Two days ago we had wind, we were doing well – leading boat – and we all thought that this morning we would be sailing over the finishing line with our first podium win under our belts … we could taste the beer! That was two days ago!
We are coming to the end of day 3 of Race 7 – the leg from Australia north up through the various archipelagoes that are Indonesia and Papua New Guinea and the like to China. More precisely to Sanya (Hainan Island) and then onto our home port of Qingdao.
Race start this time was a little different on account of the Great Barrier Reef and not wanting the 11 remaining boats to shipwreck themselves onto it – one of our number (the now scuppered 12th boat ‘Greenings’) having already run aground just outside Cape Town!
This time the traditional ’round the cans’ race start was a little event in its own right to determine the line-up order of the le mans start of the real Race 7 out in open ocean beyond the GBR.
Round the cans is always fun and adrenaline-fuelled. Real whites of their eyeballs stuff as 11 biggish yachts charge round a smallish triangular course. We came mid-fleet which given our poor start (last over the line because we misidentified where it was!) wasn’t so bad.
It is going to be a long slow race. We are expecting to have to beat the 4500+ miles in an epic 4 weeks race (or best part there of). As always I feel both excitement to be on with the adventure but also a touch of anticipatory fear. In this corner of the globe it is the cyclone season … and if I am being honest my one big fear is to find ourselves overtaken by a big storm.
Twenty hours of motoring brought us all clear of the GBR. It is quite heartening travelling as a flotilla. Impressive on their own the boats look magnificent as a fleet … and even more magnificent with an impressive setting sun behind and island scenery to match.
A le mans start requires the participating boats to line up (under motor) along some arbitrary line in the sea. There is a count-down and away we all go … except in 3 knots of wind it is not very fast – more synchronised drifting than racing.
The compensation for the lack of speed and urgency has been the time to view the ever varying character and colours of the sky. The kaleidoscopic sunrises in the morning and sunsets at night, the moon bright and full (we have had moon shadows across the deck) and when no moon a night sky so intensely dark you feel you can see every star there is and shooting stars in such impressive numbers you just have to make a wish.
This morning the wind finally increased to a respectable 8 knots and we have been showing our sailing metal and slowly but surely we have inched our way towards the front half of the fleet.
It is going to be a tactical race … the most interesting kind to watch (on the race viewer) but the most nail-biting to sail!
Sailing is the easy part of sailing round the world! It is all the other stuff – eating, going to the heads, sleeping, sharing, getting on with people (or not) and the like which make this adventure some of an ordeal. But right now the greatest contributor to quality of the ordeal is the unrelenting heat and humidity. If I were a snowman I would have been no more than a hat, scarf and a nose days ago. The heat but especially the humidity are simply just the worst!
Happy Chinese New Year!
The quality of the sailing is pretty much always determined by the quality/quantity of the breeze. Sure amazing scenery, sunsets and wildlife can turn an ordinary sail into a magic one … but without the breeze it is not so much a sail as a wallow!
After a bit of a shaky start on the wind front the latter part of this race – to date – has been favoured with some pretty decent breezes. There is a lot to be said for trade winds!
It strikes me that racing tactics in a long distance sailing race are not so much about not hitting stuff – which of course is very important! – but about looking at the regular weather predictions which we receive and deciding how much of what the grib files say is total fiction and how much we will actually being sailing through for real.
Weather forecasting seems to be right up there with tea leaf reading for accuracy and factual content. The bad bits of the predictions always seem to be the case … but the 20 knot southeries which will carry us to the front of the fleet a total fiction!
That said we have had a good run of it this race and have been bowling along quite nicely … in fact so nicely we are currently at the front of the fleet and with just over a 1000 nautical miles to the finish line looks like it might be a straight drag race between us, Sanya and PSP.
This afternoon we had a visitor. A brown seabird – blue beak, piercing eyes, orangy feet, rather dinosaur looking I thought. Nobody quite knows what it is. Booby? Gannett? Shag? A GOK? With it’s pointy beak and ducks feet it looks like a diver. Four times it came into land. The last time landing on the helming station driving the previous occupant – Ak who was helming the boat at the time – away. Luckily we have two helming stations!
The weather forecast is not brilliant – a sizable low is building according to the forecast and our trajectories are predicted to collide. Looks like we might be in for a rough ride in a few days.
We have gone into precautionary weather watch – forewarned is forearmed tactics. It is cyclone season here in the Aussie quarter of the southern hemisphere so bad weather cannot entirely ruled out after all.
