Race 16

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!

 

Race 15 in Pictures

And what a race it was!

Waving goodbye to Derry

Red Arrows

Aw, sweet

Race start

Ghosting past the Outer Hebrides

Not Morgen’s favorite kind of sailing

Canada Day cake

Skirting the wind hole – and Switzerland, I think

 

Reflections 1

Reflections 2

Sunrise over Stroma and GB

Leaving the Atlantic – Switzerland astern

Entering the North Sea, close racing with GB and OP

 

Gloomy evening

 

North Sea sunset – and Old Pulteny hunting us down

 

Nightfall – one last night for this race

 

North Sea sunrise

Arrival day morning

We’re on the rail again

July 4th is a good day for winning

Winning skipper = happy skipper

GB’s Olly congratulates Tash on the win. Or the outfit?

 

The end of the world as we know it

It's a strange thing, knowing we have one more sprint to London, and then our voyage is over. It's even stranger that we've done what we set out to do, and to know that we could just cruise across to London, not even bothering to race if we chose to. Eric told us it's a decision for us as a crew – but I can't really imagine there'd be many votes for the cruising option. Racing is what we like to do, and we really don't like deliveries.

We'd already spent time in Derry taking everything off the boat that we didn't need – all that stuff we've dragged around the world with us because we might use it, might just need it some day. Pressure cookers, scavenged spinnaker cloth, kilos of split peas,, team shirts that don't fit anyone, dozens of jars of Chinese jam and tens of jars of Nutella – it was all given or thrown away. That was the beginning of the end.

But the evidence that the end has really come was as we put the sails away on our way into Den Helder. We dropped tha Yankee 1 and dragged it back to the cockpit to flake and bag it. Fitzy and I both had the same thought – it was tied up quite neatly and we could just put it straight in the bag without flaking. “But when are you going to flake it properly?” asked Eric. “When we inspect it” said we. “We're not doing that here” was his reply. We were a little shocked – even though we know there's only a day or two left, we've never not inspected the sails in port before. I'd fully expected we'd be checking all the kites, the windseeker, the Yankee 1 and 3, and the staysail. We used most f our sail wardrobe in the race from Derry!

But no, we're in a different world now. Most of the work we did here was cleaning Henrietta, sorting her stores, and getting her ready to hand her back to Clipper. Our epic journey is really drawing to and end. I'm sure though, whatever branding CV21 carries in future races, she'll always be Henrietta to us.

Race 15 Finish

 

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!

 

 

 

Pictures – Panama to Jamaica

It was a sprint, mostly on starboard tack. We did a lot of sitting on the rail

Ryan and Fiona, doing what needs to be done

We worked hard at it. (Really)

The final day dawns

Sean at dawn

And there's Jamaica

Land Ho Jamaica!

Looming on the horizon on our other side – GB.

Bogies at 3 o'clock (more like 8:30)

And they are getting closer

Bogies, getting closer

Nick trimming for the race

It was close!

GB tries to pass upwind

Simon congratulates Braveheart Eric

Winning face

Beautiful Port Antonio, Jamaica

Port Antonio sunset

 

Pictures – Panama

Panama City – so many contrasts

Panama City - old and new

Fishing bynthencauseway

We spent our day in the canal behind BF Copacabana

BF Copacabana

An anniversary

Panama Canal - 100 years young

Line handlers

It's a long way down when they pull the plug

A long day for the line handlers too

From Gatun Lake, it rained, and rained, and rained. But our pilot Elliot was determined to get us through in one day

The crew is happy - no camping overnight on the lake

Caribbean ho! And sunny skies ahead

Catching the rest of the fleet

Leading the charge from the last lock to Shelter Bay – gotta get there in time for happy hour

We're ready for our next ocean

Mosquito Coast

Charges River from Fort San Lorenzo

A sprinting sloth

Why did the sloth cross the road?

 

Pictures – San Francisco to Panama

Leaving the Bay behind, next stop Panama (probably)

Holding our breath, raising the A2

Raising the A2

Our go faster stripe – beautiful

Our go faster stripe

Intrepid Meg, cutting kelp of the rudder

Meg trolls for kelp

Pirate Princess

Pirate Princess

Little ship on a big sea – we crossed paths with Jamaica

Crossing paths with Jamaica

King's Day celebration – bobbing for muffins, Sean and Ryan in their regalia

Bobbing for muffins on kings day

 

Sean trims in Kings Day regalia

Ryan - looking good in orange

Our visitor – a collared dove?

