83. Life in The Time of Covid-19 (1)

I’m not sure I’ll be able to think of enough punning titles, hence the number. Most of the ones I had ready to use were related to sailing, oddly enough!

Day 0. Thursday 19th March 2020. I’ve mentioned this in Post 81 dated 20th March. Our wonderful driver Denis bought some essential supplies. We got to the flat and took an inventory of stores: one bottle gin, twelve cans tonic, nine bottles champagne (left over from John’s 70th birthday party), some Portuguese and Uruguayan wines bought to remember the first two Clipper stopovers. And the almost obligatory open bottle of sherry, in possibly every fridge in England, left over from some Christmas or other. Enough to drink then. Two tins sardines (another British favourite), one smoked oysters (to go with the champagne, dahling) and a bag of porridge oats. Plus two packets of biscuits from one of the boats.

Three tubes of toothpaste, shower gel, deodorant, shampoo. We will not be replicating Clipper fleet conditions, I’m glad to say. Twenty five toilet rolls. Lest you accuse me of being a hoarder (before we even knew there would be a run on them), let me explain. After I returned from Punta del Este I realised that, without a car, I would struggle to buy all the usual household items. I therefore ventured onto the computer and into the dark arts of online grocery shopping. Gosh, that was exciting! Long-life milk for when I arrived home on a 4.30 am flight, bottled water, washing powder and conditioner, toilet cleaner, and toilet rolls. When I came home the second time, after Cape Town, I was so impressed with my new-found ability that I ordered other stuff like biscuits and Earl Grey teabags and goats cheese. Unfortunately, I somehow managed to press some button that also repeated the whole of my first order. A big shock and embarrassment at the time but what a relief now. If necessary I can become a black market spiv and wander the streets of London with a loo roll hidden under each arm. Just imagine me being George Cole as Flash Harry in the original St Trinian’s film. Or James Beck as Private Walker in Dad’s Army if you’re too young for St Trinian’s. Whilst we’re all house bound, why not get the box sets? Innocent films for innocent times, although somewhat at odds with modern sensibilities.

Sorry, where was I? Ah yes, day 0. George went and did a bit of shopping and we coped with being stuck in a two bedroom flat with all the sailing paraphernalia of two Round-The-World sailors. Spread everywhere. Including the balcony and bedroom floor. Bought some lasagne meals from Cafe Society, at the bottom of the flats for supper.

Storage solution

Day 1. Friday 20th March. We unpacked and sorted stuff as best we could. Looked out at the view a lot. Did some exercises (George is taking this very seriously). Piano practice for both George and me. At 6 pm, it was announced that all pubs, restaurants etc would have to close until further notice, apart from doing takeaways.

Day 2. Saturday 21st March. I went down to Cafe Society and bought some cake to go with our afternoon tea. (There are scones in the freezer but we might need them in the future). The owner said he’ll stay open for the people in the building as long as he can. I suppose that technically I went outside, but only five paces. George went out to see what food he could find: there was a rumour that pubs would be selling off the surplus food they had bought in for Mothering Sunday this weekend but no trace was seen, all pubs locked up. He did very well though, one of the local supermarkets had enough for him to bring back food for a roast beef dinner. The only thing missing was Yorkshire puddings but we can survive. We ordered an Indian takeaway from Millbank Spice for our evening meal to celebrate, but as they didn’t deliver George had to pop out again. Exercises and piano practice.

JD exercising?

Day 3. Sunday 22nd March. Mothering Sunday. The first “event” that MBB have not missed since they set off last September! George gave me a card and mid-morning a box from the Hummingbird Bakery arrived, with a massive lemon and raspberry cake inside. What with slices of that plus the Sunday roast, you’d not think we were in lock-down. We skipped piano practice (sorry Caroline). All museums, galleries etc in London have closed. Typical, I’d bought memberships for the year. Even the London Eye has stopped. From the flat we could see a few people wandering around, nothing like the usual traffic but more than expected. The news showed queues of cars going to popular spots like Snowdonia and the beach.

Day 4. Monday 23rd March. Piano practice and exercises. We had a telephone conversation with our house sitters, who said they want to go back to the USA as soon as they can get their dogs certified fit for travel. We had resigned ourselves to remaining in London as we thought they’d want to stay in the depths of the country where they could bring up the drawbridge or batten down the hatches or whatever one does in deepest Somerset. Instead, we looked at going back imminently. George was happy with this decision as he was worried about going out and then bringing back infection whilst we were living in such close quarters.

Mother’s Day

JD had to find his car paperwork and get it back on the road. Although there’s a file called “car” it seems to have thrown out the logbook (actually one sheet of paper) in pique at being left alone. At 8.30 pm the PM came onto the TV (watched by 27 million people according to the statistics) and announced we would all have to stay at home. Not an order, but likely to become enforceable if we don’t start to be more sensible and “socially distance” ourselves. Would we be able to get home or would it be like The Philippines, with check points taking our temperatures and asking where we were going? If needed, we do have paperwork showing our home address.

