Too much fun

We’ve been very busy on this motor-sailing phase. First, of course, sleeping- up to 6 hours out of every 8 if you want to. THen we’ve been splicing – learning to make eye splices and crowns on some of the 5 tons of polypropylne we pulled off our rudder several weeks ago (when WAS that?). And we’ve been making turks head knots, bracelets, and anklets. Once you’ve woven the bracelet round your chosen limb, it won’t come off unless you completely unravel it, or cut it. I’m wondering how my anklet will fit inside my Dubarry boots – I’ll probably get a chance to find out all too soon.
A geekier group of us have been working with the sextant and the sight reduction tables, taking sights of the sun, a planet, and some stars. Working though the theory and figurig out the calculations takes much longer than taking the sights – but Maaike and I were delighted when our first meridian passage of the sun gave us a latitude only 10 miles away from the GPS position. SOmetime tomorrow I expect to be able to tell everyone exactly (or approximately) where we were at noon today. THe less geeky crew have been playing charades, to much hilarity, and even got out some of the board games today. ANd of course, we celebrated Maaike’s birthday yesterday. It’s hard to remember how we ever found the time to race this boat.

Blue world

It’s a blue world, and we live in it tilted at around 25 degrees. Henrietta continues to romp along upwind – we think we’ve mostly found the way she likes to do it. All I can tell you, she will not be forced, she likes to find her own way, merrily sliding through the lumpy bumpy blue sea that surrounds us, just occasionally throwing random spray ober us to keep us awake, or smashing off the back of a wave to remind us that she needs atention.
We seem to be in an ocean bereft of birds – the only living things we have seen in 24 hours (apart from eachother, though sometines during the night watches the degree of life is debatable) are flying fish, singly and in lovely slivery flocks.
We also see other CVs from time to time – sailing parallel for a while, or crossing ahead or astern in the distance. Some of them have their AIS turned off, so then it’s a matter of speculation (and bets sometimes) as to who they are.We are alquite close on our zig-zagging path towards the scoring gate, so tiny gains and losses are important.
Fotunately many crew stocked up on treats on the last day inb Singapore, so we have had tropical fruits, chocolate, and even cheese, to share on the long grinding upwind watches. Spirits are high and we are working hard. From Team HL50YOPS in the SOuth CHina Sea, goodnight.

Exciting times

Things got perhaps a little too exciting early this morning. First I was rudely awakened by a slosh of cold salt water on my feet – obviously waves were splashing over the deck and finding their way through the open port onto my ‘lower monkey’ bunk. I tried to ignore it for a moment, but form the sounds I could hear on deck (a reef going in) the wind had obviously increased and there was a good chance I’d soon get wetter. SO I crawled out and shut the ports, then used my towel to mop up the worst and went back to sleep. Not for long – it seemed like I’d only just dropped off again when I was woken by Eric politely asking us all to go up and help with a headsail change. Exactly 2 and a half hours into our off watch is a terrible time to go on deck – you just know you probably wont get back to sleep for at least 6.5 hours.
But at lest at 6.30 it was daylight, and we had time to dress in waterproofs against the spray. It was nice to see QingDao abeam and probably less than half a mile away – we had definitely caught them overnight – hunted them down as we’d planned. It was the usual wet struggle, getting down our massive yankee one after the wind had increased dramatically. We were doing a racing sail change, where we hank the new sail on below the old one before we drop it – the idea is to minimize the time without a headsail. But with the tiny narrow space these boats have at the bow, the 2 sails soon make it very difficult to move around up there. We were in the lowering phase, about 6 of us on the lower rail, jammed between the staysail and the lifelines, pulling down and back on the flogging yankee 1, when suddenly Maaike, on the bow, gasped, and yelled ‘Man Overboard’ – definitely too exciting. Even where I was, close to the bow, I couldn’t see who was over and if they were still attached to the boat – it must have been impossible to tell from back at the helm. As I stepped forward though, I could suddenly see a crew member (who wishes to remain anonymous). swinging by his atrms below the bowsprit – he was still clipped on and atached to the boat, but boy did he have a surprised expression on his face! SO did we all, looking down at him, I suspect. We swiftly hove too, to make the side he was on the new high side, putting him further above the water, and the bow crew were close enough to grab crewmember X’s arms and his harness and pull him back inside the boat. We let him flop and recover on top of the sail for 30 seconds, but as soon as we were sure he was OK. Morgan told him he had to get off the sail so we could carry on with the change. We even decided to stay on the new tack – Eric joked that we had to tack sooner or later anyway, so crewmember X had done us all a favour. I think in future we should stick to more conventional means for deciding when to tack, just for the sake of our nerves and to avoid waking the Falmouth coastguard at inconvenient hours of the morning – yes all our emergency procedures were followed, and worked perfectly.
So we parted company with QingDao at that point, and attached ourselves to another unknown CV we’d seen faintly ahead for the last few hours. As the day wore on and we caught up with them, we found tht we are now sailing with Derry and Poultney, and we have been gaining on them too. SO some of the things we have been experimenting with for upwind saiing are definitely working. It’ll be interesting to look back at the tracker when we finish this race – with everybody so close, meeting and crossing and tacking before taking off in new directions again, it must be almost as hard on land to figure out what is going on as it is out here. From team HL50YOPS in the SOuth CHina Sea, Goodnight.