Visitor - collared dove

Sunsets and sunrises – different every time

Sky blue pink

 

Squalls again – and rain

Rain squall

Jules chilling in the rain

Chilled Jules

The intense final hours of racing (!)

Ocean racing

Another avian visitor

Visitor from Costa Rica

Evening swim with Garmin and Jamaica

Sunset swim

We could see Costa Rica

Near Banana Bay

Thanks, Pulteny and OneDLL – we love you too

Thank you!

DLL waits of Banana Bay

Arriving in Panama with our haul of Jerry cans

Panama with Jerry cans

 

Spirit of Jamaica Chase Finish

Since a couple of you have asked for it, here is a rather long account of the race finish, as far as I can remember it through the excitement (not to mention the rum).

When I last wrote it was early morning on the last day of the race, and we could see GB more or less on our beam, upwind and on the horizon. We could also see Jamaica, and the point we had to claw our way around before we'd be able to bear away towards the finish. It was agonizing, sitting on the rail – from the high side we could only watch as their sails got bigger and closer. They did not seem to be drawing ahead, but we knew they had a better wind angle, and should be able to sail a little more free and fast than we could, and still make it round the point.

Our watch was over at 8am, but it was hard to contemplate going below to sleep with the race hanging in the balance. It was clear it would be a long day though, so I eventually went down at about 9:30 just to get out of the sun, and to try to read a book and think about something – anything – other than the race for a couple of hours. Jules, as mother, was getting ready to make bread, she said in case we didn't get in before dinner time, but I think she was trying to distract herself too. By the time I'd helped her find a recipe for a raisin and walnut loaf, the word came from upstairs to sleep on the low side, as the wind had lightened so much. Probably not good news.

To my surprise, I actually slept for an hour or so. I woke up to the familiar sound of a winch rotating on deck. I thought it was a running back stay, which could only mean we were preparing for the dreaded and very costly tack to clear Point Moran. Definitely not good news. I was puzzled though, in my half asleep state, as Henrietta's angle of heel did not change. And looking through the open port above my head, I could see a curious line leading across the cockpit. It took me quite a while to realize that Port watch had raised the wiindseeker as we'd hit winds so light that GB and the boats behind were all making gains on us.

But at least we hadn't tacked. There was still a lot of activity up on deck, and then I heard Eric talking to the race office, reporting our position and telling them that we had GB neck and neck and Switzerland about 4 miles behind. iI gave up the idea of sleep and went up. The first thing I saw was GB, on the starboard side, now just about ahead, and using their free-er wind angle to fly their A1. The second thing was land – the point now long , low, and green, and VERY close on the port side. We just had to clear the shallows, then we too would be able to raise the spinnaker. You can guess it was pretty tense on board as we pushed the boat as close to the wind as the sail could go, while watching GB pulling away from us with their bigger sail. Morgan and the rest of Port watch had everything set up for the peel (when we raise the new sail before we drop the old one), and we just had to wait – checking and double checking that every line was run right and everybody knew what their job would be – until we could make the turn.

Soon enough the time came, and we managed a flawless peel – huge relief all round, but we still had to catch GB, clear ahead and flying along. Eric came up from the nav station and said we now had 20 miles to make up half a mile. That actually didn't sound so bad – one thing we know we're good at is coming from behind, especially when we're flying a kite. So we settled down to do it. For an hour I trimmed for all I was worth, squinting into the sun directly overhead, concentrating so hard on the curl in the sail that I had no time to see if first Nick, then Eric, on the helm was making any ground on the boat ahead. At first we had to sail the kite as close to the wind as it would go without collapsing, – something it was never designed for – until,we turned another corner and were able, at last, to sail down wind. When Nick took over trim and I became a piece of moveable ballast, I could see we were gaining, bit by bitt, although the distance between us was expanding and contracting like a rubber band with every puff or lull in the breeze.