And at this juncture I shall leave you for today. Will our intrepid adventurers manage to get home? Will the dogs and Captain Catt speak to them or sulk? Will Somerset be any different from London or will the pubs still be operating their own lock-ins (as opposed to lock-downs)? Stay tuned for the next thrilling instalment.

Monday morning rush hour

63. I Am Off To A Land Down Under!

Although I understand there are no certainties in sailing so maybe I should title this I hope I’m off…

A reader in Singapore! Welcome! Well I guess they may have read one entry and decided enough is enough, but who knows. My blog is going around the world.

I fled London on Saturday to go to Macclesfield to celebrate Keith’s birthday. You saw Keith in Cape Town, he’s one of the three bearded musketeers. I was lucky enough to have a window seat on the way up, except they seemed to have forgotten the window. We had a great evening though, 25 of Keith’s family and friends at Plum Kitchen. It looks like a sandwich bar but has a top chef who decided London was not for him. Lucky Macclesfield!

My window seat

On Monday Clipper published the first ETAs for Fremantle. As all eleven feature, the missile practices mentioned in Post 62 must have missed the fleet. I think George is going to beat me, he’s due in on Saturday morning (local Perth time) and I’m not leaving London until Saturday night. So much for my plan to arrive the first day of the arrival window to make sure I don’t miss them, they are likely to be two days before! Unicef, due to their emergency medical dash, are not due in until 18th, three days before the next race start. Before I leave I’ll update you on the situation, at the bottom of this Post.

Keith’s family at Plum Kitchen

If you want to catch up with John, he’s actually had a diary printed, here it is: https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/crew-diary/unicef/698 which although dated 2nd December did not appear until 4th, so you may have missed it.

Now officially announced, the race finish will be at Royal Albert Dock on August 8th 2020. https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/news/article/royal-albert-dock-confirmed-as-race-finish-partner-for-unforgettable-finale

This week has been one for Stealth mode. First Qingdao then Ha Long Bay then Imagine Your Korea then WTC Logistics then GoToBermuda. They’ve lost the wind so I guess they are hoping to sneak around the other boats.

Stowaway

The rest of my week in London was taken up with my Chinese visa application, finances and meeting up with pals. I hadn’t realised how much financial stuff John handled until he gave it all to me to sort out. Every time I return there seem to be more bills. To counteract all of this I have walked around London: Pimlico to Parliament to Trafalgar Square to Oxford Circus one day, stopping to have lunch at Thai Square with Stephen, an ex-work colleague. Also to the other end of Pimlico to have dinner at La Poule au Pot (where I used to go when I lived in London in my youth) with one Clipper pal and to Victoria to have lunch at Browns with another Clipper pal (not on the same day). Another day, around the City of London, partly because I turned the wrong way out of the Tube on my way to a meeting and was 15 minutes late instead of (as planned) 15 minutes early. Oops.

This time packing, I remembered my toiletries before I sealed the case. As Australia has very strict import rules I removed the cat you see above from my case and left her in Macclesfield. I also, regrettably, left behind my Earl Grey teabags as they are not allowed either. Will I survive? I can probably buy them there. I hope. If the next blog post is unexpectedly ratty you’ll know they don’t sell them in Oz.

Spot my clothes!

Once again I was asked by Clipper supporters to take things out for the crew. As they will be at sea for both Christmas and New Year, this mostly consisted of Christmas presents and celebratory items. I have a small (artificial) Christmas tree in one case with a few presents and cards as well as Santa hats, beards (like they need THOSE), elf hats etc. In the other are two boxes of New Year fripperies, as you can see above. I have now decided that I am not taking anything else for anybody to any other destinations. For the last two trips I would have managed with one case for myself, more to the point I don’t think there are any other celebrations due. No point taking Easter eggs, they’ll only smash on the way then melt.

At Keith’s party the talk around me was obviously of Clipper. To try to get into the mood we decided to eat leaning at 45 degrees. As we weren’t sure which way to lean we tried both. I prefer my way of travelling thank you very much.

Heeling to Port?
And starboard. Or vice versa,

I think I’m ready for my six-week Australian adventure. I’m leaving London at about 10C and getting to Perth at about 35C. Even though I’m arriving very early at the start of the arrival window, I’ll arrive after the first four or five boats. It changes hour to hour so you’ll need to check the Race Viewer https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/race/standings every hour, but the first three (Qingdao, Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam and Imagine Your Korea) could conceivably arrive before I’ve even left the UK. Not only will I miss giving George and pals a big hug as they come in but I’ll then have another ten days before John and Unicef are predicted to arrive. To cheer us up, here’s John’s pennant on display, I see it every time I go to bed.

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?