Race 13 – welcome home (July 28/ day 7)

Last day. Last race.
My delight at the prospect of coming home (although I don’t actually have a home to come to) is tinged with more than a hint of sadness. By lunchtime today my Race of Their Lives will be over. Days on the boat, days when anything could happen, days when everything did happen, days of torrid temperatures (too hot mostly but the too cold wasn’t too much fun either), days of yeeha! sailing, days of great companionship, days of windhole wollowing (although those felt more like years!), days of hope, days of dispair, days of delight at seeing seabirds, whales, dolphins, turtles, flying fish, squid, rainbows, days surfing the waves under spinnaker power, nights gazing at the night sky and being blown away by the stars … all of that will be at an end.
But right now we have a race to take part in … except our engine has failed and we can’t make it up to the line for the le mans start. But it matters not. Ours is simply the glory of the ride home with the added bonus of not getting wiped out by either the conditions or another boat.
Winds of gale force 9 have been forecast for today and true to the prediction it is pretty blowy out there. Mains are reefed and small yankees brought up for hoisting.
We survive the sprint up the Mersey. It’s an adrenaline-fuelled ride. Certainly punchy and very much on the incline. Conditions are spicy and for us there is nothing at stake so we sail conservatively.
And then once passed the reverse-parking Royal Princess cruise liner we are outside the Royal Albert Dock complex. We can see the crowds but they are too far away so we wave enthusiastically in their general direction and wonder if they can see us.
It is truly heartwarming to see my family and old Clipper friends. The day then accelerates fast forward into prize giving and then we are free to go … discharged back into civilian life.
In the end Qingdao came 3rd in the overall race. A very creditable result and our skipper Chris Kobusch deserves all credit for a safe and very well considered campaign. But the big news of the day was that it was a girls’ one, two. Sayna Serenity Coast with Wendy Tuck just four points in front of Visit Seattle under the command of Nikki Henderson.
Actually in the end it felt like we had all won. There aren’t too many days when you can actually say,
‘I have just come back from sailing round the world!’

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Race 13 – the final day (July 27/day 6)

The final day of race 13 … tensions are high!
We are still at the front of the fleet but CV20 Liverpool and CV22 Garmin are not so many miles behind. We have been in this position before … leading the fleet into the closing stages of a race and then find ourselves taken out by a wind hole only to limp in behind the new leaders now a little way down the rankings. If hope alone could power our boat then we would be doing Mach 2!
Up on watch at midnight to a full moon in a dark sky with occasional scudding clouds. But the clouds clearly feel underappreciated and make their presence felt by amassing into a brooding ceiling that occults the moon and the subsequent dawn so the end of our race is conducted in Irish Sea monochrome.
Still making good speed but then Liverpool and Garmin are matching us so no let-up! It’s in and out of the nav station to almost constantly monitor progress … do watched kettles boil? We have an hour – or there abouts – of sailing north on the Code 2 before hanging a right round the Skerries way point and then on the beam sailing to the finish.
Then nightmare – the comms system and the sat phone go down. No communication with the outside world. Oh no! We are still making good progress and Time Zero predicts that we will arrive at the finish before Clipper’s preferred appointed time of 17:00 … Will the course be extended? What if they extend the course and we don’t find out? Is ignorance a defense against being disqualified? Oh no! Oh no! Everso slight minor panic!!!! But then the comms returns and with no news of a race extension the finish remains the finish and we set our sights on getting there as quickly as possible.
As we approach Skerries down comes the Code 2 and up goes the Yankee. After a year – well nearly – of sailing round the world we are getting pretty slick at these headsail changes. And with the yankee comes life at a heel … and we all suddenly remember why we like sailing under spinnaker and why up-wind sailing isn’t our favourite. But only 20 miles to go! We only have 20 miles and we will have won Race 13! Then with 10 miles to the finish our worst nightmare – the wind dies. Race 10 deja vue! One of us must have done something pretty bad in a previous life!
Action stations! When trimming has no impact on our speed down comes the yankee and up goes the windseeker. And true to it’s name the wind sort of returns in a half-hearted way and we sail on all the time keeping an eye over our shoulder on Liverpool and Garmin who have now materialise over the horizon.
Then finally it’s countdown to the finish line … where we cross in style and in first place. A fitting end to a well sailed Race 13 and CV29’s campaign sailing round the world.
Tomorrow we sprint race down the Mersey. It will be fun, it will be hairy … eye-balling the opposition. It will be great to watch! An adrenaline-fuelled grand finale to the 17/18 Clipper Round the World Race. We will give it our very best shot.

