On your marks …

Morning of Thursday 10th July + we (the crew) are all here readying the
boat for the last race. Cool, tense, adrenaline beginning to pump, mixed
emotions. The weather warm + sunny with a gentle off-shore
breeze, completely the opposite of yesterday’s foggy blustery dank blast.

Looking forward to the race with some melancholy – last race, end of the
adventure but then come London this will be the beginning of something new.

The outcome to Race 15

In the end it was an exciting finish to race 15. Nothing too dramatic but
intense in a 10 knots sort of way. We spent the last day of the race
hunting down Qingdao + reduced the deficit from 20 miles at the start of
the day to just half a mile at the finish line. But it was the same story
to other races – the wind died + in the end we just couldn’t finish them
off. So 10th. Disappointing after what was nothing short of a textbook
race start. But hey – it was a good sail + the North Sea gave us a good run
for our money (even if we did end up seeing slightly more of St Kilda than
we had ever really wanted!). Really changeable so we were on our toes all
the time.

In a couple of days we will be slipping lines for the last race – across
the North Sea to London – the nautical equivalent of the 100m dash! Cannot
really believe that in 4 days it will all be over!

Polish and other size portions

Jamaica has an international mix of crew – which makes for interesting
conversation when it comes to whiling away the hours on watch but something
of a challenge for the victuallers when it comes to buying provisions. Being
a victualler you need to have clairvoyancy on one hand + a thick skin on the
other. Mind-reading because you need to know what people want even when they
haven’t told you + a thick skin because you don’t have an A-level in second-
guessing.

The food on Jamaica – at least for the last two legs – has been nothing short
of amazing given the camping gas stove we have to cook on. At the beginning
it was all planned menus – it’s Thursday therefore it must be chilli mince
sort of thing. But that went out the window + now the victuallers just buy
food + the mothers make what they will with the ingredients. The serving
sizes are international. At mealtimes we have 3 serving sizes – ‘Polish’,
‘regular’ and ‘feeling seasick-size’.

The menu is pretty international too although breakfast is the meal when
national preferences are clung to most determinedly. But when the weather is
cold + wet hot food with a major calorie count is what we look forward to
most + this is where the British love of real puddings comes into its own.
Steamed pudding + custard – can’t be beaten. Cracking pudding Grommet!

We’re nearing the end of Race 15 – 3 hours to the finish line. The North Sea
has repeatedly thrown down the weather challenge gauntlet + we have risen to
each change. This morning clinging to the high rail it was like sitting in an
eerie looking down on the vertical drop that was the deck. Now the wind has
dropped + once more we are trundling along at 7 knots still trying to eke
what we can out of what’s left of the wind. Still trying very hard not to be
the 12th boat – Africa + Quingdao still ahead of us for the catching.

Sailing the shipping forecast

It’s a sort of weird thing sailing through the different areas of the
shipping forecast – some of the areas are named after physical features you
can see + some are named after features that you cannot. When you say the
names in your head the names of the adjacent areas follow – like a
mantra. The shipping forecast is one of those givens – it is almost part of
what makes up the national psyche.

Sailing past Malin Head coming into Derry – like ‘Wow, that’s Malin Head’ +
you know where you are in the roll-call of names. But right now we are
about to sail over Dogger Bank + there may well be something here to but
you cannot see it.

But one thing is sure the wind + the weather are a tadge variable out here
on Dogger Bank so maybe that’s why it features large on the list. The wind
is building 20 knots plus, we’ve just put reef 1 back in because the
forecast suggests that the plus might well be quite a lot more.

So it is back to life on the incline. Now that we are all wearing foulies +
lots of layers people are tending to hang their clothes by their bunks (for
easy access) but the net result is that getting to the Nav Station now is
like fighting your way through the wardrobe attempting to find Narnia at
the other end. Life is back to survival mode only.

Something around 200 miles to go to the finishing line. The wind is south-
westerly – here’s hoping that it holds without backing too much as that will
give us a straight run to the line. Oh and wind gods, not too much please -
just a regular helping of wind. Thank you.

