when necessary. We had had an incident Ina previous occasion where, in the dark and with no guiding stars or clouds visible, a combination of a large wave and a gust of wind had made the helm unmanageable for Stephane, so I was keen that he get his confidence back. However the port helm wheel had come loose a couple of times already today. Lance had tightened it again once and I had tightened it the second time.
About 15 mins into the watch, a similar incident arises and the gust of wind drives the boat up followed by a wave that seems to overpower the rudders. With both Stephane and me on the wheel we can’t pull the boat back to the correct heading. Soon after, Stephane decides he has had enough helming for the moment and I replace him at the wheel.
The Helm feels very odd to me as I wrestle with the wind and the waves. A wave pushes us to starboard so I move the wheel to port. The boat doesn’t respond. I turn the wheel some more and the bow is suddenly moving in the right direction. Was that my doing or just the back of the wave. Wes is standing behind me as Helm Support and I comment half in jest that I don’t seem to have any control over the boat. But I start concentrating more on what is happening between wheel and boat. Another wave pushes us left and I turn the wheel right, and then right some more, and more. I should have reached the rudder stop by now but the wheel still turns. James is by the other wheel so I call for him to take control. Once the boat is pointing in the right direction, we experiment. The two wheels should be locked together. James holds the starboard wheel firmly while steering and I turn the port wheel without any impact on James’ steering. Oh dear. But we can just use the starboard wheel can’t we? No, the compass light isn’t working in that helm. So we have no fully functional helm position. It is clear that the port helm is no longer workable and the starboard helm is no good at on a dark night with no external reference points visible.
It is blowing 25 knots of wind with lots of splash and waves and on top of that it is raining. Perfect night time conditions for repair work.
After consulting with Lance the plan is to tighten up the Port helm as much as possible to buy some time to fix the compass light. And yes this is all my responsibility to fix. Having re-tightened the helm as much as I can allowing for the fact that we are still sailing along and the helm is in use, I take off the starboard compass to investigate the light. Ouch, it may only be 24V but when you are this wet it still gives a nasty shock. So this means that while I work the helm will have to be without a compass.
Compass lights off and I remove the compass and unclip the light wires. That was the easy part. Back below in the saloon Lance replaces the bulb and wire connectors. I then take the compass back into the dark rain where I crimp on a new connector to the live wire working by the red light of Paul’s head torch. With the compass back in place we turn on the compass lights again. There is the faintest glow from the bulb but nothing that is workable. The only option seems to be to remove it again and investigate. We remove the red bulb cover, check the wiring, reassemble and try again. The glow is slightly brighter but barely. However there is no choice now, the port helm wheel has come loose again so they have to swap sides and helm with a dodgy compass. The light glows and fades then glows again getting slightly brighter. The guess is that a connection is slowly drying out and the light comes back to full life. By now it is midnight and the end of our watch. Further repairs will wait until daylight.
By now I am cold, wet and tired. My gloves and hat have been abandoned somewhere and all I can do is climb into my sleeping bag and sleep.
What a difference a day makes. From the horrors of yesterday to some balmy sailing in the sunshine today. I feel hung over and everything seems to ache or hurt. I can’t find my hat or gloves but the sunshine means they are not required. I don’t have the energy to look for them properly.
The ocean sprint has started so rather than heading directly towards Cape Town along the great circle route, we adjust our course slightly in favour of our transit from 3 degrees West to 2 degrees East. Nothing else changes.
At the end of Dog Watch, 8pm, it is getting dark. I head off deck, strip off my dry suit and start getting ready for some much needed sleep but before that I am wanted at the Nav station. Claire and James tell me that the compass light is not working again and the repair to the other helm is not ready. Could I go and fix the compass light? What? But there can only be one answer so I gather my thoughts and the equipment I think I will need and get back into my wet weather gear and head out.
A repair had been made to the port helm but the chemical metal used had not hardened enough to allow that helm station to be used yet. So the crew are helming from the station where I have been asked to fix the compass. Those on the helm are using the compass with a head torch as there are no stars and no moon to show the clouds. Confusion reigns but the will of those steering the boat has to prevail so I abandon the repair mission for the time being. It will be my first duty when our watch starts in a few hours time.
