100 years ago, 2 years ago, 1 year ago, Next year?

One hundred years ago today the unknown soldier was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey, London. At the same time a similar ceremony interred the body of the French unknown soldier at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The idea of returning the body of an unknown soldier home from the European theatre of war is credited to the Reverend David Railton MC (1884-1955) and the body was chosen from a number of servicemen (some accounts say six but confirmed accounts say four) exhumed from four battle areas – the Aisne, the Somme, Arras and Ypres. Final selection was entrusted to Brigadier General L J Wyatt, the then General Officer Commanding troops in France and Flanders, in the chapel at Saint Pol-sur-Ternoise near Arras on 7 November 1920. Wyatt was unaware of the battlefield the body had come from nor the identity of the body he selected. Afterwards the bodies not selected were taken away for reburial by the Reverend George Kendall OBE. The body of the unknown soldier was ultimately brought to Dover from Boulogne in the destroyer HMS VERDUN and from Dover to London by train.

On the morning of 11 November 1920 the casket was drawn through immense and silent crowds in a route that went via Hyde Park corner, down The Mall and onto Whitehall. King George V unveiled the new Cenotaph and laid his personal wreath of red roses and bay leaves on the coffin. The last post was sounded before the gun carriage completed the journey to the Abbey. The casket was borne into the West Nave flanked by a a guard of honour of one hundred recipients of the Victoria Cross drawn from all three services. The escorting pall bearers numbered four Admirals, four Field Marshals, three Generals and the first ever Air Chief Marsal. Also present were a group of one hundred women all of them chosen because they had lost their husbands and all their sons during the war. The unknown soldier was interred in soil brought from the main battlefields and covered with a silk pall. The grave was filled using one hundred sandbags of earth from the battlefields of northern Europe on 18 November 1920 and covered with a temporary stone. The present black marble stone was unveiled on 11 November 1921.

The body of the unknown soldier may be from any of the three services, Royal Navy, Army or Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force, and from any part of the British Isles, Dominions or Colonies and represents all those who died who have no other memorial or known grave.

Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day this year were both very different occasions. No packed churches, no large gatherings around city, town or village war memorials. In Eccleshall only the muffled tenor bell rang out and the remaining bells lay silent. My two minutes silence this year was observed from the bottom of my garden, across the road and overlooking the war memorial. Two years ago I was a small part of a small team that helped research and then add to the town war memorial the names of seventeen Eccleshall men killed during the First World War whose names, for various reasons, were missed off the town war memorial when it was originally dedicated and unveiled in 1921. The war memorial was rededicated by the Bishop of Stafford in 2018 to mark the centenary of the end of the fighting, in a ceremony that reflected, as near as we could replicate, the original dedication. We were fortunate to be joined by some of the families of the “missing seventeen”

Exactly two years ago today I wrote a blog entitled We will remember them …. and I’m going to republish it today if full:

“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 the 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 missing 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 discovered a further 300 bell ringers who died in service. Two bell towers – Edington in Wiltshire and Bamburgh in Northumberland – lost 6 bell ringers each. The Edington ringers were at the heart of the community. While one was a carer in a local hospital, others were farmers and another a wheelwright. Four of the six 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 Cenotaphs, war memorials and cemeteries 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. 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 graves are at Plymouth, on Plymouth Hoe overlooking Plymouth Sound, , at Southsea in Portsmouth overlooking The Solent and e memorials 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 World War, all of whom have no known grave 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 in 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 has 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 three 1,000lb bombs in the South Atlantic on 25 May 1982. She sank in 12 minutes. HMS BARHAM (below) was hit by three torpedoes in the Mediterranean on 25 November 1941. She blew up within five minutes of being torpedoed with the loss of 859 officers and men. Next of kin were asked to keep their husbands/sons 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 Majesty’s Ships will have been held this year as they alweays 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 ship[s away for 6 month periods, such as the Falkland Islands or the Arabian Gulf and Indian Ocean, chaplains will; be deployed and will conduct such services, but in other minesweepers, frigates, destroyers and submarines the Captain will often lead and conduct the service. Traditionally, and where possible such services are held on the upper deck (ie outside) and are attended by all personnel other than those required to keep the ship functioning. The ship’s Battle Honours Board (a carved wooden board on which all the Naval battles in which ships of that name have seen action are engraved) often acts as the centre piece on which poppy wreaths are laid by the Captain and, often, 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. Services where such wreaths are laid on the site of a wreck of a ship of the same name can be particularly moving. Ships operating in the South China Sea nearly always divert to hold services over the wrecks of HMShips PRINCE OF WALES and REPULSE, the final resting place of over 800 officers and men killed in December 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 Armistice Day, 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 distance 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 marching row on row” …. I will remember them.

