I see no ships – unfortunately quite literally – but lets come back to that in a minute or two. I had hoped to have blogged before now but a few things have got in the way, not least coronavirus, so here goes with an overdue update. Understandably overdue I hope, given the circumstances.
I flew out to the Philippines on Tuesday 3rd March. Manchester to Dubai and then onto Cebu in the Phillippines. A couple of hours staying on the aeroplane on the ground, and then on to Clark International airport on the Philippine island of Luzon. Clark is north west of Manila and north east of Subic Bay. I started to use the “note” facility on my mobile phone to record my thoughts etc with a few to better informing subsequent blogs; effectively kee;ping an electronic diary of my Leg 6 adventure. Consequently I can tell you that the flight from Dubai routed over India and Bangladesh, skirted across the north of Vietnam, across mainland China and crossed the Chinese coast in the vicinirty of Zhuhai. The irony here was not lost on me given that Zhuhai was to have been my destination prior to the virus outbreak. The route continued down across the South China Sea and the length of the Philip;pines to Cebu, about 650km south of Luzon and Clark International. I noted in my “diary” the “interesting fact” that sailing across the North Pacific would take me more miles than I had just flown! I also arrived without knowing where I was going next! Regular readers will be aware that three options were being considered for the first part of Leg 6 (See blog 109: Limbo Latest …… the roulette wheel continues to spin, published 18 February) and, even as I arrived in Subic Bay, no decision had been made.
After re-packing my bags from “international flight mode” to “standby to embark in a yacht mode” and a night in a hotel just outside Clark, I travelled the 55 miles or so to Subic Bay the following day. Bags duly dumped in a local hotel I got to the UNICEF yacht a little after midday on Thursday 5th Mar. Just in time to help offload the 3 spinnaker sails prior to their inspection for damage/repair and to assist in the checking/servicing of all our lifejackets; a routine involving various checks, “disconnecting” of the automatic personal AIS beacon (Automatic Identification System that allows automatic tracking in the event of a manoverboard) and the oral inflation of the lifejackets for 24 hours, before it was time for the prioze giving for the previous race, Race 8, and the end lof Leg 5.
UNICEF finished an excellent 2nd, our third podium finish, and picked up 4 bonus points (2nd across the two Scoring Gates on race 8) lifting us to FIFTH overall, just 5 points behind Visit Sanya in 4th and 9 points behind Punta Del Este in 3rd.
Even better was the news that our very own Danny Lee picked up the Media Prize Pennant for Leg 5 for his crew blog entitled Hotting Up describing what it was like to cope with the extreme heat and sweltering conditions of the race from the Whitsundays to Subic Bay. It’s worth checking out on the UNICEF team page of the official website, in fact all Danny’s blogs *when its his turn) nare well worth a read.
The other news at the Prizegiving was the announcement that there would be a briefing to all crews the following evening concerning the start race for Leg 6. Not surprisingly, given the continued coronavirus developments, there was already plenty of speculation and some talk of a “short” race next.
On the evening of Friday 6b Mar it was announced that Race 9, the first race of Leg 6, would be another Subic to Subic race. This time a short, 750 nautical miles or so, triangular race from 6 nautical miles west of Subic, heading west for approximately 200 nautical miles out into the South China Sea. The next leg of the triangle would head a similar distance north into the north east monsoon trade winds before rounding a virtual mark and turning south east back towards Subic Bay. This third leg of the triangle would be about 270 nautical miles long and would be a fast reaching sprint with decent breeze on the beam or even downwind. The arrival window back into Subic Bay would be 14th -15th March.
The next race of Leg 6 would then be a direct race across the North Pacific, departing Subic Bay on 21st March with an arrival window into Seattle of 19th – 24th April. As an added twist each of the triangular legs of the next race would constitute an Ocean Sprint and teams would be required to declare which TWO of the THREE Ocean Sprints they would wish to compete inprior to race start on 10th March. Seven teams (Qingdao, Ha Long Bay Vietnam, Zhuhai, Seattle, Visit Sanya,, Punta del Este and UNICEF opted for Ocean Sprint 1, The full breakdown was as follows:
Imagine Your Korea – Ocean Sprints 2 and 3
GoToBermuda – Ocean Sprints 1 and 2
Seattle – Ocean Sprints 1 and 2
WTC Logistuics – Ocean Sprints 2 and 3
Punta del Este – Ocean Sprints 1 and 3
Ha Long Bay Vietnam – Ocean Sprints 1 and 2
Dare To Lead – Ocean Sprints 1 and 2
Zhuhai – Ocean Sprints 1 and 2
Visit Sanya – Ocean Sprints 1 and 3
Qingdao – Ocean Sprints 1 and 3
Unicef – Ocean Sprints 1 and 3
Unfortunately I missed all these announcements as, from midday through to about 2030 on Friday 6th March I was here …..