So delayed by an hour I finally manage to get to my bunk.
Repair compass light during the night watch – much easier without the rain and with lighter winds. Did a far setter job this time and it seems to work fine now.
Eventful morning watch – getting light, wind nice and stronger than over night. Code 1 blows. Drop spinnaker (remains / pieces) hoist Yankee 2 (on deck) tidy up, hoist Code 3 in anticipation of strengthening winds.
End of the ocean sprint. Great sailing weather, blue skies and a nice breeze.
Dog watch with no dry suit drying out the foulie salopettes and my deck shoes in the sun.
Feeling really good. We are in a good position in the race and if we get things right and don’t make significant mistakes we may get a podium finish. The sailing activities seem to be clearer to me now and there is always less panic whenever we go through a sailing evolution. I guess this was demonstrated when the Code 1 blew. Everyone just moved to get something done and we dropped the spinnaker and hoisted the Yankee very quickly and efficiently. Of course James was there to oversee but there were no raised voices and no panic – all just as it should be in the situation.
What is nice for me is that I am relaxed in what we are doing. Smiles, laughter, gentle teasing and fun have returned. Oh, and my beard is growing, apparently! Redman suddenly commented on it as if it had sprouted out of nowhere!
The 12 midnight to 4am watch was tough. It was cold despite rotating through rest periods below decks. I helmed for the last hour which was fine to begin with, there were stars to guide me and I could see the spinnaker and so react to how the sail was behaving. But then the clouds came in and I couldn’t see anything. I have along way to go before I can fly a spinnaker by feel – it got scary and I was very relieved when Watch change arrived and I could hand the helm to someone else!
Mother Watch! Apart from continuing to travel east, I have no idea what happened on deck today or from a navigation point of view. The day was spent in the galley with Bas. So far I have been so lucky with my mother duty partners. Bas is another star. Together we serve up 21 breakfasts, 21 lunches, 21 dinners, baked 4 loaves of bread and two cakes, all with good humour and on time.
Towards the end of the day I suddenly reminded that I am in a boat. Somehow that fact had been lost in me and I was living in a different world. It was a bit of a strange feeling to be reminded of something so basic to our daily existence!
Poor Mikey has been having a bad time. First, a couple of days ago, he fell in the helm area and gashed his shin, then while recovering on his bunk, he managed to fall out and sprain his wrist. The poor chap is now confined to light duties, not many of which exist when living on a heeled over racing boat. We are doing the best we can to keep his spirits up but he is very frustrated.
It is ground hog day all over again. 4 hours on, 4 hours off, pressing eastwards with wind speeds in the twenties. The three of us in the northerly fleet are chasing each other with Qingdao still in the lead and Visit Seattle following. The southerly fleet have run into a high pressure area with no wind, so we are happy about that as it means that any advantage they had from not going for the scoring gate should be nullified.
The sea has got noticeably colder, a sign that we are progressing east nicely. When we were close to South America, a wave would wash over my hands and I would be amazed how the water was not cold. That has changed and I feel it every time we get washed by a wave. This will get worse the closer we get to Cape Town where I know the water temperatures are severely cooled by the Antarctic current.
This constant battering by water makes everything damp. I am so happy to have my dry suit and every day I have my mid layer salopettes and jacket on under it to keep me warm. Although my boots are wet through, I seem to stay dry in the suit and hence stay warm.
We seem to have a happy boat at the moment. Both watches are working well and very few gripes appear.
The weather continues with the northerly winds and generally a lot of cloud. The cloud makes helming at night more of a challenge as we are reduced to having to steer from the compass. It is so much easier when there are stars visible. In fact I was telling Julie that my favourite helming is at night with the stars.