We were gaining, but as Eric always says, it is easy to catch up with another boat, but very hard to actually pass them. Eric had a plan though, and we sat ourselves on their leeward quarter, and watched them like hawks for the first sign that they were about to gybe. We were set up to gybe the instant they did, so that we'd get inside them in the turn. In the end, with bearings to the finish confirmed by Ryan and Chris down in the nav station, we gybed first. GB followed, but we were now inside, between them and the finish – about 2 miles to,go, and we were no longer behind!

It was still neck and neck though, and now, as the windward boat, we were bound by the racing rules,of sailing to keep clear of GB. As we hurtled in towards Jamaica's dramatic jungly coastline, It was comforting to know that the same rules also forbade GB from running us right up onto the beach. It soon became apparent that we were not going to make the finish on our current course. That meant another 2 gybes, with GB matching us move for move, and trying to snatch back the inside position. If we hadn't been working so hard we'd have held our collective breath through each gybe, but the teamwork was great and they went smoothly. There was some tense back and forth between Eric and the navigators as they established the bearings to each end of the line, the courses we could sail on each gybe, and which end of the line was actually closest. On the out-to-sea gybe, GB were windward, meaning we could hold our course and have a little time to think. But on that last gybe back towards Folly Point and the finish, GB did manage to get inside us. They were still behind, but so close we were sometimes overlapped. Now we could hear their trimmer's voice, and practically see the whites of their eyes. We sat on the rail, hiking out as hard as we could as they made repeated attempts to lunge upwind and overtake on our windward side. It was not good for,our collective blood pressure!

By now we could see the lighthouse, and try to pinpoint the imaginary line stretching from it. We also,had a small white sport-fishing boat dead ahead – at least a few of us did not realize it was the Clipper media boat, and wondered if we'd be disqualified if we ran it down! GB suddenly gave up their attempts to pass us, and headed off towards the north end of the line. Another flurry of consternation – Chris and Ryan had to confirm that yes, the south end was still closest, and no, the line had not been altered or lengthened to make GB''s course the optimal one. There was an almost plaintive 'we must be close' from Eric, seconds of silence from the nav station, and then, 'we're over!' With the rocky shoreline of Port Antonio rushing towards us there was scarcely time for a few whoops of delight before we had to get the kite down. But we'd done it – 31 seconds ahead, our most satisfying finish so far!

Race 9 version 2.0 in pictures

An early morning Le Mans start

Nico is happy waiting to change headsails

All too soon, another cruising phase. We made anklets.

Hong Kong – or nearly!

Just part of the madness that is Aberdeen Harbor

Eric seems very happy to have filled the tanks

During a rare calm spell over the Taiwan Banks we celebrated Chris' birthday – with a single balloon

There was much hilarity aboard…

…until Meg broke it.

When it's blowing 60 knots, it's a good day to be mother

Day after day of bashing into gales took its toll on our Yankee 3

The repair took teamwork and ingenuity

We used the galley as a giant embroidery frame

The betting started on arrival time (it's a whiteboard shot under red light). 13:13 on the 13th was the first guess

After the race was called, the sail inspection and repair team worked on deck

To complete our run of luck, our arrival into Qingdao was marred by the Henri Lloyd banner tearing and getting stuck most of the way up the rig. James went up to retrieve it, and we ended up with the banner in the water and James stuck most of the way up the rig. A camera drone was on hand to film the whole thing.

The fireworks made us jump out of our skins – but we were finally in Qingdao.

Roll on the Pacific.

 

Sydney – finally

Tomorrow we leave for the Sydney-Hobart race, so before I forget everything I'll try to set down something about our arrival in Sydney, and our time here. I think when I left you, we were still in stealth, and had Derry, DLL, and Qingdao in our sights. It was an exciting day, as in the morning we could see 2 tiny clipper sails on the horizon far ahead. “Go get'em”, Eric said, and we did. We seem do well against the others going downwind with the kite up. As the sunny morning progressed we were able to identify Qing Dao by the red on her mainsail, out to sea and ahead. The funny thing was she was not flying a kite, and did not raise one until we had practically passed her. Had the crew just woken Gareth, we wondered?

After a squally afternoon, with impressive purple and grey clouds streaming rain and swooping down on us all from time to time, obscuring one boat or another from view, we spotted another sail, close inshore – this turned out to be Derry, and DLL was furthest ahead, but much closer now. By late afternoon we all converged on Green Cape – Derry still closest to the shore and flying along with her number 1, in the lead I think, with DLL 2nd, and us in third, Qing Dao heading inshore crossing our stern in 4th. Exciting times, we must all have been within 1 mile of each other.

