When you get used to races of several weeks arriving after 4 days is a sort of surprise. You mean we’ve arrived! … but I haven’t even changed out of my race start shirt yet … A quick sniff of the armpits … doesn’t smell (for which read doesn’t smell as badly as usual) … ok good to go! We had arrived in daylight to a warm welcome from the attendees of ‘Taste’ and were keen to sample land based food again.

Hobart is a bit of a foodie central and the ‘Taste of Tazzie’ food festival which coincides with the New Year and the end of the Sydney-Hobart race showcases the best of local drink and nosh which inturn is inspired by flavours from around the world. We ate there often. The food and ambience worth enduring the rather chilly and blustery weather … that is relative chilly of course!

Convict pasts are a talking point – visiting what is left of the prison in Hobart interesting for the details of the petty deeds for which you could be exported and the relative recentness of all that inhumanity.

Mona Rosa was an interesting day up river. Fantastic location for sure. As always with modern art there was stuff that was thought provoking, stuff that was visually interesting and a lot of rubbish … but I’d say definitely worth the visit.

The Qingdao fellowship also made a team assault on Mt Wellington – the terrain was straight out of LotR but no rings were found or lost. Great view (featured above) but the winner for me was finding out that Darwin had also fought his way up to the top and all the amazing observations that had sprung from his run in with the local shrubbery!

Then almost immediately it was 2018 so back up north.

Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays here we come!


Race 6 -what a race

I am still amazed that I am doing this! I have to pinch myself just to remind myself that this is real – I really am sailing round the world!!! Sometimes the sailing is just straight up hedonistic fun – like when the spinnaker is up and we are surfing down the front of wave after wave – and other times everything seems so out of control (I’m sure that’s just my perception!) my mind is paralysed and I’m just hanging on, responding to orders and hoping … that’s when I feel so terrified and so alive in equal measure!

Well we made it. We made it to Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays … not last as we had feared but 5th. Given all that happened, our lack of electronic navigation etc. that is pretty incredible … well I think it is pretty incredible.

The crew really pulled together this time – we were a team, not two watches … and it was a fantastic feeling. I have come away from this race with a great sense of achievement. I think we all have.

Success is not never failing (we are sadly rather past masters at screwing up!) but never giving up or quitting and this race really proved that – when the chips were down we simply wrung ourselves out (because you can get pretty wet in squalls) and kept going.

Good on us Qingdao!

Boats that go bump in the night

The upside of having been struck by lightning is that devoid of a tracking device nobody knows where you are and your race tactics remain secret … the downside is that nobody knows where you are … plus you have no lights for night sailing and no digital maps – so not only do other boats not know where you are, they can’t see you either … that is until you almost run into each other. It’s a big ocean out there but sometimes just not big enough in places!

Last night there we were sailing along, kite up, temporary lighting fitted (for which read everybody’s torches) and Dare to Lead pretty much sailed into us.

At two boat lengths a frantic radio call. We had right of way so on DTL there was a frantic kite drop, rapid manoeuvring and they passed behind our stern.

That was a close one!

When lightning strikes

For the last few days in the face of continuing northerlies we have been fighting our way up the Queensland coast. The conditions are at best ‘difficult’. Room to manoeuvre the boat between land and the strong opposing sea current is limited so we tack often and life is on the incline. Every aspect of existence – for the time being – is simply had work.

The wind is punchy and always on the nose – the very direction of our destination – so we can’t sail north instead tacking north-east, north-west but at such shallow angles that the going is painfully slow. There has been the odd squall but experience has taught us to be somewhat wary of those.

After our last storm incident we had been on the lookout … so when a strange cloud formation materialised we knew we were in for it!

It is scary just how quickly a squall can move … and seemingly independent of the prevailing weather conditions too! The cloud formation was straight out of a sci-fi movie -arcs of dark clouds issuing from a point and spanning the horizon. We sent for skipper who was below – not taking any chances this time!!