Reefing line issues. During the rush for the scoring gate, we delayed replacing some broken battens in the main sail. This meant that the leech of the sail was flogging badly for a few days. I was watching it and concerned about what secondary damage was being done to the sail and the reefing lines. Having replaced the battens yesterday, a reef was put in and reefing line 3’s outer sheath has been chaffed through and the core was exposed. Time to thread through another line to allow this one to be repaired. Having cleared my plan with Lance, I whipped the end of one of the light weight spinnaker sheets to the end of the reefing line before realising that I had attached the spinnaker sheet before unravelling it and would now have to unthread the whole sheet through the loop or undo my whipped end and redo it. I chose to unravel the line. Once all was ready, with Carrie’s help, I start to pull through the reefing line. The next thing I know, I am pulling the core out of the reefing line, leaving the sheath in place through the boom, completely not what I want to achieve. Lance and James are called for consultation during which the line comes apart completely.
Lance finds an old halyard to replace the line with and James is sent up the sail edge to thread it through the reefing point eye. However we end up having to put two reefs in the main before we can get this done. All in all this means two hours spent putting right my error. 😩
Pushing on through the south Atlantic. Wind in the 20s (knots) and on the beam. Great sailing conditions and we have caught up with Qingdao, sailing harder and faster than they are. A great feeling. There is still lots of spray and waves washing over the deck so it is very wet out there – but great fun. Spent an hour on the helm earlier and enjoyed it so much that Wes said he hadn’t seen me smiling so much since the start of the race. I finally seem to be really getting in to this, living the race, enjoying the company and feeling fantastic. (OK, minor reality check, I still struggle to wake up after an off watch, but can cope with that!)
90 Degrees course heading reached! This means that we have reached the southernmost point of our course to South Africa. From now on, until we reach Cape Town, we should be heading north of East. Don’t know why, but that makes me happy, probably as it implies moving towards hotter places (though ours will get colder as the sea temperature drops)
I go on deck for an hour during dog watch. Lead coloured sky and dark cold seas surround us. Nano is on the helm and I am “spotting” for him which means I keep an eye on the instruments while he focuses on steering. I can relay any relevant information to him such as if he is straying from course or if there is a significant change to the wind. The boat is storming along under a full main and Yankee 2, which is probably more than we should have up in the conditions but everything is just going too well. We have 6m swells to surf down when it works and 27 knots of wind. Nano is enjoying himself and manages to set a new speed record for the race at 26.9kt!
At skippers brief at 18:00 we learn that we sailed more than 300 miles in the last day and are on track to repeat it today. We are also the fastest boat in the fleet at the moment, gaining on those ahead of us. So far this is all good news.
It is also time to change the clocks again. So tonight we will have two 3 hour watches, the first being good as it means only a 3 hour stint on deck, the second meaning that I lose an hour of sleep. Oh well, you win some and lose some.
Roll on Cape Town. We have about 1200 miles to go so with luck could be there by 17th October though I doubt that the race office will allow us to be in that early, we will probably have an extension added to the race to take us to at least the 19th.
The razzmatazz again! A nice sunny day greets us and this time Liverpool 2018 are the last to slip their lines from the quay and head out to the bay for the customary parade of sail. Farewell had been said to Bronwen an hour or so earlier and as we sailed past the harbour breakwater, I looked to see if I could spot her in the crowd. I think I did but maybe she had gone back to the flat to prepare for the bus to Montevideo and her plane to Cape Town.
A quick MOB practice follows the parade of sail and then a short pause before the race start. Wozza and I head to the sail locker to put away the forestay banner and boom banner. By the time we have finished we are minutes away from the race start and the cockpit is a hive of activity. Not the time to go up through the companionway hatch so we are confined to the saloon for the whole of the round the cans part of the race, not surfacing until we are heading out of the bay into the open waters of the south Atlantic.
We are prepared for it to get cold but at the moment the clothing is foulies with very little underneath. The expectation is that the seas will get larger than we have had before and seasickness may prevail. So I am doped up with Stugeron to avoid that. I have been feeling nervous the last couple of days, aware that in some ways, this is a bigger leg than the last one. Of course it is shorter, expected to be about 15 days, not 5 weeks, but the seas and the weather could be a lot less forgiving than the somewhat benign weather we had on the way down from Liverpool.
The change in crew will also make a difference. I will miss all of those from my watch who have left, Mark, Chris and Pat. The conversation will be different, and the humour, not to mention the muscle power they brought.