It turned out I was wrong about my future location. One year on from that blog, and this time last year, I was still in Cape Town, South Africa with the UNICEF team, the exact race dates having been adjusted between writing my We will remember them blog and the race starting in the summer of 2019. This time last year we were only about half way through our period in Cape Town having completed Leg 2 of the Race from Punta del Este in Uruguay to South Africa. 4050 nautical miles across the South Atlantic completed in 15 days. max wind force 11 (violent storm 56-63 kts, 37ft+ waves, knocked down and washed down the deck by large waves three times, Jerry and Christian both broke ribs! And we came second!! I couldn’t get to the 11 November service in Cape Town as crew duty had me wielding a drill, sailmakers needle and a sailmakers palm inside a tent on the quayside helping repair sails but I was pleased that my friend and fellow UNICEF team sailing colleague Tim Chappell was representing us all. Tim, at the ripe old age of 71 was about to join the team for our even more eventful crossing of the Southern Ocean to Fremantle in Western Australia.

So what about a prediction for 11 November 2021??? I guess much still hangs on COVID-19. Should I tempt fate? On current (rather sketchy) long term 2021 planning I should be in the UK. But should that read back in the UK? Or will it read still in the USA having crossed the Pacific? Or might it read still in the Pacific if Leg 3 last year and our diversion/late arrival into Fremantle is anything to go by? I think that covers most bases! Good night.

It’s OFF(ish)

I haven’t blogged for 3 weeks or so. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing, in fact I have been noodling away at four separate drafts. One was another in the “this time last year” series given that …… this time last year…… Ruth and I were in Punta del Este and on 21 October 2019 I was acting as a tour guide for groups of Uruguayan school children looking around the UNICEF yacht. We arrived in Punta on 17 October, I reported to the yacht the following day, and completed my refresher sail and crew assessment on 20 October. I posted the blog Postcard from Punta on 18 Oct 2019, my penultimate pre-sail blog, Am I Ready? on 22 Oct and the blog Leg 2 (Race 3) Starts TODAY! on the morning of 23 Oct just a couple of hours before moving onboard the boat.

Given that today is the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar I have a draft blog on the theme of Trafalgar Day, a somewhat loose theme it might yet turn out but I was hardly going to let the date go unacknowledged on a nautical themed blog. My third draft is planned to cover Ruth’s and my travels around Argentina and Uruguay prior to and including Punta del Este and my final draft scribbling will be published under the title “It’s Only An Adventure Holiday” for reasons that will become clear in that particular blog. That one is attempting to reflect, one year on, on my Leg 2 and maybe also my Leg 3 experiences. “So where are they all then?” I can hear some people thinking…….. “Watch this space,” is my instant reply. I do intend to finish writing and publish all four but the truth is they are all (temporarily) overtaken by other “breaking news.”

Team UNICEF alongside in Punta del Este, Uruguay, about to start Leg 2, Race 3.

The latest news from Clipper HQ dropped into the Inboxes of all 2019-2020 Clipper Race crew late this afternoon. In short a decision has been made that race start in February or April next year will not be possible. Given the views I expressed in my previous blog I will say that I am not surprised although, being completely honest, I expected this decision towards the end of November/early December when the maintenance teams would have to be given access to the boats in Subic Bay to have any chance of a restart in the first quarter of 2021. In short the Philippines is currently not allowing entry into the country except for their own nationals and foreign nationals holding valid residency permits and yachts are currently not able to sail into China. There is no indication of when these travel restrictions will be lifted and with COVID 19 infections on the rise and Clipper crews drawn from over 40 different countries, it looks like it could be a tough winter for many regions of the world.

Regular readers will recall that I “mused” about a potential “Option 4” the last time I wrote. Well we are not yet at “Option 4” and once again it is not mentioned by Clipper. This is still not surprising. But if it is not an option on the Clipper-table it remains an option on mine. What does remain as a Clipper option is “Option 3” – an August 2021 restart to follow, as closely as possible, the original route (no New York and “north European port” to replace Derry), New Year 2020/2021 at sea and a return to London at the end of January 2022. The September 2020 “joke” about taking part in the longest sporting event in history now looks increasingly likely. The latest announcement goes into some detail about potential dates following an August 2021 start date and in particular potential crew changeover dates in Subic Bay, Seattle and Bermuda and a race finish date in London. This will at least allow Clipper crew to do some degree of personal planning – not least of which will be whether or not “Option 3” is a realistic personal option. I’m not publishing the full dates here for three reasons. Firstly, I have yet to determine whether an August 2021 start works for me. Secondly, other than the personal planning this now allows, at this range the dates don’t really count for much until everyone completes the first step and we determine whether Clipper 2019-2020-2021-2022 is viable. And I’ll blog about the viability of Clipper plc as a company in due course. Finally, no “Option 3” dates here as I might have to be padding out this blog for a full year longer than I had originally intended. While ramblings about Masterbaking, weather, bearded sailors, eyesight and vitrectomy operations and-the-like have helped so far, I might need to deploy Option 3 details at a later date to drag this out a bit!

