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.

1000 miles – one hell of a tack

Yesterday it was all overcast, grey + cold + the crew were looking the part
in our wet weather weather gear, florescent yellow hoods pulled down + face
visors pulled up against the cold + weather – looking for all the world
like a series of Darth Vadas manning the deck.

Today has been sunny but that crystal clear winter light of sunshine
without a hint of warmth – the solution to which is to wear – Russian
doll-like – every single item of clothing I have with me. You would never
believe what a work-out it is wearing your entire wardrobe!

We have been sailing hard all day with the Code 2 spinnaker up trying to
out-run both the weather + the others in the fleet. Throughout the morning
I was on coffee-grinder/winch duty letting the spinnaker sheet out and in
as requested by the helm. Not the most testing of crew duties but I would
rather that than just be sitting on the high rail as intelligent ballast.
In fact given we have been on the same tack all day ballast duty hasn’t
even required intelligence just being there has been enough.

The weather/wind pattern means that we are skirting the edge of a wind hole
with the expectation that we will be headed later this evening. Our
response will be to turn north for the last 1000 miles to the finish – a
1000 mile beat! Maybe I should start taking the seasickness tablets now!

Monochrome days

It would seem that the time of wearing shorts is behind us as the air has a
definite nip + the crew as one has reverted to wearing layers of
clothing under our foulies. This has the down side of taking forever to get
dressed before coming on watch + a certain about of bad temper about being
in each other’s way.

Mind you ‘personal space’ is a relative notion. When living in close
quarters as we do personal space is tantamount reduced to internal
inspection because that ‘no contact’ rule so carefully observed on land is
impossible to achieve on boat when you are quite literally always being
thrown together.

Politeness goes out the window too. Space is tight + people get
rather demanding. This has surprised me because I would have thought
co-operation (especially when trying to struggle into our impossibly
difficult to get on foulies) would have been more the order of the day.
Funny to see how some people behave when under duress.

Well, we did it. At 20:33 (local time) last night we passed through the
scoring gate front of the fleet to collect our three points. A brief cheer
then we carried on sailing same as before.

With 1400-odd miles to go we are now over half way – now that’s worth
smiling about. The sponsors have told us there is a bottle of Bushmills for
the first Irish person ‘home’ + since only Derry + ourselves have Irish
crew that sort of makes it a bit of a grudge match.

Luckily we have avoided icebergs. Not so the others in the fleet + growlers
have been reported. They are the ones that don’t stick out of the water –
but any icebergs is not good news.

Another monochrome morning but as the wind has died a little no white
horses to grace the sea. But more seabirds – brown small albatross-like
ones – who glide effortlessly above the sea surface. Seabirds are amazing –
I thought we would see a lot more – you never see them crash + burn so to
speak. They are so amazingly graceful with their aerial acrobatics. How do
they come to get so good?

We were also joined briefly by a pod of pilot whales. Larger, darker + more
ponderous swimmers that dolphins they bowled along with us for a while. Now
that definitely has to be worth 10 points in the Eye Spy book of what to
look for when doing an ocean crossing. Funny what you remember from being a
kid – the ubiquitous Eye Spy books for keeping you quiet when going on
holiday is a memory that comes back for me.

Going for it

Today has been a monochrome day of grey skies + mountainous slate-grey sea,
the iceberg white/aquamarine of the wave crests + sea-spray being the only
(slightly incongruous) colour in this seascape. We have 25 knots of wind or
there abouts + we are doing our utmost to hang onto the lead. We want those
3 points for going through the scoring gate first and then the 12 points on
offer after that.

If it is going to be this uncomfortable then it might as well be in a good
cause. Derry (CV30) has been challenging us hard – there is nothing like
sailing to victory coming into your own home port. This morning we hoisted
the C3 spinnaker in reply (as against the safer sail plan of yankie +
staysail) + are now making about 13 knots. The air temperature has risen
since yesterday (just) but the crew on deck is still taking a battering +
so we are rotating hourly, each hour half the watch going up to man the
vital ropes to prevent the boat being over-powered. Right now it feels like
we are on a run-away train. As I type it is 26 miles to the scoring gate –
2 hours to the first of our tally of points.

Life definitely feels like it’s on the edge. I wouldn’t say I feel fearful
right now – when things go wrong (and we’ve had a couple of ‘All hands on
deck’ today) I find there is too much to concentrate on (getting the right
lines pulled in/thrown off sort of stuff) to have superfluous worries  of
the ‘what if’ type. I would say I am grimly determined along with every
other member of the crew.

Still a long way to go but a shorter distance than for everybody else in
the fleet that has to be a bonus.

