Escape from Mother Watch

It is Monday morning – welcome on board Jamaica.

I am sitting here in the Nav Station with Skip Pete and fellow newby crew
member Jenny sitting behind me studying SeaPro (the on-board navigation
information system) poised to start the first ocean sprint of Race 11 – and
we’re off! Not that it will be too much of an actual ‘sprint’ – the wind
speed is 6 knots at present but that is 6 knots better than nothing and we
are definitely making the best of the conditions we have so ‘Go Jamaica’.

The conditions on board are what might be described as ‘hot’ (actually
‘distressingly hot’) – yesterday was an absolute scorcher with an cloudless
blue sky + temperatures that make you feel you are melting (especially if
you are on Mother Duty).

Being a troglodyte (ie. on Mother watcher – doing the cooking + general
housework) is like being in a sauna for 24 hours. The highlight however is
that you are allowed a shower – my first for 9 days! My shower was bliss +
I was tempted to stand in the ‘heads’ (toilet) + just let the water
evapourate on its own to cool the temperature of my skin. However, as it
was the middle of the night instead I went up + sat on deck + just
luxuriated in the feel of the cool air without all that condensed sweat
which makes you feel like the sticky strip on the back of a post-it.

During the day the view is one of empty blue skies and an empty darker blue
sea. It is SeaPro and the ‘schedules’ (position reports) every 6 hours –
and the intermittent sighting of Mission Performance (CV23) on the horizon
a day or two ago – that tells us we are racing. But racing we are. We are
doing our very best to squeeze whatever can be squeezed out of the wind –
long may it remain our constant companion! Our race tactics will have to
remain a mystery (because they are to me!) – but suffice to say that on the
schedule from yesterday evening we were ever so slightly gob-smacked to
find ourselves being rated as in the lead. Jelte’s (data whiz, experienced
sailor + fellow Leg 7 joiner) sophisticate + probably more realistic chart
has us coming third.

This morning the slight haze + thin cloud-cover has rendered the
temperature more bearable –  although still a balmy 33 Degrees C in the Nav
Station. There is another clipper boat on the horizon, well just the top of
their mast really – Garmin maybe?/GB? – Chad (fellow crew newby) + Pete are
sitting here studying our progress. ‘Citing! Are we progressing faster than
the competition? When should we gybe next? Couldn’t tell you!

However for me the highlight of the morning definitely has to go to the pod
of 50 of so dolphins who were gambling + generally enjoying life around our
bows. The international judges definitely awarded top marks to the dolphin
who executed a magnificent leap well out of the water with five twists + a
perfect entry. Makes you glad to be alive.

… meanwhile those 90 miles of our ocean sprint are being eaten away.

Boot-over-board and more Boobies – Day 8

As we progress southward and towards the Mexican coast there has been a
very noticeable increase in the temperature.

This morning at 6am the temperature was perfect – the silver path across
the sea to a rising sun + a continuing breeze to keep us heading south,
with a bit more wind, would have been perfect. By 8am it was definitely hot
+ suddenly the preferred place to be on the boat was on the foredeck in the
shadow of ‘the Yeti’ – the C1, lightest of the kites, so named because it
is large and white and up until now seldom seen.

I hadn’t mentioned that we had been on the look-out for a single Dubarry
boot that had gone walk-about. Well in the early hours of this morning it
was seen (if not technically found) when the C1 was launched – as the kite
inflated it spat poor Alex’s rather expensive boot flamboyantly into the
sea. Sorry, no man over boards for boots – even rather expensive ones. So
boot found + lost in an instant.

Foulies + cold weather gear have now definitely relegated to the past,until
that is that we brave the Atlantic on Leg 8. But from now on we are in the
sauna zone and any rain shower (except a squall maybe which are horrid +
cold) greeted with shampoo on deck (in-boat showers are rationed).

Sun cream + plenty of fluids are the order of the day. I have never been
one for cosmetics and right now smothered in anti-UV feel well + truly
basted. Shower rationing means that baby wipes are our salvation on the
keeping clean front … although there is no salvation for my sandals which
hum so badly that I am amazed they haven’t gone off on their own + must
surely be banned under the Geneva convention on biological weapons …

The wildlife has also gone tropical + we are now in the zone of the flying
fish – which as they skit and fly low across the surface of the sea look
like silver fairies in the sunlight but I am told that in reality they can
be up to 9 inches long + smell appallingly which is bad news when they hit
you. I find wildlife fascinating – if they didn’t exist who would have
dreamt-up flying fish?

