This is now the end of my first full day in Punta dal Este and tomorrow, Friday 18 Oct, I “register” at the Clipper office to formally join the UNICEF yacht for the beginning of Leg 2. The weather today has been very ………………. South Atlantic! It’s been raining pretty much all day, cold – certainly much colder than the 27 degrees C experienced in Buenos Aires last week – and windy. Excellent preparations I can here you say. Thankfully the forecast for the rest of the week is for improvement.
Ruth and I arrived yesterday in time for the Leg 1 prize giving ceremony at the Punta del Este yacht club. It was great to catch up with my UNICEF crew mates and to bump into old friends from Levels 1, 2 and 3 training who are racing with other crews. Line honours went to Qingdao in first place and as they were playing their Joker they doubled their points, picking up 22 points plus bonus points from the scoring gate meaning they are the current overall leaders. Sanya finished second, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam third and UNICEF a very creditable fifth. No news yet on penalty points for race 1 and race 2 of Leg 1 which may yet alter the overall race standings before we sail again on the 23rd. Plenty of rumours flying around about other yachts – none of which bare repeating here – but I can report that Holly and the UNICEF sail repair team have been busy repairing our Code 2 Spinnaker which did suffer damage during Leg 1. In breaking news (DEFINITELY NO PUN INTENDED) Angie our circumnavigating Chief victualler …… has broken her wrist and will have to go home to New Zealand for an op. Heartbreaking news as it means she will miss at least the next leg, and very likely Leg 3. She was still in good spirits last night but we will miss her very much as a team. Sheila, one of the joiners for Leg 2 will take on the role. The skipper of Seattle has also left his boat in Punta. Regular followers of Clipper news will be aware that he fell overboard in the North Atlantic during Leg 1. He was on deck at night and not clipped on. The only gossip I am prepared to repeat is that last night I was told, admittedly at least third hand, that on entering the water his first thought was, “I’m going to die,” and upon seeing Seattle begin to manoeuvre to pick him up his second thought was “I’m going to be sacked.”
After registering tomorrow, and surrendering my passport, Ruth and I will join all crews and race supporters at a welcome Asado – a traditional Uruguayan welcome BBQ, something of a South American meat-fest! On Sunday 20th I will do my pre-Leg 2 sailing assessment-sail afloat with other Leg 2 joiners in CV29 (Sanya) from 0900 to about 1630 and immediately thereafter I should find out my bunk allocation, who I am hot-bunking with, which watch I am in and who I will be Mother-Watching with!
The following day I am a tour guide for 3 hours showing children from Punta del Este schools around the UNICEF boat and then on the 22nd it’s time to get all my kit weighed, drop my bags off onboard, complete a briefing about the onboard satellite communications kit (that hopefully will allow me to continue blogging) and some other last-full-day-alongside stuff. That afternoon we will all attend the Leg 2 race brief in a nearby hotel before each team will complete their team briefings onboard individual yachts. Wednesday 23rd Oct is Race start for me and Race start for race 3, Leg 2 across the South Atlantic to Cape Town. All crews must be onboard their yachts by 11am. There will be a farewell parade and yachts will slip lines at 2.00pm local. The Parade of Sail starts at 2.45pm and the yachts will cross the race start line at 4.00pm. More to follow ………..
We are a funny lot, sailors. I’ve been one, lived with many and been privileged to have commanded a few in 34 years in the Royal Navy. I continue to work with them at Harwich and at the HHA. And now I rub shoulders, in some cases quite literally, with more at Clipper and team Unicef.
We work hard, we play hard. We are not adverse to the odd grumble. It is sometimes said you should only worry about a sailor if he or she has nothing to complain about. But woe betide anyone from the “outside” who criticises our ship, our crew mates or our unit. We can be fiercely loyal, make friends for life, and have an ability to pick up a long lost friendship as if we have never been apart. Generally we are always up for a challenge, we are robust, determined and live life to the full. The old adage “When the Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, He marks not that you’ve won or lost, but how you played the game” could have been written for many sailor I have known and do know. Sailors can also be superstitious, romantic and sentimental. Many, even those who never get over being sea-sick, have a deep, deep respect and affinity with Mother Nature and the Sea.