The last day or two has seen a good number of squalls which bring localised high winds and ice-cold intense rain. The wind aspect of these squalls is either a curse or a blessing depending how much wind we get. Too much and it’s crisis management sails down – especially the kites which aren’t designed to withstand excessive blasts. Just enough and it’s an adrenaline-fuelled foot down on the accelerator for the passage of the squall. Either way we get wet. Getting wet at night is not so fun but getting wet when it is so very hot is nothing short of delicious!
There is nothing ‘medium’ about this sailing race. Either there is too much wind or there is none and likewise with the temperature – rarely is it in the Goldie Locks zone of just right.
Right now it is so unbelievably hot and humid I am melting through the cracks between the floorboards. Although it was hot crossing the equator on Leg 1 I don’t remember feeling this washed out.
One of the downsides with the Clipper 70s is the total lack of any through draft in the living quarters when you need it. The ghetto is just so unbelievably fetted and dripping with condensation at the moment that it makes a teenage boy’s bedroom seem positively fragrant! The heat is probably not so bad but the humidity is simply draining.
On deck it is not so fetted but just as hot. Essentially life is lived in the blast of a hairdryer – when there is wind – or at gas mark 6 when there is not! Days on this leg are rated by two climatic variables (1) the wind – windy days are mostly considered good (except when there is too much wind) and (2) cloud cover – cloudless skies give rise to unrelentingly heat which due to the need to man shade-free positions on the boat (like the helm … in fact especially the helm!) is simply debilitating. The sun burn is no less on cloudy days just it sneaks up on you because you don’t feel like you are being torched to a crisp!
Given all this heat and humidity the crew has discovered a new passion for rain squalls. Granted being drilled by ice-cold machine gun fire rain in itself is not so pleasant but the knock-on feeling of not being sweaty and a general sensation of temporarily coolness while your clothes dry on you and the rain evaporates from your skin is worth it.
It is amazing what appeals in the face of self-inflicted deprevation.
Our two week stopover in Airlie Beach has been the best recuperation medicine there could have been. Suffice to say that The Whitsundays are pretty much up there on highlight delivery as promised by the promo literature.
- Blond sandy beaches (tick)
- Diving/snorkeling on the GBR (tick)
- Swimming/jellyfish dodging in warm azure blue sea (tick)
- Adrenaline-fuelled water action (tick)
- Tourism from the air (tick)
- Endless sunshine (tick)
- Frequent squalls (lots of ticks)
- Amazing food – thank you Hemingways & Fish D’vine (tick)
- Smoothies from heaven – Bohemian Raw get the oscar for this one (tick)
Basically lots of ticks on the bucket list.
Sailing north to our home port of Qingdao next. It is going to be a biggie – long, slow and hard work. Right now I feel a mix of anxiety and anticipation ….
I think I’m ready to go! On with the adventure!
The Southern Ocean weather is nothing short of capricious! It seems it is one extreme or the other … medium is not an option!
There we were frustrated by the apparent lack of any breeze at all when the wind got up – and not just a bit blowy – this was full on pack of wolves, howling through the night. Wind so loud it drowned out the usual boat noises, even the sounds of hull cutting through the water (the comfort blanket sound that we are actually moving and that all this effort has some purpose).
When you have 45 knots of wind, 3 reefs in the main and the yankee 3 hoisted, all you can do is cling on and hope like anything that it doesn’t get any worse because then a foredeck visit is on the cards …
Crashing through a large, turbulent sea that cannot be seen in the oily black of the night is truly a voyage into the unknown. ‘What am I doing here?’ is a thought that percolated to top of my mind more than once … that and a series of expletives!
Under these conditions life seem more like a climbing expedition. Every manoeuvre could result in some disaster or other. Everything is an effort. Every action requires determination. Getting up the companion way into the deck is tricky … but not nearly as life threatening as coming down where because of my lack of upper body strength the chances of falling off the steps and into the wet locker (we are talking fly on windscreen impact here) are very real and very high.
Sailing, hunkered down in position on deck, is probably the least life threatening part of the adventure … it is the trying to use the heads, trying to get into and out of your bunk (and staying there!), trying to prep food or not scold yourself making hot drinks, trying to get your foulies on or off that endanger existence.
‘Race of your life’ the literature says … I can honestly say I have never ever done anything like this before!
Clipped on? You bet! Both tethers!!!