Now a bell ringing, bee keeping businessman (not always in that order) Keith has limited yachting experience but considerable sea-going experience having served afloat for the majority of his 34 years service in the Royal Navy. This included serving in every class of warship from minesweeper to aircraft carrier, commanding 4 different ships (a minesweeper, two destroyers and an amphibious command ship) and commanding all UK maritime forces in the Middle East for a 2 year period. Concurrently he was the Deputy Coalition Commander of a multi-national force of over 115 warships drawn from 22 different countries. For him the challenge and excitement of being part of the Clipper Round The World Race team has proved irresistible, in particular taking on the four big west-east ocean crossings and the chance to sail across oceans and seas he has yet to experience.
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.”
ForDiabetes UK and the National Autistic Society see
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.”
For Diabetes UK and the National Autistic Society see
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.
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.
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.
For Diabetes UK and the National Autistic Society see
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 room 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.
For Diabetes UK and the National Autistic Society see
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
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
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 eye … the 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 off … there 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 treated … you 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.
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 ….
For Diabetes UK and the National Autistic Society see
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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 sweatedso 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 in 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) …..
For Diabetes UK and the National Autistic Society see
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!
For Diabetes UK and the National Autistic Society see
I’ve written about irony (eyeronie) before. The irony this time is I’ve just gone the longest period since starting this blog WITHOUT writing anything ………. during the longest period since starting this blog with the most time on my hands to write something! And let’s not kid ourselves, the last few months have provided plenty to write about. Eyeronically, I did draft a blog at the beginning of May about eyesight but never finished it. Turns out, eyeronically, that I was tempting fate.
But first and foremost this was always meant to be a blog about Clipper sailing and there hasn’t been any since my last blog. Indeed, unless I stretch a point and include taking a bath, I haven’t even been afloat never mind at sea and for weeks I travelled no further than the end of the High Street. I have no unusual lockdown tales to tell although I have viewed recent events through the singular prism (no pun intended) of only having one fully functioning eye (see blog 112: I see No Ships, published 15 March and blog 113: Update, published 21 March). Another eyeronic aspect of my literary absence; it’s been harder to see what I am writing! I’ll some back to “the eye” shortly.
I wrote my views about Clipper crews having to readjust when I wrote towards the end of March. I was fortunate to see Lindsay Rowley and Jerry Weedon for catch up drinks before flying out to the Philippines at the beginning of March, having last drunk with them in Punta del Este and Cape Town respectively. Since then many of us have kept in touch by WhatsApp, phone and e-mail and, COVID lockdowns permitting, some will gather for drinks in London on 8 August when, had the world not changed, we would have been sailing, or rather motoring, up the Thames having completed the race. The yachts remain in Subic Bay in the Philippines under the watchful eye, and daily maintenance, of Jeronimo Santos Gonzalez, the skipper of Punta del Este, and, at least for some of the time, Hugo Picard, the AQP of Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. Jeronimo has written at least two “letters from Subic” and Clipper has published the intent for the Race resumption next year but I will write about that in a later blog.
My own lockdown cannot possibly be described as tough. I have worked primarily from home for the last 7 years so that “transition” was easy, my sacrifices have been minimal, my blessings plentiful and Ruth and I have been fortunate enough not to lose anyone close. I know that many, many people and families have been less fortunate. If I listed the “things I have missed” it would be very friends-and-family centric and not unlike many similar lists.
So yes, I have now mastered Zoom, Teams, FaceTime etc and I’m going to miss the “mute all” button when face to face committee meetings resume. I see more of my extended family by electronic means than before and a regular Sunday afternoon zoom call has
seen 6 of us select our all time favourite sports teams (football, test cricket, one day cricket and Ryder Cup golf), plus top five culinary experiences, top 5 holidays (visited), top 5 holidays (yet to be visited), top 5 adventure activities and top 5 bars! I’ve sat in on and chaired various “virtual” committee meetings and even attended two “virtual” formal dinners – firsts for both organisations concerned and one in black tie accompanied by Arthur (the dog). Ruth’s saxophone lessons have shifted “on line” and the Eccleshall Community Band, which she helped establish, produced a “virtual” rendition of Camptown Races in company with a similar band of musicians from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. You can see the performance via the band’s website at https://cbeccleshall.weebly.com
Together with Ruth I’ve made good progress against an increasingly impressive (and rapidly expanding) lockdown jobs list, one of the first of which was “you’d better find a more permanent home for all THAT sailing gear!” Thankfully I found a spare wardrobe top. We attended an online garden party with Bill Turnbill, Monty Don and Martha Kearney in support of Bees for Development
(a charity I have supported previously) and Bill and Martha are both keen beekeepers. We joined Eccleshall residents dotted along the High Street for a socially distanced VE Day street party with musical accompaniment provided by a local pub via an online link.