That evening Eric outlined his possibly risky strategy – rather than hugging the coast to keep out of the current, and following Derry and DLL, he wanted to head further out, into the strong contrary current, but with the chance of better wind and better surfing waves. If, as he predicted, the high pressure over the land bubbled out over the coast, we might be able to get round it without getting completely stalled, and benefit eventually from the stronger wind the other side of it. The risk was that we would not be able to sail fast enough, and would instead get stuck in the wind hole ourselves. But in 3rd place there was no point just following the boats ahead – doing something different could bring big rewards.

So we gybed and headed out to sea in the gathering darkness, with Qing Dao apparently deciding to follow us, her nav lights clearly in sight. I was quite surprised, next time I came on watch, to find that she had gybed in the darkness and headed inshore again – the offshore strategy was supposed to be an all or nothing thing. I also had a moment of dejection, when waking early in the morning I misheard what Donato was telling us, and thought that Derry was 20 odd miles ahead. I was so relieved to get on deck and find out that they had indeed sailed into a near shore wind hole, and were now that many miles behind!

That last morning we saw another Clipper astern – but her ÀIS was off, and we could not be sure who she was – we thought she was Qingers, in stealth, and that DLL was in shore with Derry. Eventually it became clear that she was DLL, and Qing Dao was close by,but out of sight. We were in the lead! It was quite a tense day of sailing, dealing with the changeable conditions. Eventually the wind settled down, we had made it round the high – but the new wind was coming directly from Sydney, it seemed, so we had a long and weary afternoon and evening of beating, tacking, beating – almost reminiscent of Cabo Frio. But this time we were not goi g to let the others sail past us. We kept a fairly conservative sail plan, but even so, each outward tack resulted in a horrible slamming and juddering motion that made it impossible to get any real rest below. By nightfall we were tired, but it was clear we would not get in until the early hours of he morning. It is amazing how slow progress seems, once the lights of a city are in sight.

Eventually, though, we made it to the Sydney heads. We briefly had a single dolphin, accompanying us as we identified the right leading lights, and were finally able to bear away from the wind and head in. The wind got lighter and lighter, we were moving almost silently as we entered the harbor, the city lights spreading out all around us and reflecting on the water. We heard voices from a headland, shouting indistinctly – drunken 2am revellers, we first thought, until we heard “Go Henri Lloyd!”, and Jon said thought he recognized his brother's voice. “Concentrate on the race” was Eric's mantra – obviously concerned that we could be drifting and becalmed for hours, allowing the others to sail around us. But things weren't that bad – we did raise the wind seeker, and got some long-threatened gybing practice in on our way towards shark island and the finish – we were getting quite good by the last one! And then we were there – not even a RIB from Clipper to witness us crossing the line, we just had to record our finishing time ourselves and call it in to the office.

So there was the usual tired struggle to flake the main (we are BAD at it) and tidy everything up, find our mooring lines, fenders, and white jackets to be photo ready before the Clipper RIB came out to guide us into Rushcutter's Bay. Sam and James, mothers for the day, valiantly cooked up the last of the bacon to sustain us, but I don't think many crew had time to enjoy it. It was pretty much light by the time we tied up – Eric's Mom, Sally, was on the dock waiting, as well as Jon's brother and parents, who had had plenty of time to drive round from their headland viewpoint.

As well as congratulations, our mail, and the usual beer and soft drinks, Gillian from Clipper delivered the news that we had 1 hour to get everything we needed for the next 3 days off the boat, as she was going to be lifted out of the water in an hour! Everything we needed included the sails,so we could work on them, and all poor injured Angus' possessions, as the Clipper insurance sorted out the care he needed. As we'd all been without sleep for at least the last 18 hours, and in Eric's case much longer, you can imagine the chaos that ensued – we really had no time to enjoy our first place finish before Eric and 3 crew set off with Henrietta for the boatyard, and the rest of us wandered into early morning Sydney in search of breakfast and wifi. We were a strangely displaced and rootless crew in that first day after our first race win, with our home taken away for us before we'd even had time to clean it – quite surreal.

Early morning in Rushcutter's Bay

Rushcutter's Bay Arrival