Sunday, 14 August 2016

Race 14 - Den Helder to London

The last and shortest race of my circumnavigation; 305 nM over 37 hours.

After a week in Den Helder I was ready to get going and to start the final race back to London. It wasn't going to be easy as we had the tides, strong currents and gas platforms to navigate around as we headed southwest towards Southend where the finish line was.

The start line relied on spotting a caravan on the shoreline and a tug's mast at the other end - not easy at times, but after a good start all the boats hoisted spinnakers and we headed due west along the Dutch coast before turning to port at the first mark. It was a fast race and we were always within sight of other yachts as we tacked our way towards the English coast. Tidal currents played a vital part in our tactics as did the narrow channels we had to navigate as we sailed into the Thames estuary.  I spent my last two watches, a total of eight hours, down in the nav. station keeping an eye on the channel and helping Cloughy to decide on tack points. Unfortunately it did mean that I didn't get to be up on deck during the last few hours of sailing but an important role as we didn't want to run aground. When I did eventually pop my head up through the companionway I was met by the lights of the Essex coast and Southend; England at last.

Down below it was an uncomfortable ride as we tacked around 50 times in the last few hours of the race. Doesn't seem much when you think of dinghy sailing but 50 tacks is probably not far off the total number of tacks in the entire circumnavigation. It was difficult to sleep as the angle of my bunk changed every few minutes, the cacophonous noise of the winches grinding just above my head, the loud bang when the yankee sheet suddenly broke and the noise of shouting as the starboard watch tried to recover the situation.  They did a great job in getting us back into the race as we jostled with GB all the way to the finish line.  I stayed up for the extra hour it took for us to get to the finish and we eventually crossed the line a mere two seconds ahead of GB at around 0200 BST.  The end!

The on-watch crew then had the unenviable task of getting the sails down and setting the anchor as we waited for the final boats to finish and for the start of the motor up the Thames at 0430. I slept through all of this and woke up as we were motoring up the Thames towards St Katharine Docks, family and friends.

It was fantastic being met by the spectator boats and all those who had made the effort to get up to London really early to meet the fleet. We arrived at Tower Bridge just as it opened and after hanging around we motored back downstream and into St Kats. The welcome was magnificent and there were so many people who had come to meet me - too many to mention by name but an enormous thank you to every single one of you who came to wave me in.

We came an overall 10th out of 12 in the overall race around the world.  Yes, maybe we could have done better if we had had Cloughy as our skipper for the entire race, but for me the most important result was that I sailed around the world, a total of 46,681 nM, and got back safe and sound.  An incredible result in itself.

I have now been back for a couple of weeks and I am still struggling to sleep through the night, and am finding the complexity of modern day life quite a challenge, and seem to have forgotten how to live off the boat.  I am off to California tomorrow, Sunday, to take Becca to drama school in Los Angeles so have given myself another two weeks of unsettled life before having to settle down.  I am still undecided as to what to do but will not make any major decisions until the end of the year, but will probably keep the blog going for a little while so that I can share thoughts and happenings as I get back into the swing of living in the UK.

Parade of sail in Den Helder

The fleet on the way to London with spinnakers hoisted

On of the last sunsets over the North Sea

Nobletec display showing all our tacks (red)
and those of other boats (orange)

A happy sailor as we head up the Thames
towards St Kats

Motoring up the Thames in 10th place

The QE2 bridge

The spectator boat 'Mercuria' with many
of my family and friends

The Millenium Dome from the river

Tower Bridge, opened to let the fleet through

The welcome that greeted us as we motored
through the lock into St Kats Dock

'Unicef' moored up with the other boats

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Race 13 - Derry to Den Helder

A relatively short race of five days that saw the entire fleet arrive in Den Helder the day before the arrival window, though this time we were allowed to arrive early and weren't sent around the North Sea to waste time.

