35. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time …….. and The Reason I Jump


At the beginning of this month I found myself in the Horse and Stables pub in Westminster Bridge Road, London (first having driven to Woking via Bristol!) and, ultimately, taking part in a “furthest flight by a paper aeroplane” quiz tie-breaker. The following day I reprised the Westminster-Woking-Bristol-Eccleshall odyssey. Yesterday, Saturday,  I was in London for the Annual General Meeting of a UK based charity. Tonight (right now in fact) I am musing over my latest blog post and tomorrow I will journey 4 hours by train to Torquay on the south coast of England, returning home by Tuesday lunchtime. Surprisingly, all these events, plus my participation in Clipper and even the title of this post, share a common theme.

But first of all back to the pub.

In a team comprising my son (Alastair) my ex-brother-in-law (Andrew) my niece (Sarah) and her boyfriend (Spencer), I attending a quiz organised and compered by my eldest daughter, Heather. This is something Heather has organised for at least the last 3 years but this was my first attendance. As a quiz team we dragged up answers from the dim recesses of memory (some more deep than others); applied “Granny’s first rule” of quiz answers (which roughly translates as ‘if in doubt write down the first answer you thought of’); and when memory or Granny couldn’t help we opted for the good old fashioned option – blind guess. Nobody was more surprised than me when, after 6 rounds, we finished joint first with a rival table. So to the deciding tie-breaker …… “please not another music round” I remember thinking. How about another sailing question? We had already been lucky enough to escape cries of “fix!” when the answer to one general knowledge question turned out to be “spinnaker.” No such luck. Drum roll please ……. the entire evening was to come down to a paper aeroplane “who can fly the furthest” competition.

The first fly-off was terminated following an unexpected collision with the shoulder of a spectator. First aid was not required and decks were suitably cleared. On the second flight our aeroplane quite definitely flew the furthest but, on “landing” the opposing aeroplane skidded along the floor furthest. Cue heated discussions on what actually counted more – flying or furthest! OK – third and FINAL flight. Our opponents went first and delivered a flight that the Wright brothers would have been proud of. Nothing left but to really go for it. On launch our aeroplane promptly executed a loop the Red Arrows would have been proud of and promptly ……… flew backwards DOWN a flight of stairs to the main pub floor one storey down. Our subsequent claims to have actually flown the furthest distance were discounted on the not altogether unsurprising ruling that we hadn’t, as a point of fact, even crossed the start line!

The offending flight of stairs (no pun intended) down which the losing aeroplane descended.

Yesterday I attended a charity AGM in London. I listened to the presentation of the annual report and annual accounts led by Dr Carol Homden CBE, the Chair of Trustees, and further presentations by the Society President, the actress Jane Asher, and the CEO, Mark Lever. I learnt about the success of the  “Too Much Information” campaign. I learnt about the success of the charity’s engagement with 5000 UK businesses/retail outlets offered thousands of opportunities for friendly shopping. This project was repeated last month and 11000 businesses took part. In the afternoon I listened to two particularly powerful presentations.

The title of this post is in fact two titles. Both are books. I read the first sometime ago. The Reason I Jump is my current read.

Tomorrow I will travel to collect my 26 year old daughter Rebekah.


And the link between these things and with my participation in Clipper? ……………… Autism.

Heather’s quiz is now an annual fundraising event for the National Autistic Society. This year it raised over £725.00. Next year it will likely coincide with the start of my Clipper Leg 3 from South Africa to Australia. We are “negotiating” a donation to my justgiving page next year and those of you with grown-up daughters will understand what I mean by “negotiating!!!” My only other advice? Standby for unconventional tie-breakers.

The AGM was the National Autistic Society. I learned a great deal. The “Too Much Information” film campaign reached over 10 million people. Over 6 million were reached by the film “Make It Stop.” Last month 11000 business/retail outlets took part in “autism hour” offering thousands of opportunities for autism friendly shopping. I also listened to the concerns of elderly parents whose autistic ‘children’ are themselves in their 50s and 60s. The afternoon presentations were by Paul and Michael Atwal-Brice, parents of 2 sets of adopted twin boys, the eldest of which were diagnosed Autistic shortly after adoption, and by Adrian Edwards who delivered a talk entitled “My right to be who I am and how I want to be.” Adrian talked about the challenges he faced as an undiagnosed adult and how this led him to his own assessment of autism. Adrian is also a father of an autistic son.

