111. The Drifters

Ok, so you may be forgiven if you stumble across the title of this blog and thought, “Great, my kinda music, I must listen……”

Apologies but this blog remains about my involvement in the Clipper 2019-2020 Round The World Yacht Race (with a few notable “diversions” relating to Masterbaking, Weather, Beards, Booze, Fashion and even Talking Socks!

Masterbaking – (Blog 20: Masterbaking .. or .. Mother Watch preps .. or ..”If I knew you were coming I’d have baked a cake”, published 4 September 2018); Weather – (Blog 22: Florence, Mangkhut and Helene .. with memories of Michael Fish, Daria and Luis, published 17 September 2018, Blog 23: The weather theme continued .. but spare a thought and a prayer this Sunday for Abhilash Tomy, published 23 September 2018 and Blog 83: Dollydrums! WHAT Dollydrums??, published 25 September 2019); Beards – (Blog 11: What will crossing the South Atlantic, Southern Ocean, North Pacific and North Atlantic REALLY look like??, published 14 July 2018, Blog 12: A Bakers Dozen of Famous (and Infamous) Bearded Sailors (1), published 21 July 2018 and Blog 19: Half A Dozen More .. Famous and Infamous Bearded Sailors, published 31 August 2018); Booze – (Blog 49: Manannan Mac Lir, published 23 February 2019 and Blog 66: Another post about booze! published 21 July 2019); Fashion – (Blog 24: Does/Will My Bum Look Big In This?, published 28 September 2018 and Blog 50: Does/Will My Bum Look Big In This? (2), published 2 March 2019 and even a blog about talking socks!!!! (Blog 4: Curiosity …… or what my birthday socks “said” to me! published 31st May 2018).


So its not about those Drifters ……….. its about these Drifters:

The Clipper 2019-2020 Race has been engaging in citizen-science research efforts, collecting ocean and weather data which is being utilised around the world. The project aims to monitor climate change and the impact it is having on the oceans. Racing through some of the most remote waters on the planet, the Clipper Race is uniquely placed to be able to collect data that would otherwise be difficult to access. Back during the Cape Town stopover, Race organisers collaborated with a team of experts to enable the deployment of drifter buoys on the Southern Ocean, Leg 3, to Fremantle.

Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) drifter buoys we’re put onboard four Clipper Race yachts (Seattle, WTC Logistics, Go ToBermuda ………. and UNICEF) for deployment in pre-planned positions in the Southern Ocean. Carefully secured down in our lazerette prior to Race start, the buoys were donated to the South African Weather Service by NOAA (The United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), who had previously worked with Clipper during the 2017-18 edition. The buoys are designed to provide data on barometric pressure, water temperature and ocean current drift for up to 3 years. Once finished these buoys will be retrieved.

Details were explained during the main crew briefing in Cape Town the day before Race Start

Eventually, despite our diversion to Durban, we reached 90 degrees East and, with due ceremony, our drifter buoy was brought on deck, carefully unwrapped and deployed by UNICEF’s own Drifters. Mike even read the instructions first!



DrifterDeploymentt coordinates


The UNICEF “Drifters” aka Danny Lee and Mike Miller

A further 4 buoys were deployed by Ha Long Bay Vietnam, Seattle, Zhuhai and Qingdao during Leg 4 from Fremantle to The Whitsundays. In addition to the drifter deployments, two of the yachts were provided with training on a Voluntary Observing Ship Scheme (VOS) while in Fremantle. The first two teams to participate in the trial were Seattle and Zhuhai, with the training delivered by the Australian Meteorological Agency (BOM). The teams provided observations of barometer readings, visibility, cloud formation and sea state every 12 hours.

GOOS is a global system for sustained observations of the oceans comprising the oceanographic component of the Global Earth Observing System of Systems. GOOS is administrated by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and serves oceanographic researchers, coastal managers, parties to international conventions, national meteorological and oceanographic agencies, hydrographic offices, marine and coastal industries, policy makers and the interested general public. GOOS is a platform for international cooperation for sustained observation of the oceans, the generation of oceanographic products and services and for interaction between research, operational, and user communities. It is implemented by member states via their government agencies, navies and oceanographic research institutions working together in a wide range of thematic panels and regional alliances.


