Yoga and Yachting
Yoga and Yachting
Life at an Angle
On Sunday 27th October 2013 I left my loving family, comfortable home and nicely settled life to set off on my adventure with Clipper Ventures. The founder and chairman of the commercially-run business is Sir Robin Knox Johnson, who himself circumnavigated the globe 4 times; the first time solo in 1969. Clipper races started in 1995, using single-masted mono-hulls.
Sir Robin follows his Clipper fleets to every port, seeing us off on each race after having spoken to us from the heart on the standard pre-race briefing. The ‘13/‘14 race, having started on the 1st September ‘13 from St Catherine Docks in London, is the 9th round the world race for Clipper. This time 12 identical, brand-new, beautiful 70ft racing yachts departed on that day. The “brand-new” worried me a little, because I would not have minded if these boats had already been tried out and proven themselves going round the world once or so, but I need not have been concerned.
At least not for the boat I was allocated to, CV 20, sponsored by “De Lage Landen”, a worldwide, Dutch leasing concern. This company had 2 different employees participating on each leg. Employees competed to be allowed to take part. CV 20 officially sails under the name OneDLL and is lovingly nicknamed by the crew as “Big Blue”. She is indeed painted in my favourite colour (KLM!) blue and the sponsor kitted us out with a uniform of T-shirts and jackets in the same colour. I can honestly say we are the most recognizable and well-dressed crew amongst all the boats.
Anyone may sign up for this race; for the whole circumnavigation (which takes just under a year) or for one or more of 8 legs. I chose to do 2 legs because I wanted to experience the feeling of really belonging to the crew and not being just a drop in/drop out for a couple of weeks, although the slogan goes: there are no passengers on these boats, ever.
I chose what I considered would be the toughest 2 legs. Leg 3 from Capetown to Albany (Australia) and leg 4, consisting of 3 races, namely Albany to Sydney, Sydney to Hobart (joining the epic annual race) and Hobart to Brisbane..
One need not have sailed before to join up and age is not considered. The initial interview, 3 intensive weeks of training, which are obligatory before being accepted, sift out those who are not going to be up to this and also give candidates a chance to change their mind about participating!
I do advise anyone contemplating to do such a challenge to start training and getting as fit as possible before boarding a boat. This valuable advice was given to me by Chris Vis (a brother-in-law, a few times removed) when he started the ball rolling by telling me about the Clipper races 18 months prior to the race start. He himself did most of the legs on ‘Jamaica, Get all Right’ in the ’13/’14 race.
I was so unsure of my sailing capabilities, that on top of my 3 weeks training I enrolled in a week of theory, which was on offer. I also put my name down and was lucky enough to be accepted as part of the crew that delivered the boat from her home harbor in Gosport to London’s St Catherine Docks for the race start. The delivery turned out into another (4th) week of training with my own skipper and crew. It was the first opportunity I had to sail under Olly Cotteral, the 28-year old skipper on OneDLL. He was to be the only professional on our boat and from the very first moment I met him, back in May ‘13 at the crew allocation in Portsmouth, I knew I could trust him with my life. It sounds dramatic, but actually it really felt like that during the dark moments on the Southern Ocean. He is a huge chap, strong as an ox, an excellent “people-person” and manages to keep the respect of the crew, yet at the same time be one of them. Very clever and professional. Above all, he is an excellent skipper, sailing conservatively in order to spare his boat and crew. I like that! Nevertheless, we did RACE and did not fish, swim or do anything else that might slow the boat down! A podium place was our hope and I was lucky enough to experience this on 3 out of 4 occasions in the 2 legs/4 races I joined.
I did notice that as the racing progressed and the RTW-ers (round the world-ers) became more confident and capable the competitive sense increased dramatically. Especially after the first taste of receiving a 3rd podium place in Albany! It became harder for “leggers” to drop into the core of this crew as they join the race later on in the game. However, having got to know all the RTW-ers quite well on Big Blue, they will be welcoming and helpful in getting the newcomers settled and up to speed. They are a great group of people and very quickly became my second family. As I was walking the dogs this morning it struck me how odd it is that for 12 weeks I lived in such close quarters with about 20, initially, strangers, to the point that they knew how I drank my tea, which bunk I slept in, what day my birthday was on and even the colour of my underwear; yet they have no idea what the view is from my house, whom my friends are in my “normal” life or how I live it. At least they all did get to know John who came to Sydney and Hobart to be with me during the stopovers. He was taken up into the Big Blue family seamlessly, which was very nice.
By the way, I would like to bring to your attention that Clipper Venture supports the Ellen Macarthur Cancer Trust.
If you go to the site www.ellenmacarthurcancertrust.org you will find out the amazing effects that sailing has on young people recovering from cancer treatment. OneDLL, before the race started, made it into the Guiness Book of Records by tying over 2000 reef knots in an hour. These knots were then sold as armbands and a total of over £5000 was raised for the trust in this way. It didn’t stop with this and more has been raised as a team and individually and this will be ongoing. Please check out the site.
The trust relies totally on donations.
1 nautical mile=1,852 m; 1 knot=1 nautical mile/hour
Wind conditions vary between 0-12 on the Beaufort Force scale going from 0=calm; 1=light air, 2=light breeze, 3=gentle breeze, 4=moderate breeze, 5=fresh breeze, 6=strong breeze, 7=high wind, moderate gale, near gale, 8=fresh gale, 9=strong gale, 10=storm, whole gale, 11=violent storm, 12=hurricane force.
Some information from the log records:
Cape Town to Albany took 21 days from 4/11/13-25/11/13 and clocked 5140 nm. Wind conditions varied between 2-12 (Beaufort Scale). 3rd place.
Albany to Sydney took 9 days from 3/12/13-12/12/13 and clocked 2116 nm. Wind conditions between 2-10. 2nd place.
Sydney to Hobart took 3 days from 26/12/13-29/12/13 and clocked 765 nm. Wind conditions between 2-12. 4th place.
Hobart to Brisbane took 5 days from 2/01/14-7/01/14 and clocked 1220 nm. Wind conditions between 2-12. 3rd place.
The mileage for me over legs 3 & 4 was 9241 nm out of a total of 48,304 nm for the RTW-ers!
After a year of racing OneDLL came in 3rd place over all!
Three, two, OneDLL!
28th October-4th November
I spent these days in Capetown re-uniting with Olly and the crew members I already knew and getting to know the ones I didn’t. I visited Robben Island, hardly 2 weeks before Nelson Mandela passed away. It was a very touching tour being led around the prison by an ex-inmate who had shared the room with Mandela and so many other “criminals”. How the psychological make-up must be for someone like that can only be guessed. The last time I was in Capetown (apart from the fleeting visits when working for KLM) was with John in 1981. To think Robben Island was in full swing as a jail at the time and apartheid common practice is now hard to stomach. Especially when you realize how little you were told in those days and how warped the information was when you did get it. Table Mountain was another trip out and the views were as I remember from so long ago. It was just a lot busier and I couldn’t believe all the café’s at the top… With a little group we also visited 3 winery’s which always adds to the fun. I met up with a girlfriend from boarding school days, although our parents were friends from when we were 5 years old, so we must have known each other way before then. I also spent an evening with friends of friends. Everyone was so welcoming and so interested in this sailing lark. Otherwise time was spent working on the boat, getting it ready for the next race and exploring the lovely “Waterkant” harbor with all it had to offer.
On the 3rd November we had our crew pre-race briefing where we were given the information on where the waypoints would be (obligatory points which we have to pass); the scoring gate (a virtual line somewhere in the ocean where the first 3 boats that cross over it can earn 3-2 or 1 point) and the ocean sprint (2 lines which every boat crosses in as little time as possible in order to obtain 2 points for being the fastest). In the brief we are shown the predicted weather and on this leg it promised us some heavy stuff. Tactics are discussed in general terms. Sir Robin gives his pep-talk to us and the media show some impressive, prize-winning clips and shots. I like the crew briefs.
Monday November 4th is Race start for leg 3, race 4! The start also of what has been promised to me as an experience of a lifetime….. No going back now.
Leg 3-race 4-day 1&2
I wish you could be here with me experiencing what I am seeing, doing and going through. E.g. yesterday before the race start we were holding our parade of sail outside the harbour and saw 3 beautiful whales frolicking about in the clear blue waters with the Table Mountain as a backdrop. The wind was good, the weather warm and beautiful and the race start very exciting. Lots of yelling and cursing but all in good humour. We had a fine start and the route was set out along the bay for the benefit of the spectators on shore. Many boats on the water accompanied us out, amongst them the OneDLL spectator boat cheering us on and shouting our warcry: 3-2-OneDLL! Once we rounded the 3rd and last buoy we were off to Aussie-land! We came round the marker as number one and let our spinnaker fly. Only later did other boats follow suit. We made a very impressive sight on the clips we saw later.
On board we run 2 watches; the first one started at 6pm on race day one. I was in the second watch from 10pm-2am and again at 6am until midday. Just to explain: The 2 watches are divided into the Sharks and the Jets. I am a Jet. Watches run from 06.00-midday, midday-18.00, 18.00-22.00, 22.00-02.00, 02.00-06.00. Because there are 5 watches per 24 hours done by 2 teams; you therefore never get to repeat the same watch in 48 hours. This means that the dogwatch is shared fairly.