We tacked and fled … not that there was much chance of out-running the storm. Light travels at 3 times the speed of sound so the lightning/thunder time difference is a good indicator of proximity … the storm was coming our way!

Machine guy fire rain and boiling seas with a good measure of thrashing sails and angry winds. The storm had arrived. We knew we were in for it when the sea went from turbulent to eerie calm. We all just sat there looking at each other and the lightning. For no particular reason I was thinking “Fallow & Ball should have a paint colour ‘tropical storm pink'” when with a phenomenal crack the boat took a direct hit – confirmed by the olympic torch that previously had been the electrical instruments at the top of the mast!

Everybody felt the static shock. I felt like I had just been punched – reminiscent of the ache incurred having touched an electric fence.

There was a moment of silence then the realisation – OMG WE HAVE JUST BEEN STRUCK BY LIGHTNING!!!! …. and we’re still alive! The same however could not be said of the electronics on the boat – we were now without lights, charts and navigation plus other stuff!

I could just imagine the tabloid headline “Boat takes direct hit – electronics torched crew slightly scorched!”

As quickly as it had turned up the storm was gone and turbulent seas returned … and we were back to racing although without any charts to guide us. We immediately struck out for open waters away from the coast since running into Australia would merely compound rather than improve our difficulties.

The post-strike lightning show was amazing – vivid neon pink bolts cleaving dark skies all around us. None of us said anything but ‘Wow!’ was top of our minds. Nothing like a run-in with nature to make you feel alive!

Sailing in the dark without lights or AIS (positioning beacon) is not to be recommended! We survived the night and for now are once again sailing north – not so much on watch as on watch out!

Our first Southern Buster

I had never heard of ‘Southern Busters’ until one came and flattened us today!

There we were sailing along, minding our on business, doing quite nicely thank you, when this weird cloud turned up.

I didn’t see the arrival of the cloud because I was off watch and very much asleep so the first thing I knew about being hit by a subtropical storm was when I was slammed into the wall adjacent to my bunk and buckets of cold sea water came pouring in through the open porthole that was now located somewhere above my head!

Being temporarily trapped in your ratcheted up bunk on the horizontal must be about as near to being a beetle on its back as any of us get! Wild thrashing! I was very motivated to get out not least because of the water that was pouring in! When there is a strong incentive it is amazing what you can do … suffice to say standing on the edge of bunk I closed that porthole window.

Then lifejacket on up on deck. It was mayhem! By now the boat had righted itself from the knock down but there was everything to do, sails to get down, a course to get back onto, conditions to weather … sails were flogging, there was an angry wind with crashing, confused waves and machine gun, freezing rain.

Time has no measure at times like these … could have been half an hour could have been more … we together and order was re-established. It’s a great feeling when you work as a team … even if you are drenched to your knickers!

Afterwards Skipper observed that next time we saw a funny cloud take the pictures second and let him know first!

Windy & weather lottery

The weather on the east Australian seaboard is a strange and unpredictable beast! Sometimes it can be variable almost by the hour … sometimes completely set in. We had hoped for an about turn but the northerly winds that had given us such a swift kite run down to Hobart had decided to stay and that meant beating back up the coast again. Hard work is beating – life on the north face!

The racing has proved to be very tight – the race plan to hog the narrow waters between the coast and the EAC (of Nemo fame) which unfortunately for us flows strongly and decidedly south (ie the wrong direction). As it has turned out the same race plan as Sanya, Seattle and Liverpool … so here we all are battling it out.

As we have progressed up the coast the weather has not been altogether helpful having gone from strong northerlies to windholes … a total lottery with every option except the one we really want … so sometimes we see the other boats sometimes we don’t.

We’ve certainly seen a lot of Liverpool – we’ve overhauled them three times now, the third time to gain that all important one point at the scoring gate. But each time due to either a tactical/technical hiccup on our part they’ve come back at us …

Hunting down the opposition is a mixture of hard graft and gratification – trim, trim, trim, sail change, more trim – went you can see them and that distance between you little by little is eaten into that is just such the best feeling, the nervous energy on the boat is palpable.