Mark Lever, the impressive CEO of the National Autistic Society

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was written by Mark Hadon and published in 2003. The novel is ‘narrated’ by a 15 year old boy on the autistic spectrum. The Reason I Jump was written by Noaki Higashida in 2007 and first published in Great Britain about 5 years ago. What is most remarkable about this book is that Noaki is severely autistic and he learnt to communicate via pointing to letters on a ‘cardboard keyboard’ – he was only 13! What he says gives an exceptional insight into an autistically-wired mind. As one reviewer put it, “The Reason I Jump” was a revelatory godsend. It felt as if, for the first time, our own son was talking to us about what was happening inside his head.” I wish I had read it years ago.

Alastair, Sarah (daughter-in-law) and Rebekah celebrating Sarah’s birthday recently.

My youngest daughter, Rebekah, is autistic. She was diagnosed by the age of 3 after early development that had appeared entirely as expected. She tried main stream school, which did not work, but ultimately enjoyed a fantastic placement at Bidwell Brook special needs school in Devon. She is now 26. She lives in her own place with 24 hour supervision. Rebekah is extremely physically capable and loves the gym, swimming, walking and pretty much every form of art. I think her comprehension and understanding is good, but I cannot be sure …….. Rebekah cannot read, cannot write and does not speak. I don’t really know, even after 20 years or so, what it is like to be autistic; what it is like to be Rebekah. I am still trying to find out. But when Paul and Michael and Adrian used words like “inconsolable”, “frightening”, “fighting”, “fairness”, “exhausting”, “labelling”, “anxiety”, “incongruence”, “expectation”, “societal judgement” and “preconceptions” in their talks yesterday, I not only recognised the words but I could identify with each one an incident or time in Rebekah’s journey.

On Friday I gave a telephone interview to the National Autistic Society PR team about Clipper and my own efforts to raise money for the Society. My personal message on my JustGiving page makes the point that the money I raise will not go directly to Rebekah, or her care team, but I hope it will be put to good use by NAS for others on the autistic spectrum, and their families, and to the NAS policy unit to help their ongoing efforts on behalf of all in the UK on the spectrum.

During the interview it struck me that on those times on Clipper when I am frightened and all my senses are overloaded as torrents of water break over me, perhaps when tired, cold and working at night thousands of miles from safety, it might be the closest I will ever come, even if only for seconds, to the anxiety and sensory overload that I am often told “is autism.” Ironic that in those seconds I may in fact be closer to Rebekah than I have ever been but at the same time thousands of miles apart. I’m looking forward to seeing her tomorrow.







34. La Course de Leur Vie

Maéva Bardy was one of the on board video-journalists from 1080 Media TV during the 2017-2018 Clipper Race. Maéva who hails from Lyon, France shares her insights and behind the scenes footage of her experiences during 3 legs which took her to Australia, China, the USA and across the North Atlantic to the race finish in Liverpool.

This award winning short film, which premiered in early October at The Waterproof Festival in Geneva, has been produced to tell Maeva’s story ……









33. Level 2 Training Part 4. All the other stuff.



A cutaway of a Clipper68. The blue areas are bunk mattresses. The main red area on the ports side is the saloon with the galley opposite on the starboard side. The small compartment aft of the galley on the stbd side with the two red seats and the computer equipment is the navigation station.

Ok so after sea survival training (Blog 28),  the yacht, the team, the skipper and the plan (Blog 29) and the sailing malarkey, or 0425 as I remember it (Blog 31), what about all the other stuff?

