A year ago today, Leg 3 of the 2017-2018 edition of the race left Cape Town, South Africa for Fremantle, Australia ………… so this time next year …
A year ago today, Leg 3 of the 2017-2018 edition of the race left Cape Town, South Africa for Fremantle, Australia ………… so this time next year …
Immediately after Sea Survival training it was a short drive down to Clipper HQ in Gosport to meet our Mate and Skipper and move onboard our Clipper 68 for the rest of Level 2.
The 10 of us who had completed the first pool session were, unsurprisingly, the 10 who would now form crew 1 and once again I was training in CV2 (see Blog 15: Size Is Not Important, 13 Aug, for a brief resume of CV2’s Clipper history). After issue of our new Musto training foul weather smocks and sallopettes (red not gold), Anna (UK) our Mate, with bags of offshore yachting experience, led us immediately into the agility test as part of our Level 2 assessment. With all of the Clipper 70s in which we will race next year now in Gosport, bar two currently out of the water for refit (see short video Blog 18: First 2019-2020 stopover announced…., 26 Aug), and Qingdao already in 2019-2020 colours for a corporate event, Anna led us around the marina to one of the Clipper 70s for this first part of our Level 2 assessment. This kicked off with testing our ability to get onboard without the assistance of the step via use of one of the berthing ropes. The agility test, both above and below deck, also allowed us all another look around a Clipper 70, and for some of us this was a first. Rather like my look around Liverpool 2018 back in July, this all helped bring Clipper 2019-2020 that little bit closer and I couldn’t help but reflect that this time next year I will be in a Clipper 70 in the South Atlantic.
The team were a similar international mix to previous training. 5 men, David (from the East coast of the US), Mitch (from the West coast of the US), George, Rob, (who I had met previously at the Little Ship’s Club in London (see Blog 8: So How Did It All Start(2), 1 Jul) and myself all from the UK, and 5 women: Anna (from Portugal), Meta (from London but originally the US), Katrina (from London but originally Germany), Lucia (from Aberdeen but originally Czechoslovakia) and fellow blogger Jo from the UK – check out her blog at http://www.jojosclipperjourney.com. George and Jo had previously completed Level 1 together in July and Lucia was one half of the team that pulled me from the water (or at least waist deep from the water) right at the end of our own Level 1 back in April (Blog 9: Have you heard the one about ……., 9 Jul). Not surprisingly, having travelled from the West coast, Mitch was completing Level 1 and Level 2 back-to-back. We were split into two watches of 5 – George, Rob, Meta, Lucia and me in one watch, David, Mitch, Anna, Katrina and Jo in the other. As far as ages are concerned then let’s just leave it by saying that in a race to see who was eldest I would very comfortably achieve a podium finish and the last time I had a 25+ year age difference between me and the “skipper” I was an 18 year old Midshipman! There is, of course, no substitute for experience ………… I just need to get some in a yacht.
We were extremely fortunate (in my view) to have Chris Kobusch as our training skipper. In his early 30s and originally from Herford, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, Chris has been an RYA Yachtmaster (Offshore) since 2009, had previously been a Clipper training skipper in Sydney and has over 100,000 miles in his yachting log book. Perhaps more significantly Chris was the skipper of Qingdao during the 2017-2018 Round The World Race. During Leg 4 around Australia, Qingdao was hit by lightning during a 40knot Southerly Buster (violent squall) and still finished 5th on arrival in the Whitsundays. Chris and his crew achieved 4 podium finishes: 3rd into Sydney, 3rd on arrival into Sanya, 1st across the North Pacific into Seattle and 1st in the final race from Derry-Londonderry to Liverpool. Qingdao finished 3rd overall with 135 points, only 4 points behind Visit Seattle in 2nd (139 points) and only 8 points behind the winners Sanya Serenity Coast (143 points). In his profile interview for Clipper ahead of the previous race, in answer to the question, “what’s your favourite word?” Chris replied:
He went on to say, “Just kidding, my favourite word is Lekker, which is Afrikaans and can be used to describe anything good.”