Making up distance – sailing that 0.1 knot faster – is hard work and can take days all to be thrown away in 15 minutes when somebody makes a mistake … One thing we have learnt this is a race to be lost – the crew who makes the fewest cock ups wins.

We’re getting pretty good at recoveries … sadly because we have had quite a lot of practice so far! So back to our mantra: No wrapsies, no flogsies, no broachsies, no cock ups! If we could manage and get our tactics right that would be good!!!

Sydney to Hobart

The ‘blue sea’ races are a sort of competition bucket list of 600 mile ocean-going events that any self-respecting sailor likes to tick off – the Sydney-Hobart is just such a race … so understandably we were all looking forward to the hop down the coast even if it did entail retracing our steps.

The race takes off from Sydney on Boxing Day – little bit of a tall order for those intent on enjoying the seasonal festivities (but hey!) The start is a menagerie of crafts both spectator and competitor, small and large that seem to mill and intermingle around the habour – ultimately with the spectator boats migrating to the outer regions whilst the competitors hunt for the best positions in the central chanel (marked by a series of vitually invisible yellow ‘sticks’ and very much more visible large yellow humbugs).

Our start from the very much more advantageous starboard end of the line was enlivened by a handbrake tack to avoid running over one of the afore-mentioned humbugs which would have taken us outside the course (thereby instantly disqualifying us from the race). But legally start we did and as part of the flotilla of 100 or so boats we beat our way out and passed the Sydney Heads. 

Quite exciting being part of the herd, nearly being hit, manoeuvring out of trouble … not something that 11 lone boats on a big ocean usually have to contend with really.

Our race chances looked up big time when day 2 the wind swung in behind us and the spinnakers were launched. It is not often that the Clipper fleet get to race at close quarters – boats to the port of us, boats to the starboard, stern and bow. But there we all were looking magnificent, spinnaker sails ashine in the sunlight – a little glow of pride. This is real sailing!! And fun ‘champagne’ sailing too – not that any champagne was consumed in the competing of this race! Fast, downwind, sleigh ride sailing. Surfing the waves. Exhilarating, relatively level and definitely fun!

And then when all looked good, the tactics of the race campaign sound, our boat second in the fleet poised to take the lead … a tactical mistake in a instant took us to the very back. Recriminations flew because fingers could be pointed and our failure to tack left us languishing in a windhole.

Of course we recovered but despite the fact we made up good ground on such a short race the mistake cost us dear and we crossed the finishing line eleventh.

The strange thing is that from this end the race seems so different from how it was perceived. What seemed a significant major challenge now seemed just an afternoon potter.

At 4 days in length the race is short in comparison to our other races – hardly time to unpack a toothbrush. And although duration is no measure of difficulty it does show me how my mindset has moved on – that we hunker down for the duration.

Well we will be off again soon – north to The Whitsundays – with a whole new raft of tribulations to contend with … 

Bring it on!

We did it!

Hard fought for, well sailed mostly, good tactics (that was skipper – well done) – a well deserved 3rd place.

I think we should allow ourselves the luxury of being just a little bit pleased!

Battle for the finish

It has been close quarters sailing for the last few days. Qingdao still leading the fleet but only just with Seattle and Sanya close on our heals. When we have had wind we have sailed well but there have been some frustratingly long periods of no/low wind wollowing when the other boats have eaten into our miger lead.

As of this morning we have 230nm to go. The smell of land is on the air and occasional squadrons of small seabirds now replace the lone large wanders of the open ocean. Land has been sighted off to port. We are nearly there.

We are fighting to stay in contention but earlier a single poorly executed tack cost us dear. 

There is disharmony in the crew with our watch baying to fight back whilst in their hearts the other watch have already settled for third place.

At least it is a beautifully warm sunny day and at last we can shed our foulies and baselayers. 

A good day for sailing and that counts for a lot.