the Allied Care Experts Medical Center, Baypoint, Subic Bay and I was, as some of you are already aware, blind in my left eye. As I said earlier …. “I see No Ships”…. in my case, quite literally.
Late(ish) on the Thursday night, as the prize giving party drew to a close, I noticed a small black thread-like “floater” in my left eye. I excused myself from the party and returned to my hotel for an early night thinking nothing more about it, or at least figuring that an early night and some rest was probably all that was required. Unfortunately that was not the case and, the following morning, I quickly realised I had lost the vast majoprity of the sight in my left eye. Looking into the bathroom mirror I could not distinguish my own facial features, could barely distinguish my own silhouette and could see only the very blurred outline of things within about 2ft. Outside of 2ft I could see nothing. My right eye was, thankfully unaffected. My overriding emotion was shock. By nature I am an optimist. Definitely “glass half full.” That said, even I knew at this early stage that my dreams of crossing the North Pacific had just been torpedoed. I’ll come back to the torpedo analogy later.
In an episode I now look back on with some amusement, I directed my taxi from my hotel to the nearest ATM to get cash to pay for the taxi to take me, blind in one eye, to the Clipper fleet and Clipper Offices at the Subic Bay yacht club ……… only to have said ATM (the only serviceable ATM out of three) ……. swallow my card, fail to issue cash, and fail to return my card. Cue an interesting 20 minutes (with the taxi meter clocking up outside) during which I had to a. prove who I was, b. prove it was my card, c, fill in multiple forms proving a and b while unable to see properly!
Eventualyl, and I’ll adfmit with some emotion on my part, I was able to explain what had happened to the UNICEF Mate, Mike Miller, and then to the Clipper Office and managed to get in touch with Healix International, “our” UK based healthcare, insurance and risk management company. Straightforward enough you might imagine but it was a Friday and 1100 in the Philippines; 0300 in the morning in the UK! Within the hour I was referred to the Medical centre at Bayponint. I was seen by a Filippino doctor at 1300 and, reasonably quickly, referred to an ete specialist. The eye specialist was not available until 1800. I was seen at 1830. initially for some routine tests…….
nothing wrong with my right eye, but out of my left eye I couldn’t even make out the E never mind P E C F D. ….. not even blurred or faintly ….. NOTHING ….. in fact it was all I could do to make out the outline of the chart. Chemicals in both eyes to dilute my pupils and then a 30 minute wait for it to have any effect. Then in to see the specialist. Short version of a long(ish) story – virtuous haemorrhage in the left eye, some signs of diabetic retinopathy in the right eye. Pressure in both eyes ok. Recommended surgery and/or injections to left eye. Not fit for Clipper. Fit to fly pending UK medical/insurance approval. Oh and by the way ………. “here is a typed copy of our medical assessment and this is your bill so far!” Thankfully my earlier ATM experience provided enough cash …. just. Cue a late night taxi ride back to my hotel and a rather fitful, restless night, broken at 3 in the morning by a prudent decision to repack all my kit.
I spent most of Saturday dealing with UK based medical teams, insurance and underwriters plus moving hotels and explaining things to my crewmates. In case I didn’t see him I wrote a letter to Ian, my skipper. Explaining things to my crewmates and my friends on other boats was extremely difficult and at times emotional. About 16 or so of the UNICEF crew and I had lunch together. I sent private messages to those I didn’t see in person. A number of colleagues joined me in deploying humour to lighten the mood (or at least lighten MY mood!) and I promised Danny Lee a photo with an eye patch and a parrot on my return to the UK. At one pont someone said that I appeared remarkable calm in the circumstances. With the classic image of the furiously paddling swan in my mind’s eye I replied, “would it help if I wasn’t calm?”. To add to the somewhat macabre humour of it all, that afternoon, while awaiting confirmation of my return flight to the UK ……….. the internet went down. And stayed down!
There are a few more semi-humourous tales to tell but to cut a long story shorts I left the Philippines on the evening of Sunday 9th March and by 1700 UK time the following afternoon I was at the eye hospital in Stoke-On-Trent about 20 minutes from home. I had at least managed to shower. By this time team UNICEF had started Race 9 from Subic.
Full UK diagnosis – some minor evidence of diabetic retinopathy in the right eye.
Now is probably NOT the time for a lengthy discourse on that subject. Maybe another time. Suffice to say I have received some preventative laser treatment in both eyes about 3 years ago because of this. My right eye was lasered there and then on Monday afternoon. Job done. A minor haemorrhage to the left eye was confirmed. No obvious damage to the eye; blindness caused by an inability to see through the blood from the haemorrhage. While some would undoubtedly attribute this to poor diabetic control, Dr Brown is aware of my vigourous, nay RUTHLESS, control and the loops through which I had already been forced to jump to be declared fit for the Clipper race in the first place. He was confident that it had NOT been caused by long haul flight and put it down, simply, to “bad luck.” Maybe even “very bad luck.” He and I agreed that worse luck would have been for this to happen at sea! Disinclined to operate or inject, he was of the opinion that I have a “good chance” of recovering my sight and that he would prefer nature to run her course and for my eye to heal/clear naturally. The first catch? ……. No guarantees. The second catch? Time. It might take up to 6 weeks, and even then, after 6 weeks, I might not have recovered full sight, indeed if the middle of the eye is the last to clear it may be some considerable time before I notice any difference. With that, and an eye patch fitted, I returned home to rest and bask, at least in the short term, in a diary clear of entries out to 8 May, the date I had expected to return to the UK!
So.…. one week on, how am I physically and emotionally? The physical bit is easy. No pain and still getting used to my eye patch. Its black (as you might expect) and protrudes a little too “Madonna’s-bra=like” for my personal taste. I need to invest in some variety. Maybe different colours? Day time? Night time? Gardening? Dancing? Ideas gratefully received. I am still having difficuklty adjusting to monocular vision and typing this has been harder than it should be on my right eye. I guess it might be time for reading glasses. Emotionally things are a little more complicated. I’ve already touched upon the shock I felt on the morning of 6th Mar, and some of what follows isnt quite rational but…..
….. whether its the grief curve, the loss curve or the Kubler-Ross change curve, I can confirm I’ve been pretty much everywhere on any curve you care to mention in the last week: shock, frustration, disbelief, anger (at myself), fear, lonliness, loss, bitter-bitter disappointment, hope, relief, thankfulness humour determination etc etc. Some at the same time and many more than once. And I have had an almost overwhelming feeling of having let down a large number of people; family, friends, team members, supporters. Remember. I did say this wasn’t all exactly rational. So where else am I? Clearly my number one priority is to rest and try and recover as much of my sight as possible. It might not help to speculate much beyond the next 5 weeks just yet but there is no avoiding the fact that
the same torpedo that sank “HMS Leg 6” on the morning of 6th March and sank my dreams of sailing across the North Pacific has also struck and damaged “HMS Leg 8.” My personal damage repair teams are hard at work attempting to keep that one afloat in the hope that a. I will recover sufficient sight, and b. the medics/insurance people will permit me to rejoin team UNICEF in New York. And then of course there is the C word, COVID-19.
It is only a couple of weeks ago that I speculated if sailing to China would become “the least worst option.” Since I returned from the Philippines, the UK has moved into phase 2 of the Governments Coronavirus plan, Italy is a country in complete lockdown, Denmark has closed its borders and flights to Spain were turned around in mid-air today. The US has closed its borders to travellers from Europe and, I understand, will extend this ban to the UK next week. Much more will probably have happened by the time you read this blog. Meanwhile. off Luzon and Subic Bay the lead yachts have just crossed the finish line. Line honours went to Ha Long Bay, Vietnam with Punta del Este in 2nd and Visit Sanya in 3rd. I believe UNICEF finished 5th. On current planning the fleet is due to sail for Seattle on 21st March…. and they say worse things happen at sea!
For Diabetes UK and the National Autistic Society see:
For UNICEF UK see
Please take a look. Thank You.