On the subject of gardens, Ruth has turned vegetable growth into a veritable cottage industry although quite what we are going to do with so MANY turnips I really don’t know. Our own beekeeping has come on leaps and bounds during lockdown. We conducted our first “splits” in May (creating two colonies from one big one – not unusual for beekeepers but a first for us) and we were so successful we did it twice. Labels have been redesigned, beeswax bars for hand sowers have been produced, honey soap is on the production line and “we” (which is beekeeping speak for Ruth) are experimenting with beeswax infused wraps (for sandwiches, cheese, jar coverings etc) having banished cling-film from the house a couple of years ago. We are doing a useful trade in honey sales via our local butcher and, fingers crossed, will raise our own queen bees in a matter of days. So far we have not lost bees through swarms this year (fingers remain crossed) although we have been called out by locals to investigate bees in roof voids and compost heaps – generally bumble bees, one swarm of honey bees high in a tree – too high to safely recover and it turned out, not from our hives. More recently – earlier this week – I was called to recover honey bees that had settled on the bonnet of a Jaguar car parked opposite a bar in the High Street – cue cries of “is that a BEE MW?” and “has he got a bee in his bonnet?” from the imbibing audience; a small swarm of bees proving to be perfect encouragement for appropriate social distancing. One of our highlights has been “Bee School” – being joined online for hive inspections, colony splits, introduction of new queen bees and honey production by a small team of 4-5 year old’s, led by Ruth’s granddaughter, Evie, plus parents “joining” us from Bristol.
I started my previous blog with the encouraging news that I had begun to notice a gradual improvement in my eyesight. That improvement continued and by the end of April 80% to 90% of the “debris” in my left eye had drained naturally. Unfortunately, on 6 May I suffered a second hemorrhage and effectively went back to square one. Blind in the left eye. This time, although the bleed itself was much smaller, a portion of the vitreous (the jelly stuff) in my left eye has become detached and blood is trapped behind it. While I have some peripheral vision I remain, to all intents and purposes, blind and medical opinion is that this trapped blood will not drain naturally. I now require an operation (a vitrectomy) to remove the vitreous in my left eye, clean out the blood and repair any damaged blood vessels. Ultra sound scans have shown no damage to the optic nerve and the operation, to be conducted on 12 August under local anesthetic, has a 98% chance of success. Under medical instruction I am now in rather strict self-isolation, as of yesterday, ahead of the Op and will be COVID tested prior to going under the knife. Sadly it means I will miss the 8th August UNICEF reunion but I will not have to self-isolate afterwards. More to follow on this eye think 😉
Not all Clipper bloggers have had literary lockdown hibernations like me and I cannot resist a plug for my friend Sam Dawson – a non-sailor but an adventuress in her own right. She not only balances support for UNICEF (in which her husband John is a round-the-worlder) and Qingdao (in which son George is also circumnavigating) but has kept her blog going throughout lockdown. Her latest post – http://www.farncombeadventure.blog – George and John’s boating trip, a land-lubber’s guide to the Clipper Round The World Yacht Race = reflects on what she had planned and might have been doing now ……. in a COVID-free parallel universe. In fact, according to my diary we should all be sailing from Derry TODAY for the final race of the final leg. Eyeronic indeed!
I know “times is ‘ard” and I am not racing at the moment but the charities I am supporting are still working very hard and still need support….
For Diabetes UK and the National Autistic Society see:
A couple of days ago I woke to the heartening realisation that I had regained some of my sight. Only a slight improvement, but an improvement nonetheless. I can now see facial features within about 3 feet, which is good news ……… depending, of course, on who you are looking at! That was progress enough to prompt reaching for the razor and for removal, careful removal, of the beard!
However, that good news was tempered the following day, 17th March, with the news that Clipper plc have “pulled the plug” on the current edition of the Race, at least for the remainder of this year! The official Clipper announcement read as follows:
” With the ongoing global outbreak of Covid-19 and the enormous impact it has created on world wide travel, the Clipper 2019-20 Race has been postponed with immediate effect.