As one wag put it, Chris was the first placed …………. man ………… and the winning …………. German. All this and a sense of humour 😉
Once back onboard CV2 Chris led us through an extremely comprehensive safety brief, with plenty of questions to us all to test what we remembered from Level 1, and took us through the plan for the week. More safety, and upper deck safety tomorrow morning, including MOB drills (tethered and untethered – see Blog 8: Have you heard the one about ………., 9 Jul) and sailing around lunchtime. The weather forecast for Saturday morning was heavy rain. The plan would then be to go through a mainsail hoist and then put 3 reefs in – one after the other before manually rigging the bow anchor (regular readers will remember my Level 1 observation that anchoring a Clipper Yacht is a very mandralic event), and then lowering the reefed mainsail and anchoring in a suitable lee provided by the Ise of Wight. We would be in anchor watches overnight Saturday/Sunday. Lucia and I would subsequently have the 0100-0300 Watch, for Naval and ex-Naval readers, my first Middle Watch (or Part Middle) for a good few years. We would weigh anchor on Sunday morning, shake out the 3 reefs as we hoist the mainsail, rig and hoist the headsails – Staysail and Yankee 3 in the first instance (more about mainsail, reefs and headsails various in the next Blog) and switch into a watchkeeping routine at 2000 on Sunday evening. The plan was 4 hours on, 4 hours off overnight between 2000 and 0800 and then 6 on, 6 off 0800-1400 and 1400-2000 BUT …………. and isn’t there always a but ……………. between 1200 and 1600 both watches would generally be required ”on deck” for lunch and, more importantly, training evolutions that would require everyone to make the most of the opportunities, be that MOB exercises downwind or racing headsail changes etc. By the time Chris had finished there was time (just) for a swift drink in The Castle – “one for the road”, or perhaps “one for the channel.” And at least one of my “unknowns” from Blog 21: ‘Twas the night before ………, 12Oct, was answered …. we would be “turning left” out of Portsmouth and leaving the Solent via Sandown Bay and Nab Tower.
…………….. Level 2 training …………… “Level 2 Training Part 3 The sailing malarkey” …. to be continued …………..
Ok bottom line up front …………… assessment passed so its on to Level 3 training next year PLUS I didn’t fall off the yacht this time so Level 2 was win, win 🙂
Actually there was just a little bit more too it than that. A Friday afternoon drive down to Portsmouth and an opportunity, amongst other things, to catch up with my future sister-in-law-to-be and help her demolish a bottle of my younger brother’s red wine – my kinda sea survival prep!
We (21 of us in total) started the Saturday morning at Brune Park School in Gosport for the Clipper version of the RYA Sea Survival Course. It had been about 12 years since I last did a Sea Survival Course and Brune Park School swimming pool was a vast improvement on Horsea Lake. The first half of the day was in the classroom looking at just about everything that could go wrong (fires, floods, collisions, heavy weather, man over boards, catastrophic sinking, cold water shock, hypothermia, frostbite, sea sickness, starvation, dehydration etc etc – all good morale boosting stuff!) and various chances of survival (or otherwise) plus a vast array of equipment and techniques all designed to make survival/rescue a realistic possibility (warm clothing, waterproofs, dry suits, abandoning ship controlled, abandoning ship catastrophic, EPIRB – Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, SART – Search and Rescue Radar Transponder, flares, life jackets, spray hoods, life rafts and what to take with you, food rationing, water rationing, first aid etc etc). Top tip – only leave the yacht as a last resort, usually only AS it sinks or if it catches fire and you can’t put the damn thing out. Take the EPIRB with you if you abandon the yacht but if there is no time, and the yacht sinks quickly then Clipper EPIRBs, like Clipper life rafts, have hydrostatic releases which will “fire” as the yacht sinks (normally at depths of between 1 and 4 metres or 3 to 13 feet) 🙂
We did spend a rather unhealthy length of time discussing drowning – (drowning, near-drowning, secondary drowning or late onset near-drowning!) at least until we actually got into the pool. On average about 400 people drown in the UK each year – more than die in motorcycle accidents or pedestrians in road traffic accidents. The sea around the UK is officially designated as a “cold water” region, with water temperatures ranging from 4-6 degrees C in February and March, rising to 14-18 degrees C in August and September. The sea temperature lags behind the seasons by about 2 months. The mid to northern Pacific coast and the North Atlantic coasts of the USA and Canada, the southern Argentinian and Chilean coasts off South America, and the waters off New Zealand’s South Island and Tasmania also suffer from sub 15 degrees C sea temperatures. The average sea temperatures for my Legs – 2, 3, 6 and 8 – will be south of 15 degrees C.
