Boxing Day

In 2001 I watched the start of this spectacular race.  Little did I know
that 14 years later I was going to be one of the lucky ones on the water.
Of course there was much hype this year about the weather (as always?) and perhaps that increased the anticipation somewhat added to the occasion.

After our parade of sail in front of the opera house adn bridge and our
compulsory pass of the committee boat with the storm sails up it was show time.  Every time I glanced up there were yet more boats.  And more.  I have sailed a couple of times in the round the island race with 1200 competitors but this was different, so much more exhilarating.  The narrow channel created by the natural harbour and the flanks of spectator boats added to the drama as did the competition; wild oats, camanche,
rambler…all the big boys.  Dad and Karen were somewhere on the listing
Manly ferry but I couldn’t pick them out.  It was quite simply incredible.
Further, I think I had the best seat in the house on the pulpit of Missi.
There was only one time I retreated at pace and that’s when there was
almost human transfer with Derry! I am so glad that we were on our 35
tonne, 70ft monster.

The start conditions were perfect for us and our new yankee 2. Enough wind to get us going at a good pace. Greg once again pulled off a blinder of a start and we were in the top three Clipper boats across the line and at the pointy end of our startline fleet.  After the last leg know we can hold
ourselves the only diference being that this time we were even hungrier.

As we passed through the heads and hoisted our code 2 (also new) we had our first lightning on the horizon.  A gentle reminder that the weather was due to turn.  It was quite a spectacle to be leading the Clipper armada (LMaX off to Starboard and most others in tow) with the fading sun illuminating
the kites.

Almost to the minute (10pm on first night), along came the wind, the change of direction and a call for the yankee three and three reefs in quick succession as planned.  I’m glad we’re not on a natty little carbon fibre number and I’m also glad that we have seen and survived mother nature trying to kick the woolly socks out of us before.  With wind speeds of 50kts and a very angry sea state Missi did us proud.  Carving through or
falling off each wave, neither particulary pleasant, Missi was tough as old
boots. I understand that others were perhaps less lucky with 34 boats
retiring so far?

Just as we thought the wind was starting to fade (late morning of day 2) it
changed its mind and we were back to three reefs and dropped our staysail.  The white froth was spewing over the low-side helm and I think it has sadly taken our boat head-cam with all the start footage as casualty.  At this point a smaller yacht with its storm jib passed ahead of us.  One of the few vessels we’d seen since the commotion of the start and dispersion soon after we’d left the heads.

For the first 36 hours Missi looked like a scene from a warzone with bodies
everywhere.  At one point there were only 3 able bodied people in our watch and our watch leader Mike was not one of them.  The sea state has caused many to pop their sea-sickness cherry and many others to turn animal-like in their behaviour.  People being sick out of the companion way, in the galley sink, in the heads, in their hands, in bin bags.  Oh jeeeez.  Those that felt fine, I was one of them, set about the chores of many to try to make the place slightly more habitable.  Surface wipe down, bilge emptying, heads cleaning and so on.  A pretty brutal time.

It was just at the end of this time that we fell off our biggest wave to
date.  The usual eerie silence coupled with weightlessness quickly followed
by an almighty bang.  The boat was fine, the crew less so.  At precisely
that moment after having moved our ailing spinnaker (yes, I found a riped
seem in our new code 2) and had cleared the bilge area ready for bailing, I
was traversing the galley to the high side. Before I knew it I was
apparently 4ft in the air.  Its rather unfortunate that my landing sight
would be the metal bar or bilge workings of the lower wet locker some 6
feet or so away.  I had gathered enough momentum that the rib-first landing was going to hurt.  It did.  And it still does 24 hours on. I am so very grateful that Nicholas was there to ‘catch me’. When the almost instanaeous ‘is everyone ok’ shout went up I had to say no.  Initially I held off taking painkillers because I wanted to know the extent of the damage.  That changed about 15 minutes later!!!

Sadly that marked the end of my likely contribution to this race.  I have
spent the last 24 hours below trying to heel.  Don’t worry because I have
made a marked improvement as I can now walk around unaided and am smiling again. Here’s to hoping that it is not the end of my Clipper experience and I do get some champagne sailing to the Whitsundays.  Thankfully my incident coincided with a significant drop in wind and a flattening of the sea state and boat.  Everyone has been amazing coming to help me tack in my bunk (avoiding pressure on my left side!) or resupply me with paracetamol.  I’m sure I’ll make it on deck before the finish and will be right as rain in no time.  Mum, be rest assured it is not serious as I can breath easily and have no sticky-out bits!!!

The watches have worked tirelessly together to compensate for being light-handed.  We’ve only had one position report since the start and that was a few hours ago to tell us that we were second in our fleet. Wow.  Good on Missi and her crew.  I can assure you of one thing.  That podium spot is
gong to be fought for like no other.  I will do my bit (whatever that is)
and everyone else will keep doing there’s to ensure that we feature in the
Rolex Sydney Hobart 2015 prize-giving.

All we need now is for the wind to come around as planned so that we can
point in the right direction!

Come on Missi!!