I know very few, if any, Clipper crew who don’t acknowledge there are many more pressing issues in the world today than whether Clipper 2019-2020 restarts or, for that matter, ever finishes. And I know there are some non-crew, a “vocal minority” perhaps, who would not mourn the passing of Clipper plc if the company becomes another addition to the list of COVID casualties. So for me right now it’s time to open my 2021 diary and the bit that extends into January 2022!

Assumptions and Options

Ok. Against that particular title I have to admit that I was tempted to stray into politics rather than Clipper ………..

…………… but this is a blog about my involvement in the 2019-2020 (and beyond!) Clipper Round The World yacht race ……. so, resisting the obvious temptation, I’m going back to the sailing. Or more accurately some of the “assumptions and options” about the possibility of the race resuming, hence the title of this blog.

Since Blog 121: Batman and Robin???…No cloth ears!…THAT MAN and Robin!! published 14 Sep, we, the Clipper race crew, have received further communication from Sir Robin Knox Johnson regarding the resumption of the race next year. This is all dependent on a series of assumptions. Not surprisingly the Clipper team are insistent that racing will resume in 2021 and are equally insistent that they are doing all they can to facilitate the race getting underway. It’s easy to be cynical but this is exactly what I would expect right now. This “insistence” is based, again not surprisingly in the current circumstances, on a series of assumptions, and I’ll touch on these as I type.

It is still Clipper’s intent to visit all the original Host Ports (namely Sanya, Zhuhai, Qingdao, Seattle and Bermuda who all have “named” boats in the race) which means that Sanya – replaced on Leg 5 by Subic Bay because of COVID – reappears as a Leg 6 port. Should any of these ports be closed Clipper will make alternative arrangements and amend the route as necessary. They aim to publish details of race restart plans by late November/early December 2020 and clearly, the longer they leave this, the better chance they have of securing the best options for the race to continue. It will also give more time to investigate all necessary quarantines and to further plan additional safety measures. Although Clipper acknowledge that the availability of a safe vaccine by early 2021 will be a potential game changer, they are realistic enough to acknowledge that planning must proceed on the assumption that a vaccine will not be available and that quarantine arrangements may well be required for joining crews at the very least, in each changeover port.

Despite Jeronimo’s sterling work (see Blogs 116: Race Finish after 40,000 miles in London yesterday….. or maybe NOT! published 9 August, and Blog 121) the yachts will have to be properly and thoroughly recommissioned. If the race restart is to go ahead – around 18-21 February 2021 – the Clipper Race Maintenance Team will need to go out to the Philippines at the beginning of January. The Skippers and AQPs will need to deploy a couple of weeks later. These deployments are dependent on a number of assumptions regarding travel, quarantine, visas etc and a baseline assumption that Clipper can arrange dispensation as a sporting event to allow travel to Subic Bay and that the Chinese ports will be reopened. If this is the case then Leg 6 will race from Subic to Sanya, Sanya to Zhuhai and Zhuhai to Qingdao. Dates and duration of stopovers have yet to be published. The fleet would leave Qingdao towards the end of March for the race across the North Pacific to Seattle. This is Clipper’s Option 1. If for any reason Seattle is closed then the intention would be to sail across the North Pacific from Qingdao but then head direct to Panama. I haven’t yet sat down to look at all the speed/time/distance calculations in all this, apart from the obvious note that Option 1 or Option 1a as I’m going to call the Panama finish option, increases the duration and mileage of Leg 6 and that “direct to Panama” impacts Leg 6ers disembarking and Leg 7ers joining. There is also considerable impact on the Leg 7 programme.

Clipper Option 2 works on the assumption that the Chinese ports and Seattle are closed to us. In this instance the plan is to depart Subic Bay in early April and race across the North Pacific towards Panama. With the Leg6/7 crew changeover in Panama, Leg 7 would be “extended” to “take in more of the Caribbean” although, as yet, there are no details of dates/routes. At the moment there is also an Option 3.

Option 3 would be to leave Subic Bay in August/September 2021 taking in all the current planned stops, if available. Clearly this gives the countries/ports longer to become available and, self evidently, equates to a further 6 months postponement of the race. If the ports are not available then the fleet would go directly to Panama – in that instance Option 3 becomes Option 2 but later in the year. However it has long been Clipper policy to avoid the Caribbean hurricane season so it is not planned to enter the Caribbean before 1 December 2021. This would see the fleet arriving back into the UK …………….. in February 2022! Beyond Panama, New York no longer appears on the programme and thus Leg 7 finishes, and Leg 8 (across the North Atlantic) starts in Bermuda. If nothing else Option 3 probably means we may be on track to have taken part in the world’s longest sporting event: Clipper 2019-2022!

