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.

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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!

Race 12 – near there (July 8/ day 14)

180nm to the waypoint north of Malin Head and then 60nm round the corner to the finish line.
Winds have died down and we are rolling – rather than powering along – at 8kts the water now sloshing rather than slicing down the sides of the boat.
4th position. Not as good as we would have hoped but given the position of the other boats in the fleet good enough and much better than at the back. Overall we will loose our 2nd place to Seattle who are out in front but Garmin (coming in 3rd) this race will remain behind us on the leader board. So all to play for over the remaining two races.
Up-beat feel on the boat. We have sailed as well as the conditions would allow. Code 3 blown yesterday afternoon.
Lunchtime position reports show us as the slowest boat (6.4kt) with DTL bearing down on us 3kts faster and just 30nm behind. Action stations – Code 2 down (bearly flying anyway) and windseeker up. A better course but not much more speed. Wind change and building strength sees the Yankee 1 hoisted. 8-9kts and back to life at a tilt – our speed indicated by the sound of the water slapping the hull.
130nm to the northern waypoint. Everybody motivated as we will never live down being beaten by Al (who has transitioned from novice crew on Qingdao to mate on DTL)!

Race 12 – life in monochrome (July 6/ day 12)

Today saw a monochrome dawn – grey light, flat grey skies, metal grey sea – life in black and white apart from the red of our ropes and foulies and the canary yellow of our drysuits.
For the last couple of days we have had life in stormy monochrome – genuine Atlantic grey cold drizzly windy weather (the conditions childhood memories of seaside holidays in Britain are made of – minus the windbreaks and the plastic buckets and spades). The upside of getting so damp and cold is that we have been clocking up some good speeds (regularly 11-14 kts). We have also been in enforced stealth and comms shutdown mode because there has been no satellite communication with the outside world. So no weather reports and no position updates.
In the absence of any info we have gone for VMG rhumb line sailing. The upshot is that we have gone from back of the fleet to 4th and not so far behind 1, 2 and 3 either – but less than 400 miles to catch them now.
The wave surfing is a great feeling … that gratifying roar of the water under the boat. We are feeling pretty pleased because we have sailed the best we could. No cock-ups only the occasional wind hole/light winds to slow us down. But it’s not over till we cross the line so still fighting.
Lots of rejoiners from earlier in the race for this leg and we’ve meshed together well as a crew. There have been some pretty good speed records set also … although unsurprisingly it is Skipper (at 17.1) and mate Sophie (at 18+ knots) who hold the record.
Can hardly believe we are nearly at the end. The Atlantic has been a good sail so far. Fingers crossed.

Race 12 – Looking up (July 3/ day 9)

On breakfast watch this morning so apart from guest appearances on deck to assist with gybes and kite peels we were down below conjuring up breakfast when not woolling.
Everybody else is flying at 10+ knots but whatever we do we seem to have the conditions against us. I don’t usually subscribe to paranoia but the powers that be do definitely seem to have it in for us!
Afternoon and on deck with novel conditions – lots of wind (like 25knots lots of wind). Yee ha! sailing conditions and the speed record for the day is 19knots.
There is a fabulous feeling of getting there as the boat surfs wave after wave, scything along on a boiling bow wave with the roar of water under the hull.
We have dolphins in plenty – the medium-sized ones that come in a greenish hue with a go-faster stripe along their flanks. Seeing dolphins makes my heart smile (if that is possible).
Even the position reports are good! An average speed of 14 knots and up to 5th place.
Today life went from being down (just a little) to looking up …and when you do even the clouds and blue skies are amazing!

Race 12 – getting there very slowly (July 9/ day 15)

4am and we are on watch. It is cold and overcast but at least drizzle free and with 20nm to go to the finish line a wind hole – actually more a wind-free corridor – has materialise between us and the waymarker off Malin Head.
For 3 hours the wind to the west of the corridor would let us sail NE but each time we tacked to resume our racing course the boat would stall as the breeze disappeared. It is like being under an evil spell …
Five hours in and we are still battling on.. It is now 9am and we have zigzagged our way north of our waymarker and at last at a rather paltry 4 knots – because we have two knots of sea current against us – we are heading SE to that finish line, a safe haven and a few beers in Derry!
This is the stuff of nightmares. The first three boats have finished and we are languishing here with DTL bearing down on us. We have 7.5nm to the finish line and DTL are now a mere 5nm right behind us. How can they have wind when we have none???!
Finally some wind. After nearly 11 hours of pure misery the wind filled in and we are making 8 knots! Can you believe it?