For those lucky enough to have been in charge of a boat or to have commanded a ship there is something else. Something special. A particular link, a particular connection with the ship herself. You talk to her and she talks to you. You get a feel for her and her moods. As I mentioned in my previous blog, someone standing next to me in St Katherine’s Dock as the Clipper yachts were slipping their lines commented to me that of all the yachts, Unicef – the yacht herself – actually seemed eager to get started. She was actually physically straining to be “released.” I made no comment but I had noticed the same thing myself.
The next day I read Ian Wiggin’s morn’ of race message on the private (Unicef Crew only) crew hub. I’ve never quoted from the crew hub before and I hope Ian won’t mind. Here is his message in full:
“Today is the 1st of September. Today is the day we slip lines and parade under Tower Bridge. Today is the start of our racing adventure!
I had to get up a few times in the night to try and calm CV31. I said “Easy girl, shhhhh, eeeasy girl” as I rubbed her top sides. Her nostrils were flared and she was pulling on her mooring lines. This morning she is like a fully charged race horse and is restless. St Katherine’s Docks have been great, but I know she wants to stretch her legs and that the worlds oceans are calling her.
The Unicef crew were calm last evening. We explained how our first race is going to be around 7-8 days and that 1300nm is very similar to a L4 training course. Once we get away from the London excitement and adrenaline we are looking forward to settling into an ocean racing routine. I am sure emotions will be running high today, but that is completely natural. We will soak in this great experience today and then once we get to Southend tonight we will drop anchor and regroup. Tomorrow morning at around 10am we weill start our race. As I said to the team, the race cannot be won tomorrow……. but it can be lost. An ocean racing mindset is all about consistency, focus, and looking after everything. We will not be trying to win this first race at all cost. We need our sails to last 40,000nm. We need to look after our crew and equipment.
Lots of people have been asking if I am nervous. I am not nervous. We are about to sail 1300nm, most of which is near coastal. We have an amazing support team on shore, we have a great boat, our crew is unbelievable, and our boat speed has been good in training. I am not thinking about a round the world race. I am mainly thinking about getting to Portugal.
We have a great team and wider team of supporters. We have had so much support over the week. You have managed to build such a buzz over the past few months. Our “movement” has built great momentum. I have been very proud and flattered by the kind words that our visitors have said about our team, our attitude, and our performance. Very few people think that we are crazy!! In fact, many, many people are envious of our team dynamic and would love to be part of what we are doing together.
When William Ward (CEO) checked the JustGiving fundraising tally page for the first time the other day …. he thought the system was broken because we had raised so much!! On the same morning Sir Robin signed our C3 spinnaker. He knows about our team efforts and was very complimentary. Unicef UK are so proud and grateful to have us as a team.
Sir Robin wrote on our C3 “Everything is possible, anything can be.”
From the poem:
Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child
Listen to the DON’TS.
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
The IMPOSSIBLES, the WONT’S
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me –
Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be!!!
Thanks again for such a great start. If you are supporting in London today please make lots of noise. I look forward to updating you all once we get to Portugal.
Portugal….. HERE WE GO! Ian”
Like I said, we’re a funny lot……..
and as if more proof were needed …….
I note that I landed in Uruguay, my Clipper Race departure country, yesterday – Saturday 12 October. It was my first landing in Uruguay, indeed my first landing from sea on the Atlantic coast of South America. I couldn’t help but note that the date was the anniversary of the first landing of Christopher Columbus in the Americas in 1492. Now I know I was a pretty good navigator in my time, and I am NOT likening myself to CC, but I also note that in some Latin American countries the 12th of October is also known as “Dia de la Raza” or Day of the Race!!!