The new sport of sail-climbing

Weather on Race 15 seems to come in two flavours – not enough or too much
wind. We have had samplings of both – but unfortunately for our race
performance we’ve spent rather too much time with not enough.

After a brilliant start in Derry (if I am allowed to be everso slightly
self-congratulatory) Jamaica sailed straight into light winds where we
turned west and everybody else turned east and there we sat with everybody
else sailing off. There was wildlife to keep us company – puffins (who look
like they need to learn to fly), dolphins (doing their magic on our spirits
as always) and on several occasions pods of small whales (not pilot whales
this time but others on account of the shape of the dorsal fins). Each
siting rallied our hopes but really – given the shortness of this race -
what we really wanted to be doing was racing. It is easy to get a taste for
being at the front.

We finally left the Atlantic with storms forecast + winds building. It was
on this change-over that I got to do mother duty again + discovered the new
sport of sail climbing. The boat sails while I monkey over the units
helping my bunk-buddy in the galley to construct crew meals. The layout in
the boat is certainly designed by + for taller people than me – everything
seems just out of my reach + that is even more so when the boat is heeled
over in gusting 40 knots winds. Not so much mast-monkey as galley-gibbon.

And here we are in the North Sea trundling along at around 10 knots oil rig
platforms scattered around the horizon + heading down the Scottish east
coast before turning east ourselves towards out destination. A beautiful
sunny day with a nip in the air – so definitely keep warm weather. Who
wouldn’t want to be sailing when it’s like this?

On our way

Yesterday was one of those days when it couldn’t have got much better.

The Clipper fleet had an amazing send-off from Derry cheered on by crowds
of thousands + a flotilla of little boats + yachts accompanying us out to
race start at Greencastle – a heart-swelling, eyeing-welling gesture from a
community so generous yet in the past so riven.

The Red Arrows – who never fail to impress – put on an aerobics display
before race start for our benefit while we in our boats failed to maintain
our line in the face of true awesomeness + the stiff breeze.

The sighting of puffins for all the part looking as comical as fake-fur
toys. A first for me (+ there have been so many on this adventure).

The race start which we could not have timed better – over the line
towards the front + holding our own amongst a fleet of 12 magnificent boats
sailing not quite in close formation but close hauled, heeled over + doing
our utmost.

And then the sailing throughout the end of the day – close hauled and
ripping along in the wind, tide + the wintry sunshine. Skip summed up our
feelings of collective pride when the evening sched came in with the
comment:

‘Well I can safely say we are well and truly in the lead’. (Not that we
were minding you understand!)

Yesterday was great – and today is still great but it is deja vue and we
are still near the front of the fleet except that we have been joined by a
wind hole. And here we wallow just south of St Kilda’s Rock, offering
teabag libations over the side to the wind gods that the winds will fill in
+ once again we can get on with our sailing with a bit of winning thrown in
there just for good measure.

The result

The result of the race across the Atlantic is that we came 5th. Three and a
half thousand miles and 5 miles (give or take a little bit) separated the
top six boats – half a mile separated Jamaica from PSP – 5th from 3rd -
that’s how close it was but not as close as Jamaica from GB (5th from 6th)
which was 3 boat lengths. We gave it our best.

Now we’ve stopped racing we are all friends again – radio contact +
congratulations between skippers + both PSP + Garmin coming along side to
swap gifts (siggies + sweeties!). And now the engines are on + we are all
motoring for Derry eta Monday approximately 18 hours from now, our minds
already on what we will be doing in Derry – touch rugby is muted for Friday
evening (2 girls compulsory in each team), boaty stuff + a lot of the chaps
going in for a lot of drinking.

My thoughts – for me it was great to be part of a crew, a group of people
really pulling together. At the end it was really tense. The adrenaline was
really racing even though there was nowhere to go! For the last watch of
the race we all of us just sat there on the foredeck, not talking, just
willing the wind to hold + the boat ever forward faster than PSP who were
right there beside us.

It was a good effort + 5th place just doesn’t say how very, very close it
was.