Cloughy honoured his promise to me that I could helm a start though the conditions were pretty difficult so after crossing the line and putting in a few tacks he took over. After leaving the mouth of Lough Foyle we all headed north east to leave the Hebrides to starboard before going around Cape Wrath on the northwestern tip of Scotland and into the Pentland Firth. Here the entire fleet struggled with tides, currents and variable winds. Boats got stuck in eddies behind islands and when I went to bed in third place I woke up to find we were in eleventh. It was the luck of the draw and those boats that just happened to catch a wind shift were able to sail away and put many miles between themselves and the next boats.

The weather was clear and the views were stunning and it was, at times, difficult to understand that we were sailing around the top of Scotland. Temperatures were high and the foulies were replaced with trousers and sweatshirts as we sailed south past Aberdeen, the Moray Firth and down past Newcastle. Going through the oil fields and then the gas fields of the Southern North Sea brought back memories of working in the oil industry. The rigs and platforms were beacons of light and seen from many miles away, with the support vessels and supply boats plying between them.

The winds eventually picked up and the last few miles were completed at 10 to 12 knots. It was eventually Garmin that pipped us to the post and crossed the line around four minutes ahead of us. Disappointing, but it was a great race in which we came eighth.

While sailing there were lots of thoughts about ending the race and what I would be doing this time next week, next month etc. I am feeling quite sad about ending this 'adventure' but have to think that with every ending comes a new beginning. And what will that new beginning bring I wonder.

I have spent the last week living on the boat in Den Helder. It is where I feel comfortable; sitting on deck and watching the world go by, pottering around doing the varied jobs that need completing before the next race. Gary, Janice and I hired bicycles and have been exploring the island of Texel
and cycling south along the dyke/beach to a wonderful beach restaurant/bar on the dunes. We never got to swim but did have a siesta, lying on the sand, after a rather heavy lunch on one of the days. Cycling around has been a great way to get from one place to another as cycle paths are plentiful and there are no hills. The steepest bit of cycle track has been up and over the dyke down by the sea and that hasn't been particularly steep.

It is now time to say goodbye to Den Helder and to race back to the Thames estuary and London. We set of tomorrow, Thursday, and are due to finish the race on Friday evening/Saturday morning. It will then be a motor up the Thames and to race finish. I can't wait to see everyone in St Kats but I know it is going to be an emotional time.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Thank you from Derry

A quick note to thank everyone for their kind messages of support and especially to those who have joined me in Derry.

Will be leaving Derry this afternoon and expect the voyage will take about six days - next stop Den Helder.

Thank you all

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Race 12 New York to Derry

Race 12 - New York to Derry Londonderry

The last leg of the race! Time is starting to go quickly and we will be back in St Kats in no time at all. The boat is full for this race with 23 of us on board. Should have been 24 but Nick decided not to carry on with us. What is it going to be like with so many of us sharing such a small space? We also have an extra with Simon P, the journalist who crossed the Pacific with Garmin, cycled 3750 miles from Seattle to New York and has now joined UNICEF to cross the Atlantic to Ireland.

A Le Mans start on the evening of Day 1 saw all the boats head off in a north east direction. The wind picked up quickly as we set off on a starboard tack - good for me as it meant I didn't fall out of bed. On this race we are having to stay south of 40 degrees north to avoid any contact with ice. This has put us quite a long way south of where Titanic sank due, as we all know, to an unfortunate contact with an iceberg. We were on a beam reach as we headed east at up to 24 knots in winds that gusted over 40 knots. The boat was very 'tippy' and we broached on at least two occasions to the shouts of "dump the vang" and "ease the main halyard". Reefs were put in and out on a regular basis as we sped towards the point where we could eventually head north east in a desperate attempt to avoid a ridge of high pressure that was developing mid Atlantic.

We are now on day 8 and are sailing north east in light airs. We still have to avoid entering the eastern edge of the 'ice box' as to do so would mean immediate disqualification from the race so we are gybing our way along. The sun is shining, the seas are calm, whales keep appearing in the distance as well as alongside the boat and everyone seems to be in good spirits. The downside to all of this is that we are not travelling very fast, averaging only six to seven knots. At least we haven't parked up in the high pressure but I expect there is still time for that.

