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!
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
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.
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.