If I’ve programmed this correctly then this is another blog posts that goes back in time as I travel. Right now, as this is published, I should be at sea. Not, I hasten to add, as a crew member on the UNICEF Clipper yacht, but hopefully as a foot passenger on the Buenos Aires to Calina ferry across the River Plate between Argentina and Uruguay. The lead yachts could well be in Punta del Este by now and it will be 6 days before I must “report for duty” and 11 days to my own Race Start. Time to wind the clock back again to THE Race Start and the run up to 1st September.
The Bank Holiday Monday prior to Race Start saw me don my boat-tour-guide rig to show, first Ruth, and then son Alastair, daughter-in-law-law Sarah, brother Paul, and sister-in-law-to-be Janine around the UNICEF yacht alongside in St Katherine’s Dock, London. We had a good crawl around the yacht – in some cases quite literally, and the beautiful day and hot weather only served to point out the lack of air conditioning! For Ruth it was her second look around the inside of a Clipper yacht; she remains unconvinced it constitutes a sensible means of travel, and for Alastair, Sarah, Paul and Janine this was a first. Sadly Ruth had to depart early to meet other commitments back home but the rest of us finished the day with suitable refreshments.
It was also my first opportunity to look around the Clipper Race village at St Katherine’s Dock.
Our Code 3 Spinnaker was also available to “sign” with donations going to the UNICEF UK charity. Ruth and I both signed.
Some of the UNICEF crew were already living onboard the yacht by then, most notably Holly, our sail repair team-leader and a circumnavigator from the West coast of the US and Joe, with whom I will cross the South Atlantic this year and the North Atlantic next year. Joe is doing Legs 1, 2, 7 and 8.
Various other members of the crew were around and between guided tours I helped Joe, Sarah (who I did Level 4 with in July – see Blog 81: Race 2 Day 3 latest ….. 4800 nautical miles still left to race, so let’s wind the clock back a bit, published 18 September) who is doing Leg 4 around Australia, and Thom who is doing Leg 1 of this edition of the Race but has competed in TWO previous editions and has the t-shirts and hats to prove it, empty the sail locker of all the sails so everything below decks could be cleaned for a media event later that afternoon.
The UNICEF yacht also moved berths for this filming..
which also produced this excellent, Ian Wiggin-led guided tour of OUR yacht…..
The Tuesday and Wednesday of that week saw me dashing between London, Harwich and Eccleshall before I was back in London at St Katherine’s Dock again to collect my UNICEF branded kit – a rather smart UNICEF/Musto jacket and a couple of UNICEF Clipper shirts – and join a host of UNICEF crew members for the official naming ceremony of our yacht .
Now I’ve actually only ever been to a couple of ship naming/launch ceremonies previously. One was the naming of a big cruise liner in Southampton when I was the Captain of the city’s adopted name-sake destroyer, and the second was as the Captain Designate of HMS BULWARK as she went down the slipway at Barrow.
What all three ceremonies had in common (apart from years of maritime tradition, strong sense of family and belonging etc etc etc) was ………………. champagne!
The following night (Friday) Ruth and I were back in London for the pre-race party only to then drive back to Eccleshall that same night (getting home at 0500 on Saturday morning) in order to be “on duty” at the annual Eccleshall Show at 0630! On Sunday we were ……… back in London! It was Race Start Day.
The atmosphere was fantastic with thousands of people in St Katherine’s Dock and many more lining the banks of the Thames. All the circumnavigators and the crew completing Leg 1 were already onboard. There were at least a dozen or so other crew members who had come down to London to see our team mates off. It was exciting and emotional and, if I’m being completely honest, made me wish I was doing Leg 1. To my very great surprise, having popped down onto the pontoon and then onboard the yacht to say our farewells, those of us who were fortunate to be present in our UNICEF branded clothing were invited to join the circumnavigators and the Leg 1 crew who were about to sail away from London, in the farewell parade and stage appearance prior to the yachts slipping their lines. A couple of my team mates who had collected their branded kit that very morning just had time to slip away and change. A few more continued to watch from the quay side. I felt honoured and privileged to be taking part. Unfortunately it did mean Ruth was left watching from the quay as once onboard we were not allowed off the yacht until it was time to parade and, as the last yacht programmed to sail, we were the last team to parade.