Day 9 and two boats have lodged protests against UNICEF and are saying that we have entered the 'ice box'. Have we or haven't we? The easterly edge of the box is defined as 'an imaginary line joining two points'. What the rules don't specify is whether or not the line is a great circle or a rhumb line, the former line being curved when plotted on the Nobletec chart and the latter straight. We plotted a great circle and have therefore crossed over to the western side of the straight rhumb line, albeit by only a mile or so. Cloughy is in discussion with the race office and we wait with baited breath for the ultimate decision. We have a solicitor on board who is keen for a favourable decision as he is wanting to use this race as a qualifying race in order to join RORC (Royal Ocean Racing Club), and being disqualified will not suffice. We are currently in sixth place and there are a couple of boats who could have protested, but which ones?

What I can't believe is that this 'Adventure' is rapidly coming to an end. Less than five weeks to go, and as of today only 32 days remaining. Sailing is not exciting at the moment as we 'bumble' along with the code 2 spinnaker flying at about 8-10 knots, trying to catch up with Da Nang who are about
four miles ahead. Lots of time to think about the end of the race, what it means to me, what I will
miss, what next, and many more 'what's'. Will I keep in touch with many people or just the few that I feel I have built good and meaningful relationships with? Probably the latter as I want to nurture those friendships I already have and to see more of family and friends back home. I have Becca to settle into drama school in LA and Tom will be off to Courcheval (ski resort in the French Alps) in November to take up the post of shift supervisor for the next ski season so there will be a big change at home. Joe, the lodger, will still be in residence as he starts his degree up in London in September and is wanting to commute rather than move as it will be the cheaper option.

I am not finding it easy to sleep these days unlike earlier in the race when I would 'drop off' within minutes of my head hitting the pillow. I am doing very little exercise at the moment and spend most of my time sitting or lying on the deck thinking, chatting or playing 'The Minister's Cat'. Sailing related activities are limited to a couple of gybes a day if I'm lucky and a bit of time trimming the spinnaker sheet which involves holding, under tension, a lightweight sheet (piece of rope) and either
easing or pulling it in every now and then. Not exactly scintillating!

We moved our clocks forwards by another hour today so are only two hours behind UTC (universal time constant - the old GMT) and three hours behind the UK. We are getting closer! Fewer than 1400 miles to the end of this race, so at 200 miles a day we should be in Derry within seven days. I have also now sailed right around the world as we are east of Rio - wow! The end is rapidly approaching. What am I going to do next? No firm ideas as of yet but lots of thoughts around further travels including a river cruise with mum, sailing in the Mediterranean with friends, visiting Tom in France and Becca in California. Just need to win on the Premium Bonds now.

Fast forward a week or so and we are on day 17, 20 miles from the finish line, and I am on mother duty with Dolores. The wind has just picked up and after the worry of whether or not we would get
round Rathlin Island before the tide turned we are screaming along at a very rakish angle, tacking on
a regular basis as we go. We have come fifth in a closely fought race with Great Britain who managed to pass us during the night. The usual trio of LMax, Derry and Telemed are already across the line.

So what has been happened since I last wrote - we weren't disqualified for sailing into the 'icebox' because we didn't. A Great Circle line was acceptable as the 'imaginary' line joining two points so whoever reported us to Clipper for the rule infringement was wrong. More significantly the race was extended by 500 miles as the lead boats were going to get into Derry too early. This, after we were promised an extension would never happen again after the 'tour' round the South China Sea as we headed for Da Nang. Rather than cross the finish line we were to round Tory Island just off the coast of northern Ireland and head northwest out into the North Atlantic towards Rockall, round this jutting out lump of rock, sail around St Kilda to the east before heading back to Derry and across the original finish line. As you can imagine we were not pleased with this extension and there was a lot of anger
around our delay into port, especially as we had been promised, personally by the Mayor of Derry,
that the city would be ready for us whenever we arrived. This anger was compounded when one of the skippers reported that there was an area near St Kilda that was being used as an active torpedo range during the daylight hours of the days the fleet was going to be in the area. Why hadn't Clipper picked this up before setting up the race extension?