This decision has been in no way taken lightly. Our crew are currently under quarantine in Subic Bay, Philippines, where the Clipper Race fleet has been berthed since Sunday 15 March. The island of Luzon (where Subic Bay is located) is currently under ‘enhanced community quarenteed.’
In addition, the fleet was due to race across the North Pacific Ocean from 21 March towards Seattle. However, with the city currently in a state of emergency and travel and medical insurance restrictions in the United States, we could not allow our teams to depart without a viable destination. This, along with the growing global uncertainty on how the situation could develop in the coming months, meant postponing the race was the safest option for all involved.
Our first priority, as soon as the local quananteen has been lifted, will be to assist our crew in Subic Bay in travelling home from the Philippines as swiftly as possible.
The Clipper 2019-20 Race has three legs remaining. These stages will now be postponed for approximately ten months, when the remaining circumnavigation will be completed. This length of postponement allows for us to avoid adverse weather patterns on the remainder of our global route.
All Leg 6, 7 and 8 crew, along with our circumnavigators, will be able to rejoin the race when it resumes next year, All crew must complete refresher trading ahead of their joining leg. The postponement will have an impact on the timing of future races. The next full edition of the Clipper Race will start in the summer of 2022. More details on this will be confirmed at a later date.
We are extremely disappointed to postpone the remainder of the Clipper 2019-20 Race. We are proud of all our intrepid crew for having competed in this edition since it departed London, and look forward to welcoming all of our upcoming crew next year when the race continues. We are also grateful to all our crew, supporters and Race Paerners for their continued support.”
The Subic Bay quarantine saw all crews confined to the yachts/pontoons. Once lifted, the boats have been moth-balled and crews have made their way to homes across the world. I have been tracking the progress of my UNICEF team mates and friends in other yachts via various WhatsApp groups and social media. Holly Williams was the last crew member to leave UNICEF and the Skipper and AQP were amongst the last to leave the Philippines, I chatted with Danny Lee as he waited for a flight from Manila airport (others got out via Clark) and Angie arrived safely back in New Zealand around the time NZ closed the country to non-nationals. I know of at least one Brit trying to get to Canada via the US. At one point I commented that it was like watching some international version of The Great Escape, only to be told by John Dawson (my Mother Watch buddy from Durban to Fremantle on Leg 3) that the minibuses used to get crew out of Subic were stopped by road blocks along the routes to the airports, everyone had to get out, and their temperatures were taken at the roadside by Filipino soldiers! Mike Miller has described the experience of departure as a surreal dash through deserted paddy fields to catch one of the last flights out. Holly finally made it back to San Francisco (via Dubai!) late last night UK time.
The world is already a very different place in the 2 weeks since I lost the sight in my left eye. Clipper crew are rapidly adjusting to the “blank diary syndrome” I wrote about in my previous blog. In virtually all cases it is now “locked-down blank diary syndrome.” Circumnavigators, virtually all of whom will have given up jobs and most of whom will have sold/rented out accommodation, must now find something to do for at least the next 10 months. It will be interesting to see how many of us are in a position to resume Clipper next year and, given the pace of recent events, predicting anything 10 months out is too risky a business.
For the moment then I guess I had better rewrite the Home page of this website and, while I’m at it, update my JustGiving pages. And speaking of JustGiving, a huge congratulations to Graham Scarborough of team UNICEF. Graham’s wife, Lindy, has already done much in producing silver pennants and earrings (See Blog 70: Advert time…. go on, its for a great cause, published 2 August 2019). Graham, who I worked with on various projects during Prep Week back at the beginning of August last year (See Blog 86: Time Travel …… or rather TIME to wind back the clock, while I TRAVEL, published 7 October 2019), has just secured a donation of £20,000 to our UNICEF UK fund raising from a charitable foundation called the Birrane Foundation which was set up a good friend of Graham’s.Apart from the sum, which takes our team total pretty close to £100,000 (by FAR the most achieved by ANY boat in the fleet) this is all the more remarkable given that it was achieved in the midst of the current global/Clipper turmoil AND given that Graham has yet to complete in the race. He was due to join the yacht in Seattle in April.
To be continued ………….
For Diabetes UK and the National Autistic Society see:
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.
Diabetic retinopathy. The eye condition that affect people with diabetes.
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: