Racing The Atlantic, Clipper Race, Leg 8, Race 12 (Part 2)

I published Part 1 of my Atlantic Race a couple of weeks ago and you can read it here. This is the much anticipated 2nd part, in which we encountered some of the issues which defined our race, and finished with a warm welcome in Derry.


Monday 2nd July – Day 7
Another watch, another nightmare with a spinnaker.
It was all going well, until UNICEF started closing the gap again. The wind shifted and so we decided to get our code 2 (a mid-weight spinnaker) up. I was in the pit. A couple of crew were on the foredeck, and the call came to “hoist!”

We got her up, dropped the yankee. All good so far. Then 2 minutes later… BANG!!! This feels like de ja vu. The kite flapping wildy. I grab at the sheets in an effort to get her under control, and nearly get pulled across the pit. With all our might, as a team, we get the sail down. Tension is high, and the issues of crew ordering each other crew around earlier in the week, come to a head.

With one crew member instructing another to do something, there’s a bit of a challenge back, and the two men end up in a row of words. Chests puffed, threats are thrown back and forth. Are we really going to have a punch up here, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean??! GT spots what’s going on and immediately steps in, ordering for calm before later having a word with the crew involved. Another lesson learned in the importance of communicating with respect.

ps://”> Flying our one of our huge kites

[/caption]The problem with the sail had been caused by a weak strop, which caused the sail to fly free. Re-packing the spinakker takes 40 minutes, after which it’s dragged back on deck. We hoist, and all is good. Time to wake the other watch, brief them and get some rest. What an exhausting watch.

* * *
After a couple of hours sleep, it’s back on deck for the 8am – 2pm shift. The sun is shining, and off our beam, I spot a flotilla of Portuguese Man of War. Purple, blue and iridescent, they float past with their little ‘sails’ up. A few tip over in our wake, and I wonder where they’ve been and where they’re heading, as they silently pass us in all their deadly beauty.

Once the Men of War are out of sight, we are treated to an acrobatic display, courtesy of a pod of dolphins. They surface 20 metres off our beam, performing a series of somersaults and back flips. Much debate ensues. Are they doing this for us? Is it to help them remove parasite? Are dolphins doing this all over the Atlantic?! Whatever the answer, it was incredible to witness.

Down below decks, two of the crew are still busy with sail repair. A horrendously mammoth task, which sees them stuck in the airless sail locker for hours on end, doing their best with the tools at hand.

sail_repair_clipper_race”> Sail repair underway

The times is fl

[/caption]The times is flying by today, and before I know it I’m being woken again for the 8-12pm watch. We gather in the saloon for dinner, a cottage pie. Our diet is high carb, consisting of a lot of potatoes and pasta. I eat about half before feeling uncomfortably full. The food on-board doesn’t agree with me. In prep for the race, I’ve been eating low carb, and my diet on-board couldn’t be more different. I head up on to deck and throw up off the stern. Dinner is gone, I feel so much better. I make a mental note to try and reduce carbs if feasibly possible for the rest of the race.

We’re sailing well, on a broad reach. But about an hour in to the watch we have a change of helm, and unfortunately within seconds the new helm went too far down wind, then over corrected, and came too high on the wind, the boat lurching from one direction to the next. Reacting quickly, Bill gave a shout of “Everyone get down! Pit team GET DOWN!!” We all fall to the deck, making ourselves as small and low as possible.

The preventer lines squeak under the strain of the accidental gybe, the spinnaker collapses. Within the blink of an eye, GT appears on deck. Even when he’s asleep, he is at one with the boat. He feels every movement and never misses a beat. Thankfully nobody was hurt.

Everyone is quite alarmed by what’s just happened. Frustrated, irritated, and to add to it no apology was made, which never helps. I head to the stern for some quiet reflection.

It’s a beautiful evening. The stars are out on mass. The phosphorescent is twinkling away, and off our starboard bow, there is a bright burnt orange planet low on the horizon – Mars is rising. I have never seen such a sight. My eyes can’t take it all in. There is so much beauty out here, even in the darkness of the night.

sam_mcclements_clipper_sailing”> On the coffee grinder, trimming with crew mate, Lyndsay

Tues 3rd July – Day

[/caption]Tues 3rd July – Day 8
I’m on watch from 4 – 8am. And am writing this from the nav station, where I’m on radar watch. The fog has closed in again. I’m feeling incredibly tired today. I think the dramas of the last few days have finally taken their toll, and my body is begging me for sleep. Added to that, I didn’t sleep much last night. Following our accidental gybe, I lay in bed doubting the ability of the crew that were on watch… could they keep us safe? What if they too accidentally gybed? What if this time the preventer lines broke and the boom brings down the mast? We’d be sure to capsize, and then how would the off watch escape?

My mind whirred and whirred all night long. For the first time, I didn’t feel very comfortable. I wasn’t scared, I just felt that I’d rather be on deck, and know what’s going on and have some degree of control. When I was awoken, I apparently mumbled and said ‘What’s happened? Do I need to go on the helm?’ The situation was clearly on my mind. All baseless, as the other watch, are of course incredibly competent.