As is often the way at these times, as a team, we invite each other to share thoughts. More often than not this is done by throwing a knotted rope around. When the rope comes to you, it’s your turn to share your thoughts. Today’s topic, not unnaturally, was “what are you most excited about and what are you most worried about?” Not necessarily in that order. When it came to my turn it was quite easy. I talked about the excitement I felt for my team mates sailing in just a few hours and the enormous unexpected privilege I felt at being able to join in what I had always assumed would be their parade today. When it came to concerns I explained that when I left Ruth on the quay I had told her I was just “popping onboard to say a few quick goodbyes”, but as I had not returned my real concern was that Ruth might be thinking I was about to do Leg 1 after all!
Eventually it became our turn to parade around the various basins that constitute St Katherine’s Dock and then finally up onto the stage to the “our song” – see Blog 85: Here We Go, published 7 October. A quick interview by Ian and then, to much cheering and waving, we made our way back to the boat.
The event was televised and friends watching on BOTH sides of the Atlantic sent us screenshots, the cameraman appearing to take a particular shine to Ruth 😉
A screen shot from yesterday’s live stream of Race Start from London – captured by friends on BOTH sides of the Atlantic!
This time it really was time for the goodbyes (at least until Punta for me)
and I rejoined Ruth and the other supporters to watch the Fleet proceed out of the Dock and into the Thames.
So, a few other thoughts as I waved them off and was left looking at an empty St Katherine’s Dock? First and foremost it was admiration for my fellow team mates, and all the other Clipperees, departing today. I knew how much more I had yet to organise and sort out in my life before I would be ready to Race and all these people had already achieved that. In particular a huge admiration for those about to spend the next 11 months circumnavigating the globe. I could see the mixture of excitement, anticipation and nervousness in everyone’s demeanour and hear it in their voices and I was excited and nervous for them in turn.
In the final few seconds before UNICEF slipped her lines someone in the crowd turned to me and said, “she looks as if she is straining to go,” and it was true, the yacht did look eager to depart and was pulling at her lines. No sudden gust of wind. No impatient revving of the engine from Ian. No prop wash from departing sister yachts. Although I too had noticed it, that restless movement indicating a desire to depart, I didn’t really give it another thought …………. until that is, I read the skipper’s final pre-sailing message to the UNICEF team when I finally reached home. But a little more about that in my next blog………
For Diabetes UK and the National Autistic Society see:
Right now I am somewhere between Madrid and Buenos Aires (in an aeroplane rather than a yacht) while the Clipper Fleet is (very roughly) in the general vicinity of Rio de Janeiro off the South East coast of Brazil and – again very roughly – 1000 nautical miles from Punta del Este, or at least the centre of the pack is. The lead yachts, Visit Sanya and Qingdao who are pretty much neck and neck, are less than 800 nautical miles from the finish line. The current tail end Charlie (Imagine Your Korea) is still over 1200 nautical miles away and Unicef and Zhuhai are locked in a tight battle for 5th and 6th place about now. This post comes to you courtesy of the pre-programmed “publish” facility so its time to wind-the-clock-back a couple of months ……… Portsmouth Prep Week!
At the beginning of August a whole bunch of us “volunteered” and gathered in Portsmouth immediately before the Fleet sailed around to London for a busy week of final preps onboard the team UNICEF yacht. It was a similar story on each yacht in the Fleet. By now many of the circumnavigators were living in Portsmouth, if not actually onboard the yachts, and long-distance travellers signed up for Leg 1 (from Australia, South Africa, China and the US for example) were in similar positions. So most (but not quite all) of our circumnavigators were there. It was a kind of team-building-week-Mark2 and it was also extremely busy.