Today we also saw more Boobies in fact quite a few pairs of boobies who
swooped around the boat like they were coming in to size us up – then
adjourned for a committee meeting on the sea surface a little way off to
our starboard before one last fly past + then disappearing off. Wonder what
the collective noun for a load of boobies is?

With the setting of the sun the temperature has returned to pleasantly warm
 so both watches ate supper together on deck – tasted nice, couldn’t see it
mind but yummy anyway. As the only veggie I’m the pain-in-the-neck on the
catering front – cannot read the victualler’s mind, probably just as well
when the tofu went missing.

Off for some sleep now in readiness for star gazing on the midnight to 4am
slot.

Yoga + Life jackets don’t mix!

Yoga + life jackets don’t mix – that is the conclusion I have come to. To
keep myself awake over the night watches I have tried doing yoga – only
positions involving lying down or firm contact with the deck mind you –
downward dog + other stuff is right out for weirdo + balance reasons.

Apart from sleep deprivation there are a few positives to being on deck at
night – with no light pollution the star density in the sky is just mind-
blowing. It is possible to believe that if it were just a tadge darker (we
sail with our steaming light on which is against the rules but does allow
us to monitor the kite for indications of collapse) then the whole sky
would be filled to brimming with stars.It is also cooler at night!

My body is beginning to get the hang of the watch system + I find I am now
waking up automatically half an hour before I am due on deck. The
watch system works thus: the crew is divided in two watches and you are
either sailing or asleep. Change over occurs at midnight, 4am, 8am, 2pm or
8pm – thus there are 5 time periods so it is only alternate days that you
get the dreaded graveyard slot of midnight to 4am. The other time slots
have perks like dawn and mealtimes to keep you feeling you’re a happy
camper. The nights are getting warmer as we head south but as yet cooling
sea breezes don’t quite make-up for the sleep deprivation but I suspect as
it gets more + more humid this view might just change. However for the
moment 3 hours is not really enough time for quality sleep + all of the
crew are subject to vivid + disturbing dreams!!

Today has been another hot + cloudless day. We continue south with the boat
bowling in the swelling and driven by a constant breeze. The demise of the
wind is an ever constant threat. The view is a completely empty study in
blue – blue sky, blue sea.

Highlight of the morning was me helming – concentration on max (but really
pleased with myself + approving comments from the skip!)- the swell and
roll of the boat making steering a constant course something of a
challenge. At about 10am Henri Lloyd (CV21) passed 500m in front of our
bows. Given how EMPTY the ocean is, it would be slightly ironic  to have a
collision especially with Jamaica on the port tack (no right of way).

Other highlights – a large green turtle chillaxing on the surface passed to
our port + we had a fly-pass from a Boobie (gannet-like
seabird). Both impressive but still holding out for those whales.

We didn’t quite make it! – Day 6

Well the bottom line is/was that we didn’t make it to the scoring gate at
the front of the fleet – only the first three boats score. The reason(s):
not an aggressive enough sail plan early on in the race, we deferred gybing
 hoping to sail in on the same tack (and consequently sailed into a light
wind pocket so lost ground), basically we got the race plan wrong.

It was Port Watch (my watch) on duty in the early hours of this morning and
we had been quite chipper and up-beat up to the moment at 5 am when we
intercepted a communication from OneDLL to Derry (who were second) asking
for confirmation of who had passed through the gate. Oh well, we tried. We
were a bit down after that – but at those hours of the morning when you are
completely sleep deprived you grasp at anything to keep a positive outlook
on existence.

Dawn came in a grey + overcast – a rather ‘British’ morning in fact with
the sea looking very metallic in the cloud-filtered light. But then we saw
a pod of about 50 dolphins feeding at a little distance from the boat + we
were circled by some unknown seabird + life seemed a whole lot better as
the sun peeped out between the clouds. Forget the scoring gate – we are
making for the next bit of the race.

Watch change over is at 8am when everybody materialises on deck for the
night’s summary round-up from the skipper. A moment longed for by the night
watch because by this time you are beyond exhausted – except I didn’t make
it + fell asleep with 15 minutes to go. Everybody left me asleep + the up-
shot was a public dressing down from the skipper which I of course
deserved. Have resolved at the next svart moot to ask the others to wake me
up rather than be left for public humiliation.