Our early morning shift started slowly, with a nice steady wind, big rolling waves and a swell that started to make some queasy. Then the dolphins came and played around the bow of our boat like children running alongside a bike or car, daring each other to come closer and then seeing who would hold out the longest. It was wonderful. I sat on the bow and couldn't stop watching them. Finally they wore themselves out and shot away.
The sailing right now is very calm and relaxed and easy but the mares’ tails in the sky are forming and the forecast is that the weather will build up and we can expect force 6-8.
Leg 3-race 4-day 3&4
Yesterday was a wild day. The previous evening the wind picked up and built up to a gale force 9 and continued like that for most of the day and following night. I was Mother but I didn't do a good job. Felt slightly queasy all day but when the smell of the frying beef filled the galley I felt really worse. Someone offered me an anti-seasickness tablet which made me throw up. First time ever. Also suffered a bit of migraine probably because the barometer dropped considerably. Others were great to take over where I had to leave off, but many were suffering more than I. I'm better today and feel much stronger. During the night we reached 30 knots of speed! The waves are massive, beautiful, huge and at night the phosphorescence is amazing. We had a whale too close to the bow for comfort but so beautiful! We saw a big albatross on our watch today and just now whilst I am down here in the galley area writing to you, a sperm whale has been spotted.
Well, I am skiving being down here and must get back on deck. Just missed one of those huge waves that decide to give us a good rinse and clean the deck. You have no idea how wet we get. Not just a splash but whole swimming pools get poured out over you!
Leg 3-race 4-day 5
I hope you are well and enjoying your sleep and other creature comforts for there are none here in the Indian Ocean. Relentless high, gusty winds and enormous waves make me think I shall never be able to walk on land again. I hope you are reading the skippers' blogs because they give you all the details of wind-speeds and boat-speeds and other happenings onboard. The boat rocks and rolls along like a ping-pong ball on the surface of the waters. At least we are going in the right direction, unlike some very unfortunate other boats. Garmin had to return to Capetown due to a failing in their rigging, but worse still PSP Performance turned back to Port Elisabeth with a crew member injured on the foredeck, skewering his leg on a cleat. Londonderry had to turn back with a crewmember having broken a limb. I don't know the details of what happened there. I just can't imagine surviving in a bunk with a broken limb under these conditions. Horrible! And having to beat against the wind all the 500 or so miles back. Olly is playing it safe and I am so grateful for his attitude and skills. We are doubly clipped on. The clips are 2 safety straps, one long for standing and one short for when seated. One end clips onto your life-vest and the other ends to strongpoints or the jackstays. We were told to use both when not moving about certainly after one of our crew was lifted by a wave and smacked into the guardrail last night (having only been clipped on by the long strap). He was dozing and didn't see it coming. He says he's ok but he's out of the running for now.
Like the others I am tired but at the same time exhilarated by the place we are in and I can't get enough of the beauty, strength and the wildness of this massive body of water. Temperatures aren't too bad but I am continuously sodden which gets chilly after several hours on deck, no matter what the temperature. I feel lucky to have been unwell only for one day. Some of the crew are still suffering. We are nevertheless in good spirits otherwise and doing well in our position in 3rd place. A long way to go yet.....
Leg 3-race 4-day 6&7
The last 2 days have been so busy. On Friday our lovely Danish crewmember Troels (who studied classical singing) and who has been seasick since we departed Capetown, inadvertently let the spinnaker halyard go just as we had got it up. It was unreal watching this long length of rope zipping away. Not a hope in hell to stop it without losing a hand or worse.
We then put the next best spinnaker up since the first one was badly ripped. That one soon after ripped as well. I have been spending many hours helping Denise, the head-sailmaker, repair these 2 enormous sails. We had a few hours of peace and quiet yesterday sailing-wise since we managed to find a windhole in the Southern Ocean. Quite novel actually!
We are going like the clappers again now on a relatively smooth ocean. With its huge swell we manage to surf from one wave-top onto the next which shows results of 30 plus knots. The sound is deafening. If we keep going like this we shall catch up with Henri Lloyd who is only 7 nms ahead and we hope to cross the scoring line in 2nd place, 650 nms away, which will give us 2 extra points. We are truly in the roaring 40's, having reached that latitude about 2 days ago. I am now finally experiencing the real meaning of the expression “Roaring 40’s”, a concept that has always worked on my imagination and fascinated me since I learnt about it in primary school in Brunei.
The temperature has dropped considerably and where as being wet in the 30's (latitiude) was ok, it is now not possible to stay on deck for a full watch without turning to ice. Below decks is not much warmer, since there is no heating. At least you are out of the waves and wind.
The crew is an interesting lot. I shall tell you about a few. Troels, the trained singer and currently employee of OneDLL has an amazing attitude. He is constantly sea sick but will not miss one single watch on deck. If he is below he needs to be horizontal, so he makes these (to us) hilarious dashes from his bunk to the head (loo), into his foulies and up the companionway on to deck (or in reverse) before you can say Jack Sparrow.
Then there is Stuart, a cranky, skeletal, older (65-ish) Scot, who has bruised (cracked?) a couple of ribs and goes about the boat groaning and moaning but otherwise suffers in morose silence. He sleeps on the bunk opposite me and gets up muttering Oh God, Oh Christ. A string of stronger expressions of pain and agony slip from him which luckily I can't quite follow. He is truly in pain but will not take it easy in order for his ribs to heal but he stoically battles on. A true Scot! I do like him.
Mark (nicknamed Jaeger), who was swepped away by a wave and slammed into the guardrail, is up again and slowly getting into gear. I have had a glimpse of his bruise and I have never seen one as big and black ever as on his hip, lower back and who knows how much further down...? Shame he doesn’t want to try some of my arnica remedies.
We also have Peter (Pierre), a master in martial arts, chosen to follow a special training in China, who twisted his wrist when one of the
halyards was set up incorrectly and consequently released. So he is out of action, which is bad, since he is one of the main watch leaders.
I am fine, black and blue with raw knees and bottom but otherwise very well. With my hands and feet constantly wet they no longer look like my own but I imagine/hope one day that this condition will reverse itself.
Food is not a joy on board. I am the only non meat eater and huge amounts of beef, ostrich and other unthinkables are being cooked and prepared here in the galley which makes it unpleasant for me to be inside during cooking hours. That’s when I do a “Troels-dash”.
Most of the crew think that taking the lumps of meat out for me makes the meal a veggie one. I try not to fuss too much but I am NOT gaining weight that's for sure.....I don’t feel hungry either and am quite happy with crackers and cheese and an egg now and then. There are apples and oranges for as long as they last and I have fed well on those. Half the cubby holes are packed with biscuits, chocolate, granola bars and horrible Haribo snakes and sweets.
I sleep better now during my napping hours and don't feel too tired. Olly says that if you can’t sleep on your off-watch, you are not tired enough. He also says that an off-watch is a privilege not a right..... so no complaining if there is an “all hands on deck” situation during your off-watch! That’s just tough luck!
On Jamaica apparently someone dislocated his/her? shoulder. I hope it’s not Chris. The other 3 boats are back in the race but of course have a long way to catch up.
So things are good on the Big Blue under the circumstances.
Well, time to write out another ship’s log (something which has to be done every hour on the hour) again and then I am going to try and have a go at helming under Olly's watchful eye.
Leg 3-race 4-day 8&9
I have just come off watch and am freezing, even here in the galley. My clothes are damp and big drops of condensation keep dripping on me and on the keyboard. For the past 24 hours we have been in yet another roaring gale, worse than the first one. Watches are becoming increasingly harder to bear and we take turns to go down to defrost. My feet are the worst because my boots are totally not waterproof. My Sealskin socks are but they don't keep me warm. However, one gets used to anything. On our 6 hour (day)watch we have covered 81 nm’s so the going is good and we are 30 nm’s away from the scoring gate with GB hot on our tail. So it will be very exciting to see if we can cash in a point by passing the line as third. These storms are amazing. Water a deep grey in colour with pure white horses on the tops of the 60ft high waves. Patches of water the colour of iceberg blue surround the white horses. Speaking of icebergs, we have to keep a lookout for them. Apparently small bits of bergs (20 square kilometer ones!) break off and float up towards the 40's (latitude). We have to keep the sealing door to the sail locker closed just in case we hit one. All I have seen are many birds which I believe are albatrosses with huge wingspans but some wonder if they are just big seagulls, so we call them “albagulls” to keep the peace!
It is not easy to write since the boat is lurching and heaving to and fro and I have difficulty staying seated. My whole body is aching just from keeping myself braced all the time. Especially the ligaments/muscles in the groin are murder because they are the ones that have to work hardest to keep the legs and upper body together at a safe angle.
