Advent, Nautical Flashbacks & Happy Christmas

Advent has been a period of flashbacks for me, for reasons I will explain in this blog.

I had a COVID19 test during the first week of Advent. It was my second such test. The first was to get the all clear for my Vitrectomy back in August (See blog 117: “Vitrectomy – everything you didn’t know you didn’t want to know!!!” published 11 August 2020, and Blog 118: “7 post-op paragraphs. If you’re squeamish you might want to skip para 5 AND the video”, published 19 August 2020) – Flashback number one. This latest effort was to give me the all clear to visit the newest edition to the family, Quinn Rebekah Winstanley, born to Alastair and Sarah on the morning of 2nd December. The fact that she was already over a week old when I first met her is not, for me, anything unusual, having been away at sea for her father’s birth thirty-odd years ago and for her eldest aunt’s birth a few years later. Flashback numbers two and three.

With Alastair I was returning to the UK from a short deployment to the Mediterranean in the frigate HMS BOXER. He was born while I was doing the morning watch (0400-0800), and instructing in the joys of longish-range coastal navigation while heading north just outside Portuguese territorial waters. I still have the the Admiralty chart I was using at the time and by one of those quirky coincidences in life, the line of regular navigation fixes is broken at a time coincident with Alastair’s birth, although I didn’t find out about his arrival until much later in the day. It was the 13th of December. Interestingly (to me at least!) the anniversary of the Battle of The River Plate – the one naval engagement I was quizzed about at my Admiralty Interview Board prior to joining up and the subject I selected for a 15 minute “talk” I had to give as a Midshipman at the Naval College. As a major visual aid I spent a considerable time drawing a quite detailed chart of the South Atlantic and the tracks and positions of the various ships involved, in various coloured chalks, on a very large roller-rotating black board. About 10 years later, while visiting the Naval College, I discovered the drawing was still there! Flashback number four. Wind forward a few years after Alastair’s arrival and in the early morning of 13 December 1989 in HMS UPTON I came across a French trawler fishing just outside the UK 12-mile limit. Having illuminated the ship’s Fishery Protection Squadron markings and called the vessel in French by VHF of my intention to conduct a routine boarding and inspection, the vessel in question promptly hauled his nets and took off in the general direction ….. of France! Cue some interesting early morning phone calls to the Ministry of Ag and Fish in London, similar radio calls with my own HQ in Scotland, a high speed chase, the uncovering of our 40/60 Bofors gun on the foc’stle and (my favourite bit) some entirely legal but nevertheless exciting close quarters manoeuvring to “encourage” the fishing vessel to “turn” away from the (relative) “security” of French waters. After the fourth such manoeuvre he realised the game was up, stopped, was boarded, and – on the discovery of undersized nets and undersized fish, was arrested and escorted into Brighton for subsequent court appearance in Lewis Magistrates Court. It has been interesting to observe many “on-line fishery protection experts” on social media this Advent with absolutely no idea what they are talking about. Flashback number five!

And that was all a rather roundabout way of getting to flashback number six and my decision to bake Alastair a birthday cake. To be delivered on the day I first met Quinn, the day before her father’s birthday, thus putting at least some of my Clipper skills to use this Advent – see Blog 20: “Masterbaking ….. or ….. Mother Watch preps …..or ….’If I knew you were coming I’d have baked a cake.'” published 4 September 2018.

With Geoff and the first cakes baked on Leg 2 from Punta del Este to Cape Town

Meanwhile, back in the Old Vicarage, Ruth’s homemade advent calendar, replete with chocolates, has replaced my “inspirational” Clipper poster, in the kitchen for the Christmas season. Unlike this time last year (Flashback number seven) this advent calendar stays pretty much upright and the chocolates do not, from time to time, deposit themselves over the deck in a heeling or pitching yacht. This time last year the CV31 advent calendar hung in a similar position overlooking the CV31 “kitchen.”

This time last year (pm 23 Dec and flashback number eight) I had just returned to the UK from Fremantle having completed Leg 3 from Cape Town to Western Australia only 48 hours previously. I had been away since 7 October.

Leg 3 started with our departure from Cape Town on 17 November (See Blog 98: “So long Cape Town. It’s been a blast! Leg 3 (Race 4) starts TODAY!” published 17 November 2019, having completed our crew briefings the day before.