the original Clipper 2019-2020 Race Route

So, having read all that – what do I actually THINK? Most obviously there could be a number of variations on Option 1 depending on availability of the Chinese ports. It strikes me that any of them could be cancelled if required, and such cancellations could, within reason, be accepted at short notice. This would, however, lead to some significant logistic implications in order to ensure the fleet was stored for a longer North Pacific crossing, and the victualling/water/gas equation becomes more critical if Seattle is not available and the fleet routes direct to Panama. Access to Panama is critical. But so is initial access to the Philippines. That too is critical. Panama is not just about access to the Canal, in fact, as far as I am aware COVID has never closed the Canal. But the boats will require time alongside for deep cleaning, repairs, revictualling, refueling and crew changeovers. Right now, before I grope metaphorically for my charts, dividers and distance tables, I am trying to get my head around the decisions timeline and the implications of what we must be aware of and have permissions for before we reach the point of no return crossing the North Pacific. Arguably this point of no return should be Subic (or Qingdao), i.e. prior to departure, and I am left wondering when or even whether international uncertainty will allow planners to square that particular circle.

I have been involved in planning, sometimes very complex planning, for more time than I care to remember. I am aware of pretty much all the standard clichés about planning and I’m sure I have used them all. “Plan early, plan twice”, “A plan is a basis for change,” “No plan survives first contact with the enemy,” “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless ….. but planning is indispensable.” I was always taught to plan for success, and plan to exploit success, but contingency plan for things going wrong and setbacks. My planning has always been based upon assumptions – and to stay with clichés for a second – the sayings that “assumptions make fools of all of us” and “assumptions are the mothers of all ****ups” are countered by always keeping your assumptions under review. And when your assumptions change, change the plan. And all planning requires decision making. The real art about decision making is not taking the decisions, that bit is easy. The art is knowing when to make the decision, or knowing when you have to make the decision. And that, somewhat clumsily, leads me to comment on the “missing option” or perhaps at best, the missing contingency plan”, the missing “worst case” – Option 4. What’s the plan if none of this is possible? This may be “remote” or “realistic” or even “very pessimistic” depending on your point of view, and a part of me fully understands why Option 4 wouldn’t be published just yet and that any Option 4 decision point is a long way off …………….. for the moment.

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Batman and Robin??? …. No, cloth ears! …….THAT MAN and Robin

Batman and Robin??? No, cloth ears ………….. THAT MAN and Robin! Jeronimo in Subic and Sir Robin Knox Johnson…..

Following my own future pontifications in the closing paragraphs of the previous blog (Blog 120: This time LAST year, this time NEXT year, published 4 Sep), today I post the latest “letter from Subic” from “that man”, Jeronimo Santos Gonzalez, and an accompanying missive from Robin Knox-Johnson. For what it’s worth I’ll give you a precis of the former and the latter verbatim.

The monsoon season was in full swing when Jeronimo last wrote (17 August) keeping him busy monitoring humidity levels ….. and emptying bilges. The 33 liferafts and 350 lifejackets have been packed into a container for transportation back to the UK for the August servicing that would normally have taken place had the race finished on time. Having helped load liferafts onboard UNICEF during prep week then I know only too well what a physical job this is (halyards and winches to remove the liferafts from the yachts onto the pontoon and then transport them by trolley). To do this for all 11 boats in 35 degree heat and 90% humidity makes loading in Portsmouth seem a breeze! Jeronimo has also found time to help racing boats at a local yard – including replacing the bow section on a Philippine catamaran. He continues to be impressed with the local resilience to the pandemic and to life in general. The Filipino sailing community has been coordinating support for remote communities along the coast, helping with food and other essentials. In uncertain times it is the hope of continuing his Clipper Race adventure that is keeping him going.

Turning to Sir Robin: “Dear Keith, I hope you are keeping safe and well, wherever you are in the world. As you will have seen, Jeronimo is still out in Subic Bay, looking after the fleet. We are so grateful for all his hard work in keeping the boats in good order for our return to racing next year. Thank you Jeronimo! As you have heard from him, all lifejackets are on their way back to the UK (thanks to WTC Logistics) for routine servicing. The servicing includes the safety kit being unpacked, inflated, checked for wear and tear, repacked and certified for another year. We’ve seen that you have been fundraising for UNICEF UK, including a raffle for a fantastic Clipper Race inspired fire pit, which raised over £1000. Thank you for all your efforts and for helping us creep closer to our £1million milestone, we have just £9391 to go! UNICEF has been doing tremendous work to support children and families who have been affected by the pandemic helping to reach 224 million children with distance and home based learning. I know many of you will be looking for an update from us on the race next year. Being very honest here, and being straight with you all is very important to us, we don’t have a new update for you. However, we are continuing to monitor the global COVID-19 pandemic and how it is affecting travel and the hosting of sporting events. We are still striving to make sure the race can restart in February 2021. We are working with our Host Port Partners on the remaining ports of call for the suspended Clipper 2019-20 Race and are also consulting with remote medical specialist Praxes Medical Group, our Official Supplier which provides us with expert medical advice and support as we travel the globe. For those hoping to rejoin the race next year, or deferring to the Clipper 2022-23 Race, our Crew Team is working on information regarding insurance and hope to be able to update you on this early next month. We appreciate that those who are returning will need a comprehensive update on the logistics and safety measures regarding next year’s race. As soon as we have that information confirmed, we will be in touch. Best Wishes.”