Getting in and out of my bunk is quite ridiculous. I feel like a slice of pizza sliding into a (cold) oven as I edge into it sideways standing with one foot on the coolbox, another one on the bunk below me, and holding on for dear life. Getting out I must resemble Spiderwoman in my striped purple and white sing-sing woollen underwear John gave me, wedging myself between my side of the bunk and the other side across the companionway. My bunk is pulled up so high on the leeward side (because we are at such an angle) that when I lie in it my nose is 15 cm from the ceiling. Nevertheless, on one occasion there was such an abrupt lurch to leeward that I was thrown into the ‘lee-cloth’ which you hook up to prevent yourself from falling out of bed. I was very grateful it held me, because I thought I was a goner. During my long watch off this morning (6 hours) I used my whole Gauss to sleep in (a Gauss is a waterproof sleeping bag, specifically for sailing and comes in 2 parts, an inner and an outer bag. The whole thing weighs 5 kgs!). It completely filled the bunkspace and I felt like your rat, Bonnie, digging herself into her bedding with just her nose sticking out. The Gauss is not perfect, unfortunately. It doesn't seem to breathe and after a sleep you feel clammy. Could be because you are wet going into it. Warm enough when in it though.
Life below decks in these weather conditions is just as dicey as on deck. Even though the floorboards are screwed down by us before the storm and everything is stowed well, you can be the target of a tin of tomatoes or a huge container of BBQ sauce, which happened to me. The projectile missed me but not the contents when it smashed itself open on the wall behind me.
Despite the incredible chaos on board due to the storm it's business as usual. My job today was cleaning the heads during my on- shifts, quite a chore being tossed about in the tiny loo. We all have duties during our watches. Everyone is a deckhand but on top of that, one in each watch does the heads, 2 in each watch do the engineering duties (cleaning bilges, checking engine/generator/watermaker), one person is assistant navigator (writing a log every hour on the hour) and one person has to wear the POP. These are the “pants of power”, a harness that is needed in the case of an MOB (Man Over Board) when the person wearing it needs to be attached to a halyard and lowered over the side of the boat to pick up the body. It seems that the bigger people get this honour, since I have not been scheduled to wear it so far, or maybe they think I am more of a liability than the others.... I am not complaining......(It’s just another layer to get out of when you need to answer nature’s call.)
All these allocated duties last 24 hours. So you do your scheduled duty either twice or 3 times a day, depending on what the sequence of your watch-times turn out to be. It does mean that the toilets are cleaned 5 times each 24 hours and tomorrow I’m assistant navigator.
Last but certainly not least there are 2 mothers, one from each watch, that are on duty for 24 hours together. As with everything, being mother has its advantages and disadvantages. The nice thing is that at 20.00 you go off watch and are not to be disturbed until 05.00 (come hell or high water, which happens) when you have to get ready to prepare breakfast for the on-going watch. (This gives you a good night’s sleep if you have earplugs in.) Then you need to wait for the off-going watch to come down and feed them. Washing up for 20 or so people is a menace. The disadvantage is that you are on the trot preparing lunch; washing up; preparing dinner;washing up and in between all this you have to anti-bac the whole boat, sides, ceilings, handgrips, everything and if you want to be a nice mother, you make hot drinks for the working crew and feed them snacks regularly. If you REALLY want to be popular you bake a cake or something similar. As for the cooking it depends how much effort you want to/are able to put into it.....
The worst thing that happens here is when there is an emergency on deck and the “all hands” order is cried out. To get out of your bunk and get dressed for this weather is pandemonium. That and all the stress not knowing what the emergency involves. We have had quite a few. It happens usually at night during sail changes/reefing because the wind has picked up. I shall stop now because it is near impossible to type, being thrown all over the place, but I have loads more to tell. Nearly at scoring gate, will we be third?
Leg 3-race 4-day 10
Yes, we were!
The night-watch following my last email to you was my deepest dip so far. We were on from 10pm-2pm and I got very cold and tired and felt really sorry for myself. Troels, the Danish singer, who continues to feel sea sick in this weather btw, sang SMILE (Charlie Chaplin) for me to make me feel better. How is that for fellowship and kindness? I felt quite ashamed that he needed to comfort me whilst he is wasting away, emptying his stomach each time he puts something into it. He is such a sweetheart and has such a strong attitude. He sang very well, too. I feel that there is a romance blossoming between him and our excellent watch leader Rosie Gosling (a gem of a young woman). Even though OneDLL’s rules state that there are no romantic relationships permitted on board (in the crew contract!!), it seems to me that this is happening under Olly’s nose! It shows how discrete the two concerned are and how unobservant the others (men!) are...
The song pulled me through the dark hours and at the end of that watch we had 4 hours of rest to look forward to. Getting up at 6am again was really hard, though. The storm was still raging but during the day it subsided and I've just come off the dogwatch now, which was a really good one. The sea has calmed, we are more on an even keel, so we don’t have to fight gravity at all angles all the time. It is so much less tiring. What also makes a change is that when on watch you don't get tubfulls of cold water chucked over you on a regular basis. I feel like a turtle in my fowlies at those times. My hood is far down over my forehead and my (several) collars come right up to under my nose. Every time a wave comes in I retreat into my collars so that only my eyes can see from below the hood!
This lull will not last long though because another low is due to arrive on the 16th (2 days off), “fruitier” than so far, as Olly puts it. However, having come down this far south we have had the winds behind us and apparently overnight we have clawed our way into second place. Hope we can maintain this and that the hard work will pay off. We are nearly halfway.
Off to bunk now for the long day-watch at midday. It’s tempting to stay on deck to savour this beautiful morning but I must get as much rest as possible to cope with the following night. Such is life on the Big Blue.
I think it is Thursday today? In that case engineering is my job during my watches. Goodnight or –day.......?
Leg 3-race 4-day 11
It's about 1am Thurs going on Fri. and our watch is till 2am. We have had a lovely “quiet” 12 hrs with the spinnaker up. This does mean, nevertheless, that 6 people at all times are involved. One on the helm plus one backup, one at the main sail sheet to release if there is a sudden gust of wind, one to watch the spinnaker and shout “GRIND” or “EASE” and the 2 others ready to do just that. And there is always the worry that this huge sail will collapse on itself and maybe tear. Or that a sudden gust of wind will push the boat into a broach, (where the sails and the mast go flat on the water). We have had a few near-broaches which are bad enough and often the cause of damaged sails. Thankfully never a full broach which causes absolute havoc especially down below, as you can imagine. It happened though on other boats, so we have heard.
We are still working on repairing the other kite! We have seen Henry Lloyd in the distance (unbelievable if you think we have been sailing over 2000 nmiles on our own paths!) and have now marginally taken over their second position. It would be so cool if we could keep it. Olly is helming right now and Denise is making bread. She is a character. Swears like a “ketter” (litt. heretic), works her tail off and has a voice that makes your toes curl. She is a round little thing who stuffs herself into a drysuit and waddles about doing everything that's needed, cursing and yelling at everyone in her way. All the same, she'll burst into tears after a long exhausting session of sewing when she finds her bunk is taken by her injured opposite.
After sussing each other out initially we now get on really well. Denise used to work in BP in Forus and we have mutual friends. Small world!
We had steak night last night! Yippee....NOT! Olly did the frying. Even though I couldn’t join in the culinary part of this, I fed on the bonhomie between the crew members.
I feel well, bit tired, but that is normal. Each time I look at my hands, they make me think of my Dad’s hands, just smaller.
My nails are terrible, knuckles have disappeared due to swelling, palms and fingertips so sensitive and of course blisters and cuts all over. I have knocked my cheekbone and feel a lump there. A shackle hit my lip and that opened up a bit and will probably swell somewhat. Happy not to have lost any teeth....
My hair feels like Micky's fur (our geriatric cat of about 18 years) which he can't reach to clean. In short, this exercise is not improving my looks!
During the night I spent my time remembering all my yoga students, giving each one a thought, needless to say there is not a moment I don’t think of and miss my lovely family!
Leg 3-race 4-day 12
I am so grateful for receiving emails with so much love from the home front; it is amazing how it boosts the morale. Today I am Mother. This means that I have to give the crew their “natje & droogje” i.e. dry and wet food. It is a mixed blessing to be mother today. The prelude to the expected storm started during the night and in my current job I do not get involved in the deck work. So no buckets of water or freezing hands/feet, changing sails at impossible angles whilst struggling with life lines getting in the way and tripping over the many booby traps laid out on deck. Instead you stand in the galley at a 45-degree angle, trying to keep your porridge for 20 crewmembers in the pan and successfully (or not!) transferring it into bowls for each individual mixing it up on demand with an array of interesting toppings; jam, sugar, honey, syrup, nutella and even peanut butter! Lunch and dinner have yet to come. The real eye of the storm is expected to arrive around midday. Everything is hopefully secured to the boat with the floorboards screwed down. I can't imagine the angle getting any steeper but I have been assured it will do. I can just visualise everyone walking along the walls. Btw, visits to the heads are interesting too, as you might imagine. This morning Krista (Belgian lady, lovely) asked me which head she should use for a number 2. I asked her whether she was left- or right-handed and suggested she used the one which had the wiping arm on the high side. Such are the conversations! She was grateful for the tip and came out of the loo, which is just separated by a zipped up curtain from the living area, all smiles. Small blessings! And YES, there is phosphorescence in the heads when you pump the sea water in to flush, very pretty!