Boxing Day

Keeping it brief

This morning was our final brief before breaking for Christmas. It was also Gavin’s last opportunity to go up the mast. “Just tie a blood knot” Greg said. Well, it’s a bit different when you’re 90ft up without a handbook!

image

The work is done, we have a full compliment of sails and my hair’s plaited. Now all we have to do is sail fast.

A few amendments to our watches to balance the muscle. The main difference being that Richard joins port watch. Welcome. This means that Christian is my new bunk buddy (formerly Vin’s) and he joins me on the mid starboard upper bunk. We will be hot AND high side bunking so I fully expect Christian and I to be pretty mobile. I will also be spending this leg in my recently repaired dry suit at all times and will be forfeiting my matress to remain deck ready.

Two new bits of kit join the leg. A personal EPIRB in addition to our personal AIS beacon and a new sparkly pair of Zhik ocean racing boots. You may remember that the latter not only required plastic bags to keep my feet dry but had also worn through the sole on one foot-the dominant high side foot!!! Poor boots for this sort of sailing but incredible customer service. Thank you!

On Boxing Day Dad and Karen will be watching the race start from the manly ferry. You too can watch one of the most exciting race starts in the world as you digest your turkey. We need all the support we can get!

There will be no live stream of the start on the Clipper Race website, but the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is broadcast live on the Seven Network throughout Australia, and webcast live to a global audience on Yahoo!7 and live streamed via mobile.

 

image

 

Keeping it brief

Twenty Questions

The lovely Dean from work sent me an email with questions and I thought I’d share my response:

How were the night skys ? Bet they were great to look at?

Stunning to look at but you’d be amazed at how few cloudless nights we’ve had. Plenty of big weather in the southern ocean that’s accompanied by low cloud. I wish I’d done more research into the Southern Hemisphere night skies (and whale migration patterns) before setting off.

Biggest wave? 40ft. That’s plenty big enough.

Best day? There have been many amazing days/watches/moments where you find yourself grinning from ear to ear. The whole journey has been a personal progression, first leg having my time forward of the mast minimised, second leg being a contributing member of the bow team and third leg running the bow. With that in mind it had to be one of the super active days on the last leg when we’re did multiple sail changes in seriously rough weather without any issues and plenty of smiles (and bruises).

Worst day? This is an easy one. The day I thought I was going to die! Our first night out of Cape Town. Trees being uprooted on land and there we were in the middle of a massive storm having taken us by surprise and consequently being very ill prepared for it. Further we were on the notorious Agulhas bank, home of wild, destructive sea state. Not pretty and it was a lucky escape to have just one human casualty and one and a half sail casualties.

Best new friend and why? This is a toughy because I have made so many friends. There’s something pretty special about someone who can make you laugh or help you in desperate times.

Best thing u have seen? In the dead of night we were approached and serenaded by a pod of dolphins. You only knew they were there because of the phosphorescent lines in the water like lasers. A close second has to be some of the sun sets/rises.

Food u have missed the most? Vegetables, fresh milk and anything chilled/iced.

How many times have u play rod stewart? No rod Stewart. Music was a fairly rare treat given it had to coincide with light winds and there being charge in the deck speaker often found with the other watch!!

Would u do it again? I would recommend for anyone to do it. It’s like a marathon. You say never and then as soon as the dust has settled (or in my case I’ve had a shower) then it seems like a great idea to press repeat!

Twenty Questions

Whipping Missi into Shape

Our time in Sydney had flown and with a couple of days to go I have to forgo a bit of the holiday fun for ‘work’. There are plenty of things to fix or modifications to make to Missi to ensure she’s race ready, particularly this race.

For those in the UK thinking that I’m sunning myself you’re (sometimes) mistaken. Yesterday it poured and once again I was soaked to bone. Perhaps a healthy reminder? It doesn’t seem so bad with freshwater given your clothes dry.

With Edwin’s help I milked the new Yankee halyard (ensuring any excess sheath protecting the strong spectra core is gathered and removed), whipped it (to keep the core and sheath together and to prevent fraying), moused it to a line I had prepared in the mast (to feed the new line to the top of the mast without having to climb up) and applied an anti-chafe cover.

Today was spent with rest of the crew and the jobs list. For me that included fishing the Yankee halyard, hoisting Gavin up and down the mast (new radio antenna, servicing blocks at top of mast and threading the spinnaker halyard), shifting sails to the park (to template our boat’s sail number to be SH race compliant) and loading some last minute food supplies including apples! I also found myself being an unofficial clipper tour guide to passing visitors who wanted to know more and fashioning a necessary belt for my shorts from a sail tie.

The Marina is alive and buzzing with all those tinkering ahead of the race. It’s so nice for the Clipper yachts to have company. It’s easy to spot our 12 masts!

image

Of course I couldn’t quite forgo all fun. For Christmas Dad and Karen bought me a flight in a sea plane around the harbour. I thoroughly recommend! Thank you!

 

Whilst on the subject of thank yous, I have two more. One for the lovely man who gave me his umbrella yesterday (an umbrella didn’t make the luggage cut). And one for the amazing train lost property company who located my purse, money and flat keys on the other side of Sydney.