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This time LAST year, this time NEXT year

I’ve blogged at least four posts looking forward – the “This Time Next Year” blogs – in particular when looking forward to race legs. Blog 55: This time next year. Leg 6, Race 9. A Four Video North Pacific taster, published 27 March 2019, is a good example. I posted at least three “Time Travel” blogs looking back, post the event, and a couple in which I used the facility to publish a blog I had already written in advance on a future date on which I couldn’t actually write because I was travelling. Phew! Blog 86: Time Travel….. or rather TIME to wind back the clock, while I TRAVEL, published 7 Oct 2019 and Blog 81: Race 2 Day 3 latest ….. 4,800 nautical miles still left to race, so let’s wind the clock back a bit, published 18 Sept 2019 are both good examples. With me so far? Well, prompted by a small catch-up reunion with UNICEF Clipper team mates over lunch and a beer in Eccleshall yesterday, this time I thought I’d have a go at both; Clipper this time last year and Clipper this time next. Or at least, with my usual literary flexibility, something like that. Anyway, even if you are by now completely confused you’ll get the general idea in a minute or two.

So on 12 Oct LAST year, while crossing the River Plate from Argentina to Uruguay, I published a piece I had already written looking back to Clipper Race Start which happened (give or take 72 hours or so) “This Time LAST Year. The full text can be viewed again at Blog 87: Another Time Travel Blog, published 12 Oct 2019 and the pictures and videos are repeated again here:

It covered Race Start on 1 Sep 2019 and some of the events, including the boat naming ceremony, earlier that same week.

And I dare say there will be some more “this time last year” blogs in the coming weeks:

OK. And this time NEXT year?????

Well this time next year the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 2019-2020 will (perhaps/maybe/probably/possibly) have finished and this site maybe up around the 200 blog mark. Hopefully I will have raised more money for my chosen charities (see below) and I may even have restarted the “lecture circuit round” to retell my deeds of daring-do programmed for this autumn/winter but torpedoed by COVID and the race postponement in the Philippines. There IS a plan in place – in very rough outline only – to resume racing. In its simplest form this involves crews rejoining for Leg 6 in Subic Bay and, after a training/refresher programme in and around the Philippines, conducting 3 races – Subic to Sanya, China (Sanya cancelled last year from Leg 5), Sanya to Zhuhai, China (where I was originally due to rejoin UNICEF for the start of the first version – pre-Subic diversion – of Leg 6), Zhuhai to Qingdao , China and then Qingdao to Seattle across the Mighty North Pacific. I would then return home while the boats complete Leg 7 – Seattle – Panama – Bermuda. This plan removes New York from the Leg 7/8 programme and means I would rejoin in Bermuda to complete the final leg, Leg 8 – Bermuda – Londonderry – London. Exact dates and timings for all this are yet to be confirmed and I have yet to grapple with post-vitrectomy medicals, flights, insurances, visas etc.

So what do I think of this plan, or rather more significantly, what do I currently think of its chances of success? I have been reflecting on this, and my own personal feelings about continuing. My thoughts on the latter have undoubtedly been shaped by the fact that I cannot recall any major project in my life (so far) that I have only half finished and few, if any, personal challenges that I have not overcome. A great afternoon recalling highs (and lows) with John and Lindsay yesterday has helped and the rapid return of the sight in my left eye was perhaps the final factor. There is no doubt in my mind that I want to continue and finish my own 4-big-west-to-east-ocean-crossing circumnavigation. No doubt at all. But is this a realistic ambition? Clipper staff are mostly, if not all, currently furloughed. The end of UK furlough draws near. Skippers and AQPs have, understandably, been “released” pending the race restart. The boats, under the watchful eye of Jeronimo remain in Subic Bay (See Blog 116: Race finish after 40000 miles in London yesterday …… or maybe NOT! published 9 Aug 2020) but under normal circumstances would now be undergoing an extensive programme of post-race refits, including being lifted out of the water. Not all the UNICEF team are available to race next year – for understandable personal reasons. Some have deferred to the edition now expected to race 2022-2023. I am sure this is reflected amongst the international crews across the fleet. It is not straight forward to “parachute” in “standby crew” as everyone must have completed all four levels of Clipper training and, as regular readers will know, the one week long Level 4 training must be completed with your team members …. and onboard a Clipper 70 ……. which have all been alongside in Subic since March. (See Blog 81 referenced earlier in this post which talks about my own Level 4 training).