My homeopathy practice is making progress and is now tentatively being used to treat seasickness, constipation, diarrhoea, exhaustion, dehydration and threatening colds. The kit is in the galley and people are making use of it. GREAT!
I have taken to sleeping in the inner bag only of my Gauss now because the whole thing is impossible to set up in a top bunk. It's a big struggle getting IT onto the bunk without it rolling back out onto me and then an even bigger struggle getting myself into it. It is warm, though, no doubt about it, and the sweaty/clammy feeling might be because I keep most of my layers of (wet)clothing on in bed. Saves time getting (un)dressed 5 times per 24 hours.
The Krakan (middle size spinnaker) is repaired! The 3 of us who worked on it signed our names on the sail, it has been rolled, woolled and folded into its bag. Hopefully and most likely (as the weather is getting “fruitier”) we shan't be using it too soon! It's a beast!
It’s getting bumpier now and I have trouble sitting in one place so I shall end for today.
Leg 3-race 4-days 13-14-15
Goodmorning early risers! Dreamt I was woken for my next watch but turns out I'm an hour early. You ask about food.... most days we have pasta for lunch and dinner, sometimes a curry, but most always with meat or chicken. So please, anybody who is kind enough to cook for me on my return, NO pasta for a while! The storm we had over the last 2 days was hellish. As I was mother on the first day I might have missed all the frantic activity out on deck that day but was nevertheless battling the pots and pans below! The weather was awful, huge waves that would break over us onto the deck and horizontal rain. We had just the 2 little handkerchiefs flying (storm-jib and reefed main). One by one bodies slithered down into the galley, hurt in one way or another. So, it was busy nursing people in between cooking and washing up at a steep angle. The night was restless, being thrown about and trying to stay in your bunk with One DLL shaking, shuddering, sighing and trembling. During the Jets’ off watch we were just into a 40 min sleep when the "all hands" was called. A nightmare with everyone scrambling to get out into foulies and lifevests. In an attempt to get the staysail up by the Sharks it had torn and had to come down again. We were up on the foredeck strapped to the jackstay (the lines you clip onto), about 6 of us. Waves were rolling towards us like mountains with the wind behind us. Very impressive once you got over the “angst”. The bow of the boat would rise up on one of the waves and then literally dive down into the valley that would follow. It felt like being on the 10m high board again. We would be lifted off the deck for a few seconds, slammed down again and consequently hold our breath whilst going through the next wave. Not a dry stitch on the body. So that was one off-watch of sleep missed. Then it was sewing the staysail during the following 12 hours. You can imagine how exhausting it was. Morale was quite low, just because of the lack of sleep, mediocre food and above all the humidity. The weather is nice again now, as if nothing untoward ever happened.....
Leg 3-race 4-day 16
I am off watch early (20.00 instead of 22.00) because I am stepping in for Troels doing the mother shift tomorrow. He has not been seasick for 2 days now but still cannot be below decks unless he is horizontal. It's pancakes tomorrow morning! These watches and the way thry change every 24 hours totally messes up your sense of time and you lose track of the days and dates. It also makes the mealtimes weird. Eating a hot meal at 18.00 when you have just woken up from your afternoon sleep is not possible for me, certainly not if it is pasta(!) or curry. So I go for some crackers and cheese later on. From 11.30-12.30 we try and have a happy hour on deck when we all eat lunch together and one of the crewmember says/ sings/ does something and then shares a treat with everyone. This of course has to be possible weather-wise. We have now had 2 days of beautiful weather with pleasant winds allowing a constant sail-plan (no changes) of the Havoc (kite 2) and mainsail. We all needed that to lick our wounds and to get the boat in order again. After all my salty exfoliating baths during the storm I felt like that medieval dish when a chunk of meat gets plastered in salt and then slowly cooks for days. The salt crust then gets broken and out comes a leg of something cooked to a turn. I had to remind myself though that there had been no heat whatsoever to get cooked in so that when I come out of the crust I shall emerge pickled. Hmmm.
The race itself is becoming very exciting. Between the first and 4th boat there is about 25 miles. Quindao has ruined one of its sails completely, nearly lost another, broken the poling track on the front of the mast and something more at the outer end of the mast. They must have been pushing it from the beginning and are now paying the price. Henry Lloyd has passed them already. What I am amazed about is that apart from not having seen any land for 16 days we haven't seen any boats (fishing or commercial) or planes or any other sign of human activity other than on the Big Blue. I have no idea of what's happening in the world. Good or bad.
Also the lack of silence is strange. There is always the sound of water accompanied by sounds of human life. Well, I best bunk down now. We have set our clocks forward by 1 hour four times so far; I guess you live 4 hours behindus in that case. Love, love, love!
Leg 3-race 4-day 17&18
Yesterday I was mother (again!) together with one of the more "moody" chaps on board. Mark, alias Mif. It went so well though that at the end of the evening meal he gave me a huge hug and said he had not worked so pleasantly with any other mother before. He said I had such a calming effect on him that he hadn't needed to swear once! (haha!) All I remember is letting him do everything his way. Anyway, another friend made. He is the guy who lost his wife. She left him a list of what to do with his life, one thing being to cross an ocean. He is a RTW-er but has met another lady whom he proposed to in Capetown and will marry in Sydney. We are invited. He also told me she is pregnant and he is over the moon. He is cutting his travels off though, and quitting in Albany. He has now crossed 3 oceans and feels he has fulfilled his late wife's suggestion. You meet all sorts! We were very popular with the meals we made the crew and especially our cake, which Mif baked and I iced and scattered with dessicated blueberries and strawberries. I finished my mother duties by 20.00 but then the Jets were back on deck again at 22.00, so not much time to rest. The midnight watch was very cold and wet. It rained nearly all 4 hours and the cold crept into the bones again. It wasn't as bad as the hail we had a week earlier, though.
Every now and then the full moon came through the clouds and it was such a nice/comforting idea that we can all see the same moon, wherever we are. Consequently we had the morning watch from 06.00-12.00 today and it was busy. There were several sail-changes from Havoc and main to yankee 2/staysail/main to yankee 1/staysail/main back to Havoc and main. Phew! Wind is changing all the time and we have GB hot on our tail. So much effort but that's racing. Each time the spinnaker comes down it is stuffed (wet!) down the hatch and fills the whole boat from bow to stern below. The 3 corners of the sail get pulled along the 3 out of 4 companion ways and then in 2's we need to "wool" it. The sides are rolled tightly towards each other and then every 50 cm you tie them together with a piece of wool. It takes ages to do that and then pack it into its bag, only to have it put up again a few hours later...! Crazy practice! There must be an easier way.....
I recently experienced the "delights" of a wet wipe wash! Clean underwear and a new T-shirt. I had worn my Zombies T-shirt since Capetown and was a bit concerned that the lettering would have tatoo-ed itself on my chest: Breathe out, breathe in! Not a bad text for a yoga teacher. I must go now because there is a queue for the fizzbook (only one on board).
Leg 3-race 4-day 19
Morning has broken and the sun has just risen above the distant horizon. We had the 2 nightwatches this night, so on the first one from 18.00 to 22.00 I saw the sun sink into the ocean and then now on the dogwatch 02.00-06.00 it's come back round again. Quite amazing really. It is 4 am and I have just finished making the bread for breakfast. This is the only way to do it if we want bread. The last orange has been eaten, no more carrots or other fresh veggies, so it's down to freeze dried food, potatoes, onions, garlic and PASTA!
Today is my first turn at Happy hour. Since it will be my birthday tomorrow I shall be talking about AGE and the advantages of getting older; how much I enjoy letting go of my inhibitions and the feeling of being self-conscious; the pleasure of following my beliefs without feeling a need to explain or even apologise. I had everyone close their eyes and use only their hearing, feeling the sun and wind caressing their skin and hair. I then invited them to join in the OM chant which I started, but only a few chanted out loud. So I ended my talk by saying that they were obviously still beautiful and young and therefore had plenty of time left to learn to chant OM without feeling self-conscious.... I made my point and several of the crew came up to me later with questions.
Have to clean the heads today, my turn, so must get on with it. It's promising to be a fine day and at the moment we are in 1st position!
Still 600 miles to go, though. Anything can happen.
Leg 3-race 4-day 20&21
Saturday November the 23rd 2013! 61 years today! It’s been a crazy 36 hours. My birthday at midnight started in the midst of an all hands on deck in the pouring rain and again storm conditions with our Kraken in the water due to a snapped halyard. What else is new?! Thankfully our watch (the Jets) were on duty and it was the Sharks who had to raise themselves from precious sleep and go through that horrible struggle of getting all dressed up to go on deck RAPIDO! Always a nightmarish moment since at that point you don't know what the emergency is about. When all was under control again with the wet beast lying in the galley and throughout the boat we were just relieved to find out that there seemed to be very little damage which Denise fixed within an hour. We woolled it in no time and up it went again. So at 02.00 we could go down for our sleep whilst the Sharks had to continue their watch. At breakfast time there was a 2nd all hands and again the Kraken had taken to the water! This kite does not like to fly. It was a human error this time. Our "we're all doomed" Stuart had inadvertantly allowed the halyard line to start slipping (not enough turns on the drum of the winch) and then there is no stopping a line from unravelling at the speed of lightning. All you can do is watch in horror and avoid being whipped by the sheet. Poor Stuart. The “no blame” policy we have on the Big Blue does not make you feel any better if it happens to you. This set us back in the race position, of course, as you can probably see better on Yellowbrick than we can here. We get to hear our positions only twice a day sent by Head office.