Departing Cape Town

We were probably a little over-powered in terms of our sail configuration for Race Start and found ourselves towards the back of the Fleet as we sailed south out of Cape Bay. We were, however, still ion the race until Punta del Este and Sanya who, in the close quarters manoeuvring during the race in the Bay, had collided and both yachts had to return alongside for damage assessment and subsequent repairs. Thankfully no one was injured but it served to prove the old adage that you can’t win the leg at Race Start, but you can soon lose it. We had escaped injury completely as, working opposite Mike Willis on the main grinder during the opening, I had managed to cut open part of the top of my right hand. The cut, about 3cm or so long, wasn’t too deep and I hadn’t even noticed I had done it until we settled down to watchkeeping racing. I got it cleaned up and covered and didn’t think anything more of it.

The first few days saw us beating south followed by some downwind sailing, passing the southern tip of South Africa and heading further south towards the Southern Ocean. It was a “bit bouncy” onboard at first but not as bad as it had been for the second half of our South Atlantic crossing and spirits were high. We rather fell out of the back of the first wind system on Day 4 and lost some ground but by that time we had completed a full round of sailing manoeuvres – tacks, gybes, kite hoists and drops and Yankee changes and by that stage our final two cases of Leg 3 seasickness were back on deck. We were well placed. Day 5 had started well under grey, windswept and drizzly skies, beam reaching under white sails and making good speed once again towards Australia. In even better news, the Mother Watch had located the Golden Syrup to go with the porridge that morning. Unfortunately Andrew Toms was to develop fairly severe appendicitis and after just 5 days we were left with no choice but to “put about” and head back to South Africa.

On Day 5 it was my turn to write the crew blog for publication on the official Clipper website. My title – “Here We Go …. Back to South Africa” was both a play on words – quoting our crew signature tune/song (see Blog 80: “Here We Go” published 7 October 2019) and an announcement of our about turn. This is what I wrote:

We really are one big UNICEF team family. Race crew afloat, those crew members who have already finished their Clipper Race adventure and those waiting expectantly for their adventure to begin. Our extended UNICEF team includes ALL our families, friends and supporters, some who provide fantastic personal support including victualling and even helping out with sail repair during stopovers, and those who support is geographically distant but just as strong and just as welcome. Today, some family plans are on hold as the UNICEF family team afloat does what it is really good at and looks after one of its own in need of help and support. We are sailing back towards South Africa – ion the general direction of Durban. A prudent measure to seek timely external medical support for crew member Andrew Toms, the detail of his condition having been released by a Clipper Race press release earlier today. Andrew is comfortable and resting. Our onboard medical team of Skipper Ian, Holly, Anthonie and John are giving Andrew excellent care, ably supported by long range advice from PRAXES. We are in good shape and hope to re-join the race to Australia just as soon as we can. But first things first. Andrew needs us to sail as safely, accurately and as fast as we always do, only this time not quite in the direction we had intended. But the family comes first. The Race will still be there when we next turn around. We will be back.”

It took us slightly longer to get back to Durban, even than I had calculated, due to a combination of things including unhelpful weather (not ENOUGH wind) strong currents, and a requirement to preserve fuel which limited our ability to motor. It was the evening of Day 9 (26 Nov) when we finally made it alongside into Durban, escorted over the last 15 miles by two NSRI lifeboats. The local harbourmaster and customs and immigration teams coordinated things with commendable flexibility so we could land our casualties without the time consuming immigration clearances. Rob Stewart, a local who had just completed Leg 2 on Imagine Your Korea, arranged for fuel and victuals which we loaded in double quick time.

By this time, unfortunately, Andy was not our only “casualty.” Sandra Marichal had badly cut her right hand during a sail change. The cut was bad, and deep, and required stiches from our medical team led by Holly. Sandra was to be confined below decks for a couple of weeks. The very next day I awoke with my right hand badly swollen. The wound I had picked up on Day 1 was now badly infected. Holly opened up the wound using a scalpel, cleaned it all up, strapped my hand to an empty plastic bottle to immobilise it and put me on a course of anti-biotics. I was confined below decks for 4 days and, thereafter, wore a very fetching blue marigold glove on my right hand to keep the dressing dry when working on deck. Much, much more seriously, Thomas Henklemann had already suffered a very series fall on deck, somersaulting through his safety tether and planting his face on the deck on the other side of the boat. His face was horribly bruised and he lost 5 teeth. He was also landed in Durban and we subsequently discovered he had broken his jaw.

The first day of Advent (flashback ,,,, I’ve lost count!) was also a Sunday and John Dawson (JD) and I were on Mother Watch, the original watches having been shuffled after landing Andy and Thomas. It was also Funday- Sunday and I’ve explained a little of what that entailed in Blog 106: “Sophie’s Choice” published on 20 January 2020. Santa (in the form of Kiwi Keith) was due at lunchtime and I had been “selected” to argue the case for Seb Ramsey to be given his Christmas presents. Someone else was argue the case against. It was during Funday-Sundays that we also wrote, practiced and finally performed our own Leg 3 version of The 12 Days of Christmas.

