44. Leg 1 Race 1

Picking up from Post 43, I headed off to Southend to make sure the boats really did leave with MBB aboard on Monday morning. Forgetting that the nights were drawing in, I arrived in darkness and exited at the end of the platform. I asked the ticket collector where the pier was and was greeted by a blank stare. As I walked down the street, hoping to find some helpful landmark, I contrasted the Dickens Inn at SKD with the one I was walking past, not favourably I regret to say.

St Katherine’s Docks

Maybe it was the lack of sunshine or maybe the lack of people around. I kept going and found myself in a deserted high street. Well, it was a Sunday night, I’m sure the place is packed on a Saturday.

Southend

I continued under the railway bridge and suddenly all was revealed: very clear signposts at every corner so I knew which way to go. As I marched down to the hotel I came across two other Clipper bods, Jo who will be on Unicef for Leg 7 (I think, I’m sure I’ll be corrected if not) and her partner Vicks. A welcome sight, they turned round and escorted me back to the hotel. At check-in the receptionist noted I’d not booked breakfast, for a mere £9.50 I could add it in. Without thinking I agreed and paid there and then. Vicks, Jo and I then headed off to the best restaurant in town or possibly the only one that was still open at 9.30 on a Sunday night: Nando’s. Can I confess that, in addition to this being my first time in Southend, I was also a Nando virgin? True. It was fascinating to learn that you ordered and paid before sitting down, a bit like an old fashioned fish and chip shop.

The next morning I woke up to see the sea and the fleet. As it is now officially winter the door to my sea view balcony was locked to prevent me going out and slipping on the ice. I opened it as far as possible, slid my hand out and took the best picture I could. Another confession, we did not go on the fairground rides after Nando’s, which I’m sure we should have done.

As it is difficult to tell who is who I have another shot for you, of Race Viewer from the Clipper website. You’ll probably be seeing a lot of this, either via me or because you too can become addicted. Here you can see Adventure World marked, in the foreground of the shot above, and the pier stretching out to sea. The eleven Clippers are there, we are interested in the red one (Qingdao) and the mid-blue one to the very left (Unicef). You can also see the race start marked and the line they would take in an ideal world (the rhumb line). OK, if you are a sailor and reading this I know I’ve simplified but if totally incorrect please post a comment so that everyone else can see what it really is.

Having greeted the day I strolled down to breakfast with eager anticipation. Let me give you a hint: if they make you pay upfront for a meal then don’t let your hopes get too high. (That’s a bit harsh as Nando’s was perfectly acceptable). Breakfast consisted of coffee from a machine that sang a little ditty as it dispensed the brown fluid, a choice of three sugary cereals, sliced white bread with a toaster, pain au chocolate and an empty croissant basket. NO Earl Grey. Jo and Vicks, having arrived a bit earlier the night before and therefore more alert at checking in, had decided against the indoor feast and gone down to the local Costa. Probably cheaper and definitely a wider choice. We could also have chosen from two Greggs or two McDonalds, all within a ten minute waddle of the hotel. Here we have Clipper supporters arriving for the race, not waddling I’m happy to say.

Southend Pier is the longest in the UK or maybe the world, depending upon the source you consult. It’s over a mile anyway, and there is a train that runs from the shore to the end. We understood that the train would not be running so early but we could walk along and arrive in time to see the fleet setting their sails. The first hint of trouble came in the form of various WhatsApp messages from supporters who’d caught the early train from London and were now queuing by the pier waiting for it to open at 8.45. We arrived about 8.50 and saw a few people going up the stairs to the walkway so followed them, only to be stopped by the ticket lady telling us there was a barrier there (to be honest, there was a bit of cord across half the stairway) and we weren’t allowed up. We’d have to catch the train at 9.00. After a mild altercation we did so, paying £5.35 for the privilege. I could have saved myself 50p by deciding to walk back but not knowing how long we’d be standing I decided to splash out. It looked a long way.

Finally we arrived at our destination. It was fantastic, the boats were incredibly close and milling around practicing with their sails and stuff. Here are our two boats, I think you may just be able to make out MBB if you squint.

They were close enough to wave to us and were also getting very close to each other, although I don’t think they were as close as they look in the next two shots. Maybe they were practicing ship-to-ship transfers.

Qingdao and Zhuhai
Unicef and Ha Long Bay

In Post 43 I mentioned my special beanie that had been knitted for me by Sue. It’s reversible so you can be a supporter of either boat. Here I decided to wear it low so it appears that I’m supporting Columbia, although it should be red/blue/yellow rather than blue/yellow/red. It was nice and warm in the early morning breeze. I know George spotted it and I think John did too, I’ll have to check.

With the boats jockeying for position it was all a bit frantic. There was a ten minute gun that made us all jump, one at four minutes then the last at one minute. You want to be at the line not over it or you’ll incur penalty points. For this race there was a “leader” but we were unable to work out who it was as they were all so close. Prior to the race you can see here that it was a melee with them facing every which way.

But all became organised and here they are with their spinnakers flying heading towards the open sea.

Except for poor Seattle, who got their spinnaker in a muddle (technical term?)

We jumped up and down and whooped and generally made as much noise as we could, then calmed down and most of us walked back along the pier enjoying the sun. A surprising number of spectators had come along knowing nothing about Clipper, they just knew there was a load of yachts going off for a race, but one chap had raced in CV26 in a previous iteration and was planning a round the world cruise in a 62 footer next year. I found a Waterstones on my way back to the station so I was happy, I bought a Portuguese phrase book to remind me of some basics for next week and a couple of Science Fiction books as I’m getting a bit low, only 20 or so in my diminished library here in London. Now that I’ve finished knitting en masse I can get back to piano and reading (not at the same time silly). I enjoyed myself so much in Southend I even ended up buying a return train ticket! To put it another way, the sun was shining on the screen of the ticket machine and I didn’t realise I was buying a return until it was spat out. Still, if I do go again in the next year I’ll be able to travel back to London “for free”.

I’ll leave you with my final view of the fleet as I walked back along the pier, heading off towards a tanker and into the sun. NO, I can’t stop here, the race viewer is addictive and as I write (Thursday morning) both OBB are thinking of a podium finish. There are some days left before they reach port and plans can go wrong but they’re showing that they can do it! I’m out for the day with no internet access, how will I cope?

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