Another upwind day

We’re still racing in the sunny trade winds – the sea is navy blue scudded with white, and surprisngly clear. Sitting on the rail we sometimes see big shoals of tiny brown fish, and we’ve seen one turtle and one snake. We also see a depressingly large amount of plastic, and sometimes polystyrene fast food containers too. the nights are a little hazy, but we are still enjoying the stars, both Southern Cross and Great Bear, and later in the night a biig bright moon. We did actually have about 15 minutes of drenching rain this morning – sadly just 15 minutes before we were due to get off watch. It was just about enough to rinse salt out of our hair, but not enough for a proper shampoo. THe highlight ogf last night was what seemed to be an enormous block of flats, mounted on a pontoon, being towed by a valiant little tug boat. It loomed gradually on the horizon for hours before we could make out what it was – when you can see lights from something well beyond the horizon you know it is going to be big. Racing wise it’s interesting, as we race alongside and spar with first one yacht, then another. PSP and Derry are now behind us, we can see Switzerland too, and we have QingDao a couple of miles ahead – in our sights! When a new sail appeared downwind early this morning, our watch layed bets as to who it was. I guessed Derry, correctly, but sadly I did not take up the bet with Heather and Morgan that would have had them doing my heads-cleaning duty for the entire race. If only!
We still have he frustrations that come along with the difficulties of making these boats go upwind – but we ae all remaining cheerful as we try different things, some working better than others. As we currently seem to be making gains on the pack around us, at least some of what we are doing must be on the right track. Helming in these conditions is a matter of great concentration and small rewards – so different form the ‘easy pickings’ you get when surfing downwind! Never mind, only another 2099 miles to go – if, that is, we could sail directly to QingDao. They are surely going to be some long and painful miles, before we are done with this race.

Race 9 Begins

We’re now nearing the end of the second day of race 9. And of course it’s been upwind, upwind, upwind, all the way – and we only expect more of it. THere was an overnight delay to rate start after we left SIngapore – we motored through the huge ship parking lot that is the Singapore Strait, but unfortunately Derry had gone back to pick up a battery charger, so as the fleet was not all present in time to start before sunset, we motored until the morning. We had a great Le Mans start – although we think we are not very good at going upwind, we just held steady and gradually moved to the front of the fleet – a nice place to be, even if its only temporary. Since then the weather beautifully sunny, and the trade winds are blowing obligingly, straight on our nose.
Last night we had a bit of ‘all hands on deck’ drama when a slow reef by port watch (i’m in starboard this time) let the sail flog too long, and a batten broke. We had to lower the sail right down to the deck. extract and replace the batten, then hoist again in careful stages. Luckily no permanent harm was done, but it definitely gave QIngDao, the nearest boat at the time, a chance to catch up.
Later we became embroiled in a fishing fleet – we spent so much time bearing away to dodge different vessels, who seemed to be moving in random directions and just ignoring us, that QingDao took the opportunity and went flying by in the darkness. THey were just about a mile upwind, and that made all the difference as they seemed to miss the fishing fleet altogether.
RIght now we are sailing in company with Derry and PSP – it’s good to have other boats in sight so we can try different things to make this tub(sorry, Henrietta!) go upwind efficiently, and judge by our progress against the others how well they work.
WIth the fairly mild weather, noone has really sufferedfrom seasickness this time, which is a blessing. We are settling back into our routine and enjoying the balmy weather – we know all to soon we will be freezing. From Team HL50YOPs, goodnight.