And what about COVID? What about COVID in Subic, in Sanya, in Zhuhai, in Qingdao, in Seattle, in Panama, in Bermuda and in Northern Ireland? What about entry and quarantine regulations in each port even after, as in the Qingdao to Seattle crossing, we have spent a considerable time in the “self-isolation” of a “Clipper Team bubble” at sea. It wasn’t that straightforward for Bert ter Hart as he completed his solo non-stop circumnavigation of the globe in July (see Blog: 119: Safest Man On The Planet, published 26 Aug 2020). For the moment the short answer to these, and many more associated questions is, “I don’t know.” And not for the first time since I started this website I close by saying, “Watch this space.”

Lindsay, Keith and John. Team UNICEF gang of 3 lunch, Eccleshall 2 Sep 2020

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Safest Man On The Planet

Bert ter Hart has been described as the “safest man on the planet” having completed a 267 day circumnavigation of the planet during the COVID 19 global pandemic and coming into contact with …….. no one. His solo, non-stop circumnavigation around the world in his 13-metre yacht Seaburban took in the five southernmost capes (Cape Horn, Cape Agulhas, Cape Leeuwin, South East Cape (Australia) and South Cape (New Zealand) using only celestial navigation. No GPS, just a sextant, an almanac, log tables and paper and pencil. 62 year old ter Hart is the first North American and one of only five people to have accomplished this feat.

Cape Horn
Cape Agulhas
Cape Leeuwin

South East Cape Australia
South Cape New Zealand

Celestial navigation can be a time-consuming process, but Bert said navigation wasn’t his biggest challenge, Neither was the hurricanes, the waves as tall as his mast or eating the same meals every day – oatmeal for breakfast, salmon or tuna for lunch, and pasta, quinoa or rice for dinner – for nearly nine months. The hardest part was not being able to relax for even a moment. Meals were eaten standing up, wedged into a corner of his yacht, and he slept, never for more than two hours at a time, strapped into his bunk with a seat-belt pulled as tight as possible across his hips. By the time he sailed back into Victoria Inner Harbour on Saturday 18 July this year he had been awake for three days.

At 0635 (1535Z) 17 July the mountains bordering the west coast of Vancouver Island rise out of the fog. Landfall.

Time to ditch the eyepatch and put the parrot back in his cage

Meanwhile ……. back at the Ophthalmology department of the Royal Stoke University Hospital this afternoon ….. Mr Sadiq declared himself very pleased with the “excellent” progress at my first post-op review., tweaked my eye drop routine – 3 drops a day for the next 6 weeks – and told me to come back again in 6 week, at which point he intends discharging me.

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7 post-op paragraphs. If you’re squeamish you might want to skip para 5 AND the video!

Why the clock?? Read on.

Kneela (I can’t possibly have spelt that correctly) and Tony had the most important jobs. Kneela held my hand throughout the 70 minute operation and Tony was in charge of post-op tea and biscuits. Good start, great finish. Oh and even I skipped the video posted in this blog until after the op!

Michelle, Dawn and Tony  looked after me during pre-op, Michelle and Tony post-op, and in the operating theatre Russ took care of the anaesthetic  eye drops (so many I lost count), and Mr Khan and Mr Sadiq did the op, assisted by Mary, Kneela and two others who’s names I didn’t catch. On the ward at 0730, in the operating theatre at 0900, back on the ward for tea and biscuits at 1030, discharged at 1130, out for lunch and a beer at 1215. Job done.

From my perspective the day couldn’t have gone better. Mr Khan declared himself very pleased with how things had gone and that he didn’t need to see me again for another 3 weeks. The rather heavy dressing was removed with no difficulty the following day. It was replaced by a plastic see-through eye shield, taped on to my left eye, designed to stop me inadvertently rubbing or scratching my eye and to be worn for the first week. The self administered eye drop routine (6 a day for two weeks, dropping – no pun intended – to 4 drops a day for a further two weeks) started immediately the dressing came off. I only noticed the bubble in my eye – black, half circle in the bottom of my eye, the size of a 10p piece and rather like the bubble in a spirit level – as I left the hospital. It should disperse with time but it takes a little getting used to. When I move, I can see it wobbling inside my eye.  If I lean forward – which I shouldn’t – the bubble rises into the middle of my eye and I can see it full circle.

What was the operation like? The first good news is that it was painless, no doubt because of a large number of anaesthetic eye drops and two injections, one close to the inner edge of the eye and one near the outside. It was extremely reassuring to be in the hands of such obvious professionals.  Their relaxed demeanour, calm professional chat, appropriate banter and obvious expertise was fantastic to witness, even from under a fabric face covering. The atmosphere reminded me of all the best Royal Navy operation rooms I have ever been in – that reassuring professional  banter of people entirely on top of their jobs. By the time the lights went down in the operating theatre I was completely relaxed.