I thought it probably also overdue to give you a renovation update…

Now for Christmas, the bridge climb and stugeron.

Not long now xx

Whipping Missi into Shape

A sinking feeling

 

…hopefully not literally you understand!!

Today was the first of the official weather briefing for the Sydney Hobart race. It’s a far more formal affair than the clipper briefing given the history of the race. The officials want to ensure that the race of ’98 is never repeated. It’s simple to understand why…

115 starters

66 yachts retired

55 sailors air lifted

35 aircraft used

27 naval vessels involved

6 dead

This is why my stomach churns with headlines such as the below.

http://m.dailytelegraph.com.au/sport/more-sports/sydney-to-hobart-2015-fleet-braces-for-most-dangerous-conditions-since-deadly-1998-race/story-fni2frsp-1227684804481

The good news is that the clipper crews have been through a lot already. Never wind over tide / wind funnelling to this extent but we have got ocean miles in our legs, plenty of them. Hopefully that’ll help. Sir Robin certainly thinks so.

I also take reassurance from the fact our boats are 35 tonne reinforced lumps and not natty little carbon fibre numbers. I know which one I’d rather be on.

A lot can change in a few days so let’s see.

In other news Vin’s operation has gone well and Mary’s father has sadly died at the age of 92 so she too is leaving Mission Performance in Sydney.

It’s peeing with rain and is cold here. I’m looking like a fool in my summery get up and sandals. Oh how I miss my jeans.

X

A sinking feeling

Love this place!

I won’t bore you with all the tourist chat but it’s fair to say that I’m making the most of my time in Sydney; Manly, Blue Mountains, Watson Bay, Botanical Gardens, Opera House, Bondi, The Rocks. Making new friends and catching up with old ones. It continues to be a blast. Must do more relaxing (and sorting) though as its now only 5 days until race time. An early Christmas present in the form of an afternoon of pampering tomorrow. That’ll do the trick!

What you need to know about the Sydney Hobart race…a 700 mile (3-4 day ) sprint that starts like this and ends with New Year’s Eve in Tasmania. The bit in the middle (the bass straight) is known to be a bit exciting and we’ve already witnessed that once. Surely it can’t be as exciting as the last leg? Or the Cape Town storm?  Or the wild Rio start? Or a flipping tornado? We shall see!

image

For those those of you that are keen beans and want to know more about the race and personal experiences along the way then take a look at the TV series. This is the one I’ll feature in for a subsequent episode:

A must watch ‘Race of Their Lives 2’ Clipper race gets its UK and European premiere broadcast on BLOOMBERG TV at 1100 GMT Sunday 20 December. BLOOMBERG TV can be seen in the UK on Sky channel 502; Virgin Media channel 609 and Freesat channel 208 – on series link!

 

Love this place!

Wet and wilder

I know for one my mum is absolutely delighted that I’m now on dry land and away from the perils of strong wind and unpredictable waters.

Cue Sydney Tornado.

In all seriousness, thank god we were on dry land. It crept up on us so quickly as we walked the coastal path from Bondi. Little did we know that after our dip in the sea we would attract the attention of a local photographer trying to capture the ferocity of the weather. Beautiful.

With Missi’s deep clean and our first day of boat maintenance out of the way I have tried to get out and about to see the sights.

 

Sydney has always been a special place for me as it’s the home of my first school, Manly High Public School. I remember catching the ‘Manly Fairy’, the commute along the beach on my envied BMX, the brown uniform, the chicken nuggets on Fridays and Veronica sticking out her tongue in Italian classes as if it were yesterday.

Early on I managed to whizz off to buy my long dreamt about trainers. It was time for my first walk/run/jog/sit on the grass in a looooooong time. What a place to do it and what a special run… 7.5km and 2 days later I still can’t walk. Perhaps more consideration should have been given to my 70ft play-pen over the last few months! I had to capture my abs (please excuse me) as I fear they won’t last. I was as shocked as you when I saw them. Turns out porridge and Nutella works a treat as does life at an angle!

I’ve already had so many special moments here. I’m hoping another onset of germs doesn’t interfere too much with the rest of the stay. My body clearly doesn’t appreciate the lack of sleep and goes a bit wild when introduced to the bacteria and viruses of the real world.

Over the coming days I plan to get festive at the Coogee Beach Christmas carols, explore the Blue Mountains, party with the sailors of the Sydney Hobart, catch up with friends, indulge in the spa and quench a thirst…

image

Wet and wilder

Race start

A few photos to demonstrate just how exhilarating race start is. 12 boats, 12 sets of tactics, a crew that have perhaps not raced together before, one short start line and a dash of adrenaline.

Here we are leaving Albany.

As mentioned in my last post our next race is the only public race of the circumnavigation, the infamous Sydney to Hobart. Well over 100 boats will be jostling for position with a spectating flotilla joining the dots. It’s going to be immense.

Shame that the advice for sea sickness prevention is to avoid large amounts of rich food, alcohol or sleep deprivation…its Boxing Day! Hopefully I’ll be able to maintain that the only wave for me was somewhere off the coast of Rio.

Race start