Pictures Race 8 (part 1)

Race start was just before sunset – making for a dramatic farewell to Australia.




Ryan and Kevin – Hungry and Anxious


Squalls and rain and Meg hamming it up for an approaching squall





Eric's war paint – scarier than the pirates


Volcanoes. Switzerland appearing from behind one, and a live one, too



Meg and Morgan – not really falling overboard, they've just finished pulling the Yankee round in a light wind tack

Dave pulling on the wind seeker sheet – Papua New Guinea for a backdrop


James prepares to fish. And Jame's wind ex under construction


Tea at sea
We all love our wind seeker


Cruising update

It’s already hard to remember the different phases of our cruising phase. I told you about our reduced watch system, which is supposed to give us all a lot more rest. At night, Meg, Heather and I are usually the ‘all girl watch’. Heather and Meg are our 2 bad ass chicks from New York and New Jersey, and they’ve been dropping all sorts of hints to the guys about what goes on in an all girl night watch – dancing naked in the rain and braiding eachother’s hair is about the least of it, in that fantasy world. DUring the day we have a completely different watch system for the siesta 4 hours, with one person from each half watch on at the same time. It mixes up the watches, which is good, but is is not easy to figure out when you are on watch or not.
Anyway – the first couple of days we were moving past the Phillipine island of Mindanao in calm conditions and gorgeous sunshine. THere were lots of tiny little fishing craft working around the steel fish accumulators that dot the seas surface – mostly different sorts of outrigger trimarans, not looking at all seaworthy. We started off in company with GB and QingDao, and in the afternoon of the first day we stopped the boats and swam, in the middle of the deep blue ocean. It was a wonderful treat, and gave us the chance to catch up a bit with friends on the other boats too. As we all lounged and sawm we couldsee 4 tall masts appearing over the horizon and approaching like a phalnx of warships – it was what we no refer to as ‘the former leading pack’ (DLL, Derry, Poultney) along with Switzerland. SO though the next night we were all more or less together. We even saw a small green flash at sunset – stunning. During the next day we fell behind a bit – it turned out we had a massive 30ft piece of bamboo wrapped around our keel.
On Friday night the other boats were holding a ‘blind date’ contest over the radio. We, apparently, were ‘washing our hair’ (we certainly have plenty to wash) and did not participate. Becase the wind came up enough to sail, we did not swim again. It also became important to make good time to Kota Kinabalu, our refueling port in Borneo, as we could only get fuel during daylight. We arrived there late on Saturday afternoon – what a beatiful natural harbor with little isilands, bays, and jungles right down to the beaches. Only Poultney, GB, and DLL got refuelled on Saturday. We watched a breathtaking sunset behind the islands, with GB sailing off into it. THis was a cause for some serious stress, as we waited for CLipper to decide whether there was to be any more racing or not. GB was certainly in a good position if the race was to continue, refuelled and ready to go at least 12 hours ahead, with a better liklihood of good wind, at least at the beginning. Eric was pacing about like an expectant father as we circled slowly around the bay. WHen the announcement finally came, no more racing, we were the winners of race 8, there was a collective sigh of relief. Still no champagne, and not even beer – a strange kind of race finish for us.
We got to raft up with QingDao and Switzerland briefly in one of the coves, it was good to chat with old friends again – a strange party with no alcohol and precious little food. It did not last long, as QingDao was the only one with an anchor down, and it began to drag. We were offered the choice anchor, or to siply drift slowly around the bay all night. Anchoring seemed like hard work, as the anchor is buried deep in the forepeak, so we opted for drifting watch, moving slowly back and forth all night. In the morning we finally reached the shore to refuel. ANd although we did not officially land, we were able to enter the resort and shop at the convenience store, and get some food in the restaurants. 2 hours as an ilegal immigrant in Malaysai was quite fun! We also showered from a hose on thedock – necessary for us as the watermaker is not working (the input pump this time, not the machine itself) so we can’t wash clothes or shower at sea.
THen we were off again – towards Singapore in company with Switzerland. We’ve done some sailing, and a lot of motoring. Last night was the wettest we’ve had – not just squalls but continual drenching rain from 8pm until about noon today. At least it seems better now.
We’ve been doing as much boat maintenance as possible in the mornings – we siesta in the afternoons, and in the evening before dinner, we sit and seriously discuss topics related to sailing, racing, weather,and how we can improve. Other boats have movie hours, we understand, but Team Henri Lloyd is definitely still in racing mode, even during the cruising phase.

