Sailing the shipping forecast

It’s a sort of weird thing sailing through the different areas of the
shipping forecast – some of the areas are named after physical features you
can see + some are named after features that you cannot. When you say the
names in your head the names of the adjacent areas follow – like a
mantra. The shipping forecast is one of those givens – it is almost part of
what makes up the national psyche.

Sailing past Malin Head coming into Derry – like ‘Wow, that’s Malin Head’ +
you know where you are in the roll-call of names. But right now we are
about to sail over Dogger Bank + there may well be something here to but
you cannot see it.

But one thing is sure the wind + the weather are a tadge variable out here
on Dogger Bank so maybe that’s why it features large on the list. The wind
is building 20 knots plus, we’ve just put reef 1 back in because the
forecast suggests that the plus might well be quite a lot more.

So it is back to life on the incline. Now that we are all wearing foulies +
lots of layers people are tending to hang their clothes by their bunks (for
easy access) but the net result is that getting to the Nav Station now is
like fighting your way through the wardrobe attempting to find Narnia at
the other end. Life is back to survival mode only.

Something around 200 miles to go to the finishing line. The wind is south-
westerly – here’s hoping that it holds without backing too much as that will
give us a straight run to the line. Oh and wind gods, not too much please –
just a regular helping of wind. Thank you.

The new sport of sail-climbing

Weather on Race 15 seems to come in two flavours – not enough or too much
wind. We have had samplings of both – but unfortunately for our race
performance we’ve spent rather too much time with not enough.

After a brilliant start in Derry (if I am allowed to be everso slightly
self-congratulatory) Jamaica sailed straight into light winds where we
turned west and everybody else turned east and there we sat with everybody
else sailing off. There was wildlife to keep us company – puffins (who look
like they need to learn to fly), dolphins (doing their magic on our spirits
as always) and on several occasions pods of small whales (not pilot whales
this time but others on account of the shape of the dorsal fins). Each
siting rallied our hopes but really – given the shortness of this race –
what we really wanted to be doing was racing. It is easy to get a taste for
being at the front.

We finally left the Atlantic with storms forecast + winds building. It was
on this change-over that I got to do mother duty again + discovered the new
sport of sail climbing. The boat sails while I monkey over the units
helping my bunk-buddy in the galley to construct crew meals. The layout in
the boat is certainly designed by + for taller people than me – everything
seems just out of my reach + that is even more so when the boat is heeled
over in gusting 40 knots winds. Not so much mast-monkey as galley-gibbon.

And here we are in the North Sea trundling along at around 10 knots oil rig
platforms scattered around the horizon + heading down the Scottish east
coast before turning east ourselves towards out destination. A beautiful
sunny day with a nip in the air – so definitely keep warm weather. Who
wouldn’t want to be sailing when it’s like this?

On our way

Yesterday was one of those days when it couldn’t have got much better.

The Clipper fleet had an amazing send-off from Derry cheered on by crowds
of thousands + a flotilla of little boats + yachts accompanying us out to
race start at Greencastle – a heart-swelling, eyeing-welling gesture from a
community so generous yet in the past so riven.

The Red Arrows – who never fail to impress – put on an aerobics display
before race start for our benefit while we in our boats failed to maintain
our line in the face of true awesomeness + the stiff breeze.

The sighting of puffins for all the part looking as comical as fake-fur
toys. A first for me (+ there have been so many on this adventure).

The race start which we could not have timed better – over the line
towards the front + holding our own amongst a fleet of 12 magnificent boats
sailing not quite in close formation but close hauled, heeled over + doing
our utmost.

And then the sailing throughout the end of the day – close hauled and
ripping along in the wind, tide + the wintry sunshine. Skip summed up our
feelings of collective pride when the evening sched came in with the
comment:

‘Well I can safely say we are well and truly in the lead’. (Not that we
were minding you understand!)

Yesterday was great – and today is still great but it is deja vue and we
are still near the front of the fleet except that we have been joined by a
wind hole. And here we wallow just south of St Kilda’s Rock, offering
teabag libations over the side to the wind gods that the winds will fill in
+ once again we can get on with our sailing with a bit of winning thrown in
there just for good measure.

The result

The result of the race across the Atlantic is that we came 5th. Three and a
half thousand miles and 5 miles (give or take a little bit) separated the
top six boats – half a mile separated Jamaica from PSP – 5th from 3rd –
that’s how close it was but not as close as Jamaica from GB (5th from 6th)
which was 3 boat lengths. We gave it our best.

Now we’ve stopped racing we are all friends again – radio contact +
congratulations between skippers + both PSP + Garmin coming along side to
swap gifts (siggies + sweeties!). And now the engines are on + we are all
motoring for Derry eta Monday approximately 18 hours from now, our minds
already on what we will be doing in Derry – touch rugby is muted for Friday
evening (2 girls compulsory in each team), boaty stuff + a lot of the chaps
going in for a lot of drinking.

My thoughts – for me it was great to be part of a crew, a group of people
really pulling together. At the end it was really tense. The adrenaline was
really racing even though there was nowhere to go! For the last watch of
the race we all of us just sat there on the foredeck, not talking, just
willing the wind to hold + the boat ever forward faster than PSP who were
right there beside us.

It was a good effort + 5th place just doesn’t say how very, very close it
was.

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.