No list can be completely exhaustive but to give you an example ………… all the old sails came off the boat and at various times all the brand new sails arrived. In the case of the latter these had then to be unpacked, marked-up accordingly, and then re-packed. And re-stowed. Some of this we could do onboard, some on the pontoon and some “elsewhere”. You need to read on for the “elsewhere” bit. In the case of the main sail (and at the risk of stating the blindingly obvious) it actually had to be rigged and fitted to the mast! Oh and on the subject of rigging …… all the main rigging is new and EVERY sheet – the lines that operate the sails – is also new and these had to be run through the appropriate deck fittings and cut to size. Ends had to be whipped with whipping twine and those areas most likely to chafe had to be additionally protected. All the jammers (through which these lines are run) were taken apart, deep cleaned, and reassembled – a somewhat tricky job undertaken by two people to prevent important items (such as a strong internal spring!!!) pinging over the side! A similar maintenance operation was conducted on all our winches.
All the safety netting on the upper deck was removed and new safety netting rigged, taking care to cut it correctly to allow for both the “gates” on the port and starboard sides just forward of the helm and the traveller. All the internal fresh, grey and black water systems (the tanks are new) were traced and sea outlets checked. The engine was serviced and various elements labelled to help at-sea maintenance particularly when cold, wet and tired. Our new batteries were checked. All the engineering spares we carry were sorted, labelled (re-ordered in some cases) and re-stowed. John Dawson – one of our circumnavigators and “lead” Doc)- received, checked, catalogued and packed all our medical supplies, both routine and emergency, various crew members built new platforms at the helm stations on which our helmsmen will brace themselves during periods at a 45 degree angle and ALL the safety equipment – most if not all of it new for this race – was carefully checked and stowed. Oh and the weather for all this in our beautiful August summer ………….. AWFUL. The first day of Prep Week coincided with the first day of the Cowes Sailing Week …… and the first day of Cowes was CANCELLED due to storms, high winds and rain. A combination of all three summed up the week.
Various members of the team came and went during the week as visa interviews, other specialist training, family commitments and work/business were also addressed and the week finished with a BBQ event hosted by the sponsors of WTC Logistics, an event I sadly missed due to other commitments. I intend to make up for that in the future!
There were two other off-yacht events that I really must mention. Firstly, unpacking and packing a spinnaker (ok make that THREE spinnakers and a wind-seeker) takes space. Lots of space when dealing with a sail the size of a tennis court. Ideally you also need a fairly calm day. We were lucky with a gap in the weather – we had to pick our moment – and disappeared to a Portsmouth park for this particular evolution. It will be interesting to see if any grass stains mark our spinnakers when we arrive in Punta. That should make for interesting conversation, but perhaps not as interesting as some conversations and some stains…. so to avoid THOSE, our spinnaker unpacking was preceded by anti-dog-poo patrols of the park! NOT something I ever thought I would associate with a round the world yacht race!
The other major off-the-yacht activity was victualling. We have to eat and drink. So supplies for each crew for each day of Leg 1 had to be received, checked, unpacked (no unnecessary weight – this is a race remember) and then stowed as per the menu for each day in marked dry bags. All the ingredients for a complete days menu (pus bread and cake mixes etc) for 24 people likely to burn up to 5000 calories a day for 40+ days. All the labels were removed from EVERY CAN (if they get wet they will fall off/become unreadable anyway and create a great deal of mess) so every can was then inscribed with its contents. Tempting as it was to label tins of peaches as peas …….. the temptation was resisted! It was quite a back-breaking operation. Oh and then ……… all the bags, plus additional bags containing the necessary bulk foods, condiments, snacks etc) had to be transported back to the yacht ….. and stowed in such a way that they can be FOUND and RETRIEVED by Mother Watch at the start of their cooking duties AND the rest of us still have space to live and work, and maybe even sleep!
It was a great week. This is what it looked like in pictures and time-lapsed video, oh and before I forget, two editorial comments on the final video ….. 1. Check out the dance moves!!!! and 2. It was Grahams birthday but I cant remember what the drink was!!!!:
The Portsmouth-Park-Sail-Packing-Team (plus some young local supporters!) From left to Right: Sophie, Karen, Lindsay, Graham, Anthonie, me, Alex, Mike, Holly, Mike, Nicky (Mike Miller’s wife), Joe, John, Angie, Dan)
For Diabetes UK and the National Autistic Society see:
Its been a VERY hectic couple of weeks but …………………………… Ruth and I depart for South America (Buenes Aires, Montevideo and then Punta del Este) TODAY!!!!