My somewhat “spirited” advocacy on behalf of Seb
The 12 Days of Christmas. The words can be seen in Blog 99: “The 12 Days of Christmas (ish!)” published on 9 January 2020.

JD was definitely the “brains behind our Mother Watch team. That evening we “celebrated” Advent Sunday by producing a very passable attempt at a full roast dinner but (in my view) our culinary piece-de-resistance was our version of Kedgeree produced largely based on tuna and onions – pretty much all we had left when we cooked this treat up on the evening of Day THIRTY TWO. Actually I was continually impressed with ALL the cooking produced by my crew mates. There were some stunning soups, pizzas, all sorts of treats and plenty of cakes. Standards never dropped even when the store cupboards got increasingly empty with no obvious signs of the Australian coast. My own performance was not flawless. I did once put day-old milk into the “resting” porridge soaking for the following morning. While I, and can I suggest the more robust-of-stomach, found the resulting taste – “interesting” – it clearly did not suit those with more discerning palates. My cake and bread making was generally successful but my single attempt to produce a gluten-free loaf late one evening produced something that a brick-layer would have been proud of. When it was unceremoniously confined to the deep I wasn’t concerned about the impact on marine life but I did consider it might be a danger to shipping.

On day 23 (10 December) it was my turn again with the official crew blog and this time I wrote:

Okay so…… do I tempt fate? The $64,000 question for me over the last 24 hours or so is not about ETAs or about rearranging pre-Christmas travel plans. It’s much simpler than that. Is this the last blog I will write before we arrive in Fremantle and, by extension, is this the last blog from the BigBlueBoat until I re-join in Zhuhai for Leg 6 across the North Pacific? And if it is my final blog until next Spring, what do I say? Or is thinking aloud like that really just tempting fate? Are there yet more twists to play out? A confident prediction of an ETA in Western Australia would undoubtedly help but you will search in vain for one of those from me just yet…. There is a poster out there somewhere with the strap line “No Ordinary Race, No Ordinary People” or something very similar. I suspect it can be applied to every boat in the Fleet. It can certainly be applied to this boat and most definitely to this leg. To quote a numerically challenged football pundit, for UNICEF this leg has been a race of three halves. The circumstances of each “half” have been well documented elsewhere. From my perspective our first half was not unlike our start to Leg 2 and I remained quietly confident that we were well placed to move up the leader board as the distance to Fremantle fell. We had already achieved something similar in challenging conditions on the way to Cape Town. A repeat was on the cards. Cue twist number one and our “second half” – the medivac to Durban. That Andy was safely and successfully operated on within four hours of our arrival is testament to the urgency and the prudence of our diversion. That we turned the BigBlueBoat around, refuelled and re-provisioned within two hours is testament to fantastic support from a myriad of sources. Oh ….. and to our own efforts.

We are not the first Clipper Race boat to carry out a diversionary medevac and we won’t be the last. Let’s hope all futute medical diversions will be as successful. Cue the “third half” of Leg 3, our “endurance non-race” to Fremantle. Sure, we are not experiencing the 5m – 8m swells, the cold, the surfing conditions and the breaking waves/wash downs that we experienced in the South Atlantic. Sure, for many of us this is not now the leg we signed up for. But to think our race is not challenging right now is to underestimate the mental and psychological challenges of uncertainty at sea. Of not knowing when we will make Fremantle. Of not knowing how long we will have available to turn the boat around in preparation for Leg 4 to give our round-the-worlders some kind of a break and to give them and our new-leggers the best possible shot at a successful Leg 4. On a personal note I hadn’t realised how much the racing aspect of the Clipper Race and competing against the leading boats meant to me. Not until we stopped doing it that is. And at that time we still had over 4000 miles to sail. And we are still in a most inhospitable and potentially dangerous environment, still over 1800 miles from Australia. No Ordinary Race. You can say that again!

For Anthonie, Mike, Sophie, Rob, Tim, and Kiwi Keith the end of this Leg (whenever it comes!) will mark the end of their Clipper adventure. For Kiwi this started on the last edition of the Race and will mark his successful circumnavigation. Getting HIM away from South Africa has been quite an effort. We are ALL looking forward to help him celebrate. Seb, John Dillon and I also disembark in Australia but the three of us will return for the North Pacific leg next year. Sailing with these people (plus Jez, Christian, Sheila, Gareth and Joe who left after Leg 2, and those who will join me on Legs 6 and 8 next year) has been what the Clipper Race has really been all about for me. Being part of THIS team. These people, and people like them, make this the fantastic, unique experience it is. I don’t know when I am getting off the UNICEF boat but I already can’t wait to return. No Ordinary People? You can say that again, too.