The oceans cover 71% of the Earth’s surface and they are linked to human livelihoods in multiple ways. From its role in modulating the climate to how it provides a variety of socio-economical, cultural and environmental benefits, the oceans contribute greatly to human wellbeing. A better understanding of ocean climate and ecosystems, as well as human impacts and vulnerabilities, requires the coordination of a continuous and long-term system of ocean observations. In this context, the GOOS coordinates observations around the Earth’s oceans for three critical themes: climate, operational services, and marine ecosystem health.

CV22 Seattle


Climate: a changing climate is linked to a changing ocean. Warming results in land and sea ice melt, and increased carbon uptake is causing ocean acidification, both at alarming rates. The accurate modelling of global climate change and variability, and the monitoring of impacts of climate change migration programmes require sustained and extended observations, including those in the deep oceans and in remote regions.

Operational Services: operational ocean data services provide improved weather forecasts and early warning for ocean-related hazards at the coast. This enhances the safety and efficiency of all ocean industries strengthening the global maritime economy. Societies and economies also benefit from this near-term ocean and climate information, such as El Niño forecasts, that are essential to global agriculture, water management and disaster risk reduction.

Marine Ecosystem Health: the global ocean offers a variety of social, economic, cultural and environmental benefits to human livelihoods. Scientific evidence shows that marine ecosystem health, measured in terms of productivity, species diversity and resilience, is both impacted by and threatening human activities. The GOOS contributes to the marine ecosystem health theme by facilitating ocean monitoring for the conservation of biodiversity and the maintenance of sustainable ocean ecosystem services.


Although there is a lot of this out there ….. there is still much to do.

and meanwhile …… back in the South China Sea the lead yachts are already off Taiwan. Competition has been fierce and it remains pretty much anyone’s race. The Philippines wind holes have given way to upwind sailing, challenging weather conditions, wet decks (and crew!) and life at an angle. Additionally the fleet is having to navigate around large fishing nets, buoys and other vessels in the busy commercial waters. At 1830UTC Tuesday teams had to decide which of the Ocean Sprints to go for and 9 teams have opted for the north bound sprint. That’s the entire fleet minus Qingdao and WTC Logistics, a lucky call for those two guaranteeing a minimum of 2 bonus points.

The fleet (as seen on Race Viewer) beginning to clear the blue coloured wind holes west of the Philippines on Monday
The TIMEZERO (a kind of onboard Race Viewer) view pm today
Race 7 Day 4 on the bows of Dare To Lead

5 days now until I fly out.

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110. Race 7 is underway ……. 8 days until I depart for Race 8 and the start of Leg 6!

Team UNICEF at Race Start, Leg 5, Race 7. Subic Bay to Subic Bay

The second race of Leg 5 (Race 7) got underway from Subic Bay, Philippines yesterday. As I type the fleet is spread out over an area of about 25 nautical miles, off San Fernando on the west coast of Luzon with a little under 1000 nautical miles left to race. Boats speeds right now range from 1 knot to a little over 5 knots in wind holes and light winds to the west of the Philippines. The winds further north, south of Taiwan, look more favourable.

Off the Philippines it is 0120 on Tuesday morning as I type and those coming on watch for the 0300-0700 watch have another 10 minutes sleep before they are woken to dress. Back here it is now 8 days until I fly out to Subic Bay ahead of reporting to the yacht again on 6th March. My personal preparations are now entering the final phase. My kit is laid out ready to be packed and my re-grown beard is passed that “prickly-why-am-I-bothering-to-grow-this” phase …. just about. I have visas-various and a nice letter from Clipper “to whom it may concern” explaining why I am arriving in the Philippines without a departure ticket. Other than a statement in the letter that I will depart the Philippines on 10th March there is still no news of the route for Leg 6, other than the existing arrival window into Seattle of 19th-24th April. With the latest news of Coronavirus coming out of South Korea I wonder how long it will be before Option 1, covered in my last blog, becomes the least worst option? (See blog 109: Limbo Latest ,,,,, the roulette wheel continues to spin, published 18th February – Option 1: Subic-Qingdao-Seattle)

Geographic distribution of COVID-19 cases worldwide as of 24th February according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control

………… meanwhile, and in a throw-back to Leg 2 from Punta del Este to Cape Town…. The Mail Online Travel’s reporter Sadie Whitlocks was onboard Punta del Este for Leg 2 across the South Atlantic and her article, plus videos,  was published on 20th Feb. You can view it via this link:



For Diabetes UK and the National Autistic Society see




Please take a look. Thank You.


109. Limbo Latest …… the roulette wheel continues to spin

RouletteTable-58c2bb9a5f9b58af5c9ea220Those readers who follow the official Clipper website or keep half an eye on social media will have seen the latest update on Sunday and be aware of much of what follows. For everyone else, here’s the current/latest/forecast/possible/potential plan(s).

Firstly the remainder of Leg 5 – the current leg. Originally programmed as a three race leg: Australia to Sanya, China (with an arrival window of 10th-15th Feb and a stopover until 21st Feb) then to Subic Bay in the Philippines (with an arrival window of 25th-26th Feb and a stopover until 28th Feb) and then to Zhuhai, China (with an arrival window of 2nd-3rd Mar for crew change on 4th Mar and a stopover until 9th Mar when Leg 6 would start), the boats are now all in Subic Bay. The race from Australia to Subic Bay was won by WTC Logistics (their first podium finish) with Qindao and Ha Long Bay, Vietnam in second and third respectfully. Someone has to come 11th and this time it was UNICEF.


2019-20 original routeD_2Xr1BX4AAUytp
The original Clipper 2019-2020 Race Route

On Sunday it was announced that the two remaining races of Leg 5 would be combined into one race that would start and finish in Subic Bay. The Clipper Race stated that they remain proud of their longstanding relationship with its Partners and friends in China but this means that the stopovers in Sanya and Zhuhai are now officially cancelled. The Race will resume on 23rd Feb and the “new Leg 5 finish race” will cover 1600 nautical miles, roughly the equivalent of the original two races. The new route will see the fleet race north from the Philippines, across the Luzon Strait and around the western most cluster of the Japanese Ryukyu Islands (Osumi, Tokara, Amami, Okinawa and Sakishima). They will then race downwind east of Taiwan and battle against the notorious Kuroshio Current which flows north and east of Taiwan, before heading back towards the Philippines and Subic Bay.

SEAsiatmp718674606201765889In a variation of the scoring rules (See Blog 76: How The Clipper Race Is Scored, published 3 September 2019) there will be two Ocean Sprints and two Scoring Gates on this race. Teams will have to declare in advance, 48 hours before race start, which of the Ocean Sprints they wish to go for. The two Scoring Gates will be placed either side of the rhumb line route and teams can decide whilst racing which optional Scoring Gate they wish to compete for. Further details will be briefed to the crews during the Leg 5 Race 7 Crew Brief on 22nd Feb. And obviously the upshot of all this from a personal perspective is that I now know I will be rejoining team UNICEF in Subic Bay, Philippines.

Sunday’s announcement, some 10 days before Ruth and I were originally programmed to fly out, also confirmed that the joining date for those arriving for Leg 6 will be 6th March, refresher training will be conducted at sea on 7th March, there will be a full prep day on 8th March and Race Start will be …………. watch this roulette/limbo space while race options are finalised.

qingdao-locator-mapThree options are now being considered for the two races that will comprise Leg 6. Option 1 remains a first race to Qingdao in northern China, stopover, and then onto Seattle, USA. The original Qingdao arrival window was 17th-19th March with a stopover until 26th March. Clipper have caveated this option with the statement that they will not risk the safety of its crew or staff and in light of the current coronavirus outbreak, this option will only proceed if it is safe to do so. If I were to spin the roulette wheel on this one are there any takers?korea_map-2

Option 2 is to race from Subic Bay north to a port yet-to-be-decided in South Korea. Right now your guess is as good as mine. After a stopover we would then race across the North Pacific to Seattle.

Option 3 is to race from Subic Bay to Yokohama, Japan and then onto Seattle. Yokohama, as coronavirus-watchers will be aware, is currently “home” to the cruise liner the Diamond Princess.

In each option the arrival window into Seattle remains 19th-24th April with a stopover until 2nd May.

Limbo travel planning for me continues but Ruth has decided to hang up her limbo pole for the short term and will be in Seattle to meet me from whichever direction I ultimately appear!


For Diabetes UK and the National Autistic Society see




Please take a look. Thank You.

108. Place Your Bets Please. Where Next In Travel Planning Limbo? (Long Odds on China!)

I haven’t posted for a while now, not since my own Coronavirus update on 27th Jan. Since then Clipper have re-routed the fleet to Subic Bay in the Philippines, instead of Sanya in China, for what they have announced as an “extended” stopover. My joining date for reporting to team UNICEF ahead of Leg 6 across the North Pacific has slipped from 4th March to 6th March. The latest official announcement, as of 1600 on Monday 10th February reads as follows:

Members of the Clipper Race team are on route to meet the fleet ahead of its arrival in the

Subic Bay Yacht Club, Philippines

Philippines. The Clipper Race yachts are expected to start arriving in Subic Bay from Wednesday 12 February. Here the fleet will be berthed in Subic Bay Yacht Club for an extended stopover due to the decision to amend the race schedule and delay its arrival into China.

The coronavirus outbreak continues to be a developing situation. The Clipper Race is continuing to work with the Chinese organising committees in order to secure the safety of its crew, staff and supporters whilst also taking into account the changing British and international government advice and progress contingency plans for the 2019-20 route.

Due to the logistical, timing and operational demands, the Clipper Race organising team isSubic4th looking at a number of alternative ports and aims to have a decision on any further route amendments by next week at the latest. The arrival window into Seattle (at the end of my next Leg between 19th and 24th April) remains the same and the original schedule for Legs 7 and 8 remains unaffected.

The Crew Changeover date for Leg 6 joiners is 6 March. Leg 6 joiners are recommended to postpone making new travel arrangements and when they do  to book marine fare tickets as these can be easily changed.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the World Health Organisation are providing regular updates on the coronavirus outbreak and more information can be found on their respective websites.

The Clipper Race organising team appreciates Race Crew and supporters need for more details but until plans are firmly in place, providing any information that could change might lead to further disruption. This is a complex and evolving situation but the team hopes to have a suitable and safe solution as swiftly as possible.


As far as the race itself is concerned then the lead yachts are heading south within 160 nautical miles of Subic Bay as I type with wind holes and light winds between them and the finish line and the UNICEF yacht in Stealth Mode (see Blog 76: How The Clipper Race Is Scored, published 3 September 2019 for an explanation).

So where does all this leave me? Firstly I have completed all the formalities I touched upon in my last blog and acquired a Chinese multi-entry business visa. I’m not holding my breath I’ll be using it this year! But as it is valid for 2 years for visits up to 90 days in length, a post-coronavirus visit to Beijing, the Terracotta Army and the Great Wall is not out of the question. Watch this space as they say. For the moment I still have a hotel booking in Zhuhai and a flight from Bangkok to Hong Kong. My finger hovers over the cancel/delete button on both. And right now – not too far above.

Don’t be fooled by the absence of people. This was early in the morning and I was collecting my visa. Earlier in the week when I appeared for my interview this room was full of people.

Last week, suffering I-kid-you-not, from a really bad COLD, I went to the US Embassy in London to be interviewed for my US business visa to permit entry to Seattle at the end of Leg 6. Simple I can hear you say. Well, not quite.

One of the as-yet unsung benefits of being 11 days late into Freemantle (having run out BracesOIP8MO1X0KKof any fresh veg other than onions 6 days prior to arrival; powdered milk 2 days before arrival etc etc etc) was a Clipper weight loss programme that resulted in the re-introduction of braces (suspenders for US readers) to keep my business suit trousers in place. And by “in place” I mean UP! Cue a rather 20200205_120007bemused look on my face when invited to take my braces off prior to clearing the airport style security to enter the Embassy. My attempts at humour were met by stern looks, no smiles and an instruction to put my hands in my pockets to keep my trousers aloft. Fair enough. But you try putting braces back-on WITHOUT taking your trousers OFF once through security! My cold and potential routeing via/through China passed without comment.

My coughing and sneezing DID attract a number of curious looks while in London and at one point induced a woman sitting next to me on the tube to change seats. Irony of ironies ……… she was Chinese.

So along with all other Leg 6 joiners I remain in something of a travel planning limbo. My thoughts are also with those in the Clipper yachts who are completing their Clipper adventure at the finish of the current leg. Many will have already made arrangement to return home from China. At least arrival in the Philippines in the next few days should allow them to make alternative arrangements. “No ordinary Race.” “No kidding sherlock!”

Ruth also had to go through a Chinese Visa Interview process but as a “tourist” had to have an inbound AND outbound flight booked prior to interview. She is currently practicing double-planning limbo!
Ruth’s Travel Planning

For Diabetes UK and the National Autistic Society see


and for UNICEF UK see


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