It is lunchtime now and if we haven’t passed into the tropics we are pretty
close – the temperature has really soared + we are down to tropical kit +
life-jackets. The wind has gone all summery + relaxed too (as expected
sadly) + the lightest kite – the C1 – is now launched + the boat is ambling
along still rocking + rolling down the swell.

We’ll be off the coast of Mexico shortly. Still hoping for that illusive
wildlife to make the day just that little bit more special.

Plain Sailing – Day 5

Came on watch this morning to a cloudless sapphire blue sky and a deep blue
sea and a good constant wind coming in from the north – perfect conditions,
especially the wind bit. The wind is forecast to ease but lets hope that it
holds. The skipper reckons we are about a day out from the scoring gate. It
is difficult to say how exactly we are doing. Simply looking at the SeaPro
chart says we are 6th but all the boats are converging on the scoring gate
from different angles – so we might be 2nd or we might be 6th. But what we
do know is that we are eating the miles out of the lead the other boats
have/had over us + there is a very positive feeling that this time we are
in with a good chance.

Haven’t really seen too much in the way of marine wildlife so far but
yesterday afternoon a pod of dolphins came to surf our wake and then
another pod a little later on. Dolphins seem to extract such joy from life
– diving and jumping and crossing in the spume from the bows. There they
were along side us – a real wow! moment. Then we saw a lone albatross-like
bird skimming the surface of the sea with just consummate ease – somebody
said it was a Californian Petrol. Actually none of the crew really knew
what the bird was, but it matters not, it was majestic anyway.

This morning we had another surprise – a light littering of dead squid on
the deck. Perhaps driven there by the dolphins? So we did dead-squid-
clear-up duty and the inky patches and the corpses are now gone – although
I suspect there might be unpleasant surprises waiting when we finally re-
hoist the yankee and staysail sails currently parked on the foredeck. Funny
things squid – grey gelatinous creatures about 6 inches long with a raster
of tentacles at one end – if they didn’t exist could you make them up?

We are on a course that will take us closer to the coast – all of us are
willing that we will see more whales. Funny what becomes a priority when
you are at sea.

Radar Watch

It is gone 2 o’clock in the morning and I am sitting in the Nav Station
keeping the radar monitor company on the look out for rain squalls.

The trouble with rain squalls is that they materialise rather quickly, come
with high winds + a plummet in air temperature, cause a lot of damage to
the sails and then disappear in the direction of travel just as quickly.
Rain squalls are not good news.

The watch system – 4 hours on duty, 4 hours off(i.e. asleep)- throughout
the night leaves you pretty exhausted, so although 30 minutes on radar
watch gets you out of the chill of being on deck, it brings new challenges
of its own – staying awake when because of the warmth all you want to do is
go to sleep.

Feel quite hazy + cannot think straight on account of the tiredness but
must stay awake.

Thankfully still nothing on the radar.

Downwind Sailing and Kites

For the last three days it has been down wind sailing. Right now we have C2
the medium weight kite hoisted and Jamaica is plunging and twitching with
the swell which while not small is manageable. It is the most strange
sensation, surreal even – it really does feel like Jamaica is alive. The
sense of power in the boat manifesting as groans and shutters and ever
forward motion.

We are holding our position against Old Pulteney who materialised on the
horizon as the sun set yesterday and are currently behind us off our port
stern. When you can see the opposition it sort of makes the race real. We
are going well – 14 knots. It feels like we are racing and that feels good.

The wind having been relatively constant (from the NW/NNW) life has been
relatively plain sailing as we need to travel south. The most we have had
to do so far is hoist and occasionally change the spinnaker we are using –
medium weight (C2)/heavy weight (C3)- depending on the conditions.

Kite changes are a whole new area of quarts and pint pots – the sails are
very large and the area inside the boat not so, which makes for some very
interesting logistics and a lot of sweating! Spinnakers are ‘woolled’ –
tied into long sausages with knitting wool ties every meter along their
length – this is to make for easy launching. The halyard and sheets are
attached and as the sail goes up it bursts open and fills with wind
instantly – extremely impressive when done correctly. Getting these sails
down either into the sail locker hatch or through ‘the letter box’ and into
the galley is something else. All the watch are on hand to pull-in or
receive the sail to stop it collapsing into the water + under the boat (not
good). Action is frantic and when done well you really feel like you have
worked as a team. Once down it then befalls the receivers to re-wool the
sail – which given the areas in question is a hot and arduous task – pack
it away in the sail bag ready for the next launch. Being little I am one of
the receivers – you will probably think me nuts – but I really felt proud
this morning watching the C2 go out, the sail I had spent 2 hours earlier
this morning woolling. Personal victories are small but significant.

