The sunset on July 3rd was a strikingly gloomy one – we had beeen pursued down the North Sea all day* by Old Pulteny, wth Switzerland and Derry also in sight, not far behind, and DLL close to them. We've seen how fast 'the Chicken' can sail when it really wants too, and we knew there was no room at all for us to relax.
Pulteney's tricolor, glowing red, was in sight all through the brief darkness that night. we also had a crescent moon as the clouds cleared a little – the first time we'd seen it this race. The moonset too, was a foreboding red one, the crescent eerily distorted by low,clouds. GB was far enough behind to be out of ÀIS range, but as the wind angle tightened up for us, we knew that their upwind position could turn out to be a good one. Even less cause for relaxation – although in the early hours we overheard a VHF conversation between GB and a ship, whose position we could pinpoint, and I it appeared that we were still pulling away from them.
Soon, our concern became the Traffic Separation Schemes (TSS) that we were required to cross at right angles, if we didn't want to incur a 5 point penalty from the race committee. The trouble was, the wind wasn't!t blowing the right way for an exact 90 degree crossing – and we were pretty sure they didn't intend us to motor across instead. The four leading skippers conferred on the radio, and agreed all they could do was cross at the best angle they could and all at the same one – which in the end was not too horribly off the required course. As the TSS lanes curve around the land, we had to bear away for some of them, then head back up until we reached the next one. Plenty of work for the navigators as well as us helms and trimmers. We also had to keep clear of all the shipping in the lanes, and once again we had some luck as Pulteny had to bear away to pass behind a tug with a long tow that we had passed in front of, allowing us to increase our lead a little more.
The 7.15am sched (boat time) said we had a 15 mile lead over GB. We could almost breathe again! We'd been doing 10 knots for the last few hours – and the miles to the finish were ticking down nicely. Although the wind lightened, and we had some scary moments as Pultemy seemed to gain on us until they too lost their stronger breeze. We had both watches up, feet out on the rail, to make sure we ddidn't give them any opportunity to sneak by. Land, low lying (with windmills!) and smelling of grass came into view in the bright sunshine, and we knew the race was ours. Not only race 15, but the whole thing! With eager anticipation we craned forward, looking for the South Cardinal Mark we had to pass to cross the line. The finish came surprisingly soon – no Clipper boat or gun, just an imaginary line on the chart. But the shouts and hugs were real, the three cheers for Eric – best Skipper in the WORLD – and the jubilation. To all us Americans on board, our victory over GB see,ed a wholly appropriate way to celebrate the Fourth of July. who needs fireworks? For once we didn't have to instantly get the sails down or pose for photographs – we could take a minute for the huge sense of happiness and relief to sink in at the realization of the goal we'd all worked so long and hard for.
Soon enough the Clipper RIB came out for photos – this time we had no problems smiling and cheering for them. And we could hear Maaike's family, and then Meg's, shouting and celebrating on the shore. We got the sails down, as usual our flaking of the main slower and uglier than Pulteney's – but we didn't care! Itt was a great welcome as we went through the lock into DenHelder. Sir Robin shook us all by the hand as we disembarked, saying that we were now mathematically unbeatable (tempting fate – we could sink and then there'd be penalties) and that he knew we'd worked damned hard for it all year.
*The post I wrote on July 3rd seems to have vanished into the ether. If I find it again, I will add it to 3sheets. The gist of it was that we were in the lead, feeling hunted, and too superstitious to say anything about final positions – out loud, at least!