I would like to thank and congratulate our Skipper — Chris Kobrusch – for leading Qingdao to a series of victories and seeing us safe through numerous adventures.
I would like to thank the many Qingdao crewmates who helped make this last year such a memorable one.
And I would especially like also to thank the friends and my family and the various well-wishers I have met on this journey who have cheered and supported from the sidelines and in doing so have also contributed to making this the Race of my Life.

Race 13 – taking the lead (July 26/ day 5)

On deck to the most amazingly hot sunny day and CV20 Liverpool a half mile ahead off our starboard bow. The hunt has been on since we rounded the Scilly’s way marker but now we are in for the metaphorical kill.
The conditions are good – a bit of surf and we are sailing at a good speed. The anticipation onboard can be cut with a knife and spread on toast. We are making good ground and in a very short while we draw level … but as in all the wildlife documentaries the quarry is not keen to succumb and Liverpool matches our speed for a while … and then we pull passed.
But taking the lead is not winning the race! We now need to consolidate our position by extending the distance between us and the rest of the fleet.
Passed experience has taught us that wind holes are no respecters of hard-won leads or reputations and any of the following pack would happy overhaul us if they could catch us! But that is not the plan!! We have sailed this race really competitively, with quite a lot of dedication and with as much seamanly precision as our talent level will allow … We still have 160 nautical miles to go and CV22 Garmin have just hoved over the horizon!
We’re sailing well. The levelness of the deck – the great up-side of spinnaker sailing – belies the speed we are actually achieving which is confirmed by regular visits to the nav station where the ship’s computer confirms we are indeed extending our lead. We are happy, possibly a tadge smug … but not complaisant and definitely still very competitive!
The up-beatness of the day is then finally taken to new heights by the visitation of two pods of exuberant, high jumping dolphins. The sunlight through the water allowing us the delight of seeing them under as well as above the surface. Even after all this time and after seeing so many another pod – or even one dolphin – never ever fails to delight.
There is something totally magical about dolphins!

Race 13 – so tight it takes your breath away (July 25/day 4)

Up on deck to sunshine and a blue sky marbled by mares’ tail clouds. The sea is a magestic shade of military blue dotted with white horses and the boat is bucking and weaving across the waves – it’s a rodeo ride!
Off our port bow is Liverpool and immediately behind us Garmin. Other boats, identifiable as white triangles in the sunlight, are dotted across the sea behind us towards the horizon. We are all sailing south towards the Fastnet waymarker on the south-westerly edge of the course but none of us can make the mark so when to tack? This is racing!
It’s exciting! CV29 is doing well but we cannot tell how well as the fleet positions change with every tack. Then Garmin tacks west and the boats behind follow but we elect to continue south. Which of us will get to the mark first? We cannot tell from this point in time … we are making good headway so we continue south for another while before we too peal west followed by Liverpool now behind off our port quarter.
Position reports when they come in look good. If the wind holds it’s direction we have set ourselves up very well. A tack to clear the Fastnet mark and we’ll be away across the southern end of the course … but that’s getting ahead of ourselves!
All this excitement though is tinged with a little sadness – 3 more days and the adventure will draw to a close … but that is getting ahead myself also.
For now it is very much staying in the moment – alert to the actions of the other boats, sail trimming, getting the most out of the conditions as we find them, then trying to get some sleep without being thrown out of your bunk when off watch.
These are the moments that adventures are made of!

Race 13 – another amazing sunrise (July 24/day 3)

On watch at 4am.
For once there is a break in the clouds which reveals the slice of sky above the horizon. Vivid deep orange with two of our nearest rivals silhouetted against the sky. As dawn approaches the sky pales to a washed-out blue when the sun makes its grand entry preceded by a flash of neon green light. So not just a figment of Pirates of the Caribbean imagination … I’ve seen a green flash twice now … dawn and dusk! Make a wish!
We are making reasonable progress down the west coast of Ireland as part of the front pack of boats. No longer in the lead but up there with the front runners the boat feels like it is running well.
Clouds have given way to sunshine so we have been tack, tack, tacking in polychrome today. Still sailing as a pack – boats to our left, right and behind … but none in front! Makes for exciting sailing! Positions vary with the tack but it feels competitive and it feels like we’re doing ok. Making it to the next mark will tell.
Chill sets in with the fading of the daylight and the panorama reverts to monochrome but there are dolphins high-jumping and exuberant who swim passed then duck in front of our bow which put smiles on our faces and add a crowning touch to what feels like a good day.

Race 13 – all to sail for (July 23/day 2)

It’s been a really tight race so far. The fleet is sailing like a pack and there is probably no more than 8 miles separating the leaders from those at the back.
Most of the day we have held lead position but it is difficult to tell sometimes because it has been wind on the nose tack, tack, tack, tack along the coast. Most of the fleet appears to have stayed close to shore, a few of the boats have gone out a bit deeper. As I type we are sailing out to join the deep water guys to get a better tacking angle round the next compulsory waymarker off the northern end of the island of Mullet (ie middle of the west of Ireland).
It has been pretty action-packed sailing. Tacking every short while and in between dragging the sails to the low side down in the saloon to try and get just that little edge over the others.
We so want this win. It’s a short race … basically hit the front and stay there!
The forecast is for wind on the nose all the way down the west coast, broad reach across the bottom and then down wind up the east coast and into the Irish Sea. We absolutely have to stay in contention because once we’re round the bottom of Ireland the guys at the front will be able to accelerate away east while the back end of the pack are still laboriously tacking their way south. CV29 sails well but she’s not as fast up wind as some of the others …
Earlier on this afternoon the guys out deep sailed into squall clouds and got headed for a while so they were able to make the mark. Not for long but long enough to make up the 5 miles we had on them … right now we are fighting to gain the advantage back.
Don’t think I have ever done mother duty with my life jacket on so I can drop everything and make a guest appearance on deck for the tack … but it is that tense and that tight!
There’s a lot of good tension on the boat. The crew are working together … feels good and the guys who make the fewest mistakes will win the day.

Race 13 – race start (July 22/day 1)

Race 13 is underway.
We left Ireland today much the same way as we had arrived – under dull, grey, overcast skies but with a warm and friendly reception. The difference being that on July 9th there were about 10 locals and the Mayor to greet us – it was climatically grim and late in the evening! – but as we left there was the Mayor but this time joined by what seemed like the whole town all cheering and wishing us well.
Derry has done Clipper proud. And as for Qingdao we shall forevermore be indebted to Primrose especially ‘on the Quay’ for keeping us going in coffees and the most amazing hot chocolates ever!
So a big shout out for Primrose – thank you guys!
The parade of sail done we headed out down the Foyle to the sea and our race start accompanied by a small armada of little boats – everything from a motorised fender via some neat little yachts to an old motor cruiser whose engine was so knackered and producing so much black smoke that anybody would have thought that it was running on coal!
At Greencastle there was another large cheering crowd to see us off … which interestingly made sighting the flagpole at the end of the start line difficult for added excitement. The ‘Where’s the pole? Where’s the pole? Where’s the … Oh! There it is …’ pre-race start nerves sort of excitement.
Race start did not disappoint. Eleven large yachts aggressively tacking and jockeying for advantage in a narrow navigation channel is electrifying to sail and possibly to watch. For us it was a good start. Then just as the fleet was about to clear the estuary the wind died (deja vue Cape Town) and we drifted out ino open sea and headed west/ northwest to clear the various headlands that sequentially materialise into view.
The forecast had been for winds up to 15 knots and moderate seas but that proved somewhat untrue as the winds built rapidly to over 30 knots and we were scrabbling to take down the Code 2, hoist white sails and put a couple of reefs in the main.
The boat was doing that airborne zero g bit with a juddering crash landing into the next wave. Anything that wasn’t nailed down went flying and everybody prone to seasickness was once again contemplating the wisdom of how they had wined and dined the previous evening. Never a dull day eh?

Race 13 – back to Liverpool

Difficult to take it in. Tomorrow is the beginning of the end … the last race back to Liverpool.

Next weekend a year of sailing round the world will be at an end!

Two races.

13.1 is a round Ireland drag race – the boat that makes fewest mistakes will win. No room for fancy tactics – just keep to the rhumb line and sail fast.

13.2 is a sprint up the Mersey!!! Yup crazy … be there to see it! 11 big boats running with the tide belting for the line. Fun to watch even if a little hairy to sail.

Those last little maintenance issues …

Tomorrow we are off again – Race 13 to Liverpool. The competition is incredibly tight at the top. Qingdao are lying joint second along with Seattle, Sanya a mere 14 points ahead of the pair of us …

All to play for! Absolutely no complacency. This morning it was a re-service of the primary winches and a good scrub of the hull … anything to help us on our way.

Deep clean and maintenance

I am never sure if I am surprised by how much the boats get trashed by being sailed across an ocean or by how well they fare if they are treated well and sailed with awareness of the increasing vulnerability of the aging sails etc. Certainly our skipper on Qingdao is a signed up member of the treat the kit with respect club.
Obviously I’ve only sailed under one skipper and on the same boat throughout the race so I don’t know how much other skippers influence the sailing practices of their crew … but other crews do seem to indulge themselves when it comes to detonating their sails – spinnakers in particular! A lot of sail repair goes on!
The end of every race sees two days set aside for (1) the universally reviled but very necessary deep clean and (2) the equally necessary maintenance of all the moving parts. Sails sort of come under maintenance … but sail repair is so important that the job is done by the sail repair team who are gods!
Deep clean. The chemicals probably leave your lungs scarred for eternity … but getting rid of THAT boat smell – the smell of bilges, diesel, rotting veg remnants overlaid with the pungent odour of sweat and unwashed bodies – is a must.
Everything, and that is everything, comes out of the hull to be stacked on the pontoon adjacent so below decks from sail locker to lazerette can be cleaned. And for a brief while there is a clinical cleanliness to the boat, the floors shine white and there is a chlorinated smell to the air … that’s before we all start living there again.
Maintenance. It is amazing – well it is to me – how totally corrosive seawater is. It gets into everything and as sure as sure the everythings from boat winches to clothing zips stop working. Some stop pretty instantly – clothing zips – others more gradually grind to a halt … So equipment like winches get dismantled at the end of each race, the cogs, washers and other parts stored in a washing-up bowl against loss over the side, the bits sluiced down with fresh water and then reassembled with the aid of an exploded diagram. Basically a mix between airfix kit and Ikea furniture assembly … but when finally the casing goes back you mustn’t end up with extra screws. Extra screws are bad and mean start again!
Sail repair mostly takes two forms. The ‘bicycle inner tube’ type patch repair – stick patches over any small holes – and the ‘jigsaw assembly’ repair where all the various pieces of a fragmented sail have to be stitched together to recreate a sail capable of withstanding the relevant breeze for the coding.
Suffice to say our sail repair team (Bernd & Ak) and the large number of helpers do an amazing job. Well done and thank you guys!