Couldn’t be closer

It is 10:48. One hour and 12 minutes until the finish of the race – and we
are neck + neck with PSP. We can eyeball them half a mile away over our
port side at 9 o’clock. Garmin are a mile ahead at 10 o’clock + GB are 3
miles away at 8 o’clock. It just couldn’t be closer ….

We have sailed our socks off – done everything legal we can think of to
make the boat go just that half a knot faster. This morning I did my bit +
volunteered for mother duty clearing up instead of Brian on the grounds
that my weight on the lower rail would register tiddly-squat against
Brian’s mass + talent which are far better applied to sailing than
cleaning.

There have even been jokes about modifications that are off the limits -
taking the yellow brick from the back to the front of the boat + harnessing
a tame dolphin to put in a sprint finish for us!

We collectively have done our very best – the crew are all on super watch
lining the lower rail + willing the boat to go faster.

11:03 … 57 minutes to go. Go Jamaica!!!!

Somebody cancelled the night!

Today is the longest day of the year. Last night it didn’t get dark – which
actually made surviving night watch almost enjoyable with a fantastic
extended orange sunset/dawn from around midnight to four-thirty in the
morning when a slip of a neon orange sun broke the horizon. No druidic
rituals – just sat on the rail admiring the light, dressed to keep warm in
full foully attire.

Racing over the last couple of days has been a collection of frustrations +
joys for the crew. The boat’s computer fell over + in the absence of
weather forecasts the skipper decided to beat east (as it turned out
unnecessarily) an action that cost us the lead. But never daunted the
crew (after a collective moan – we are not that saintly) have pulled to +
have done our jolly best to catch up with the leaders. We currently (on the
last sched) lie 3rd – a commendable effort + a great feeling of team
effort. But then sailing is like that … trying to second guess the
weather.

Only another 24 hours + we will have finished our race across the Atlantic.
The race director has decided that the ‘winner’ will be the nearest boat to
a way mark off the Irish coast – so all boats are currently determinedly
racing towards that point. It is very tight at the front of the fleet -
‘Citing!’ as my son Harry used to say.  We are in with a shout ~ 8 miles
behind the current lead boat. All to play for – whoever wrote this film
script has made it jolly interesting!

I can hardly believe that we have almost sailed across the Atlantic. My
great fear was that we would meet with one of those notorious storms of
which the Atlantic is famed. But thankfully ours has been a randomly moving
high weather system for company. It has made the voyage one to be enjoyed.
And that is the point – it is not the destination (or the result) but the
glory of the ride.

Busy morning

Woken at 3:30 this morning to come on watch to 25+ knots of wind, a heavily
heeled boat + a monochrome dawn. Before I had even woken up we were putting
in reef 1 – me on topping lift + setting up reef 1 so plenty of grinding to
get me warmed up in the face of biting cold. Reef 1 in – less sail area -
but no less tilt on deck. Me still hanging in there propped between the
coffee grinder (feet) + winch (bum) hunkered down looking the part in my
foulies to see through the time between dawn + breakfast – mind in
suspended animation just taking in the amazingness of a 360 degree horizon
+ then a flotilla of large whales (sperm whales?) spouted passed. Like how
amazing is that! Seeing whales just makes your whole day.

At 8:00 when we came off watch for breakfast + our ‘long’ sleep of the day
we were still tanking along at 10+ knots, the sched showing we had done
over 40 nm in the last 4 hours – so good going even though a little tough
on the body. This is racing, the boat alive + twitching – a feeling of ‘job
done’ satisfaction amplified by the whale sighting feel good factor.

Now it is lunchtime – I never manage to sleep my full quota of long sleep
as my system seems these days to be programmed to 3 hour snatches – and
the wind has all but died. The other watch are on + as I type the wind
seeker (largest + lightest of the spinnakers) is being hoisted in the vague
hope of utilising what little propulsive power might still be out there.

Well we are back on watch after lunch – it is slightly strange but we do
seem to be the ‘lucky’ watch when it comes to wind – so let’s hope that our
luck kicks in this afternoon. That would make today a definitely good day.