So here we are 28 degrees N/ 119 degrees W and making our way to the first
racing gate. The boats are relatively close-packed there being only 20
miles across the whole fleet, but right now we can only see OP.

Got to get there fast and first if we are going to score so we are no
longer just sailing but racing.

Sailing at Last

Race start day was Saturday 19th April. Absolutely perfect weather for the
occasion – bright blue skies with a stiff westerly so all boats started
with the first reef in their mainsail.

Clipper 70s are pretty impressive boats when you see them on their own but
to see 12 of them tight-tacking round the start line like a shoal of
sharks was just something else.

Then we were off – a heart-swelling moment as 12 racing yacht, all healed
over + squeezing everything out of the wind, headed out to sea under the
Golden Gate Bridge.

We had been promised tight-tacking, up wind sailing + that was what we got.
The deck seemingly vertical with the bottom rail slicing through the water.
The feeling was nothing short of exhilarating and Jamaica seemingly
alive, as she quivered under the power of the sails and sliced her way out
to sea.

However the high-light of the first day’s sailing has to be the sighting of
two humpback whales who came up along side the boat to blow and then dive,
the largest of the two doing that tail-salute farewell flourish thing that
whales do. Just Wow!

I was on mother duty first off – the nautical term for being ship’s cook
and general skivvy – so didn’t get to see much more of the sailing until I
resurfaced for air (hot inside the gallery) and by then we were sailing
down wind with the kite up + travelling at a presentable 12 knots.

Pure freedom. It has been down wind sailing for the last two days and we
are slowly working our way up through the fleet; GB is in sight on the
horizon and we hope to have overhauled her by day’s end.

The stiff winds have eased a little over the first two days so there is
less bucking from the boat making for an easier, although slightly slower,
ride. However, we are working on the speed bit.

And the weather could not have been better – sunshine + azure blue skies
during the day and a black star-studded sky with a Gouda cheese moon at
night; the sea a kaleidoscope of different blues to match. And wind – so
far a plentiful supply of that!

The day before tomorrow

Today was a day of heavy duty prepping in readiness for race departure for tomorrow. Prepping means getting everything but just everything ready – winches repaired, sails mended, dodgy kit replaced/fixed, food loaded, the works.

You probably just wouldn’t believe the amount of food 20 people are estimated to be able to consume in 6 weeks … and the logistics of storing that much food in a racing yacht with virtually no storage.

Today it’s packing … tomorrow the world.

Jamaica mid prep - the chaos just unbelievable

Jamaica mid prep – the chaos just unbelievable

Confined to barracks

Today is a sort of limbo day. A beautifully fresh Californian spring day with azure blue sky but a limbo day never the less as there is nothing constructive I can do to further the preparations for getting Jamaica race-ready for Saturday. Prepping is tomorrow, today Jamaica is out helping recruit potential crew for the next race in 2015-16.

I am definitely at a loose end; supposedly repacking my bag but doing just about anything else except leave the apartment instead.

It is interesting to see just who has signed up to take part in this race – there’s a definite type or series of similar types. I don’t think I’m alone in making this observation. Wes’ view (fellow Leg 7 sailor on Jamaica) is that there are two types – those who are reinventing themselves + those who don’t feel tested by their current existence.

There are four of us sharing this apartment. Four old ladies (in other people’s eyes) imminently about to embark on something none of us have done before – sufficiently alike it would seem that others get us confused. Which of Wes’ types would you put each of us in?

This morning we were discussing being ‘old’ + the inconveniences it brings – lack of physical agility, lack of physical strength etc. What it doesn’t bring is any decreased desire to be challenged or have adventures. The downside of this is an increasing divergence between aspiration + achievability. There is the odd up-side to being an old lady too we concurred – reduction of body hair being one, so eyebrows become thinner (an aspiration of youth) – unlike being a chap where you develop rampant gerbils on the front of your face and out your nostrils and ears (not a good look).

The odd downside is when your erstwhile flat mate has a senior moment + goes off for the day with all the keys leaving her compatriots keyless + thus unable to leave + re-enter the building. Thus I have volunteered to be confined to barracks, and dear reader pack in readiness for departure since our bags will be loaded at the end of prepping tomorrow.