And finally, at least for the moment, a huge shout-out to everyone following our progress. A special thank you to my eldest daughter Heather and one of her “clients” in particular,; to my son Alastair who will not be surprised I am at sea for his birthday on the 13th given that I was at sea the day he was born; and to my autistic daughter, Rebekah, whose ability to overcome all the challenges in her life gives me the inspiration and motivation to dig deep when required. To Emma and Kate for their support to their Mum and to my wife and No1 supporter, Ruth. See you all (sometime) soon.”

Ironically Ruth posted to these pages that very same day (See Blog 96: “A Message From Mary” published 10 December 2019) in which (amongst other things) she wrote:

“However its great to see they have support from so many people – the video below was sent out to the boat via Keith’s daughter, Heather,. The crew have all seen it with a big thanks to Heather and to Mary it was a great boost to morale. Let’s hope the cooking onboard goes from strength to strength – and Keith shares his new found skill when he gets home!”

And the sailing went on …….. and on …………. and on. Spectacular sunsets and sunrises, abundant wildlife, great star-lit celestial canopies and even the odd lightning storm. But we didn’t see another living soul until we were overflown by an Australian coastguard aircraft “Rescue 440” on 19 December (Day 32). We were still about 200 nautical miles from Fremantle at that stage.

There were many many other highlights in the sailing that followed including an all night, all-hands sail repair effort to a damaged spinnaker, the biggest pod of dolphins I have EVER seen, the sterling efforts of Geoff McGillivray and Andrew Eells in mustering every last morsel of food (and potential food!) onboard to see us through to Australia and the amazing inventiveness of Mother-Watches- various to turn it into something delicious. We didn’t escape further injury and I remember seeing my good friend Mike Willis being knocked over by a wave and falling as he and I went off watch one night. I was in the hatchway just going below when Mike fell, breaking his ribs. Mike had left England at Race Start with the aim of completing Legs 1, 2 and 3 and thus sailing to Australia. He was in considerable pain for the last couple of weeks and spent the first full day in Australia in Fremantle hospital where he also discovered he had punctured his lung. I helped him buy luggage he didn’t have to carry on the Saturday and on the Sunday he and I made it to Perth airport together for our separate return flights.

The last few crew blog entries were, understandably, quite reflective as Australia appeared on our electronic charts and land grew closer. On the final day at sea the skipper recorded in his blog that “another great chapter comes to an end.” “After 33 days and 6500nm at sea” he recorded that his “salt encrusted keyboard” needed “a rest.” He closed by saying, “I consider this leg to be an absolute success. I am extremely grateful for the UNICEF crew efforts and proud of our achievement.” I remember standing by the starboard sheets in the dark as we approached Fremantle to port with a number of my colleagues, laughing and joking and reminiscing about what had been something of an epic passage. Virtually everyone of us leaving the boat this time around had missed flights and had made re-arrangements one way or the other. That night we were eventually met by the Australian immigration and customs officials who cleared us for entry by confirming our identities against our passports under flashlight at the front of the boat. A pretty interesting exercise given what we all looked like at the time. The Leg had one final twist for us all. Unable to clear the BOAT fully for customs so late at night, we were only allowed ashore in what we were wearing plus ……. one wash bag. We would need to collect and land our kit the following day. Undeterred we headed for the yacht club and a “welcome to Fremantle party.” Finally, at gone midnight, I made it to the hotel Ruth had managed to book for me and walked pretty much fully dressed into the shower. After all – I was wearing the same clothes tomorrow and, like me, they most definitely needed a wash!

Met by Angie at the Fremantle “welcome party.” This might have been pre-beer!
Andrew Eells, Rob de Gidlow, Geoff McGillivray, me, Keith Williams and Danny Lee at Fremantle yacht club the following day. Definitely post shower, post beard trim (for some!) and during beer!

Stafford train station to Manchester airport, 10,597 nautical miles at sea and a journey via … Buenos Aires, Argentina … Montevideo, Uruguay … 4050 nautical miles across the South Atlantic … Cape Town, South Africa … a medical emergency diversion and 2 hours alongside in Durban, South Africa … 6547 nautical miles across the Southern Ocean/Southern Indian Ocean (should have been 4750 nautical miles WITHOUT the diversion) … 48 hours in Fremantle Western Australia … and 9 hours in Dubai airport!

Merry Christmas!

For Diabetes UK and the National Autistic Society see


Please take a look. Thank You.

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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