It’s foggy this morning. And as such we’re taking 30 minute stints monitoring the radar, keeping a watchful eye for other vessels… not that there are any. We are alone out here.

Life on-board is very much, eat, sleep, sail, repeat. And before I know it I’m being woken for the 2 – 8pm shift.

We finally reach the scoring gate. Unfortunately the Seattle and UNICEF boats beat us to it. It’s a disappointment, but no surprise after our mistakes and woes. Alas, we’ve worked hard, and we celebrate with an understated dance on deck. We are 3rd through the gate, and so secured our first point of the leg.

8/09/teamwork_sam_mcclements.jpg”> Fun times with some of the team

There’s a fun atmosphere on deck, lots o

[/caption]There’s a fun atmosphere on deck, lots of laughs, jokes and nonsense conversations. Conversation which on land would seem utterly ridiculous. They are ridiculous on the boat, but there’s no one here to witness it!

I spent much of the watch grinding the spinnaker, and several hours trimming and controlling the ease. Both of these jobs are physically demanding, and mentally tiring, as they require full concentration.
There’s 1,200nm to Derry and 600nm until the ocean sprint. We’re still in 3rd place. There’s quite a swell today, with sizeable waves and fantastic surf. It’s a grey and drizzly afternoon. More dolphins. More whales. We are blessed out here.

om_water_sailing.jpg”> Sailing downwind, boom in the water

Weds 4th July – Day 9
After 2

[/caption]Weds 4th July – Day 9
After 2 days of downwind sailing, we finally drop the spinnaker and hoist our yankee foresail. It was a successful drop and hoist, we really are becoming a great team. Communication is good, the team work is excellent. Long may it last.

Alas at 4am I was pleased to head below, I was soaked through from a stint on the bow and pleased to see my bunk. Further to that, having not slept well while down-wind (due to unfounded concerns over accidental gybes), I’m relieved to be sailing upwind again. My bunk delivers and I secure 2.5 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Heaven.

limbing_mast.jpg”> A mast monkey

Thursday 5th July – Day 10
The watche

[/caption]Thursday 5th July – Day 10
The watches are coming and going fast. The atmosphere on-board is great. GT is in good humour, and Bill spent some time teaching me a ‘hitchy, hitchy, hitchy, rolly, rolly, hitchy, hitchy knot’ this morning – useful for taking tension off a line.

I had a short burst on the helm this morning, but I found it hard to stay on course, deviating within 10 degrees either side of where we needed to be. Not wanting to cost us miles, I asked to swap out. I am a believer in letting people do the jobs that they’re best at. We are not here for fun and giggles or for training, we’re here to race, to win. I am better placed on other jobs, where I can excel and help us do well, so I retreat to the pit.

We’re averaging about 13kts. A nice speed. And with sub 1,000 miles now, we’re still in the front 3. We should be in Derry in the next 4 – 5 days. We’re so close and yet so far.

antha_sailing.jpg”> Up on the bow… one of my favourite places

Friday 6th July – Day 11
I’ve just finished th

[/caption]Friday 6th July – Day 11
I’ve just finished the 12 – 4am watch. And I need to be up at 6am for chef duty (I’m not looking forward to this!), so I will be brief.
The watch was a rainy one. It dragged. I’m clearly tired, and am acting like an idiot, as I completely unnecessarily snapped at one of my crew mates, a close friend. A couple of things she’d said had annoyed me a little. And so, out of nowhere I snapped at her.

I feel utterly terrible for my outburst. I did apologise at the time, and when we came off watch I popped to her bunk and apologised again. She looked so upset and hurt. I wish I could turn the clock back. Sam you are an absolute IDIOT at times!

Aside from that, we have started the ‘ocean sprint’. We have a good success rate with sprints, and so are pushing hard to win.
I awake at 6am for my chef duty. And get to work in the galley, today is a world apart from the misery of my previous chef watch. For breakfast, we mustered up scrambled egg wraps, this took 1.5hrs, job done. We prepped lunch well ahead of time – couscous, chorizo, feta, and veg. Today’s menu is simple, and practical.

sam_mcclements_sailing Chef duty with Westy

At 10pm I finished my chef duty. We even managed to make a crumble for pudding, as a treat for everyone. But alas, some crew still managed to moan, as we hadn’t made custard. There’s no pleasing everyone!

As I head to bed, I still feel bad about the earlier altercation. I’m pretty upset about it all. I completely misjudged the situation. That’s what living in a confined space does I guess. But I have let myself down.

Saturday 7th July – Day 12
I feel clean!!!!! Give a girl half a jug of water and it’s amazing what she can do!

There are no showers on-board, and fresh water is in scarce supply. We have a water maker, and make enough to give us fresh water for cooking and drinking. For everything else, we have salt water. So to keep clean, most of us use baby wipes. My routine is that I baby wipe my entire body 3 times a day, before I go to sleep. This works well.
But post chef watch, I treated myself to half a jug of fresh water, this is something that a lot of people do, as chef watch is a hot and sticky task. With my half jug, I have washed my entire body with Dove, shaved my legs, and cleaned my teeth. This was followed by dry shampooing my hair, and fresh deodorant. I then changed my entire outfit, and smell like new.

