Well, obviously., we didn’t vote for the booze cruise option. Cruising is just not really in our nature any more. We had a great start out of Den Helder – in the pre-start maneuvering we flew the Y1 and the staysail,. We had the A2 on deck, but in the final few minutes Eric called for the A1 instead. So there was a scramble changing sheets and halyards over in time. in the final seconds before crossing the start line we peeled to the A1. – flawlessly. I was busy trimming the kite so couldn’t look back and see what was happening, but soon we were able to gybe onto port and I could see 11 other CVs, flying a cheerful assortment of A1s and A2s as we crossed ahead f them all. It did seem like a wholly appropriate way to start our final race together.
We kept our lead as we left the channel – Old Pulteney was sailing very fast a little upwind and behind, but as the fleet closed up to pass through a narrower stretch, the began to get dirty ar from the boats behind them, and stopped gaining. Mission were doing well, furthest to windward – everybody would like to see them on the podium in this final race. Unfortunately, about an hour and a half after the start, I noticed their kite flapping strangely, and within seconds the bottom 2 thirds of it were trailing alongside, while the top still flew from the masthead. Not a pretty sight at all. Fortunately the luff rope must have stayed intact, as they seemed to get the top portion down quite easily.
As the evening progressed, our little cruise,across to London turned out to be quite a busy race. The wind increased and the angle tightened, so that we all,switched to white sails. Then, just before,dark, as we started the upwind part of the course, we had to do a headsail change – for only the second time since leaving San Francisco! We were one of the first boats to do it, so fell back a little. We didn’t even do a racing change – in the spirit of conservatism we brought the Y1 back before we even attempted to hank on the Y2. The wisdom of our choice became clear soon enough, as we caught up again with the other boats in our group. Garmin was dragging their Y1 over the side like a sea anchor, and Jamaica suddenly and terrifyingly hove to and seemed to be coming right at us, Eric on the helm yelled for us all to hang on and was just about to do an emergency tack before we realized what they were doing. Pulteney and DLL were ahead with full mainsails still up, but with our reduced sail plan we soon began to overhaul them.
I’ve already forgotten the details, but for the rest of the race starboard watch (my watch) seemed to be incredibly busy – we’d be dropping and woofing kites, gybing them, peeling from one kite to another or from Yankee back to the kite, hankimg headsails on then dragging them back and flaking them. Not necessarily in that order, of course! We even spent an hour in the middle of the night crouched at the back of the boat struggling to resecure the liferafts and rebuild the wooden frame holding them in place, as our North Sea bashing had proved too much for it. Then when we went down to sleep, it seemed port watch did nothing but tack, so that just as soon as we dropped off we’d be woken by the danger of rolling out of the bunk, or being compressed into the cubbies behind it.
We did have some splendid sailing though, kiting along at 15, 16, 17 knots, and at breakfast time on Friday we were only 70 miles,from the finish, and caught our first sight of Blighty in 10 months! We had Derry and DLL, locked in the battle for 3rd overall, just ahead, and GB and Jamaica just behind, all hazily visible through the mist as we charged past the Sizewell nuclear power station.
Crawling bleary eyed from our sleepless,bunks at lunchtime, we learned the reason for all the tacking and bashing that had kept us awake – Clipper was sending us around in approximately 18 mile loops to make the race longer. It looked like all the wooling, peeling, and hanking was set to continue well into the evening. GB had cleverly chosen an inshore course and was now ahead of everyone – quite close, and we were definitely catching them upwind, until they tacked,for the buoy marking the end of the upwind section, and got their A2 up quicker than we did as they bore away downwind. We certainly tried to catch them, but this time our “old black magic” did not quite do the job. So GB won the race into their home port – congrats to them!
So in the grey evening we finally crossed the line off Southend Pier – closing the circle and completing our circumnavigation. All of us gathered behind the wheel, and we each had a hand on it as we crossed – perhaps making for some slightly erratic steering. Then it was hugs and congratulations all around – we’ve achieved something momentous as a team, not only sailing around the world, but still being a happy boat, and winning the whole thing. No better way to finish the Clipper Race!