After our Atlantic race (see part one and two here) followed by an incredible couple of weeks in N Ireland, we were ready to set sail again. The last ‘big’ race, 1,000 miles around Ireland and over the Irish Sea to the English coast.
Londonderry was a great stopover, with much fanfare and an incredibly warm welcome. I was lucky enough to take part in the Parade of Light (part of the Maritime festival) and also got to be guest crew in a traditional Irish punt race. Memories I will treasure forever.
On the afternoon before race start, all crews head to the guildhall for a briefing. There, Robin Knox-Johnson tells us “You did something an awful lot of people and sailors would like to do. You got out there and you did it. You’ve achieved something remarkable”. Yes, I suppose we have! I can’t wait to get stuck in to the next week of racing.
22nd July – Race start
The send-off was absolutely incredible. There were thousands of people lining the banks of the Foyle, all waving and cheering. Thank you Derry, for having us.
We mill about in the river, before forming a parade, to give one last thank you to the city, and then we head off down the river to the start line.There’s quite a long wait for race start, at 5pm. And we’re all eager to get away. We practice some drills, conscious that the next week is going to be very tough and we need to minimise any mistakes.
A series of loud canons blast out from the shoreline, echoing around the bay, and we’re off. The initial course, is an inshore race (put on for the spectators), before we head offshore. The start and first few hours were hectic, with the 11 race boats in incredibly close quarters. There were near collisions, much tacking and gybing, and countless sail changes. It was so exciting, everyone working hard, and great team spirit on-board. And then just when we thought we were going to get away, the wind died a death. A sailor’s nightmare!
We play cat and mouse, and there’s much jostling of position before we finally get away.
23rd July – Day 2
It’s pitch dark and I’m on the 12 – 4am watch. The Irish drizzle has duly soaked me. It’s now blowing 20kts, and it’s on our nose. I am so thankful that I remembered to take my sea sickness tablets. The boat is beating in to the wind and waves.
I head up on to the bow to call trim. The red light from my head torch lighting up the sail, my tether taking the strain every time the boat slams down beneath my feet. Several waves crash over the bow, completely soaking through every single layer. For some reason I opted not to wear boots and as such my deck shoes, and socks are also full of salt water. But we perfected the trim and that’s all that matters. We’re leading, and need to push hard to keep it that way.
I head to my bunk, hopeful that my clothes are in some way salvageable. I only have one other outfit for the rest of the race, and so having to change on the 2nd watch is far from ideal.
Before long, I’m up for the 8am – 2pm shift. I’m pleased with the simple breakfast of cereal and toast. We are still close-hauled, and are heeled over on a 45+ degree angle.
Disappointing news, we’re in 7th place. We’ve taken a slightly different route to the virtual mark. We have to trust in our skipper, he knows what he’s doing and I’m sure it will come good, but for now 7th it is. It’s cold and overcast on deck, and we can see 3 other CV boats.
I spend some time on the stern, and the last 30 minutes of the watch on the bow, for which the drizzle cleared and the sun came out. The atmosphere on-board is mixed, a few of the crew are quite grumpy – a side effect of living in this environment for such a long time I suspect. And so I enjoy the peace and quiet of the bow. It really is heavenly – witnessing the raw power of the waves and the wind, it never gets tired.
At 7pm I head below and wake the off-watch. Apparently I’m not the best person for this job. A shout of ‘Wake up!’ and flicking the light on isn’t much appreciated, and one of the ‘worlders’ suggests I take a slightly softer approach in the future! There’s a mixture of wake up routines from the crew, and everyone’s is different. Some gently stroke your arm (which I find quite disconcerting), others find it hilarious to put their face within inches of yours (equally disconcerting), and others shine a red torch light in to your eyes… I didn’t think my approach was too bad in comparison to these, but clearly it hasn’t gone down well, and should I do wake up again I assure everyone that I will try to be softer in my approach!
24th July – Day 3
I had the pleasure of the most beautiful sunrise on the 4 – 8am watch. It was more like a sunset than sunrise, with burnt orange hues lighting up some beautiful craggy rocks, just South of Donegal Bay. The coastline is truly stunning, far better than I ever imagined. Mountains and rolling hills line the coast, losing their heads in the mist and clouds, with their feet disappearing in to the sea.
Overnight, we’ve managed to claw back places, and GT’s plan has paid off. We’re now in 2nd place and have 1st in our sights.
I’ve just finished the 2 – 8pm watch. It was a beautiful, peaceful watch in the sunshine, and I spent most of my time on the bow. A pod of dolphins joined me at one point, which is always most welcome.
There’s still a handful of Clipper boats in sight, and we’re all racing hard. The branding on Qingdao’s hull is clearly visible off our port beam, this promised to be a close race, and it is delivering.
Land is slipping in and out of sight. When it’s in sight, it really is a real treat. We’re just South of Limerick now, and roughly 20 – 30nm offshore.