Because water conducts heat away from the body at a rate 26 times faster than air, the human body cools at a rate 4 to 6 times faster in water than it does in air of the same temperature. A body falling into water below 15 degrees C will suffer cold shock within 30 seconds to 3 minutes of immersion. After 3 to 30 minutes the body automatically starts to constrict the blood vessels feeding the muscles to your legs and arms to reduce heat loss and keep key organs warm.
Once all that was over, and after a brief lunch, it was into the pool. Shiny yellow suits and inflated life jackets on, it was jumping in, adopting the HELP position (Heat Escape Lessening Posture) and various lengths of the pool swimming with arms and legs, legs only, arms only (recommended) and with spray hoods down. I don’t mind admitting that spray hoods down is unpleasant.
I find it claustrophobic and difficult to breath, particularly when swimming. But – and isn’t there always a but – it significantly reduces the chances of all that drowning I mentioned earlier. We practiced towing another Clipperee by wrapping our legs firmly around our buddy or by hooking our feet under their armpits. We practiced towing multiple buddies (up to 5 or 6). We swam a length with our eyes closed – just to prove how hard it is – even in very good conditions – to swim in a straight line with an inflated lifejacket on (it helps a little to swim with your dominant hand fingers-open) and we practiced a floating-feet together-group-huddle. And then finally we got to go boating – or rather rafting. Life rafting. 10 or so of us in an 8 man life raft was certainly cosy – and very warm very quickly – and we practised lookouts, baling, rigging and steering by drogues. We also practiced, individually, righting a capsized life raft by pulling it over our head, remembering at the vital moment to raise a fist to punch the floor as it drops on top of you so as to create an air pocket in which you can breath and thus orientate yourself to escape. Life rafts have large stability pockets that hang down beneath them and fluorescent strips on the underside to indicate escape routes to avoid entanglement in these pockets. It pays to orientate yourself before trying to get to the surface. It would be doubly ironic to drown UNDER a life raft!
One of the keys about survival has to be, in fact must be, will power. A bloody-minded determination not to be beaten. Adaptability, optimism, tenacity, resilience, purpose, resourcefulness, belief, knowledge, and training are all going to be contributory characteristics. It is also possible to learn from others. Maritime history (and the Sea Survival Handbook) are full of extraordinary examples of survival. Here are a few of my favourites …
A Chinese sailor called Poon Lim working as a second steward in the SS Ben Lomond survived alone on a wooden raft for 133 days after his ship, sailing alone and unescorted, was torpedoed in the South Atlantic on 23rd November 1942. The ship sank in 2 minutes. After 2 hours in the water Lim found and climbed on to a 8ft square wooden raft. The raft had several tins of biscuits, a 40 litre jug of water, some chocolate, a bag of sugar lumps, some flares, two smoke pots and a torch. After his ordeal (he was rescued by Brazilian fishermen as he drifted near the coast of Brazil), he was awarded the British Empire Medal and after the war he emigrated to the United States. He died in Brooklyn in 1991 at the age of 72.
Dougal and Lynne Robertson, their three children and an unsuspecting hitchhiker, Robin Williams, survived for 38 days in their dingy and life raft in 1972 after their 43ft yacht, Lucette, sank after being holed by a pod of killer whales 200 miles west of the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific. Dougal Robertson told the story of their survival in the book The Last Voyage of the Lucette (with a forward by Sir Robin Knox Johnson). Also see http://www.survivethesavagesea.com
Maurice and Maralyn Bailey, a British couple, survived 117 days in a life raft in the Pacific after their 31ft yacht, Auralyn, was holed by whales (there’s a theme here!!!) in 1973. Their journey began from Southampton and their intended destination was New Zealand. They passed safely through the Panama Canal in February but were struck by a whale at dawn on 4th March. They managed to salvage some supplies, some food and a compass and transfer them to an inflated life raft and a dingy before Auralyn foundered. After drifting some 1,500 miles they were rescued by the crew of a South Korean fishing boat on 30th June and were brought onboard in an emaciated state. They recounted their story in the book 117 Days Adrift, published in 1974 and, the following year, they returned to sea in their new yacht, Auralyn II.
