The great southern ocean. The scene of many films and it turns on there’s a good reason for that.
I went into this leg with huge emotion. This was the reason I’d signed up to Clipper. I wanted tough racing. I left my mum and brother in Cape Town with tears streaming down my cheeks and my bottom lip going. Sunglasses were the accessory of choice on what I remember being a fairly overcast morning. My brother gave me a hug I will treasure forever and told me that no matter what happened there would come a point when I may have to step back from the crew and look after number one. Little did I or anyone else (including the skipper) know that would be on the first night.
We left the shores in first place, the second time that has happened in the two races I’ve been in (coincidental). Hope was riding high. I was the off watch on race start so tried to bunker down and refamiliarise myself with the motion of the ocean. It wasn’t long before the queasiness arrived as we were beating into wind.
As we came on deck at 4 am and left cape Agulhas lighthouse and the land behind us the journey became very real. I helmed under the watchful eye of James as grey clouds built on the horizon. Seemingly out of nowhere the sh*t hit the fan. Spectacularly. It wasn’t just the wind (up to 75kts) but the sea state as two oceans meet over the relatively shallow Agulhas bank. Mistakes in that storm were to cost us a podium, of that I’m sure. The silver lining? Focusing on survival seemed to be a great cure for sea sickness.
The weather was uncharacteristicly fickle for the Southern Ocean with just two days of rolling waves and high steady winds. Storms, wind holes, hail storms, you name it we had it. We also had the drama of injury; Gary and his broken/dislocated finger on night one and Kyro a couple of weeks in. My personal injury was my hair!
We’re not allowed to brush our hair down below and the windy deck doesn’t really lend itself to such things so as the days passed the hair increasingly suffered. By day 10 I was resigned to the fact it was all going to go and I booked a hair appointment through my step mum to do just that. I had a further 16 days to mourn (I had no idea I was that vein) and by our arrival I was ready for the chop. As many will know I’m pretty determined so just as I was about to put my head on my first pillow in a month I picked up a comb. Mistake. For several hours I sacrificed sleep for my hair and I won. Well, if you consider losing just three handfuls of hair victory.
The washing machine is now on (we’re having to be resourceful with hanging space) and I have another date with my bed shortly. Sadly but perhaps not surprisingly my glands are up and I have no voice care of laryngitis. In fact I’ve been in bed much of the afternoon missing boat prep. I appreciate a few crew feathers will understandably be ruffled but with just 3 days until race start I’m focused on getting myself better. The next leg will be gruelling as we’re light handed and we all need to have our a-game.
Tomorrow my adventure companion Sam leaves the race and heads back to England and work. It will be weird without her as our friendship started on our first level of training and as a fellow Tooting resident we regularly met to discuss the merits of wooly pants. To mark the end of her experience Dad very kindly took us flying over Albany and the Clipper fleet this morning. Skipper Greg was due to join but a last minute call for refuelling took precidence.
There were still two masts missing as we flew across the bay with UNICEF and Telemed still en route. We then got a little surprise as we looked down to see UNICEF cross the finish line escorted by LMAX the race winners. Our accidental timing was immaculate. A special sight and I can only imagine how relieved that crew must feel. Thanks dad! In fact my dad has become a local celebrity with radio interviews and front page attention in the paper after his surprise aerobatics display on Missi’s arrival. Just wow. Sorry UNICEF!
I had hoped that I’d be able to share with you lots of photos. I have some but as my camera is my iPhone/diary it stayed sheltered down below when there was any notable ‘weather’ (big waves, grey seas etc). Instead you get to see the albatrosses, stunning sunsets and motley crew.
It is pretty special to say that I’ve sailed the southern ocean.