By far the weirdest thing was being able to see the instruments – particularly the suction and cutting tool (the vitrector) INSIDE my eye thanks to the illumination provided by the light source. Again, this was INSIDE my eye. I actually saw the vitrector removing debris from the inside rather like a vacuum cleaner. I suspect if I parachuted Mr Khan into a warship ops ilm-forcep-500x500room and plugged him into a headset listening to “command open-line” he would recognise much of the language without necessarily understanding what it all meant. I was in a similar situation. When he asked Mary for the “ILM forceps” I wasn’t quite sure I knew what he was talking about. What I didn’t expect to see, a few seconds later, was a tiny pair of tweezers INSIDE my eye removing debris. Quite mind boggling!



Now a week on, the eye shield has been relegated to the bedside table, I’m one quarter through the eye drop routine and the bubble in my left eye, having reduced over the last few days from a 10p piece to a half penny piece, has now completely disappeared. So why the picture of the clock?

The kitchen clock (as seen above from right to left – close up, from the other side of the kitchen island, and from the sofa) has been my “go to” eye test since returning from the Philippines in early March. Having been warned not to expect any improvement in my eyesight for at least two or thee days, I can report noticeable improvement on every day so far. Not only can I see the clock close up, I can even tell the time from the sofa! It’s still a little “milky” and blurred around the edges and my eye  looks quite bloodshot but this is the best eyesight I have had for 167 days! Progress.

Pretty Much All At Sea. Not Quite. This was Pretty Much Exactly This Time Last Week!

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Vitrectomy – everything you didn’t know you didn’t want to know!!!


By the time many of you read this, assuming it is the 12th of August by now, I will be under the knife and the expert hands of Mr Khan. I’m pleased he has been so busy lately. I’d hate to think he hadn’t been practicing!

So what can I tell you about what’s going on? Well first things first. I had a COVID-19 test on Monday and …………….

……….. they were passing the results straight to the eye hospital and were only going to ring me if I tested +ve.  No call so far. So far so good. Next step – hospital at the rather ungodly hour of 0730. I should be in for only a few hours and, thanks to current pandemic regulations, I will be unaccompanied. Most eye surgery is now done as a daycare so I expect to be home in the afternoon post-op and, I hope, post the post-op tea and biscuits 😀 – every cloud etc etc. Here we go then …… everything you didn’t know you didn’t want to know about vitrectomies.


The vitreous is a clear jelly that fills the space in the eye between the lens and the retina lining the back of the eye. It’s function is to provide a transparent medium for the

Child eating red jam
Vitrectomy – the removal of jelly – simples

passage of light to the retina. The vitreous jelly can sometimes shrink and pull on the retina, causing a small hole or tear. This allows fluid to collect under the retina, causing it to peel off. Without treatment, in some cases urgent, the entire retina may detach leading to loss of vision and blindness. A vitrectomy is an operation to remove the jelly. Simples.

Reading my guidance notes tells me …

that the surgeon … (good start, says I), … using delicate instruments … (the more

an eyelid speculum

delicate the better, I hope!) … and after administering local anaesthetic … (hmmm ok, go on) … this means that you are awake during the operation … (🤪No shit, Sherlock, which bit of “go on” didn’t you get?) … removes some or all of the vitreous jelly via a series of tiny holes through the white of the eye (the sclera) … (really!!! And I get to WATCH????) … the eye lid is held open with a device called an eyelid speculum and your face will be covered with a pad/shield … (Phew! things are looking up) … and a nurse will be holding your hand … (ok, you talked me into it).

Actually the notes go on about local anaesthetic at some length.… The eye and the area around it will be frozen using drops on the surface of the eye and injections(don’t worry, the s on the injection hasn’t gone in-noticed!) … of local anaesthetic around the eye … this will make your eye numb … (I bloody hope so!!!) … and you may not be able to move your eyethe injections may be a little uncomfortable … (given that I once described rescuing shipwrecked mariners in storm force winds as “pretty uncomfortable” I am not overly reassured by British understatement!) … but this will quickly wear offthere will be no need to take your dentures or hearing aid out …😳😳 … if you wear them … (phew, good job I turned the page!) … risks of local anaesthetic are rare but(bracing myself) … but include severe bleeding around the eye which may mean the op will have to be postponed … (no tea and biscuits then I take it?) … or an allergic reaction to the anaesthetic drugs … which may also effect your heart rate making you feel lightheaded … (rather like these guidance notes then!) … very rarely the injection may accidentally enter the eyeball causing severe pain … 😳😳😳 … this would mean that the operation would need to be postponed … (yup, missing the initial target will do that to operations!) … and any damage assessed and treatedyou may experience numbness, or tingling around the eye, and may notice double vision for a few days until the nerves and muscles around the eye are back to normal.