John Glennie, Rick Hellriegel, Phil Hoffman and James Nalepka survived 119 days on the upturned hull of their catamaran Rose Noelle in 1989, when it capsized in the southern Pacific off New Zealand after being hit by a rogue wave. Glennie and Nalepka both wrote books about their ordeal and their story was told in a 2015 New Zealand television film, Abandoned. The other crew admitted they came close to killing Glennie, blaming him for getting them into trouble in the first place!
and finally ……. Steven Callahan, an American author, naval architect, inventor and sailor who survived 76 days adrift in the Atlantic. In early February 1982, 7 days out from the Canary Islands and heading for Antigua, Callahan’s 21ft sloop Napolean Solo, which he designed and built himself, was badly holed by an unknown object during a night storm and became swamped. In his book, Adrift: 76 Days Lost At Sea, Callahan writes that he suspects the damage was caused by a collision with ………………. yes, you guessed it………….…. a whale. Callahan escaped into a 6 man life raft and managed to retrieve a number of essential items including a sleeping bag, some food, charts, a short spear gun, flares, torch, solar stills for producing drinking water and a copy of Sea Survival, a survival manual written by ……………… Dougal Robertson of Lucette fame! Having survived on mahi-mahi, triggerfish (which he speared), flying fish, barnacles and birds that he caught, and using his stills, and captured rain water, to produce up to a pint of water a day, he drifted for some 1,800 miles and across at least two shipping lanes (he spotted 9 ships) without rescue. On the evening of 20th April 1982 he spotted the lights of an island south east of Guadeloupe and was rescued by local fishermen the next day. During the ordeal he faced sharks, raft punctures, equipment deterioration, physical deterioration and mental stress. He lost a third of his body weight and was covered with scores of saltwater sores. He described seeing the night sky at one point as “a view of heaven from a seat in hell” and still enjoys sailing and the sea, which he calls the world’s greatest wilderness.
……………… Level 2 Training…………………. “Level 2 Training Part 2 The yacht, the team, the skipper and the plan”……to be continued …………………..
……… which is not entirely accurate as the creature that was stirring was me for final pre-Clipper Level 2 training preps.
Phone is in it’s waterproof case. iPad likewise. Anti-snore devices (earplugs) packed, base layers, mid layers, thermal socks, waterproof socks, some spares etc etc etc. As I touched on previously I’m trying out “stuff” I will probably race with – a combination so far of Musto (gotta use that Clipper discount!), ISObar, SportsPursuit, and even ALDI kit.
I tried very hard not to take too much gear on Level 1, with some success, and now I’m looking at, and trying out, minimum packing, organising my kit and reducing weight. So this is the time to try out some of the waterproof kit bags I will be using on the race. I have purchased some Musto kit (other yachting suppliers are available 😉) but I have also shopped around and Aldi were selling merino wool base layers on line and in stores recently. I’ve got some thermal gloves for helming but otherwise I’m not bothering with gloves. I already feel much more comfortable handling sheets (ropes) particularly in the vicinity of winches, without them. I’ve not yet replaced my knife (not sure it’s quite up to the task) nor my sailing boots (fine for the first couple of training levels but NOT good enough for the 4 big ocean crossings) but my Ocean sleepware sleeping bag seems just the ticket.
Knots practiced (bowline, Round turn and two halve hitches, clove hitch, rolling hitch, reef knot, sheet bend, double sheet bend, admiralty stopper knot) and even the tugman’s hitch practiced on the aga kettle substituting for a winch and the kettle spout doubling for the self-tailor! No expense spared!
Sail anatomy, points of sail, mainsail controls, headsail controls and safety all revised.
So, how am I feeling?
Nervous to be honest. I think there will always be a certain degree of excited trepidation. Heck, as I explained on Tuesday, I don’t even know if we are turning left or right out of Gosport when we start, nor for that matter who I will be sailing with. There is much to remember, or try to remember, and still much to learn. And I know it!
There is also a degree of comfort and familiarity as I return to a world I have long inhabited where left is port, right is starboard, beds are bunks, toilets are heads, kitchens are galleys, floors are decks, ceilings are deckheads, doors are hatches, stairs are ladders, speed is in knots not mph/kmph and perhaps more relevant to an RN readership, food is scran, salt is sea dust, waves are gophers, a mile is 2000 yards, your day is split into Middle, Morning, Forenoon, Afternoon, First Dog, Last Dog and First and “all night in” means …… no overnight watches.