Firstly, my kit. I have written previously about trying out some of the clothing and kit I have purchased since Level 1 training back in April. Official guidance was NOT to try out new (and potentially expensive) kit too early and I couldn’t agree more. Back in April I was still firmly in the “let’s see if I like Clipper (probably), let’s see if Clipper likes me (hopefully)” phase but things have moved on somewhat since then. So this time around, and ahead of the issue of the official team kit, I have tried a range of Musto, SportPursuit, Isobar and even Aldi kit. There are also some interesting “top tips” on the crew-only Facebook page, an increasingly useful medium by which to exchange ideas. So far so good. Once again I discussed dry suits with an experienced skipper and once again reached the conclusion that the investment is worth the expense, particularly for Legs 3 and 6. With the exception of a dry-suit, potentially boots (my training skipper circumnavigated in a dry suit and crocs!), and a decent waterproof and collapsible holdall/rucksack to transport it all in then I think I’m almost good to go. One other investment I intend to make is a decent battery pack. I DO intend to continue blogging and to take many more of my own pictures and videos than I have done so far. Right now my ipad is probably up to it but my iPhone is definitely not and while charging points do exist on a Clipper 70 they are not in overly plentiful supply.  I either already have the kit or I know now what and how much more I will need. I experimented with sub divisions of washing kit and electrical bits and pieces into ever smaller waterproof bags, my carabiners came into excellent use securing one or two bits and pieces where I could more easily find them, and my drybags and division of kit within them worked very well. Just a case now of scaling up or down depending on leg length – back to back Legs 2 and 3 in 2019 followed by separate Legs 6 and 8 in 2020. Oh and I’ve got weight reduction down to an ever improving art. Final decisions of exactly how much kit (weight) we take will be a decision for individual skipper’s and crew after crew allocation next May.

Secondly, choice of bunk! Having coped with a top bunk during Level 1 I tried out a bottom bunk this time around. Not sure to what extent I will get a choice joining a yacht, as I will be, at the end of Leg 1. And while there was “good news” this time around as there was no “hot bunking” I am not expecting to get away with that on the race itself. When racing the Clipper yachts operate a “hot bunking” system to ensure everyone is sleeping on the high side of the yacht which helps with the boat’s performance. To operate this system I will be paired up with someone from the opposite watch who’s bunk will be opposite mine. This way one of us can always sleep on the high side. So this time is was a bottom bunk and this time it was deliberately right forward. I think it is probably good that I have yet to decide a preference but the first 1.00am in the morning sail change on a wet and blustery night, or 48 hours slamming into a head wind and sea might just change that! The official Clipper Crew guidance states that “it cannot be guaranteed the stowage area will remain dry at all times, it is therefore highly advisable to use some form of waterproof drybag.” This is, in my experience, an understatement!

Interior view of a Clipper 68 port side looking forward towards the slightly open hatch to the rope locker. The bulky element on the deck and part blocking the way forward is a sail in its bag. In the Clipper 68 we sleep with the unused sails which are hauled up onto deck through the hatch – the bright/light patch in the deckhead(ceiling) of the next compartment.
Double bunk space with the bunks in the “lowered” position. The bunks can be angled to prevent inadvertent rolling out when the yacht is heeled at an angle. Although there is some limited storage space beneath the bottom bunk, space for personal kit is provided by the 3 small spaces that can be seen behind each bunk. Not a lot of space particularly if you are going round the world.
Of course, its not always straight and level flight!

Roles onboard. In addition to more sailing and an opportunity to sail a Clipper yacht in a watchkeeping routine, Level 2 was designed to give us all more experience of the various roles we will carry out onboard. I wont dwell anymore on the sailing, or for that matter watchkeeping, given my comments on both in previous blogs, other than to comment that it doesn’t matter how used you are to watchkeeping, or how much watchkeeping experience you have, it STILL takes a little time to get back into the routine. Level 2 was, at least for me, no exception.

The ethos of Clipper training emphasises full participation and both my training crews have accepted this wholeheartedly and everyone has got stuck in in all areas. There has been no shortage of volunteers (so far) from working right in the bows of the yacht, to climbing part way up the mast to assist in reefing or hoisting/lowering the mainsail, to climbing into the “rescue suit” and going over the side to rescue “Bob”. I think the one thing left on my list of “things to do at least once before we race” is going up the mast – and I mean to the top. Watch this space. Once we are in our final race crews we may end up “playing to our respective strengths” and specialising in crew roles where our individual strengths lie. Again that may well be up to individual race skippers and their team’s to decide, post-crew allocation.