The next challenge was a large wind hole that was due to appear, and yes, we did get stuck in it enabling GB to get past us. But fifth is a respectable position and I am happy with that.

One of the challenges over the past week has been the upwind sailing with the boat heeled over at 45 degrees plus. This has inevitably made getting around the boat difficult, especially down below and in my bunk. I haven't actually fallen out but I know Dolores has on at least one occasion. One of my
tasks has been to help with the repair of the Code 2 (medium weight) spinnaker. The sail was torn from head to clew all down one side, about 12 meters of tear, when both of the sheets, one active and
the second a back up, broke one after the other. Taping and then stitching took about 48 hours of work for the six or seven of us who volunteered to help fix it. Clambering around the galley area, over the sail which was on the floor, and using the sewing machine on a "flat and dry surface" (ha ha) has been interesting.

Just crossed the finish line - 1525 UTC (1625 BST) - so Race 12 is finished. Now time to make a cake.

We eventually got into Derry on the evening of the 6th and after staying on the boat for that first night I am now living in a small house within the city walls and next to the cathedral. My sister, Libby, plus
brother in law and friend arrive this evening (10th) and my uni friend, Linda, and Martin come in to Derry on the 12th. The city is buzzing with the Foyle Maritime Festival and I am looking forward to another week on dry land before heading off on the penultimate race to Den Helder.

What was it like having so many people on board, 23 including Cloughy? It did get very congested at watch change as we all tried to either put on or take off our foulies in a very small area, made worse when we were going along at 50 degrees. There were often not enough places to sit down to eat, especially while the sails were being mended in the saloon area and there were usually queues to get to the heads. Having so many on the watch though meant we could have a break from the cold and wet when the weather conditions got nasty but it also meant that at times there were too many of us for the available roles. So a mixed blessing really. Three people are getting off for the next race so we should have more room and the boat will be a little lighter.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Race11 - Panama to New York

I am starting to write this as I sit in my Aunty Eve's garden in Connecticut having escaped from the boat for a few days after arriving in New York ahead of the official arrival window and three days ago. The challenge is now to recall what it was like on CV30 for the 12 days it took to get here from Panama.

We left Colon, Panama, about 9.45pm to meet up with the final three boats transitting through the canal. Shelter Bay Marina felt like an airport departure lounge where a flight has been delayed and everyone is hanging around waiting for something to happen, quite unsettling! We were eventually sent to the boats to slip lines and head out towards the Caribbean where the race was due to start the following day. A strange feeling as it was, unusually, dark and there was a sense of escaping from somewhere in the dead of night. It is reminded me of the Von Trapp family as they were leaving their house to escape from Austria.

The race eventually started a day late as we tried to find some reasonable wind for the Le Mans start. The fleet then headed north east towards Jamaica and then between Cuba and Haiti with strict instructions to stay clear of territorial waters. This we did though LMax managed to incur a one hour penalty for sailing too close to one of the islands - not sure which.

On board it was hot and humid, unbearably so at times. With little wind the temperatures down below soared and everyone was dripping buckets of sweat by just lying in their bunks, and when the prickly heat rash came back on my legs I found it impossible to get a decent sleep. We all became irritable but managed to continue racing as the winds picked up and the temperatures slowly dropped.
Unfortunately we had problems with the main sail and had to sail inshore to find lighter winds so that Cloughy could go up the mast with a hammer to fix it. This resulted in our position dropping from fourth to ninth, and from which we never recovered. We also had issues with one of the spinnaker halyards breaking as we jostled for position with Great Britain. They shot ahead only to lose their spinnaker in the same way but we were too far behind to catch up at that point. We were lucky this
time in that the sail did not get tangled around the rudder as before and the crew were able to retrieve it without too many problems or too much damage.

