Tomorrow we are off

I’ve just prepped an industrial quantity of sandwiches ready for tomorrow’s off. 
Having got to the end of our shorter than the others stay here (6 days) I now realise how tired I was … and run-down (from a chest infection I had failed to shake off. )

Freo was warm and windy. The combo of sunlight and dry warm air has magic restorative properties and whilst I still feel the edge of the exhaustion that enduring grinding conditions brings I also feel ready for the next bit of the adventure.

In two weeks we will be sailing into Sydney … well just fancy that!

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Visitors

Yesterday we had a surprise visitation which brightened our whole day. A small pod of pilot whales came to join us.

For half an hour they swam alongside the boat … maybe as curious about us as we are about them. It always amazes me that something approaching 10 metres in length can be that graceful.

Today we had a second visitation … this time it was a large pod of dolphins. Dolphins are just as amazing but in a more exuberant way, swimming with us for half an hour racing along our length and zig-zagging across our bow.

Aren’t we lucky that we share our world with such a diversity of amazing wildlife?

Wind hole

This is not quite the racing I imagined I would be doing in the Southern Ocean! Today like its predecessors is a most spectacularly hot sunny day. The sea is mirror calm. In fact it looks like somebody has french polished the surface! 

This is more cruising than racing … but hey! we are making slow but determined progress through a massive wind hole that sits between us and the finish. That is a collective ‘us’ since the whole fleet is either in the wind hole … or will soon be so. We have just over 400 nm to our destinations …
Slow we may be but we are making progress since we are clearly drifting a tadge bit faster than the neighbours and we are now 3rd in the fleet and all the time gaining on the boats in front.

No/low wind helming is a skill verging on sorcery since boat momentum needs to be maintained to create that magic go faster ingredient ‘apparent wind’. 

So light touch helming it is.

Four words

What four words would I use to describe my feelings about Race 3?

Privileged – I am privileged to be in a small minority of people who have sailed the Southern Ocean.

Awestruck – just blown away by the majesty of the environment and the wildlife that inhabits it. The power and ever changing character of the sea, the imagination-catching sun and moon rises and sets, the infinity of the night skies … and the balletic awesomeness of the seabirds, whales and dolphins that have sometime accompanied us on our travels.

Frustrated – wind holes are never welcome especially when you want to sail somewhere – like the finishing line – fast. We seem to have had more than our fair share of wallowing … but sometimes you realise that such seemingly unproductive times have retrospectively provided much needed recuperation from the unrelenting riggers of sailing.

Lucky – life it short and should be lived. I am incredibly lucky that I have been given a chance to live out my desire for adventure. Doubly luckily given the reputation of the Southern Ocean that our passage has been a relatively gentle one … having to weather the terrors of a deep ocean storm remains one of my great fears. Lucky for me not this time!

Sad news

Our crew is subdued this morning. At 4am watch change over we were given the really sad news that Simon, one of the RTWers, on GB was washed overboard due to equipment failure during a massive squall.

When we signed up we all knew the danger we were subjecting ourselves to but I like many others (I guess) had parked that knowledge at the back of my mind as too overwhelming to process. This has brought the reality home … 

Every time a crew member goes forward to assist in a headsail change in tough weather they are putting their life on the line. We were in that squall too – not so many miles ahead of GB … 

My thoughts are with the skipper and crew of GB and with Simon and his friends and family. What a sad loss … what a terribly lonely and frightening way to go …

The race with two halves

The Southern Ocean was sold as a down hill sleigh ride – fast and furious with westerlies powering our progress all the way. Pre race start we had done the team talk – this leg we were going to be super competitive, we would field our best helms, we would compromise on the gormet in favour of limited weight, we were going to go for it …. fed up with being down the fleet a podium position would be ours this time around. It was going to be fast – 19 maybe 21 days. Well that was the plan … but here we are 17 days in and just under 2000 nm to go. The problem with plans like that is not being able to dial up the weather needed!

The first half of the race was good old, hard going, wind on the nose sailing. The sort of sailing that leaves you phyically and emotionally drained, the sort of sailing that can leave you really very seasick!

Then we had those wind hole days in the middle. All round total frustration as we watch the other boats sail away from us after our hard fought for gains …

And finally the westerlies we’d been hoping for to sweep us east on mountainous swells and waves that temporarily tower above us on the elevator ride that is kite sailing. So we are into the rodeo ride part of the race … except the forecast promises more wind holes.

Libations to the weather gods – please if there must be wind holes lavish them on the others … after all we wouldn’t want to seem greedy and keep them all to ourselves!

Socks & Crocs … and other kit

What does the fashion-conscious sailor about town wear? Well on Qingdao apart from 17 day old base layers (and maturing as we go) it is Crocs & socks. Yup the whole crew is rocking the look – Crocs & socks are Crew Qingdao’s fashion statement must have … that and the natty little combo of base layers and sailing shorts.