During Level 2 we all had a further crack, at least once, in completing the regular engineering drills

A Clipper 68 diesel engine. Engineering checks use the mnemonic IWOBBLEU. Isolate the engine, Water – two checks, Oil – two checks, Belts – two to check, Bilges, Leaks, Electrics, Un-isolate.

and more Mother Watch experience – preparing and serving meals, drinks and snack for the whole crew plus additional cleaning duties although, as I touched upon previously, Level 2 training revolved around a somewhat modified Mother Watch routine so that maximum participation was devoted to deck and sailing evolutions. My previous baking exploits (see Blog 20, Masterbaking …… or …… Mother Watch preps …. or ……”If I knew you were coming I’d have baked a cake.” published 4 Sep) still await full sea trials.

One of these images is a Clipper 68 galley……. and the other one isn’t!


There are a whole range of deck roles and I’ll briefly touch on a few. I wrote in blog 31 (Level 2 Training Part 3. The sailing malarkey – or 0425 as I remember it)  about having a Kate-Winslet-like “go” at bowman for a racing headsail change. In short the bow is one of the high adrenaline positions on deck. It requires nerve, courage, agility and the preparedness to get VERY wet.

The foredeck crew work very closely with the bow and have to be prepared to act as bow should the bowman be injured or absent on Mother Watch. They play a key (and exhausting) role in sail changes as well as helping in the mast area with hoists and reefing. More strength, more agility, more wet! The mast crew is likely to be two crew members from the foredeck crew. They need to work closely together to ensure hoists and reefing are coordinated to be achieved as quickly as possible. More strength, more agility and they need to be able to tie bowlines quickly under pressure and sometimes underwater! Trimmers are responsible for adjusting sail trim to get the optimum sail angles. Good communications with the helm are paramount. Cockpit crew need to be able to operate sail sheets from any point of the cockpit rapidly and accurately.  Don’t have any sympathy for them, they get wet too. And finally, at least for the moment – the snake pit. A good snake pit crew is always one step ahead of the game ensuring that each line is ready when needed. The snake pit could be regarded as the centre of operations for almost every manoeuvre and it is from here that crew control all of the halyards and many other sail control lines. Snake pit crew need to be able to lay their hands on any line, day or night, and prepare it for action instantly, whatever the weather. They get wet too. There are, of course, many other yacht specific roles and I’ll write more about these after crew allocation and around the time of Level 4 training.

While watchkeeping we also practiced sailing fast (or trying to when the wind allowed), light-wind helming, downwind helming, repeated man overboard drills, maintaining a proper lookout, navigating and maintaining the yacht’s log, collecting weather data, a little bit of routine maintenance and, most significantly when watchkeeping – WAKING the new watch . Regular watchkeepers will know there is something of an art in itself to this latter skill and it is sometimes neither as easy or successful as it should be!!!

And finally ……. another deep clean (see also Blog 9: “Have you heard the one about the Englishman, the Irishman and the Scot………….” published 9 Jul). This time our mate, Anna, drew up a random list of allocated jobs – at least I hope it was random as I got the HEADS and off we all went! I could write a blog on its own about the art of deep cleaning toilets following use (at times) by up to a dozen people at an angle and a whole chapter about the migratory habits of pubic hairs – how DO THEY travel so FAR? But as my Mother is an avid reader of this blog I’ll perhaps save that for a time when I can distract her with other things!….. and in fairness to my fellow Level 2 Clipperees, cleaning the heads was also a daily routine during Level 2 so this particular deep clean task was nowhere near as bad as I suggest.

So after all that “how was it for you?” or rather how was it for me? First and foremost it WAS high quality training. Secondly I was again impressed by the international mix of the crew, their (our) collective teamwork and that level of heightened camaraderie that forms in any team facing up to personal and collective challenges. There is already a great “family” feel to Clipper. It was also great fun. Not as tiring as I remember Level 1 even though watchkeeping is always tough for the first 24 hours or so. Perhaps my fitness programme is paying off? It certainly feels like it as Level 2 “recovery” was much quicker than getting over Level 1 and yes, I guess NOT falling off also helped. I’m certainly enjoying swimming again and I enjoy yoga MUCH more than I imagined I would. I’m still giving “running UP the stairs” a miss though (See Blog 3: Its All Really A Question of Balance!” published 21 May, and Blog 21: “Somewhere a clock is ticking ….. or …. The Fitness programme goes on….. and on!” published 11 Sep). I was quietly surprised by how much I retained from Level 1 and by how quickly the rest of it came back and my kit choices (at least so far) seems to be on the right track. Clipper IS addictive. I’m trying hard NOT to let it rule my life and one day soon I might actually get through a day without thinking about it. Its hard already to get through a day without talking about it.  