Winds picked up as Tropical Storm Colin passed us to the north with winds gusting up to 60 knots. The boat broached at one point and after some quick thinking of those on deck the CV30 righted itself and we were able to continue. Nothing to be worried about as for those of us who had crossed the Pacific on Leg 6 the conditions were not as bad. 'Colin' passed over us and within about eight to nine hours the winds had decreased and the sea state calmed down, on occasion to the point where we were progressing at 2-3 knots. Wind strength and direction regularly changed and Cloughy found it hard at times to decide which sails to hoist - Yankee and stay, code 2 spinnaker, windseeker, back to yankeee but which - 1 or 2? The crew became exhausted with all the raising and lowering of sails and we still didn't make up any position. There were times during all of this when we could see up to six or seven other yachts around us, all tantalising close but just out of reach.

Animal life increased as we headed north and we were often entertained by pods of dolphins as they swam alongside the boat - a wonderful sight. Fishing of the back of the boat was unsuccessful, though at one point the line and lure were taken by something large but unidentified. What I will remember is the sky, sunrises and sunsets and once the sun had gone watching the stars rise and become brighter. As before, and with no light pollution, the sight overhead was stunning as we could track the Milky Way across the heavens and identify many stars and constellations. Mars was brilliant and positioned at the head of Scorpius, a huge constellation that looks like an upside down question mark. I wish I knew more about the stars! Since being in New York I have bought an app for star gazing. Just hoping now that there are clear skies as we travel east to Europe.

We crossed the finishing line just after 0200 in heavy seas and strong winds before motoring around 60 nM into New York. I was on 'mother' watch that morning and we served up bacon and eggs as we rocked and rolled our way northwest. We came a disappointing ninth in this race, partly due to bad luck with halyards and main sail problems but also, perhaps, because some of the tactical decisions maybe could have been different.

As many have seen on Facebook my mother was at the marina to meet the boat. What a wonderful surprise and totally unexpected. She had come over to see me but also to visit her sister, Eve, in Ridgefield, Connecticut. As a result I helped with the deep clean on the first full day then travelled north by train to visit the relatives. I needed a break from the boat, from maintenance and from everyone else. I am now typing this on the train back to New York, hopefully refreshed and ready to get back on the boat. Unfortunately I think I have left my phone in Eve's car - not good!

Friday, 10 June 2016

New York

Arrived safely in New York to be met by my mum. What a wonderful surprise!

Will update the blog when I get a chance.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Panama Canal

The Panama Canal has to be one of the highlights of the trip and it didn't disappoint. The boats all go through rafted up in threes and we were in the middle with Derry on one side and Telemed on the other, and the first to go through. It was an early start as we waited for the three pilots, one for each boat, before we could transit. Before going into the locks we passed under 'The Bridge of the Americas' and past the start of the lock system for the new canal, to be opened in June of this year. Though I'm not sur how ready they are.

Going from the Pacific side towards the Atlantic involves two locks, a small lake then another 'going up' lock before crossing Gatun Lake at the top followed by three 'going down' locks. We transited with Valrossa, a large tanker like ship, behind her going up and in front going down - something to do with currents  and water disturbance when the locks are filled and emptied. The ships are initially helped into the locks with tugs pushing and pulling them into place, the tugs being replaced with small locomotives to move them from one lock to the next. I was surprised at the close fit of the ship with only what seemed like inches of space on either side of it.

Once we got into Gatun Lake we had to wait for a replacement pilot to take us on to Colon which prolonged the journey by 3-4 hours. The weather for the entire day was typically tropical rainforest with continuous rain, albeit warm rain, though I did get quite chilly once the sun set.

We eventually got to Shelter Bay marina at about 10.30 pm, a small establishment on the opposite side of the Canal to Colon and effectively in the middle of nowhere. I stayed on the boat for the first night then moved to an hotel on the outskirts of Colon that was also in the middle of nowhere. In fact it took longer to get from the hotel to the marina than it did to drive from the hotel to Panama about 40 miles away.

It is now Sunday 29th and we leave this evening to meet the last three boats through the canal before heading unto the Caribbean and on to New York. The arrival window into NY is the 12-14 June so let's hope for a good race and early arrival.