Our 6-12 am watch was continuous “reef in” and “out’s”. We still have several cases of the trots on board so we are not working on full manpower. I stepped in to help in the galley. Pasta for lunch and spaghetti for dinner! The sea calmed down over the night and we came back onto a more even keel and changed to the Havoc (larger than the Kraken). The Jets were off watch this morning from 6-12 but at 9.30 all hands was called again and the Havoc had been caught by a squall and committed suicide by ripping all over its sail. I had taken Denise's advice and gone to bed fully clothed, so I was on deck like a shot. The Havoc is bagged and the Kraken is up again, for how long? Waiting for lunch now, mash/beans/sausage for the variation! Anyway, my birthday was the longest one ever with the crew singing happy birthday every time I got up. No opportunity for cake though, although Rosie had made flapjacks for me but we shall have them now for dessert.
Here on One DLL we are all longing to arrive in Albany. Since all 3 forerunners are in stealth mode we have no idea what our position is but I feel we have blown our chances for 1st and probably even 2nd position. Oh well....
Leg 3-race 4-day 22
"Land in zicht" or "land ahoy"! Early on our 6am shift we sighted an Australian bump on the horizon but the wind has since died and we are scratching our way to where the finish line is. The boat is buzzing with excitement but I have a feeling we could still be floating about for quite a few hours. An evening arrival is anticipated. In the meantime it's gone from Kraken, to Yankee 1 + staysail to windseeker. In between we are whipping and splicing any ropes/sail-ties that need it. My fingertips and hands are peeling, it looks like I have some very strange affliction of the skin.
All perishables have gone overboard much to my chagrin,be cause it included the plastic-like bulk cheddar blocks and crackers which have formed a big part of my diet. Painful to see all the good food go overboard ready for boat inspection by immigration on arrival. We still have the ingredients for a PASTA lunch but after that it might become a slim boat! I absolutely crave for fresh fruit and veggies.
Hopefully we will arrive in 3rd position. Our first/second place position was shot by our dramatic kitemares. That's how the cookie crumbles!
The other 2 boats profitted from our mishaps/mistakes. I hope I shall be having a shower and a lovely bed to sleep in tonight, I can't wait! It's a beautiful warm, sunny day to be approaching the shores of Aussieland. I can't stop thinking about the first explorers who clapped eyes on this land after who knows how long on the seas that we now ourselves have experienced. The difference being that we have all the electronic equipment and the knowledge that we are being watched and that we know we shall find land. I have always been in awe of these sailors of olden days and it is one of the reasons I wanted to follow (meekly and humbly) in their wake.
This is my last email from the boat for now, I shall keep in touch as much as possible through my iphone, although the voyage has affected its battery life. For now, over and out.
Love you all lots and lots and am infinitely grateful for all your support over the past 3+ tough weeks. Thank you! It would have been so much harder without it!
Having arrived in third place we were over the moon! One DLL sponsor Pim and his sidekicks were out on the water in a boat to welcome us. It was a wonderful time of day to be arriving as well, since the sun was just about to set and the lighting beautiful. Once we passed the industrial part of the harbour we saw Albany nestled in surrounding hills. Never have I come across nicer and more welcoming people. The whole town was out there congratulating us and praising us for what we had done and gone through. It actually only then dawned on us that indeed it was quite a feat. Everyone had followed the fleet and watched the weather, one low after another beating down on us. After extensive, but very friendly immigration procedures we were treated to a super generous BBQ and drinks. There was even a vegetarian option....! Gosh did that taste good, both the wine and the food!
I can’t remember exactly what happened when, but I do remember that most of our days on shore were spent working on the boat and in my case, repairing sails. Massive tears that needed repair. A kind volunteer lady, tough as nails, with a clapped out pick-up truck and a big dog transported the sail repair team and one sail at a time (that’s all the pick-up could take) to a big sports complex where we could spread our sail(s) out for repair. The trips back and forth to the sport halls were a hoot, because we would have to lie in the back of the pick-up truck under the sail out of sight from the police, because it is illegal to transport passengers in the back. The dog had the seat next to the driver…. We spent hours and hours in the halls sticking and stitching. As I would be zig-zagging my stitches in and out of the sail it made me think of our breath and the life it gives us. Breathe in we’re alive, breathe out we’re on our way out, stitching into life, coming back out of it. Even though we used “palms”, a device that protected our hands (like a thimble but then for our palms) our fingers and hands would be very tender and sensitive after a full day of this practice. Of course it could be done professionally but every £500 spent would cost us a point. The RTW-race will be won on points. 1st place each race gives 12 points, 2nd place 11, etc. 3 points are won by passing through the scoring gate first, 2 for 2nd, 1 for 3rd. Points can be won by winning the ocean sprint, between two imaginary lines (lats or longs) decided on by the Clipper race organisers. Points get subtracted when kit gets broken through bad handling and needs to be replaced. If it is a design fault which concerns all boats no points get subtracted. The stay in Albany was very pleasant overall. On one of the last days I joined a group to go on a trip exploring the environment. Part of the tour was visiting the last whaling station which is now a museum. I should never have done that. It was a horrible place and showed too much information for me. I was thoroughly sick that afternoon and throughout the night which left me rather shaky the next day - race prep day. At least I was ready again the day after in time for the next race start!
Leg 4-race 5-day 1&2
Yesterday was race start and what a pandemonium! Not a lot of space inthe canal system leading up to Albany harbour where the parade of sail was held and the start of race 5 was planned at 13.30 local time.
After going over the start line there was a course set out along the coast which made it possible for all the Albany folk to get a good look at the Clipper fleet and to see the boats in racing mode.The whole of Albany must have closed shop for this Tuesday afternoon on the 4th December since the coast line was packed with folk waving and honking and calling. There aren't more than 35.000 of them in total living there!
OneDLL had a good start and we got ourselves well placed in the lead with a few others when we heard an enormous crash (horrible sound!). GB rammed PSP going around one of the set markers. GB lost her bow-sprit and pulpit and PSP was damaged in the stern and lost her helming. So they had to go back to port. Olly said that this could be a “P45” for the guilty skipper. P45 means being fired.
GB's skipper Simon Talbot is the most competitive skipper of them all and even though he seems nice enough, his crew dislike him very much. Rumour has it that GB is rigged to win because of it being a British boat and all, a bit of a flagship, but I guess this puts them out of the picture. At least for this race.
I've decided I don't really like race starts. The adrenaline levels are high with lots of stress in the air released by yelling and cursing and lots of noise. I feel like a rabbit in the headlights at times like these. As soon as we passed the last fixed marker we went diving down towards the south again. Back towards the now familiar roaring 40's with its huge swells and roaring wind forces. We are back being cold, wet and overall rather miserable. 7 crew members left in Albany and 6 new ones joined. The average age must have gone up dramatically on our boat with a Norwegian in his 70's, a Brit well in his 60's and 2 middle-aged Dutchmen. Only 2 youngsters. All newcomers are terribly sea-sick and even some of our hardy Round the Worlders are suffering. So we are a bit thin on the ground, I mean deck, on our watches which means extra load on the others. Last night was another nightmare scenario having to change sails in the dark and I was back on my 10m diving platform. One wave really caught me and I was washed from being 5th in the line to bring in the sail to last in the line (nr.8!). Of course I was clipped on but I was lucky not to be slammed into some obstacle on deck, like a mast or a stantion. It is like jumping into a salt water pool and I was soaked through. No foul weather gear can stop water coming through under these circumstances. The real misery is that as long as this weather lasts nothing dries out. So after every watch off you are looking at dressing yourself into wet stuff again. I’ve given up on undressing and go into my sleeping bag with my wet clothes on and hope I get enough time to stay in it so that they can dry out again. More often than not this isn’t the case!
However, we are alive and kicking and moving well with this low, whilst when the high comes along we'll be drifting. So we make hay (water) whilst the sun shines (the waves and wind roar!). Such is life on sea!
I am writing this during my watch which isn't really cricket, but I have just done a huge washing up for some sick mothers and then did the bilges, which is my job for the day. All is well up on deck and I have taken the liberty. I need my hours off for sleep when the weather is like this and can't use that time to write.
The menu hasn't improved and we have had pasta every meal since departure. Of course the sick mother yesterday forgot I don't eat meat so my meal was a dog bowl of plain penne. I hadn't the heart to ask for some grated cheese. So the fish got it and I grazed a bit. My appetite is really low on board and my indulgence is oranges and I am still hunting for the apples. Food everywhere but nothing to be found if you understand what I mean. Tonight is a beef stew which Quentin enjoys making (I share this email address with him). He loves cooking using every utensil in the kitchen. I hope there will be some other volunteers for the washing up this time...