32. We will remember them …

Poppy Logo

100 years ago today the guns fell silent on the Western Front in Europe, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the Armistice marking the end of fighting of World War One having been signed at 5.20am that morning.

This morning I dusted off my uniform and medals and joined a congregation of over 500 men, women and children to mark Remembrance Sunday and the Centenary of the Armistice. I read the second reading in church (Matthew, 5 verses 1-12), the last post rang out at precisely 11am and 39 poppy wreaths were laid at the Eccleshall war memorial. On this centenary year, we have added the names of 17 men from Eccleshall, killed during the Great War, whose names were missed off the war memorial when it was originally unveiled in 1921. Later this afternoon I rang the half tonne tenor bell as I joined 7 other bell ringers in ringing a 47 minute quarter peel to mark the Centenary. The bells had rung a quarter peel, half-muffled, earlier in the day ringing the 6 bells that date back to before 1914 and would therefore have rung to celebrate the end of the fighting 100 years ago today.

The Central Council of Church Bell Ringers (CCCBR) have mounted a campaign to recruit an additional 1,400 new bell ringers this year; 1,400 being the number of bell ringers known to have lost their lives during the First World War. After the original Armistice every bell tower in the country was written to in order to compile a central roll of honour. 1,100 names were recorded. During the Centenary this list has been reviewed and in the process the Council discover a further 300 bell ringers who died in service. Two bell towers – Edington in Wiltshire and Bamburgh in Northumberland – lost 6 ringers each. The Edington ringers were at the heart of the local community. While one was a carer in a local hospital, others were farmers and a wheelwright. Four of the 6 played in the local football team. None were recorded on the original Roll of Honour because no one was left in the tower to reply to the original CCCBR letter.

Services, ceremonies and parades often centre on Cenotaphes, war memorials and connolly-m-ab-r-2315-st-julien-dressing-station-cemetery_origcemeteries and there are some 2,500 Commonwealth War Cemeteries worldwide. In each of these cemeteries headstones inscribed simply “A soldier known unto God” mark the final resting places of those who could not be identified. The huge monuments at the Menin Gate and at Thiepval list the 55,000 and 72,000 British and Commonwealth troops who have no known graves from the battles around Ypres and on the Somme respectively in The Great War. It is often surprising to come across sailors at some of these sites so far from the sea but the Royal Navy provided a Division, some 10,000 men, who saw action on the Western Front in the First World War, including during the battles on The Somme and at Passchendaele.

The memorials to the officers and men of the Royal Navy and Commonwealth navies who were killed at sea and have no known grave are at Plymouth, on Plymouth Hoe overlooking Plymouth Sound; at Southsea in Portsmouth overlooking The Solent and

The Portsmouth Naval War Memorial

Portsmouth WM2

the approaches to Portsmouth Harbour; and at Chatham. They list a total of 66,500 officers and men. Other Naval memorials can be found at Halifax and Victoria in Canada, Auckland, Mumbai, Chittagong and Hong Kong and in each case the men listed have no other grave than the sea. More than 3,000 British-flagged merchant vessels and fishing vessels were lost during the First World War. 4,700 were lost during WW2. Civilian merchant sailors and fishermen are remembered on memorials in coastal towns and cities throughout the country. The Tower Hill Memorial is a pair of memorials in Trinity Square on Tower Hill, London that commemorates 12,000 civilian merchant sailors and fishermen killed as a result of enemy action in the First World War and 24,000 merchant seamen killed during the Second Wirld War, all of whom have no graves other than the sea.




“In ocean wastes no poppies blow,

No crosses stand in ordered row,

There young hearts sleep …. beneath the wave…

The spirited, the good, the brave,

But Stars a constant vigil keep,

For them who lie beneath the deep,

’Tis true you cannot kneel in prayer

On certain spot and think. “He’s there.”

But you can to the ocean go …

See whitecaps marching row on row;

Know one for him will always ride….