We made it!

I am unbelievably relieved to announce that just before 4pm we crossed the finish line in 4th place! The hardest fought 4th place of our whole race!

In the end DTL were not so far behind so we wait for them to finish to make our way under motor together down the Foyle to our much appreciated welcome in Derry.

Many thanks to Primrose for our reception and the very tasty local beers. Guys that last day was simply gruelling … you do not appreciate just how glad we are to see you!

Race 12 – finding inner zen (July 2/ day 8)

It is a fabulously sunny day here in the middle of the Atlantic and this morning at dawn (mid watch at 2am) we had a little ‘good morning world’ dolphin come swim passed and do a spectacular jump over the rising sun …
Our watch has sailed our socks off and we’re feeling pretty triumphant as yesterday we overtook PSP (essential if we are to have any shot at even 4th now) and left them trailing in our wake a mile behind. Life was looking a little bit up …
But you need to be an inner zen buddist if you sail because the Grib files lie and you have no say over conditions … Thus when we came back on deck at 8am PSP were on the horizon 7 miles in front of us, the course steered over the previous 4 hours questionable and we are back at the rump end of the fleet.
We have given it everything … We are sailing at 10+ knots but the boats to the north (despite the Grib predictions) are always a knot + faster … We are just gutted. Basically we can’t do anything without wind …
New plan – fastest VMG to the finish. … but hey it’s a lovely day, no black clouds in sight, shit happens and we are still smiling!

Race 12 – when life smells like Gollum (July 1/ day 7)

Came on deck this morning to fog and daylight. It is clammy damp and my foulies have that anaerobic pond smell – fetted and dank – what I imagine is the smell that Gollum has. Well my foulies have it!
There is a moderate wind and we a doing 10 knots in a more relaxed and less heeled way than yesterday. It is chilly and damp while the fog persists but by watch end the fog had been burnt off and it bodes well for a sunny day.
Got another chance to helm at the end of the watch and felt just so chuffed especially when commended by my watch leader for the course steered.
The position reports still show us at the back of the fleet but the good news is that we have just overhauled PSP whom we are now marginally faster than. Funny what little things in our day become such big highlights.
It has turned into a hot sunny day with good wind and good sailing so mother duty is not the most ideal way to spend the afternoon. But Anja, Mike and I make a good team and we blitz the food prep, the bilges, cleaning and the nav enough to give Anja time up top to helm which she loves.
We have a good watch and there is plenty of laughter and banter alongside the more serious business of racing. Life onboard is fun and that in my books counts for loads.

Race 12 – Christoforos and the wave (June 29/ day 5)

4am and we are on watch. The moon is anglepoise desklamp bright. Full. Calm and serene in the sky casting moon-shadows … that’s when the sky is not full of passing dark rainy squall clouds.
Over night the conditions have been chaos crazy. The weather has been all over the shop … as have the sail changes! … and watch finish was polished off with a rain squall that brought the visibility down to yards. At 8am I am literally falling over with fatigue. We have given it everything but despite our efforts find ourselves at the back of the fleet. It is very hard not to feel utterly despondent.
2pm – back on watch to sunshine and amazingly fast, punchy sailing. Our hopes of progress up fleet are confirmed by the position reports which announce us as the fastest boat! Self-belief restored in an instant!!
The conditions are boisterous but not so challenging so as not to let the less experienced helms to have a go. Rolling seas and consistent winds – we are averaging 14 knots. A bit splashy but always the way with novice helms. Then out of nowhere a large wave comes over the starboard bow – Greg on the high rail gets wet, me – I’m sitting on the deck manning a winch – I get drenched, but Rory – who was lying in the pit (don’t ask!) – gets completely submerged (to our great amusement and his very vocal chagrin!) But the funniest is Jools who was fast asleep in his bunk down below on portside. The water – Exocet missile-like – goes down the companionway, round the corner and then pressure hosed him where he lay! The upshot – a total and complete drenching, sleeping bag and all accompanied by vociferous howls of complaint!
We should not have laughed at either Rory or Jools … but we did because it was very, very funny!