Fitness (also see Blog 3: It’s All Really A Question of Balance, 21 May, and Blog 21: Somewhere a clock is ticking………, 11 Sep). Good news so far. 40 lengths of the swimming pool at lunch time yesterday, only missed one yoga session since Blog 21, still got elasticity in my band (so to speak!) and Trevor continues to enjoy the walking.
Weight (also see the penultimate paragraph of Blog 21: Somewhere a clock is ticking ………., 11 Sep). So far so good. 0.8lb UNDER the top secret target weight that I set myself to hit for the start of Level 2 training and a full 7lbs lighter for this blog (no. 27) than I was for Blog 21.
Weather forecast (also see Blog 22: Florence, Mangkhut and Helene ……., 17 Sep, and Blog 23: The weather theme continued ……..., 23 Sep). Storm Callum hits NW UK today with forecast wind speeds of 50+ knots and rough/very rough conditions in the SW approaches to the English Channel. Hurricane Michael is currently battering Florida. If Michael doesn’t blow itself out (which it might) then any remnants could be here towards the end of my Level 2. Right now it’s blowing quite hard up here in Staffordshire. Storm Callum is currently 100 miles west of Shannon, filling, and will be in sea area Faeroes by midnight tonight. There are gale warnings in force for every sea area (See Blog 23) around the UK except Thames and Dover and this morning sea area Wight is wind: southerly force 5 to 7, increasing gale 8 at times, sea state: moderate or rough, occasionally very rough, visibility: moderate or good. The longer range forecast is for Callum to blow through by Sunday, in fact Sunday looks much, much calmer. I hope not too calm.
Lets be honest, as regular readers will appreciate from Blog 9, and at the risk of labouring the point/tempting fate, if I don’t fall off the yacht it’s got to count as an improvement. “See” you at the end of next week!
Never mind posts about “this time next year!” This time next week it’s Clipper Level 2 training.
“A core element of the Clipper Race experience is the pioneering training programme that enables novice and skilled yachts-people to tackle the most challenging situations on the planet.” – The Official Race Crew Manual.
The aim of Level 2 is to take the crewing skills from Level 1 (see blog 9 Have you heard the one about the Englishman etc etc published on 9 July) and apply them to offshore sailing and life onboard. We will concentrate on the development of our sailing skills but focus more on the living onboard and operating in a watch system and this Level has a stronger offshore sailing element than Clipper Level 1.
So its back to Portsmouth on Friday for a full day’s Sea Survival course on the Saturday starting at 0800 (classroom and swimming pool, immersion suits, life jackets and life Rafts) before joining a Clipper 68 on Saturday evening, completing some alongside refresher training Saturday night and Sunday morning, and going to sea later on the Sunday. This time it’s sailing the yacht in watches (some combination of 6 hours on, 6 hours off and 4 hours on, 4 hours off – although other watchkeeping routines are available – and probably hot-bunking (sharing a bunk space with someone in the opposite watch) and plenty of sail, eat, sleep, repeat. Not necessarily in that order and certainly not in equal proportions. There will be another assessment thrown in there somewhere, plus another deep clean at the end and success for me might be just as simple as not falling off the yacht this time.
I’ve expanded my kit for this time with one or two bits and pieces I hope to take with me next year so I hope to take some of my wider mental preps further than I did back in April. My head torch has been recharged, the batteries in my “electric’ razor have been charged following my earlier “beard experiment” (see blog 11 What Will Crossing The South Atlantic etc REALLY Look Like published 14 July), I’ve tried-out waterproof covers for my phone and iPad (for blogging and photography purposes – although the latter now also carries a knot tying app!) and I’ve invested in a few sets of anti-snoring devices – that’s earplugs to you and me. With the notable exceptions of not knowing many, if any, of the men and women I will be sailing with, nor, for that matter if we are turning left or right once clear of Gosport next Sunday …….. then I think I’m almost ready.
A year ago today Leg 2 of the 2017-2018 Edition of the race left Punta Del Este for Cape Town, South Africa.…. so this time next year …………….