The watches have been changed around for this leg. So while I am still on Port Watch with James as Watch Leader, Helen, Sharkey and Wozza have moved the the other watch. Wes and Carrie have come across and we have three new leggers: Mark W, Stephane and Julie. They have a lot to catch up with and are a great bunch – as are the others on Starboard watch.
Days 1 – 5 (Wed 4 – Sun 8 Oct)
We head out into the South Atlantic, following the Great Circle route to Cape Town. Some of the fleet head due south from Punta del Este in search of the faster winds but our plan is simply to head to Cape Town via the shortest route and this is the same plan that Dale evidently has. We follow him east for a day and a half before we manage to overtake him. For a while we are leading the fleet.
Reviewing the weather forecasts, Lance and Claire reckon we have nothing to lose by heading for the scoring gate and any additional race points would be valued. So again our paths split so that only three of us seem to be heading for the gate.
Sadly my 2 weeks ashore in Punta del Este have ruined my sea legs but I am learning. Dosed up with Stugeron I am not seasick but I live on the edge, not sick but far from being 100%. I feel tired and slow, getting up for a watch is a struggle and although I know that activity makes me feel better, I still live in dread of it. It is amazing how mentally debilitating being seasick is. However I know that I will get over it and there are others in the crew who are suffering more than me. I do my best to encourage them that they will get through it.
The sea here is very different to the conditions we had in leg 1. The seas are bigger we frequently have waves sweeping along the deck. This means that foulies are replaced by the dry suit. This is a new experience, trying to figure out what to wear under the dry suit. For the first couple of days it seems that trousers and a couple of base layers are fine, but as everything gets wetter this is no longer enough. Strangely my feet seem to get wet through my (waterproof) boots and (waterproof) drysuit. I can’t work this out but maybe it is just the cold. I even try wearing my “Sealskin” waterproof socks but the results are the same.
My sleeping bag is too warm! I replaced the second fleece layer on leaving Uruguay in the expectation of colder nights in the south Atlantic but I wake up far too hot, so I have to strip the extra layer out again, not easy on a top bunk having to balance against the heel of the boat with a foot against the bunk opposite. Yes, this leg is again all about learning how to make his all work!
By Day 5 of the race I am over my seasickness stage and feeling better again. There is a smile on my face and it feels great to look out at the rolling ocean.
Punt Del Este
Arriving in Punta Del Este in Uruguay was a relief after 34 days at sea. We all needed a rest and time to recover from the race and reflect on events.
Nano. being the representative Uruguayan in the fleet was the star of the Clipper Race show in town, being interviewed by the media and, with his father as Mayor of Punta Del Este, being feted by all and sundry.
Punta del Este put on a great welcome for us all, starting with beers in the local yacht club as soon as we got in. I struggled with beers at 7 in the morning and Bronwen and I soon headed off to the apartment that we were staying in, sharing with Chris and Julie.
An early surprise was an Asado (Uruguayan version of a barbecue but on a grander scale) laid on by the mayor for all Clipper Race crew and supporters then present in Punta del Este. A whole cow was cooked over an open fire, complete with its hide still on to retain the juices and ensure a slow cooking process. This with other cooked meats, salads, wine, beer and deserts made for a wonderful meal in a wonderful location – a local sculpture park.
As is always the case with boats, there was plenty of maintenance to be done on the boat, starting with the deep clean. After 5 weeks at sea with 24 people on board, the boat was pretty disgusting and needed a real deep clean from the bilges up.
The days in Punta del Este passed very quickly and my ability to speak Spanish improved from zero to being able to order simple things in a restaurant!
A quick trip to Montevideo at the end of the stop-over was an added bonus, including one night in a hotel. The only down side was that both Bronwen and I got food poisoning and were sick on the bus trip back to Punta del Este. As a result we missed Nano’s party at his grandfather’s house.
We did enjoy our stay in Uruguay, a country we would probably never have visited were it not for the Clipper Race. The people were lovely, the country feels really safe and, being the beginning of spring while we were there, while it was slightly chilly, there was plenty of sunshine to keep us warm.