Sick as an (old sea) dog

Another day of mountainous seas + boiling sea-spray + fizzing foam round
the boat as Jamaica lurches + heaves ever eastward towards the finish. Life
on board is far from easy – we are leading the fleet + there we plan to
stay by eking out every last knot out of the conditions we are given.

It will come as no surprise that speed and comfort have a mutually
exclusive relationship with each other. Living life on the edge is
emotionally as well as physically draining – it also generates a fairly
high level of seasickness in the crew.

This time round it has only been incipient low-level nausea for me – maybe
I am getting used to living life inside a tumble drier with added heavy
drenching as big wave after big wave pounds its way over the deck.

Accidents happen. This morning I was thrown from my bunk by a particularly
violent lurch – out from my upper high-side perch where I was sleeping off
watch + unceremoniously letter-box posted over the lea-cloth across the
companion way + into the lower bunk on the other side (a distance + drop of
2m) only waking went I smashed into the back wall of the lower bunk. No
bones broken but I feel like I have been in a car crash. No shirking on the
boat – I am on ‘bruised + battered leave’ for the current watch because of
whiplash to my neck + back but I am back on duty this evening.

It is miserable when you don’t feel well but I’m not feeling sorry for
myself instead I have acquired a sail-tie + plan to make my bunk less
escape-proof the next time I am in it. There are absolutely no plans to
take up diving.

Meanwhile the boat has just covered 43 miles in 3 hours. The air
temperature has plummeted + we can see our exhaled breath. We are working
hard – everybody is grimly determined. Somehow you tell yourself it is all
worth it. Those nerves before the race – because I knew this wasn’t going
to be a walk in the park. But miserably cold + wet as we are inside you
steel yourself to keep going because at the end we can say to ourselves we
gave it all all could.

Things are getting rough.

On watch at 4am to a monochrome sunrise + news from the latest sched that
we have taken the lead.

The wind is still building + throughout the night we have been charging
along at around 11 to 15 knots (a very respectable speed). Jamaica is
alive + quivering + pulsing with energy + driving headlong eastward.

We are back to life on an incline, the end of the boom periodically carving
through the waves sending Icelandic geyser-style plumes of spray over the
helm. The wind scouring away the tops of the waves + sculpting the sea
surface.

We can all feel the boat’s energy. On deck all hell has been let loose + I
am on my way up to help.

Bloody hell that was close!

The last half hour has been frantic. Sailing at is most exciting …

All hands on deck as Jamaica roached (over-powered by the wind + the
boat on its side, mainsail flattened against the sea surface). A ‘bloody
hell’ moment except I did’t think that at the time. When ‘All hands on
deck’ is yelled you just go.

In the nick of time Skip emergency gybed the boat + somehow sucked the
mainsail + boom off/out of the water while the crew fought to collapse the
spinnaker + park it unceremoniously down the sail locker. Sinking a
determined kite full of air takes quite a few people above + below deck.
But after something of a tussle the result: crew 1, code 3 spinnaker (C3)
nil. Everything happens in an instant + in a flurry of action. No time for
extraneous thinking …

Then back on deck to flake + similarly pack away the yankie 2 sail which
was residing on the foredeck as a just-in-case sail.

Ever eastward we are now sailing with staysail + main aloft.

Soaked to the skin – on account of the waves + spray breaking over the
foredeck – I have retired below again as technically I am off watch +
asleep (you can tell) – but after so much action I don’t for the moment
feel that tired. In fact anything but tired – adrenalin racing, porthole-
sized shafts of morning sunlight punctuating the gloom of our sleeping
quarters, sleep isn’t happening at the present.

Going for it

The wind has been building all day + we are sailing our socks off. The boat
has come alive too + you can almost sense the relish as she quivers and
drives forward with the wind + the current. This is racing + the crew is
sailing as a team – we want this result. We want a podium finish.

Each successive sched shows that we are taking miles out of the rest of the
fleet with the two leaders (Switzerland + Derry) just over the horizon +
given favourable winds within striking distance.

All the crew have contributed throughout the day to the hoisting of a role
call of different spinnakers from the wind-seeker this morning via C1 + C2
to the C3 at dusk – the heavier sail in anticipation of forecasted stronger
winds throughout the night.

Sailing is exciting + we have our collective eye on the horizon for when
CV24 + CV30 come into view (+ for the odd stray iceberg + surfacing whale
as we had a hump back surface not 5m off our port this afternoon).

We are in 3rd place on the schedule – the smiles + the willingness to jump
too with the tasks + the trimming (no book reading tonight) says it all.

Long way to go + we’re going for it.