In and out …. with every tide.

And when your span of life is passed,

He’ll meet you at the “Captain’s Mast.”

And they who mourn on distant shore

For sailors who’ll come home no more,

Can dry their tears and pray for these

Who rest beneath the heaving seas ….

For stars that shine and winds that blow

And whitecaps marching row on row.

And they can never lonely be

For when they lived … they chose the sea.” (Eileen Mahoney, 2001)

HMS Coventry, sunk with the loss of 19 officers and men, May 1982

HMS Coventry (above)was hit by 3 1000lb bombs in the South Atlantic on 25 May 1982. She sank in 12 minutes. HMS Barham (below) was hit by 3 torpedoes in the Mediterranean on 26 November 1941. She blew up within 5 minutes of being torpedoed with the loss of 862 officers and men. Next of kin were asked to keep their husbands loss secret ….. “it is most essential that information of the events which led to your husband’s loss of life should not find its way to the enemy until such time as it is announced officially.” The sinking of HMS Barham was announced on 27 January 1942.

Remembrance Sunday services on board Her Majesties Ship’s will be held at sea this year as they always are by those warships, men and women who are on patrol. In the larger of our ships these services will be conducted by the ship’s own chaplain. In ships away for 6 month periods, such as the Falkland Islands or the Arabian Gulf and Indian Ocean, chaplains will be deployed to conduct such services, but in all other minesweepers, frigates, destroyers and submarines the Captain leads and conducts the service. Traditionally, and where possible, such services are held on the upper deck (i.e. outside) and are attended by all personnel other than those required to keep the ship functioning, even when at anchor. The ship’s Battle Honours Board (a board on which all the Naval actions in which ships of that name have seen action are carved) often acts as the centre piece at which poppy wreaths are laid by the Captain and, traditionally, the most junior person onboard. Wreaths are not, as a matter of course, put into the sea except on occasions when ships are in the vicinity of known naval wrecks (classified themselves as war graves) where every effort will be made to lay wreaths in the vicinity. poppiesfloatServices where such wreaths are laid on the site of a wreck of a ship with the same name are particularly moving. Ships operating in the South China Sea nearly always divert to hold Remembrance services over the wrecks of HMShips Prince of Wales and Repulse, the final resting place of over 800 officers and men killed in 1941. Both wrecks, upside down in about 65m of water, have buoys and wires fixed to their propeller shafts to which large white ensigns are attached and regularly replaced, beneath the surface of the sea.

This time next year, on Remembrance Sunday, I will be about 12 days or so into the Clipper 2019-2020 crossing of the Southern Ocean. I will be somewhere like 2,400 miles from South Africa and a similar distances from Western Australia, pretty much right in the middle. It is highly possible that, with the exception of the other Clipper yachts the nearest humans will be those manning the International Space Station, but …………..  with “whitecaps row on row” …………. I will remember them.



31. Level 2 Training Part 3. The sailing malarkey – or 0425 as I remember it.

Following our night at anchor – 15 minute fixing and hourly cable/deck checks – (see the end of Blog 29, Level 2 Training Part 2. The yacht, the team, the skipper and the plan, 28 Oct) we spent the rest of the week south east, south and south west of the Isle of Wight, within sight of, but clear of the main NE-SW going traffic.

Level 2 training area

Once again we tacked (putting the bows through the wind) and gybed (putting the stern through the wind). On both manoeuvres the sails also swap sides and in order for this to happen the “ropes” controlling the ends of the sail need to be released from the “working” winches – the winches bearing the load prior to the manoeuvre – and hauled in (by hand around the winch at first and then by winch-power and handle) on the opposite side of the yacht. One of the main differences between a tack and a gybe is that the sails remain “powered” up when sailing downwind. The Mainsail and boom are often well out from the centre-line of the yacht and, for safety reasons, the boom and Mainsail have to be brought back onto the centre-line before a gybe. And I haven’t yet mentioned the requirement to rig foreguys (as preventers) when running downwind but maybe I’ll save that for another day!