The smell in the boat is pretty bad too when we are keeled over like this.
The water we use in the galley and the heads (washbasins) go into so-called grey tanks which need to be pumped empty into the sea regularly. That's the water that stinks as you can imagine. So absolutely no food goes down the sink, everything goes into the sea except plastic. Metal, glass, paper, everything goes overboard. The loo waste gets pumped out of the boat into the sea directly.
Well, I will stop now, because it is not easy trying to type on an itsy laptop in this weather.
I can hardly read the print and I am wary that I might lose everything, like I did yesterday when I wrote you a little email straight after the start.
Btw, we shall be going round Tassy (Tasmania) which I never thought we would. This route is fixed by the race committee.
Leg 4-race 5-day 3
Here’s a practicality for you! This Fizzbook keeps on boycotting my mails. Since not giving up is the name of the game I am trying to write now first in a document and then copying and pasting it into an email. The thing doesn't have a memory, it is said, so can't save anything. Bit like me really.
Anyway we are well into our 3rd day of this race and as you have no doubt seen on the tracker we are leading the pack and making our way to the scoring gate in the hope to secure up to 3 points if possible. GB and PSP have apparently joined the race again, but GB without a bowsprit (so no use of spinnakers possible) and PSP with just the one helm. They are basically out of the race and therefore no threat to us. However, there are 9 more boats to contend with….
The sea has calmed down since last night and the winds dropped. A mixed
blessing since this meant a midnight sailchange for our watch. From Yankee 2 to Y 1 (middle sized sail to the biggest one). Not as exciting as the previous exercise of downsizing the sails but still such an effort to first of all get the sail onto the deck from the sail locker and then hank off one sail and hank on the other; dropping and hoisting; then flaking the redundant sail and bringing that back into the locker. The flaking of a sail is a struggle in its own right. Imagine the size of sail, similar to the size of the boat, lying on deck and then having to fold it precisely so that it is ready for the next hoist. Then into its bag (why do these bags always seem too small for the sails) and then zipping/tying it all up and dragging it back to the bow in order to lower it into the locker again. About 6-8 crew members need to work on this together. However, now all is in order again, the sailing is much more pleasant and we get an opportunity to rest a little easier and dry out and overall feel more optimistic. The next low is expected in a day or two. Most of our seasick customers are feeling much better now. Hopefully they have found their sea-legs and won't suffer during our next storm.
Happy hour today was led by Charlotte (RTW) and Ray (legger). Btw, I hotbunk with Ray, a huge, friendly, Dutch giant. The bunks get drawn before race-start and this time I have a bottom bunk which makes life much easier for me and I am much quicker off the mark when it is time to get up. It is also nice to have the netting of the bunk above you to tie all sorts of things onto (small mercies!), e.g. headlight, watch, small wash-bag, socks and other items one might need on the spur of the moment. Ray and I have an agreement that we sleep on top of each other's sleeping bag with our own bag. Since we both own a Gauss (the biggest sleeping bag in the world) it feels to me like a huge feather bed and I sink into it blissfully at each opportunity. I see myself as the Princess on the Pea in rougher times! Anyway, Charlotte and Ray celebrated Sinterklaas with us, it being the 5th Dec. They explained the tradition and then treated us to “kruidnoten” and other very sweet sweets typical to the occasion. Fun! I spent most of my morning watch making a huge apple crumble for the crew's dessert tonight. I went through our ration of apples and many were unattractive to eat as they were so I invented a crumble. We'll see what it'll be like tonight! Stuart, our grumpy Scotsman, perked up considerably by my efforts and I have scored extra Brownie points for sure with him. Once again it proves how love goes through the stomach with a man ; )
I couldn't sleep this off-watch, the weather is too nice and besides that, just as I was dozing the mothers decided to use the hoover which is worse than the engine starting up (next to which I sleep this race btw). For the sake of clarity: the engine doesn't get put into gear but it does need to be tried out every day in neutral to test it so it can be available in an emergency.
Oh yes ! We spotted a fin whale this morning not far off the boat. Beautiful!
Leg 4-race 5-day 4 & 5
It has been over 48 hours since I last wrote because the Southern Ocean was just too angry and wild with us.
Our afternoon watch on Friday started pleasantly enough with warm sunshine and “champagne sailing”. Having not previously seen any signs of human activity, we suddenly spotted a big white ship on the horizon. Binoculars came on deck and excitement increased, only to swiftly become dampened by the realisation that this could be an illegal (Japanese?) whaler. The ship had no markings on it whatsoever, was huge with a flat stern on which cranes were fixed. As soon as it must have spotted us it disappeared into the opposite direction. A few hours later there was new excitement on deck because once again we saw something on the horizon. The sun was setting and we got Olly up to check this sighting out. He stared through the binoculars and then sighed heavily as he told us we were goslings since what we saw was the rising of the moon. You start seeing things after being on an ocean for a while….. Mermaids next?
The Havoc was flying and when there is a spinnaker up a lot of hands are needed. Someone up at the bow has to call trim at all times, so it was my turn on the beanbag watching this huge sail closely and calling out either “grind, ease or hold” depending on what's needed to avoid this huge sail from collapsing one way or another. Others in the cockpit then have to react to these calls and do what's needed quickly.
Boat speed is high and therefore someone has to be on the mainsheet and
another on the vang (the contraption that keeps the boom down) just in case the helmsman can't keep control of the boat and both mainsail and vang need to be quickly released to depower the sail and stop the boat broaching (going over). So here I am, quite enjoying myself, although it gets a touch tedious doing this after a while, when I suddenly detect a little rip in the sail underneath a repair. Since I have put in a lot of TLC in this sail I feel quite protective about it, so I called Olly to check it out. Immediately it had to be taken down. From then on we did 5 evolutions in about 30 mins. From Havoc to Kraken, then Kraken down after a sheet escaped off the boat, then up with Y2 and a staysail. This was not a bad thing though, since the weather was building up fierce and fast! So lots of action and adrenaline with meals flying about late (not easy cooking under these conditions) and everyone dripping wet. Sleeping is hard at the best of times. My opposite, the BFG Ray had taken ill (the trots) and I couldn't have my bunk during my off-watch. The bunk above him was free so I used that. Because of the angle the boat in this weather, a bunk has to be hitched up high so as not to fall out. The result being that it becomes a good 2 m climb before you get into it. This is hard to do elegantly and altogether impossible for someone like me with not so long legs. Nature’s call once in the bunk is a daunting thought and consequently becomes an obsession. One must keep in mind that if one is constantly clammy and chilly, this need becomes more frequent (well, it does in my case...).
The next off watch I decided not to put myself to the test again and went scurrying about the boat with half of my Gauss (I have given up on the other half, the thing is just too darn big to handle) under my arm feeling quite orphaned, looking for an empty bunk, preferably on the ground floor but if not that, at least on the leeward (low) side of the boat. Rolling in and struggling out is easier than struggling in and falling out! I found an empty bunk in the front where Stuart lives, but since he is on my opposite watch, it was free for me to use and he didn't mind (not after the apple crumble!). I got a few hours of sleep. The past 2 nights were bleak; very dark, black sea, black sky, rain, roaring waves and wind. No moon or stars to shed any light and it made me feel very far away from home. I felt there was nothing around that I knew I could be sharing with you. The phosphorescence was the only coloured lighting to be seen and very beautiful. I was kept very busy inside though as well, emptying bilges, making bread, wooling kites, filling out the logbook every hour and such things. Great excitement erupted when Denise checked the front locker bilge (where the sails are kept) and found water sloshing up around the sides. She went into one of her many (to me) amusing flurries and ran to Olly to tell him. Olly sighed (awoken from his slumbers) like a big bear (have I ever mentioned how HUGE our 28-year old Olly is?) and calmly follows her and says “ but Dee, the floorboards aren't even floating around yet...!” We had a chain gang set up emptying bucket after bucket of water and when the area could be investigated there was indeed a leak. So a seacock (wood plug) was hammered in and the problem solved (for now at least).
Simultaneously, Blake, a young Aussie who joined us in Albany and took up a lot of space (as well!) decided something was not right in one of the heads and tried to fix it, unscrewed a cover and found water streaming in! He started to panic and was then running to and fro with buckets himself. What a pandemonium and all this at an impossible boat angle. I couldn't help but get the giggles in a bad way! Luckily it infects most people and everybody gets stuck in. Yesterday during the afternoon when we were off watch and I was catching up with some precious sleep, I could hear problems arising on deck. The watchleader (a rather bossy know-it-all, but not) was heard to say “get some of the Jets up to help. See who's awake.” So I lie there debating whether I should play possum but after a while my conscience acts up and I slide out of my bunk to help bring in a wet kite that needs to then be woolled. I am such a sucker! Oh well, once daylight comes around I feel much better again and really enjoy these amazing forces around me. We are so vulnerable in this boat. When I was awake in my bunk during a sunny spell I could see light coming through the fiberglass of the boat and the shadow of a crewmember walking past it. It is such a thin structure. Also when you lie against the hull you can practically feel the water whooshing past and it sounds like you are actually in the water. Yet our Big Blue is holding out really well. An annoyance yesterday was that we were followed by one of the other boats by a mile. All this wide open space and you find yourself so close to another community of life. It bothered Olly too and he was pacing the deck looking like his picture on the website - grim! Finally the boat behind us changed tack and then Olly was agonising whether he should change tack or not, too, wondering if he had missed a cue. It turned out he might have done when we were overtaken by both Henry and Londonderry this morning.
