I am really behind with my writing, there has been so much going on that I have been finding it hard to make time to record my story.
Note to self : MUST TRY HARDER!!
So after the excitement of crew allocation the next big milestone was Level 4 training, this is the first opportunity to train with our Race Skipper and our team mates. I had travelled down to Gosport as usual on the train from Macclesfield and arrived the day before training was due to start. I had recently been appointed our Team Coordinator (TC) and wanted to make time to meet with David Immelman (Wavy) my Skipper and Fabian Fisahn (Chief) to discuss my role. Their expectations of what I needed to be doing for the team and also to show them both some of the work that I had prepared after chatting with Bill Lyons from last years race. She kindly shared with me some spreadsheets and documents, that as TC for her team last year she had found useful. Another amazing example of how this Clipper ‘family’ all stick together and help each other out. It was my first time on CV21, OUR BOAT, my home for the next year. It was quite an emotional moment stepping onboard, unrolling my sleeping bag and stowing my meagre belongings in the little cubby by my bunk. I hung my dry suit in the wet locker and ceremoniously placed my boots at the base of my bunk. Wavy and Chief were busy unpacking the victuals (food to you landlubbers) and stowing it in the cubbys near the galley. It was a great opportunity to just take stock of the enormity of the challenge I have set myself and the realisation of just how basic the facilities on board actually are. A central saloon with bench seats, a galley with a gimbled stove and oven, two corridors with bunks on either side, one starboard, one port, a locker at the front (bow) to store the sails. A small area at the back (stern) where the navigation computers, radio, electrical controls, switches are, we call this the Nav Station. Two heads (toilets) in small curtained cubicles for the 20-22 crew to share. That’s about your lot, other than stuff like the engine, generator, water maker, water and diesel tanks there is no more space down below. It is sparse and basic and it will be home for me and my team from September 2019 to August 2020. So here I am with Wavy and Fabian getting the boat prepped and stocked up ready for a week at sea. First job was a quick trip to the shops for a few last minute essentials, toilet brushes, lighters for the stove and some extra bananas. It’s all very glam this sailing lark. Then after the obligatory bite to eat and a quick drink in The Castle it was an early night for me. An early start in the morning, time to register and collect our team kit.
Then back to CV21 to meet the rest of the gang. For this week there were only 8 of us on board. ‘Sounds like plenty,’ I hear you say, ‘Loads of room to spread out and get a nice choice of bunks rather than when 22 are on board.’ Well let me tell you, it doesn’t work like that when you are racing 24/7. It takes about 8 people to sail one of these yachts, racing headsail changes, keeping watch through out the day and night, cooking, cleaning, tacking, gybing, helming, navigating, doing the engine checks, emptying the bilges. So if it takes at least 8 and when you are sailing for days on end, sleeping becomes difficult with only a few snatched hours here and there. It was the most exhausting week of my life. I gave it 100% and after one week I was exhausted. That is why we have 20 on board so that there is time to sleep, to have an ‘off watch’ when you can get some well earned shut eye. Our Skipper is planning on running a 3 watch system during the race. That should mean each crew member gets 8 hours sleep in one stretch in every 24 hours. Plus two 4 hour on deck watches and one 4 hour support watch below deck and a further 4 hours off time. So total 12 hours on 12 hours off in each 24 hour. Make sense? I am sure it will all become clear as we get into the swing of it. However for training there just are not enough hands to do that so basically we were all on duty, learning, during daylight and then during the night we did 3 hours on watch, 3 hours off until morning then repeat. Except for the nights when we had to do a headsail change and the other night when we blew a spinnaker and all hands on deck was called. Oh and the other night when we had a Man Over Board drill in the dark. So literally in a week we slept just a handful of hours, like I said exhausted. I wouldn’t change it for the world though, a bit like childbirth. During it the pain seems just too much to bear but afterwards you only remember the good bits.
It was amazing to meet the some more of my team, Paul, Glenn, Candela, Josh, Janis, Francisca and Maja. We all pulled together to help each other and yet again, as it seems to be the case with Clipper so far, we all bonded like long lost friends after only a few hours together. A favourite moment was when Paul and I were battling a headsail that was dragging over the side in rough seas. Both feeling exhausted and generally crappy, trying with every ounce of brute force and determination to haul this enormous piece of heavy, wet sail back on board and lash it down. The winds were gusting 40 knots and the sea was doing its very best to knock us over, trying to hold on not only to the sail but also to the boat. Paul looked green, I felt very green. We bonded the moment Paul puked and I held closed the neck of his foulies so the upchuck wouldn’t go down inside his neckline. You know you have made a good friend as they hold onto the sail to prevent it falling back in the sea while you hold their coat closed and they puke on your hands 🙂
The racing was intense, only for a couple of days, but a real taste of what it will be like. No let up, no chance to sit back. We set off with the sun shining and bright blue sky. A Le Mans start and we were off across to France and back. Racing home ahead of Storm Gareth we arrived back in Gosport at about 3am. Serious, heavy, low, black clouds behind us and an amber weather warning. We had seen the most incredible lightening the night before all along the North Coast of France and it’s amazing how galvanising that sight can be. The threat of really BIG weather. I know we will have to get used to it in The Southern Ocean and the Pacific in particular, but on this instance it was great to be back in Gosport and the safety of the Marina.