Doing all of the above in the confines of the heads isn’t an easy task. I balanced on one leg, pumping salt water with the same leg, all with the boat slamming in to waves and bouncing around all over the place. But it was worth it!

We’re edging closer and closer to Ireland, with 340nm to the finish line. The first sign that we’re nearing land… Seagulls! I have never been so excited to see a Seagull.

I’m sitting on the high side, and off the beam I see a water spout. “whale! 9 o clock” I shout without thinking. The entire crew look at me with a baffled look. We’re only 100nm off the coast of Ireland, it can’t be a whale… With that comes the unmistakable spout again, and the whale surfaces. Seconds later more whales appear. There must have been 7 or so. All at the surface and going merrily on their way. One final handshake from the ocean?

Sunday 8th July – Day 13
It’s 4.14am and I’m just off watch, and what a disaster it was. We had edged back in to 2nd place. Yes 2nd! Then with a change of helm, came our disaster. The helm managed to wrap the kite around the forestay within seconds of taking the wheel. Our first mate, a well-humoured Aussie, grabbed the wheel in an effort to prevent further wrapping. And a few of us ran up to the bow to pull the offending sail in out of the water and see what we could do.

With no headsail up, our speed dropped from 11kts, to 2kts.
Within seconds GT was on deck. “What the hell is going on?” Furious, as we all were. But with good team work, and the leadership of our mate on the bow, we managed to unwrap the sail, and re-hoist. In the back of our minds, we all know that this will cost us places. All our hard work, undone in one simple move. No apology from the helm. This creates a fair amount of tension on-board. If you make a mistake, yes it’s a mistake, but an apology to the crew you have let down should surely follow? The atmosphere is not at all good as a result.

Sleep done, we head on deck for the 8am – 2pm watch.

My neck and shoulders are aching, after a tough few days I’m looking forward to a rest.

We’re apparently 3nm off the coast, but can’t see it. We’ve been welcomed to the UK with hazy drizzle and grey skies. We can smell the land though, and my god it smells good! It’s a fresh muddy, earthy smell. It’s quite incredible to smell land in the air.

Less than 100nm to race finish! We vow to fight until the end.
UNICEF are just 5nm in front of us, and we’re closing the miles. It’s exciting, we’re pushing hard, constantly trimming, and doing all we can.

Monday 9th July – Day 14
When I return to deck for the 4am watch, I can see land! What a fabulous site. Tory Island, a craggy Irish outcrop, is emerging from the mist. What a beautiful coastline. Land, I can’t believe it. The last we saw of land was sky scrapers on the US coast, and here we are, greeted by quite the opposite. We’ve made it!

upwind_sailing_garmin Closing the miles

Seattle have crossed the line. We continue our battle with UNICEF, but alas it’s not enough. The many mistakes have cost us and we take 3rd place. A wave of emotion hits, for the enormity of what we’ve just done. A few people have tears in their eyes, there’s lots of hugs on deck. This has been tough, but we’ve done it.

I feel so pleased to have finished, but inside I’m also incredibly disappointed with our place. We should have come in 1st or 2nd, it’s our own unforced errors that cost us. Not many people share my mind-set, or understand how I’m feeling. For many the race was about simply crossing the ocean, but for me it was about winning, or at the very least, doing our absolute best. GT and I chat, and are on the same page. It’s a good place to finish, but it’s disappointing for sure.

unicef_clipper_race Unicef just after crossing the line

In no time, we’ve dropped the sails and have the engine on, corporate flags flying, and we’re motoring behind Seattle and UNICEF. Some small craft come to welcome us in, congratulating us and bowing down in a sign of worship. This is all quite bizarre. People are gathered along the shoreline, cheering and clapping.
Before long, we arrive in Derry, greeted by hundreds of people lining the promenade. The mayor, lots of officials and 2 pipers await us on the pontoon. It’s quite a welcome. A hero’s welcome in fact. I don’t feel that we deserve this! And being amongst such fanfare after 2 long quiet weeks alone is all quite strange.

derry_maritime_festival_clipper_race Crowds gathered to see us in

We enjoy some cold drinks on deck (heaven after 2 weeks of de-salinized water!) And are then serenaded by the pipers to land. I can’t quite believe I’m here, or that all this fuss is for us. This will take a while to sink in.

garmin_team_sailing_sam_mcclements Team Garmin, celebrating our arrival in to Derry

Atlantic Ocean. Tick!

4 thoughts on “Racing The Atlantic, Clipper Race, Leg 8, Race 12 (Part 2)”

  1. Compelling and well received story.
    I have always been interested and know a lot of participants. None have anything good to report. I’ve even booked Level One training out of curiosity but at a true cost of about £100K I doubt it will persuade me.

    1. Thanks.
      I really think it is what you make of it, some people have good experiences on the race, others not so good. A lot of that depends on what type of person you are, but also what your reason for doing the race and objectives are.
      Good luck with training, I would love to hear how you get on and whether you decide to take it further.

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