While I remember – finishing race 8A

I want to write a little more about the last day of race 8A, while I can still remember it. I think I ast worte in the morning of that day, when we could see GB roughly abeam, upwind to starboard, almost on the horizon. s they had to come downwind to make it to the finish, they gradually got larger and larger, closer and loser. The wind built up during the afternoon, with white caps all around we were sometimes making 14.5 knots – perhaps a little much for the light-weight kite, but if GB weren’t dropping theirs, we certainly wouldn’t be taking ours down. THey obviously were doing everything in their power to pass in front of us, but in the end just could not do it, and passed behind, moving off to leeward, presumably to get out of our dirty air, and to try to find a way round us later in the day.
By this time (late afternoon) we could also see Qing Dao far up wind – a bright white dot against the mountains of Mindanao. We knew they had a long way to come downwind, so we weren’t too worried about them. As the sunny sailing afternoon progressed and we made good progress, we also knoew we had less to fear from the boats to the south – they would have to sail very fast indeed to overhaul us in five or so hours we had to go to the finish. Although we were in the tense final day of a race, you might not have thought so on deck – the best place for crew weight was forward, which happenned to put us in the shade of the sails, and gave us a beautiful view of the spectacular sunset, into the sea more or less exactly where we were headed for. That was not so good for trimmers and helms, as it was hard work staring straight into that sun.
We even had a visit from a pod of whales late in the afternoon – lots of spouting off to port, between us and GB, and then one brave whale who seemed to be trying to cross our path – we had to head up sharply to avoid him, and caught a glimpse of his sleek black head against the dazzling low light. Collision avoided, all was well.
As the sun set the wind was quite blustery again(for a lightweight kite), and in our efforts to stay between GB and the finish, we were constantly working down to the lowest wind angle we could. So for the last hour of the dog- watch, starboard watch struggled with the kite, having it constantly flopping back, threatening to collapse and wrap behind the shrouds. Not a fast way to sail! THen it was port watch’s turn t 8pm (Brisbane time as we had not changed clocks all race) – it sure didn’t look easy. We all breathed a collective (silent) sigh of relief as Eric finally took over the helm, and we could just concentrate on trimming and grinding, making Henrietta go as fast as she could.THe rest I’ve already written about – GB, having necessarily observed some of our go faster secrets, being so close, began to use then and make some ground. THe wind dropped as we came into the strait and closer to the land – we could smell woodsmoke (Barbeque! thought some hungry crew members) and see lights on the shore. It was nerve wracking and tense. Since the finish was just an imaginary line south of an electronic waypoint, there were no lights or markers to guide us, so CHris and I had to keep Eric constantly updated o distance and bearing to the waypoint. About 4 miles out, it really seemed that GB might pass us, but by using our tricks better than them, we eld them off. THeir Skipper, SImon, claims that they did pass us about 2 mies out, but we don’t agree – we were always netween them and the finish, even if it looked as if they were abeam. THere was no champagne, and there are not even any points, for race 8A alone. But hugs and congratulations all round. SImon on GB called on the VHF to vcongratulate us and Eric – his call went something like, ‘a great race, congratulations, we thought we had you, you bastards.’ But it was wonderful to win it, after what happened to us in the Bass Strait and the last 2 non-races. Five days earlier, we felt we’d be ecstatic if we managed to sneak a podium place in this race. By the morning of the last day, and certainly in the last few hours, second place would have felt like a huge failure. Now if there’s to be race 8B, we’re ready for it – this race, without instruments and having to work up from 8th place over thousnads of miles, has certainly honed our skills, and our determination. Before I started CLipper, I thought the racing wouldn’t really be all that important to me, as long as we didn’t come last. It’s amzing how life in the bubble changes your perspective!