Bob (our friendly man-overboard dummy) continued his rather annoying habit of falling overboard on a daily basis – whether we were going upwind or downwind. He did at least have the decency to do this when most of us were up and around on deck so we all got maximum training benefit – bless him. We did, on one occasion, get our Bob-recovery-time down to 6 minutes and achieved a lasso recovery using a rope under his armpits before the rescue swimmer was dressed. Even that pales into insignificance when compared with the feeling that goes with hosing Bob down at the end of the week and lowering him (I will admit just a little unceremoniously), down below, where his only claim to fame is that he gets in the way!

Not entirely as per Clipper 68 but you get the idea

We relearnt, revised, and put into practical use our sail anatomy and not only did we revise our points of sail (the angle to which the yacht is sailing relative to the wind), we also practised helming to various points of sail by day and by night, with the aid of instruments and without, and practiced trimming (adjusting) the sails accordingly.


Each Clipper yacht carries 11 different sails: Mainsail, Yankee 1, Yankee 2, Yankee 3, Staysail, 3 different sizes/weights of Spinnaker and a Windseeker, although for Levels 1 and 2 we have been using the Main, all three Yankees and the Staysail. Spinnaker training is what Level 3 is all about. Each sail has a specific wind range within which it will provide optimum performance and the best combinations of sails depends on wind speed, sea state, point of sail and even the condition of the sail. The size of the Mainsail can be adjusted by reefing (reducing its size) or shaking-out a reef (increasing the size of a reefed sail) according to the wind speed. Clipper yachts have a slab reefing system which, as the name suggests, allows large sections of the sail to be taken out of, or put into play. The following are the “rough guide” recommended maximum wind strengths for Clipper sails:

Yankee 1:   18 knots apparent

Yankee 2:   24 knots apparent

Yankee 3:   30 knots apparent

Staysail:   35 knots apparent

with 3 possible reefs in the mainsail depending on conditions.

Unicef. A Clipper 70 under (from right to left) – Yankee, Staysail and Mainsail

As well as reefing the mainsail, shaking out the reefs, and changing the headsails we also practiced a racing headsail change or two on the Yankees. The speed of a headsail change is not measured by the time it takes to complete the overall evolution but by the time the yacht does not have a trimmed headsail up. To minimise this time a “racing headsail” change is conducted. This involves bringing the new sail up from below while still racing, and pulling it manually up to the bow on the windward side. The “tack” of the new sail is attached to an appropriate strop on the deck and then the luff is hanked (individual D shaped hanks applied by hand) on to the forestay by the bowman – an individual who perches, clipped-on to something suitable, Kate Winslet-like but facing astern, right in the bows of the yacht (the pulpit).


A Clipper “bowman” in less than benign conditions!

I had a go at this task, thankfully in benign conditions. When ready the “old” sail’s halyard is eased and as it drops the bowman unclips the hanks as they reach his (or her) level. The speed of the drop should be the speed at which the bowman can un-hank the sail. The bowman ultimately unclips the halyard from the old sail (don’t let go!) and attaches it to the new sail. The “sheets” also have to be changed over by other deck crew AND the old sail has to be kept under control, correctly folded, sail tied and ultimately returned to its bag and put below. Can’t wait to do all this when it’s blowing up a bit so very useful experience in more forgiving conditions.

The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; and the realist adjusts the sails” ……. so we adopted the realism mode and also practiced our “trimming” – tightening in or easing out the sails for optimum performance guided, at least in part, by “tell-tales.”

Tell-tales are very simple and effective trimming indicators attached to the luff of headsails and the leech of the mainsail. For various aerodynamic reasons they do not work when sailing downwind but in other conditions they are visual representations of how well the air is flowing over either side of the sail. At its most simple, if the tell-tales on both the windward and leeward sides of the sails are flowing straight along the sail in a fore and aft direcrtion then there is a good, equal and attached laminar air flow over the sail. Simples. Trim can also be adjusted by moving the headsail car position (a moveable turning block – traveller – on a railcar system attached to the upperdeck through which the headsail sheets run) which is used to set the tension on the foot and the leech of the sail – but I think that’s enough of trimming malarkey for the moment. Lets just say we practiced it – day and night – and for different points of sail and all you really need to remember is “if in doubt, let it out” and “a flappy sail is an unhappy sail.”