During the day today though, it seems that we have gained on them again and the distances are so small that anything can still happen in the next 4-6 days. We are anticipating to see Tassie tomorrow lunchtime!
Leg 4-race 5-day 6&7
We have had another “kitemare” last night. It was an all hands on deck emergency around 01.30 and because I was mother watch I didn't need to come out. Thank goodness for that mercy, but I tell you, lying in your bunk listening to all the bangs and pops, whistles and sheet floggings, shouting and panic scares the living daylights out of me. You wonder what on earth is going on out there in the pitch dark. It was the Kraken again wanting another swim! All safety lines popped and banged on the halyard connections (all 3 of them) and off it went. Kraken was declared well and truly dead by the crew. We are now back in 3rd position but there is still a long way to go. We can see Tassie in the distance! Anyway we all survived and at the moment a bigger threat is the "trots". One after the other, crewmembers are succumbing to the virus or whatever it is. Charlotte and I (obviously made out of stronger stuff!) have been kept very busy cooking meals for all of them and I have just made another super looking apple cake with the last apples. Oranges are already finished as are all the fresh vegetables. Only onions and garlic left!
Beautiful sunshine outside but cold. I need to get a snooze in before we have to prepare dinner.
Leg 4 - race 5 - day 8&9
It's around midnight Tue-Wed and I have just come down below deck to warm up a little. It is blowing a true hoolie out there, hurricane force! Beautiful moon and scattered stars with some clouds. I love sitting out on deck (when things are going smoothly), it's surreal in the dark with the elements roaring around you. You have to roar into one's ear to be heard or have a booming outside voice.
Much of the time you sit with your thoughts. It made me think of a well known (not to me!) baseball player who is supposed to have said: ‘Sometimes I sits and thinks and sometimes I just sits’. Well, that's me a lot of the time. It did strike me though that this Christmas (2013) will be the first one we shall not be together as a family in 26 years! Strange feeling.
It's been really hard work the last 2 days. The floorboards have been screwed down and the galley stowed well. I have been mother again, alone, this past day as well as the day before. Of the 2 mothers who should have been on duty, my BFG fell out of his bunk and has, I think, a mild concussion. He weighs about 120kg so you can imagine the impact when he was hurled out of his (our) bunk and smacked against the companionway wall. He has also bruised a couple of ribs and twisted his neck in the process. With some of my remedies he is on the mend. Even sleeping on a boat is hazardous. The other mother, Jacob, also a Dutchman, was helping me set up when he became nauseous and had to go out to puke. So I sent him packing, no good in the galley, bad for business.
I did the whole “mothering” day on my own. For dinner I made a macaroni dish with a really tasty bechamel sauce. I wanted to prove what a pasta dish could taste like, despite the weather. It took me about 4 hours to make under these conditions. The boat was like a rollercoaster gone wild; you can’t anticipate what moves are coming next. Waves were hitting us from the front, one after the other and we were banging along so hard and sharp that whole pans just lifted off the stove and went flying (these pots and pans are more the size of cauldrons). It’s important to be very aware of every move you make. Things are slightly better now with the swell being more of a rolling one. The boat feels like a bucking bronco underneath you (I imagine) when it's like this. Every muscle in my body is tense, tight and painful. The sick bay is rather crowded these days. The trots epidemic continues to do its rounds and we have about 3 crewmembers suffering at any given time. This together with those injured and/or seasick make the watches low in numbers. The able-bodied therefore have to put in extra hours to cover for them. I was grateful being inside today (mother) because there were quite a few emergency situations where sails had to brought down quickly and changes made. Both watches (the remnants) worked nearly all day together. Another 12 hours of this weather is expected. We are nearly at the end of the ocean sprint! It will be exciting to see which of the 12 boats has covered this distance the fastest. 18 hrs 3 mins over 180 miles I just heard being announced as our time. I think we have done very well the last couple of days after losing our lead due to spinnaker dramas. We might actually be in the lead again. We definitely zoomed past Henry Lloyd leaving them literally in our wake yesterday night. I believe Londonderry is in stealth mode so we don't know where they are. We have now passed Tasmania’s beautiful coast and I realise we will be doing this stretch 2 more times in the next fortnight. I hope the weather isn't always like this...
Leg 4 –race 5- day 10
We are now on Sydney time, 9 hours ahead of Stavanger, 10 hours ahead of UK. Our night was much more comfortable, although Havoc played havoc again during the other watch and there had to be an emergency repair which I was roped into. The bug is still going round and everyone is being hit. Not me though, so far and I wonder if I am going to escape it or be ill in Sydney! I am determined that's not going to happen.
During the night we have had some windless moments, seeing the other 3 boats making progress. Then wind would come and it would be us charging along. Londonderry, Quindao and Henry Lloyd are our main threats to a podium place! We are about 130 miles from Sydney and the outcome is still all up for grabs. Quite exciting. Here on One DLL we are doing our utmost.
We shall probably arrive this evening, I hope not too late. Sail changes are the order of the day; trying to get the most out of the inconsistent breezes. I am going to sleep now, because in all likelihood we shall be called out for yet another sail change in the near future. On this boat you can get so tired that you can fall asleep sitting on deck. More amazing even is that standing up calling trim you can fall asleep and come to with a start when the knees buckle. Nick Mulholland was found asleep on the head once! Olly is very tired too and gets stressed seeing all the other boats so close up. It won’t be much longer now before we arrive and all this will once more be history.
We arrived in Sydney in 2nd place in the early morning of Thursday December 12th. The view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge rising above the foggy blanket covering the water was an unreal, but oh so beautiful sight. We literally drifted over the finish line with no wind in our sails. The boat which we could see clearly behind us (maybe 1-2 nautical miles) took another 3 hours or so to come in. How fickle the weather gods are....
The stay in Sydney was magic. John flew in the evening of the day I had sailed in. We stayed in a lovely area called “The Rocks”. The first couple of days, we all worked hard getting the Big Blue ready for the next race. Lots of sail repair as always (even the Kraken) but this time outside on the grass in the marina which didn’t move.
Highlights in Sydney were going to the Opera house twice. Once to listen to the Messiah being performed with a choir of around 400 voices and another time to watch the magical Cinderella ballet. Furthermore we spent time with the sister of Guy's girlfriend Beth, and her flatmate Mel, who both live and work in Sydney. We also met up with friends from Oman, Eve and Roger Davies, whom we hadn't seen in 25 years. We had such a lovely pre-Christmas lunch with them and their 3 sons with families and a few of their friends at their lovely house. The hospitality was amazing. It was a memorable day and as close to the Christmas feeling as we were going to get this year. We went into the Blue Mountains for a day and walked in the botanical gardens and hillside. Christmas Eve was spent with Quentin and his family of 3 beautiful women (wife and 2 little daughters!). The whole crew was invited to his amazing house on the waterfront to eat paella. Christmas day was very wet and rainy, so after our healthy fruit breakfast (magnificent mangos, figs, papaya, etc) we went to a church for some carolling and Xmas spirit. The singing was fun but the rest of it was rather happy clappy, as John put it. We watched a movie in the afternoon which didn’t leave an impression.
On Boxing Day it was back to serious sailing: The Sydney-Hobart Race. John flew to Hobart! Smart!
Leg 4 – race 6 – day 1&2
Boxing Day, early morning, I had to be back at the boat to finish off the last of the sail jobs. This was running a new leech line down the length of the Havoc and then woolling it for the next use. Then all the nervous tension started to build up and for a good reason this time. 94 boats starting all at the same time but on 3 different starting lines, very close together. I have never experienced such chaos. With Sydney harbour and the opera house as a back drop I tried to stay in the moment and revel in the uniqueness of it all, but when you have to be on a constant look-out for boats all juggling to get into position for an advantageous start, it is very hard to look around and take the time to be amazed by it all. John was on a spectator boat, but unfortunately, I couldn't take the time to figure out which one. We've been on our way now for 26 hours. All watches are 4 hours now, since the race is estimated to take about 3 days. However, we have been in several windholes and have been frustrated by watching others get ahead of us. Clipper boats, I mean, since that is the category we are in. This afternoon on our watch we pulled up our socks and with Penelope flying (the biggest lightweight kite) we are now close on GB's tail (not too close, though....!). We shall see. Very high winds are expected and we will probably not make it safely into Hobart harbour before these winds hit us. So more high seas and wetness before the end of this race to be sure. Enjoying the sun and the “Sunday sailing” while it lasts.
