On the train yet again, on my way to Gosport for the penultimate time, it is the start of prep week. What is this prep week? I hear you ask. Well it’s the time that as a team we can load our food onboard, us sailors call this food victuals pronounced vittles. We have to plan, and purchase then pack the food into drybags and store it onboard. Enough food to get us from the UK to Uruguay weighs about one and half tonnes. This has to all be bagged for each day, labelled up and stowed in the bilges and all the nooks and crannies of the boat. Carefully labelled on the overall stowage plan so even in the roughest weather we know where to find each bag. This is a logistical nightmare and thank fully we have an incredible team of Victuallers, Paul and Candela in particular who have put so much effort into the planning of the menus and the shopping list. Thank goodness for spreadsheets!!! We have a rolling 7-day menu of tasty, filling, energy giving foods made up mostly from dried and tinned foods. There is no fridge on board and we only have a small ice box about the size of a large cool box where we can keep a small amount of frozen food. With the average of 20 crew on board each needing about 5000 calories per day this is a huge undertaking.
Also during prep week, we are issued with our new sails and running rigging. So, all the old sails are taken off the boat and replaced with brand spanking new sails from Hyde Sails. Another huge task as the total weight of all the 11 the sails is about another half a ton. The track that attaches the mainsail is checked and dry lubricated, so the hanks run smoothly. The new Mainsail is then hoisted and dropped and flaked ready for the race.
The other sails are labelled with each corner marked so that we can easily identify the head, tack and clew even in the dark. Often sail changes are required in the middle of the night in rough weather, so the better prepared we are before the get go the easier our life will be during the race. One of the other main tasks for prep week is to change all the running rigging, that’s the ropes to you land lubbers. Marlow ropes supply all of the new sheets, (control ropes) and halyards (hoisting ropes) that all need threading up the mast to the top ready to hoist the new sails. One of the first thing we need to do with all the new spools of rope is to milk it. What the Heck? I hear you say. Well Milking involves pulling the sheath of the rope along the core and kind of stretching it along so there is no slack in the sheath. Thankfully the brand-new Marlow ropes are highest spec and in theory we shouldn’t need to do much of this. Then there is splicing this involves making permanent loops in the ends of the ropes by a kind of weaving process where you unravel the ends of the ropes and thread the dynemma core back into the body of the rope to form a permanent loop. This process can save loads of knot tying when you are actually out at sea sailing. Again, making life easier in the middle of the night when it’s cold and wet and the pressure’s on.
The other tasks we need to complete during prep week are, service the engine, fill the water tanks, service the winches and all the deck gear, check everything, literally everything on board to make sure it’s clean, lubricated, working properly, stowed correctly and actually onboard.
One of my main tasks at prep week will be coordinating with our Skipper Wavy to draw up the rotas. The watch rota, the bunk rota, the cleaning cooking and maintenance rotas. This is how we keep racing at our peak 24/7 for weeks on end. We have to share out the tasks, ensuring everyone on board has a fair share of the jobs and also to ensure everyone gets enough sleep to prevent over exhaustion. The plan for our team is a 3 watch system rather than the traditional 2 watch system. It is more complex but it schedules in an 8 hour sleep per person every 24 hours rather than just 6 hours. Currently I can’t get my head around how it works but I am sure it will all become clear once Wavy shows me the plan.