Once the vitreous jelly is removed the retina is repaired if necessary, foreign bodies and debris is removed and any leaking blood vessels are sealed and retinal laser treatment is performed if required. The removal of the vitreous jelly leaves a space in the eye into which a gas or silicone oil is inserted. This helps the retina to heal in the right place, acting as a bandage to press it flat onto the back of the eye to ensure there is no further damage or risk of retinal detachment.

…. laser treatment is performed if required ….

… or silicone oil is inserted ….

I can expect my vision to be blurred for several weeks after surgery. If I have a gas bubble in the eye, vision will be very blurry for a while but this is only temporary. The gas bubble will gradually be absorbed and replaced by the natural fluid produced by the eye. I may also be able to see the bubble, which may appear as a wobbly black ring in my line of vision. The bubble will move as I move and gradually get smaller and break into smaller bubbles. The time this takes varies from 1 to 6 weeks. It will be back to wearing an eye patch or similar, at least to protect my eye at night as my vision improves and I will be putting drops in my eye, around 4-6 times a day at first, as my sight returns.

The procedure normally takes 1-2 hours and has a good success rate. At this point my guidance notes says that “complications are unusual.” It goes on to list ten!!! but let’s cross that particular bridge if and when we have to. Let’s cut to the tea, biscuits and sympathy bit ….


“At work” the afternoon before the op. The champagne glass (even empty!) is more use than the spectacles!

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Race finish after 40000 miles in London yesterday ………….. or maybe NOT!




At the beginning of the year I had envisaged writing a blog today, Sunday 9 August, about what’s it was like, yesterday, motoring up the Thames into London having just completed the final race of the final leg of the Clipper Round The World Yacht Race 2019-2020. I’d given myself the extra 24 hours as I had expected to be partying long and hard last night. So much for that diary entry!

The reality is I am in pre-op medical lockdown and the yachts are still 6633 miles (as the crow flies) from London in their own Jeronimo-supervised lock down in Subic Bay, Philippines where the weather right now is 28 degrees C with 82% humidity and it is raining in a thunderstorm! Jeronimo has written two “letters from Subic” during the lockdown on 11 June and 10 July and here are the highlights …..



Jeronimo was originally accompanied by Hugo Picard, the AQP from Ha Long Bay, Vietnam but Hugo returned to France before mid-June as he is taking part in the Mini-Transat race in 2021 and needs time to prepare. Jeronimo has been far from bored working on the 11 Clipper yachts plus finding time to work out, studying on-line and sailing with other sailors at the Subic yacht club when local lockdown regulations have allowed.

The Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority enforced a very strict lockdown, which included the Freeport Zone, from mid March, with the first easing coming on 1st June. While most businesses remained closed and restrictions on entering the Freeport Zone remained in place, there were more people out and about and a huge increase in traffic on the streets. May and June are the hottest months of the year in the Philippines with temperatures in the high 30s. As Jeronimo wrote in June, “I must say I have never sweated so much in my life than here doing engine checks. This time has also brought monsoon rains and when it rains here, it rains like there is no tomorrow. Every day, I play a game of hatch open, hatch closed, ever day these menacing clouds arrive. So far, only one typhoon (named Vongfong) came close to Subic Bay.” An average of 8-10 typhoons cross the Philippines every season.


By mid July Jeronimo reported the Philippines slowly emerging, cautiously, from lockdown and that Subic Bay was starting to look a little more normal. Shopping Malls were busy but people were still maintaining social distancing and face masks were compulsory as was the use of antibacterial hand gel before entering anywhere. Jeronimo also said that he must have had his temperature taken at least 20 times a day. Other parts of the Philippines remain in stricter lockdown and sailing restrictions had been extended and Subic Bay remained closed for sailing. His July letter brought more weather reports …..

”Rain, rain and more rain. Wet season continues in July with the majority of the Philippines experiencing substantial rainfall. Almost every day a massive cumulonimbus cloud will swipe across Subic Bay and drop it’s copious amounts of rainfall for half an hour. Later the intense heat dries everything leaving no trace of the event. This has its benefits because the decks of the Clipper 70s have never been so clean, the downside is that with that large amount of rain, some water makes its way to the bilges and I need to empty them regularly.”

Had the race completed on time the boats would be approaching a period of extensive refit over the winter months, including a period out of the water. Meanwhile, back inSubicupdate1 Subic ……

This week the fleet had its hulls cleaned by Renante Snr and Renante Jr. They are a father and son team from Olongapo who are having a hard time financially due to the fall in business since the COVID-19 outbreak. So, doing some work for the Clipper Race fleet is really a lifeline for them, especially when they also support their extended family across the Philippines.”

To be continued (I hope) …..


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Never work with Children and Animals

Since my last post (Blog 114: Eyeronic, published 2 Aug) it has been pointed out to me  that Arthur has been even busier during lockdown. He appears to have branched out into advertising when I wasn’t looking ………


……… although in a non-profit making, non advertising blog and in the interests of impartiality, Arthur has asked me to point out that other car recovery firms are available!

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