Leg 4 – race 6- day 3
24 hours later and we have gone through nearly all our sails today. The night and early morning were frustrating with no wind. As the day progressed the weather has become perfect sailing weather. However, the wind has been building up and from the Penelope, we went to the Kraken and then to the Havoc, who once again managed to create just that! The snapshackle which connects the sheet to the sail broke and it went flying (again!) flogging itself into another couple of big tears. What is it with this sail?! I forgot to mention yesterday that during the start we heard Switzerland having a confrontation with Mission Performance (Mission Impossible as we call that boat). I don't know what the outcome of thatwill be, we haven't heard yet, but you might have.
I am mother today and since Katy Savage has her birthday I made a big cake for her. Marbled choc and vanilla with choc chips in it, choc frosting and some rather pathetic icing work, saying Happy Birthday Katy. Not easy on a rolling boat to write with made-up icing in a little plastic bag with a hole cut out to squeeze the icing out. With a couple of candles that stayed on long enough for her to see, before the wind blew them out, she was quite delighted. So, once again, I managed to miss out on the incredible pandemonium which seems to be present whenever we have kite changes. Once the Havoc was down, the Yankee 1 went up and then the Yankee 2 was poled out. Reef in, reef out and so on and so forth. We had Sir Robin right behind us in a Clipper 68 for a while, but seem to have shaken them off.
Last night we managed to catch up with GB and were alongside them, much to Simon Talbot’s chagrin, no doubt, when once again we had sheet problems. This time it was chafe and the spinnaker sheet on starboard side went right through.
Another runaway spinnaker. This was on the other watch and we didn't have to get involved, luckily. These 4-hour watches feel very different from the routine we had before. They each have their good and bad sides to them.
Anyway, I am going to try and get an hour of sleep now, although I might get roped into repairing the Havoc. So I shall try and be invisible, not easy I daresay. We are on the Bass Sea between the continent of Australia and Tasmania (for the second time). The weather pattern is completely different as is the swell. Heavy weather is expected so we shall have to batten down the hatches.
Unfortunately we shall have to beat our way to Hobart, so it will take longer than expected. We are, however, improving our position, I believe.
We arrived 4th in Hobart in our category of Clipper boats. How happy I was to see John on the dock. It had been a tough 4 days with very little sleep. I must also mention our very loyal OneDLL sponsors who are in every port waiting our arrival. Always there for us with champagne and beers and uplifting and encouraging words. We are very lucky to have them as the sponsor for our boat. In every port they get the whole crew together for an incredibly generous meal.
John had booked a really nice B&B outside of Hobart, also for Nick and Dave and Denise. We rented a car together and had great fun driving to and fro to Hobart for all our work and play. The departure to Brisbane was postponed so that we ended up spending New Year’s Eve in Hobart. It was magnificent. The fireworks seen from the harbour were stunning. Initially, we were planned to start the next race on December 31st but since the Sydney-Hobart race took longer than expected the departure was delayed until the 2nd January. John had booked to fly back home to Stavanger on the1st, so sadly I had to see him go before we left ourselves. What an experience Hobart was, though. How often does one get the opportunity to visit a place like that?
Leg 4 – race 7 – day 4
Another sleepless afternoon off-watch as we thunder and thump our way to Brisbane. Yesterday we crossed the Bass Strait (Bastard Strait from now on for us) for the 3rd time in relentless heavy weather. We came out of it and into gentler conditions which I enjoyed tremendously during the afternoon watch. Not that we get much time to loll about on deck sunning ourselves, mind you. The number of evolutions (sail changes) we go through is crazy at times. Kites that go up only to be taken down again within the hour, different Yankee sails that get heaved out of the sail locker through the hatch, each weighing tons, dependingon their size, but none of them light. Only the handkerchief size storm jib and storm sail are manageable by one person, but still I can't lift the bags and can only drag them. Repacking/re-flaking these sails takes ages and spinnakers take the best of an hour to re-wool and bag (by 6 crew!) in dire conditions below deck. We are running out of wool it seems so, alternative packing routines are being tried out.
Yesterday, through the night and then this morning was relatively pleasant sailing. The late afternoon was extremely exciting as we were racing with Switzerland and Poultney in sight for the scoring gate. We just beat Switzerland to it and have secured one point. Londonderry and Poultney were ahead of us. During the afternoon we must have hit some poor whale or large fish because we felt an almighty bump, to be compared to driving over a speed bump with too much speed ...
I will have to stop now, because the wind has built up again and they need more hands on deck. Of course the suckers that are up anyway get roped in first, i.e ME!
Storm jib is up, we have had an amazing dinner once again, considering the cooking conditions. I even suspect there is a cake for dessert. I saw the BFG busy making one earlier. He is now mother for a period because he has been thrown on an ankle breaker when on the bow and cracked some ribs. There seems no end to his mishaps but he remains upbeat.
Serious crew money has been spent on a boomblaster which is strapped next to the emergency equipment on the stern and Abba is blasting out through it, over and above the sound of the roaring waves. Very odd experience this but good fun! Earlier we listened to the early Beatles when it was still champagne sailing. The water is a beautiful dark blue and the sky is a DLL/KLM blue with a bright sun shining. It all seems idyllic except the constant banging and jerking of the boat making any ordinary simple job difficult. Time for our shift so must sign off.
Leg 4 – race 7 – day 5
A quick, possibly last update from a happy boat, champagne sailing before the wind in beautiful T-shirt/shorts weather, with some easy music on deck. I had a great sleep this morning, a full 4 hours.I am wondering what made me choose leg 3 &4. The RTW'ers tell me that so far they have been the toughest 2 legs by a long stretch. Brisbane is about 360 nm away so if we continue as we are doing now, with Havoc up, we could be arriving in about 36 hours. I am experiencing mixed feelings about arriving in Brisbane. On the one hand I will be sad to leave my new family and the life of survival together on a boat. It is so basic. On the other hand I can't wait to be seeing my true family and friends again, living in comfort and security. I will have to sit down and think carefully what it is that has made this whole experience so extraordinary. At the moment I am filled with different feelings and opinions. It's all too mixed up to put down in this email. I have learnt a lot of surprising things about myself too, which I hadn’t expected.
Currently we are in second position! Londonderry in front of us and Switzerland behind us. We can see them because both are only 2 miles away from us. This I find makes it so exciting to actually be in visual contact, watching each other like hawks, what moves they make, how they dress their boat, etc. It makes Olly really tense and I believe, he gets quite insecure when he sees others doing something which doesn't follow his own thinking. I tell him to do his own thing and trust his own decisions. The times he has changed his mind and let himself be swayed by other boats' decisions haven't worked out that well. He is a great skipper but still very young in a way (well, he ís only 28 after all!).
I am going up on deck to soak up the last hours of this wonderful time in my life. I am going to stay in the moment from now until Brisbane.
Day 5 cont.
I just have to follow up my previous email on the kite situation. After several hours of delightful sailing, surfing the waves and doing up to 22 knots the Havoc decided to create havoc once again. It ripped totally across the head (at the top) decapitating the sail, dropping into the water, leaving a pathetic piece of Havoc at the top of the halyard flapping away merrily. This all happened whilst the Sharks were enjoying their dog-bowl dinner up on deck with us still on duty. We actually got the situation under control quickly but it still slowed the boat down dramatically and we are now watching Derry and Switzerland ahead of us. Oh well, another 280 nm to go and as they say on board “shit happens” and it can also happen to others. What I forgot to tell you (how could I?) is that we had 3 lovely dolphins escorting our boat this early afternoon for quite a while! Magic!
One DLL arrived 3rd in Brisbane. So of the 4 races I have participated in on this adventure, we claimed 3 podium places! How cool is that?
Brisbane is another amazing city in Down Under. With a large river flowing through the center it is a beautifully built place with loads to see and do. The only drawback was that the marina was miles away from the city centre with no means of public transport to get there. Taxis are expensive so once you went into the marina to work you would stay there for the day. John had booked me and Charlotte a nice little apartment in the center. I stayed and helped get the boat ready for the next leg until it was time for me to go. My flight back Stavanger, via Holland left just before the next race start. This was good and bad. I would have loved to see “my” beautiful boat with its wonderful crew off but it would also have made me very sad indeed. I arrived back in Amsterdam on the 13th January and was overjoyed to see my parents and brother & family back again. John joined us a few days later and together we arrived back in Stavanger on January 19th 2014. The end of an incredible 3 months but the continuation of wonderful memories. How privileged I am to have them.
My gratitude goes to my mum and dad who made this possible for me to do financially, to live this dream I’ve had, and to all of my nearest and dearest who kept me optimistic with the wonderfully encouraging emails that I received as I sailed the Southern Ocean.
Olly Cotterel wrote me a report at the end of my time on the Big Blue:
“Leg 3 and 4 crew member Christel van der Wilk was a very tough lady with a very soft heart. She always worked hard and got stuck in all over the yacht. From mothering duties to the foredeck you'd find her there, off watch you'd find her there. She had a brilliant philosophy on life, straight up honesty and a great sense of humour. She always had a gentle way of getting me to challenge preconceived ideas.”
Thank you, Olly!