We spent quite some time working in the snakepit – that area on the upper deck, surrounded by 5 pit winches; 3 forward of the pit and one to each side –  and into which pretty much every sail control line (except the Mainsail sheet) comes and where sail ties are also kept. It’s called the snake pit because that is exactly what it resembles, a pit of snakes.

Most of the ropes – ok lets get nautical – delete ‘ropes’  insert “halyards” (ropes that are used to hoist the sail up the mast/forestay), “sheets” (ropes that pull the headsails (Yankees and Staysail) in and out (the Main-sheet is used to control the angle of the mainsail and has its own dedicated winch on the port side in front of the helm and is therefore NOT in the snake pit).  With headsails sheeted IN the yacht will be able to sail closer to the wind and vice versa. “Reefing lines” (ropes that are attached to the mainsail and run to the snakepit via clutches in the mast) – used to reduce (reefing colouredropesin) the size of the mainsail, the “outhaul” (a rope that is used to control the shape of the curve of the foot of the sail) and the “topping lift” (a rope that applies upward force on a boom used primarily to hold the boom up when the sail is lowered) – pretty much everything comes into the snake pit. All are generally different colours and most come through “clutches” (provided for some lines to grip under tension by means of a lever and cam, which enables winches to be freed for other purposes) and a “jammer” each of which is, generally, labelled. Ok so far so good. After a little experience it IS possible

jammers on a 70
Jammers on a Clipper 70. The white tabs indicate that the jammer is “open”

to make sense of this chorded-confusion in DAYLIGHT. Now try it at midnight under the light of a red head torch – which makes all colours look pretty much the same – AND after the previous watch, for very good nautical reasons, have moved lines off the winches on which you had expected to find them, AND added a few extra lines/sheets etc where you did not.

Ok, I guess it could be worse!

And for the really heavy work we have the coffee-grinder that can be switched to “drive” either of the two primary winches – one on each side.


I need now to introduce the handy billy and the marlin spike. The handy billy is a pulley-like arrangement, similar to the one shown here, used to attach to the reefing cringle handy-billy-41-purchase-systemwhen making a new tack between the mast and the boom during the reefing of the Mainsail. It follows that when “shaking out the Reef” and re-hoisting the Main that the handy billy must be released by “spiking” the release mechanism by use of a marlin spike (or similar) kept in the snake pit.marlinspike

Just to add a little extra “spice” to all the new terminology, we also learnt that to avoid inadvertent “spiking” and thus early/inadvertent release of the handy billy the use of the word “spike” was verbotten. During the week, the executive order “to spike” would be given by the use of a term or word unlikely to ever be encountered at sea. Are you with me so far? And that word for our Clipper Level 2 training would be …………………….…. “hedgehog!” on the basis you wouldn’t see many, or even ANY. Now, having already explained to fellow crew members the Naval origins of the terms “Two-Six Heave” and “4 square meals a day” I did not think the time was right to do a short piece on 1942 Royal Navy Anti Submarine weapons systems ……… so I kept quiet!

………. and the other isn’t.

Two types of “Hedgehog.” One is a 1942 Royal Navy Anti-submarine weapon……

For me, Level 2 was pretty nearly always 25 minutes past 4 in the morning. Because that’s when my watch stopped. 25 minutes past 4 on the first Sunday morning. Thankfully it didn’t turn out to be some weird omen or spooky premonition. It just Watchmeant my battery had packed in. I don’t remember the last time it happened, but watchkeeping ……….. without a watch …………. adds a certain je ne said quoi to waking in the dark of a pitching yacht, woken by some strange noise or sudden lurch, and NOT knowing what time it is, not knowing how much longer you have until your opposite watch will wake you from your interrupted slumber, and not knowing how much more sleep you might get if you managed to get straight back to sleep. It makes remembering to make hourly log book entries that little bit more difficult too. Somewhat un-nerving at the start it did, eventually, become rather liberating. Time becomes defined by changes in the light as the sun sinks or rises; by meal “times” even when whole-crew yacht evolutions make lunch something of a moveable feast. Sleep, eat, sail, repeat. Maybe I should try it more often? Or maybe I should quit trying to be philosophical and just go out and buy a new watch battery 😉.

………. Level 2 training ………… “Level 2 Training Part 4. All The Other Stuff” ………… to be continued…… …