Of course we have other kit. There are the red and black (regulation to be in the coporate photos) foulies. Designed to keep out the wet weather – which they do with varying degrees of success depending on your deck position + how salt water saturated the Gore-Tex has become – they are challenging and an effort to get into even on the flat (there is a special technique for getting into the smock top!) 

Getting into your drysuit – which makes the wearer look like a spaceman but does the trick at keeping out the water during those especially splashy or stormy moments – is an endurance event all on its own and definitely requites pit stop team back-up!

Then there is the Team Qingdao kit. Sorry sponsors I appreciate this will come across as deeply ungrateful but with a bright yellow polo, red jacket and red baseball cap the uniform makes the wearer look like they are delivering pizzas! 

I still have my polo shirt and my red jacket which I wear daily buried three layers down as one of my many mid layers in my efforts to keep warm … but my cap left me to seek its fortune on one of our more windy race starts. 

Old lady in cap is not a good look anyway!

Seabirds

Today was a monochrome dawn – sea and sky a study in grey. The sea metallic and hard. The sky flat cloud grey until the sun made its appearance to shoot sunbeams down and slanting out across the sea surface as which time the horizon changed from a dark ink line to liquid mercury. And then as soon it had appeared the dazzling sunlight was gone swallowed into the ever-grey clouds. 

Then a squadron of seabirds flew in – two species of petrel, some sooty shearwaters and three albatross representatives – banking in military formation  and flying their never-ceasing choreographed dance with the waves and the sea. They too come in monochrome – or black if you’re one of the sooties. It is so soothing to watch them fly. I remained awed by their grace and effortless capacity to endlessly glide and real and soar.

The downside of not being a gecko … revisited

‘Heads’ is the sailing term for the small cubicles which house the toilets. There are two on a Clipper 70. The water in-take for both is on starboard so that on one tack the pumping mechanism doesn’t work when the incline is verging on the extreme. Bit of a design highlight that one!

The heads comprise 6 surfaces (convention names one of these ‘the floor’ but its location can be at any angle relative to your current position), a seatless junior school sized toilet, a pumping mechansm, a small hand basin and some pedals – all of the latter are items that you can impale yourself on … and regularly do!

The technique is to shimmy out of your sailing clobber – without dunking it either in the head or into the festering pool of slopping water which is the floor – and then braise yourself against as many available surfaces as possible. The tricky bit is the assymetric but as good as you can get it seal between you and the toilet basin – you don’t want to be cleaning the floor! Mission achieved there are two alterative techniques for getting said clobber back on – the remain braised one arm pull technique, or lightning two hand approach (akin to press-ups with clapped hands) … great if you can do it but likely to leave you nose-implanted on the wall!

Add to this zero gravity! The rodeo ride that is sailing through tough seas has moments of zero gravity when you and the other contents of the heads go space walk … 

This is countered by the mulpitiple g’s scenario when you find the gravitational pull of hand basin irresistable and you find yourself in an unacontrollable fall. This is when the need for the heads to be small becomes appararent … you don’t want to get up too much momentum being thrown out through the canvas door with your sallopettes round your knees.

Here we go ….

Well this is it – the Southern Ocean – one of the dreaded legs in this round the world adventure. As we slip our lines out of the Waterfront Marina what I feel is acceptance of what is to come tinged with a generous helping of anticipatory fear in the face of the reputation of the Southern Ocean.

The weather has been it’s Cape changeable self – like walking into a series of different rooms. This morning hot and airless – not a breath of wind – but on queue we have a punchy breeze to add excitement to outr race start as the 12 Clipper 70s dodge and gybe round the shark pool that is the area the right side of the start line. And we’re off. 

The round the cans start with 12 boats manoeuvre round a series of race marker buoys is exhilarating to sail (and hopefully to watch for the boat owners that have come out to see us off). We are all on our metal – keen, sharp, little cogs in the crew machine. It’s fun. We’re doing ok … in fact not a bad start at all! But that said these dinghy race starts – with the tactical positioning and the racing headsail changes as we round this buoy or that, despite the excitement and team coordination generated – seem a tadge artificial in the face of the ocean sailing to come. Good tack/gybe practice for the crew … but we are unlikely to excuted that number of directional changes again for the next 3 weeks since ocean sailing (especially this race) is pretty much sailing in a straight line as quickly as possible! But what the heck … a bit of cheek by jowl cut and thrust competition is fun!

And then the wind changed … to nothing … or as good as. And in the fading light of the day a fleet of Clipper 70s floated in synchronicity into the sea fog with a backdrop of Table Mountain for addition photogenicity.