Never has it been more apt to play the official team UNICEF song, selected by the crew earlier this year. This song plays every time “we” sail from a port during the Race and will be played when we get a podium finish 🙂
HERE WE GO!
I hope to continue to blog, including from the yacht during the Race, although uploading photos may have to wait until stop overs – for me for the rest of this year that means Cape Town, South America in November and Fremantle, Western Australia in December. Some blogs (already written) will appear as I travel over the next 48 hours or so courtesy of the pre-programmed-publish facility; the miracles of modern technology!
For Diabetes UK and the National Autistic Society see:
No, not a post about inappropriate actions or language ….. but – as of about now – pretty much everyone on this edition of the Clipper Race (even tail-end-Charlie Imagine Your Korea) are now sailing in the Southern Hemisphere having crossed the Equator – Crossing The Line. They will not be back in the Northern Hemisphere this DECADE! And some form of suitable ceremony will have been carried out in every yacht of the Clipper Fleet.
Its quite an event in any mariners career or time at sea and I have been fortunate enough to do it 10 times – twice in the Pacific, twice in the Atlantic, four times in the Indian Ocean and twice in the South China Sea/Java Sea! Somewhere in an old box I have a rather faded certificate, first signed back in 1983, to prove it ………. signed (obviously!) by King Neptune himself!
No one is quite sure of the origins of the associated “Crossing The Line Ceremony” but sailors rarely need much of an excuse to let their hair down. Crossing the Line and its associated rituals had certainly become a well established tradition in the Royal Navy as long ago as the eighteenth century. In HMS ENDEAVOR, under the command of Captain James Cook, a seaman called Joseph Banks described how the crew drew up a list of everyone on board, including cats and dogs, and interrogated them as to whether they had crossed the equator when sailing in the Pacific in 1768. If they had not, they had to choose to give up their allowance of wine for four days (NOT Likely methinks!) or undergo a ducking ceremony in which they were ducked three times into the ocean.
I’ve written about Robert Fitzroy before (see Blog 23: The weather theme continued ….. but spare a thought and a prayer this Sunday for Abhilash Tomy, published 23 September 2018) but when he was Captain of HMS BEAGLE he suggested the practice had developed from earlier ceremonies in Spanish, Portuguese and Italian vessels passing notable headlands. Fitzroy thought it was beneficial to morale. During the second voyage of HMS BEAGLE, on 17 February 1832 one of the first crew members to be “initiated” was one Charles Darwin (of naturalist, geologist and biologist fame) who noted in his diary that he was led up on deck by “four of King Neptune’s constables”, as “buckets of water were thundered all around.” Darwin was then “placed on a plank, which could be easily tilted up into a large bath of water. They then lathered my face and mouth with pitch and paint, & scraped some of it off with a piece of roughened iron hoop – a signal being given I was tilted head over heels into the water, where two men received me and ducked me. – at last, glad enough, I escaped. Most of the others were treated much worse, dirty mixtures being put into their mouths and rubbed on their faces. The whole ship was a shower bath & water was flying about in every direction: of course not one person, even the Captain, got clear of being wet through.” There is a detailed account of the ceremony onboard HMS BLOSSOM (we don’t name our ships like we used too! ….. thankfully!!) written somewhat earlier, in 1825, and its clear from my own memories that it hasn’t changed much in the intervening 160 years or so!
No digital cameras or mobile phones back in 1983 so the next 4 photos took a bit of digging out ……..
And if you want a glimpse into what might – or might not – have happened onboard the Big Blue Boat then I can do no better than point you in the direction of Skipper Ian Wiggin’s Day 16 blog on the official Clipper Race website http://www.clipperroundtheworld.com
Meanwhile, here’s a 1922 silent movie blast-from-the-past crossing the line ceremony onboard HMS HOOD ….. like I said, nothing much has changed ……
For Diabetes UK and the National Autistic Society see