Into the cruising phase

Well, we did it – never mind no wind instruments and 3 hour pirate detour, we crossed the line first. It was certainly a nail biter – the tension was incredible aboard, especially in the last 3 miles as gB crept up and threatened to push us up past the latitude of the mark… it was almost unbearable! Tricky sailing too, trying to push the kite to a way lower wind angle than it really wanted to go to. As one of the nav assistants, I was downstairs watching the numbers tick over in the final moments – the longitude ticking down to match that of the mark, the latitude flickering up and down – too high, ok again, too high, ok – until YES, we’ve crossed the line. We were like a bunch of wet dishrags after that. ANd of course there was no clipper RIB, no dock, no beer – just waiting for the other boats and motoring through the warm night to start the cruising phase. It was just skipper exchanges and quick congratulations over the radio – gb reckon they ‘had us’ until their kite collapsed. What do we care about that – Team HL is back. Our friends DLL came by and gave us 3 cheers in the darkness – so very sporting of them, especially after they led for so long.
THe cruising phase involves much shorter watches – we are split into 4 watches, 3 hours each on duty during the night, giving us 9 hours for sleep. During the day we have 4 hours on, all together, from 8 to 12, when we will clean or do maintenance, then a four hour siesta period, when half of us will do 2 hours on each day – then four more hours all on, having educational discussions and sharing knowledge, it seems. So we should have plenty of rest.
We have been motoring in company with GB and Qing Dao (I think we are the less ‘popular’ boats – DLL chose to hang back and cruise with Derry and Pulteney – clearly the ‘cool kids’ of the fleet hanging together) Half way through this afternoon’s siesta, we three stopped to swim. Fantastic diving into the deep blue in the middle of nowhere – it doesn’t matter how salty we are again, really.
As I type we can see 4 more CVs appearing in the distance – I think it’s the party crowd plus Switzerland. Various interboat swaps and bargains are being struck up over the VHF. We, unfortunately, don’t seem to have anything left to bargain with. Unless they want dried beans and peas…

Anybody’s race

Right now we are flying towards the first finish line, A1 up, blue sea, sparkling sun, and it’s breezy enough for little whitecaps all around. We caught sight of G\b early this morning, first from the top of the mast when we had to send Heather up to retrieve a spinnaker halyard that was wrapped around the spreaders, then as the morning went on they appeared far off on the horizon, more or less on the beam to the north. THey have continued to get bigger as we race neck-and-neck on converging courses. It’s incredible that after the vicissitudes of this race, with it’s squalls and calms, diverse tactical decisions, crazy ladders and precipitous snakes, there are still so many boats so close in these final stages. We are doing everything in our power to give Henrietta every last ounce of speed in the right direction – keep your fingers and toes crossed and send speedy thoughts our way, please.
If you happened to watching the race tracker between 8 and 11 (our time) last night, you probably wondered what on earth we were up to. WOuld you believe it if I told you Father Neptune appeared out of the sea, riding on a conch shell towed by 8 white doolphins, each bearing a singing mermaid on its back; and that 8 more dolphins seized all our spare lines and took us for a magical mystery tour of his magical kingdom? No, I didn’t think so. What actually happened as we finished our bacon sandwiches to the backdrop of a beautiful sunset on deck, was another real life ‘pirate drill as we started the engine and powered away from a motor vessel that seemed to show a little too much interest in us. Most likely they were just curious, you probably don’t see 70 foot racing yachts around here every day, but in line with CLipper Race policy we played it safe and got where they couldn’t see us anymore, before motoring back to the exact same spot ad resuming racing about three hours later. As an extra precaution we decided to keep all nav lights off last night, and not to use lights on deck – which explains how the spin halyard got caught on the spreaders during our 5am hoist. Everything was calm and orderly throughout, excellent practice for a scenario I hope we never really encounter. So nothing to worry about, though I’m sure by the time we get to tell the whole story in a bar on dry land somewhere, it will have become much embellished. And no, we have not broken our rudder bearings again, no anything else important (touch wood)