Now to sleep. We’re expecting 40kts of wind, on the nose later. I must close my eyes.
25th July – Day 4
It’s 10.15pm, and I’ve been cooking and washing up since 6.15am, following a busy 12 – 4am watch. I’m lying in the coffin bunk fully clothed, and I’m about to close my eyes.
I was on chef duty with James, a really nice guy who I haven’t got to know too well previously. He’s been on the race for the last few legs, and is very calm, considerate and thankfully, amazing in the galley!
We did cereal and toast for breakfast (far better than damn pancakes – see part one of my Atlantic race to understand why I hate pancakes so much!) although people did moan that the toast was cold, which caused me much annoyance. This was followed by fajitas for lunch (using dehydrated mix), Spaghetti bolognaise for dinner, followed by Chocolate cake, with caramel and custard!
We cooked all of this whilst heeling at more than 45 degrees (our spirit level only records up to 45 degrees) and whilst falling off the waves in an irregular pattern. This made everything 10 times harder than normal, as we had to climb from one side of the galley to the other, and as the boat dropped off a wave and then subsequently slammed in to a wall of water, pots and pans clattered about, and we leapt to grab at lids and anything else that might go flying and cause us further angst. This happened again and again throughout the long chef watch. It was a continuous battle, but we came off well with all food being well received.
It’s one of our crew members birthday today, Erik’s 70th no less. We surprised him with balloons, birthday banners, and a card, which I think he will treasure. What a way to celebrate your birthday, on-board Garmin, heeled over at 45+ degrees in 25kts of wind on the nose! Eric was so pleased with his surprises, and it really made today feel special, despite the chef duty and conditions.
Erik is a much loved crew member, he was a ‘worlder’ but unfortunately got incredibly ill during the Southern Ocean race, our medic Nell literally saved his life, before he was rescued in a medevac by the Australian Navy. He re-joined the team several months later, and we’re all so pleased he’s on the race and that we’re celebrating with him today.
26th July – Day 5
I can’t believe that it’s nearly all over. 3 years of planning, and there’s less than 48 hours left. It’s a strange feeling. I’m loving every minute, and don’t really want it to end. The Clipper boats are incredible, and I doubt that I’ll have the opportunity to sail such a magnificent boat again. Very mixed feelings for all the crew.
It’s 2pm and I head on deck. The sun is shining, there’s no land in sight, but we do have company in the way of CV yachts. There are 2 directly ahead (approx. 7nm) and 1 astern (approx. 4nm). We are in 3rd place and long may it continue, we’re pushing hard and earning our place.
What a perfect watch. The sun shone the whole time, we had our code 2 spinnaker up, and rotated between various roles. The wildlife couldn’t have given us more, a huge whale surfaced and then dived back in to the deep, flicking its tail at us as he did. This was followed by the most incredible pod of dolphins, who seemingly spotted us from afar and formed a line on the horizon, racing towards us at speed and in perfect formation, with the sun glinting on them. They frolicked, splashed and did a series of back flips before disappearing out of sight. Soon after, a solitary dark triangular fin sliced through the water, just off our beam – the un-mistakable fin of a shark. The 2nd we have spotted on this leg. We are truly blessed.
There’s less than 200nm to go, and we can’t see land yet, but I’m sure it won’t be long. I’m trying to savour every moment. Life on the ocean really is a dream.
27th July – Day 6
I was on the 12 – 4am, and then back on for the 8am – 2pm. We pushed and we pushed, we had all crew on deck (mainly as ‘rail meat’ i.e. human ballast – putting all crew on the high side to balance the boat), battling hard against the Liverpool boat. We were 1.9nm behind them and managed to close the gap to just 400 metres, with us due to cross just in front of the line. But after a lot of jostling, it wasn’t to be and we finished just 200 metres behind them, in 3rd place. 3rd place feels great, on the last race I was disappointed with this position as we let ourselves down with silly mistakes, but this time it feels absolutely amazing. The difference being, we worked so hard and gave it our all to be here, there were no significant mistakes and everyone pulled together.
We break in to instant celebrations, with everyone embracing and cheering. For some, this marks the completion of their circumnavigation – quite an incredible moment to share. Eyes are filled with tears and we chant and sing on deck. We congratulate the other boats, and circle on the finish line, waiting to congratulate the other boats as they cross, but especially Seattle, led by skipper Nikki – her crossing the line secures her 2nd place overall, an incredible achievement for the young female skipper, and a significant moment in the world of sailing.
We’ve got a night offshore with the engine on tonight, ahead of a 20nm sprint in to Liverpool in the morning, so although one race has ended, another is on the horizon. We need to sleep and rejuvenate, we want to win this. Winning the sprint will secure us 4th place overall, failure to win will mean that we end up with 5th overall, so for us tomorrow it really is all or nothing.