72. Just Another Manic Monday

Post 71 attracted more readers than ever before. Sorry folks if you thought I had the answer to what’s happening with the fleet. It’s like I’m in a holding pattern, waiting to see where I get diverted to and have I enough fuel or time to get there? I’ve decided to get on with my life until we have firm news from Clipper on where the fleet are going to land up, then I’ll decide whether I’m going there as well (whether it’s possible as much as whether I want to).

What have I being doing, you ask? Apart from emails from the boss asking me to buy yet more socks, I’ve been enjoying London culture. I’m starting to have a routine: piano practice (yes honestly, but I had to start at my Grade 1 book again as I’d forgotten where Middle C was. Oops!) then a 15 minute or so walk in the fresh air. The Garden Museum is about that far and I love it. The latest exhibition is about the Royal Parks. I hadn’t realised that the pelicans have been in St James’ Park since 1664, a present from the Russian ambassador. Nor that there were piggeries in Hyde Park and potato fields in Richmond and Bushy Parks during World War II. It may yet happen again now that we need to be self-reliant and not rely on imported food.

Parade of Sail, Sydney Harbour, New Year’s Eve

After my walk it’s a free day. So far I’ve been to see Touching the Void play and Mitsuko Uchida play (and conduct) Mozart at the Royal Festival Hall. These were both amazing. I’ve had six days where I’ve met up with pals, some pre-existing and some from Clipper. I’ve had a hair cut and done a bit of shopping for JD (oh, have I already mentioned that?). I have had a complete blank in my diary for three days of the first fortnight back. Bliss! The laundry and shopping don’t do themselves (although I’m working on it. Anyone want to be my valet?).

If you’ve read the book or seen the film of Touching the Void you must wonder how on earth they managed to put it on stage. It was visually fascinating, set in a pub with imaginative use of tables and chairs up the theatre sides as climbing walls. On one part, where they were falling into the crevasse, they were lying on tables facing the audience but it looked as though they were falling down into the darkness. It’s soon to finish but if you have time to spare then it’s well worth the trip to London. Very intense though so be prepared.

View from my seat (before the performance)

The other performance, at the Royal Festival Hall, you can’t see, although you might be able to see a similar performance. Mitsuko Uchida, DBE, who will be 71 this year, is a highly talented classical pianist and is currently the Artistic Partner of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. Here they played Mozart’s Piano Concertos 17 and 22: she conducted the orchestra from her piano as well as playing. The music was sublime, I bought my seat at the last minute and I’m sure it was one of the best in the hall. It made me realise that my piano playing is like painting-by-numbers versus Manet or Turner. If you think she merely played the score as written, then I found out that Mozart played a lot of his own music and often didn’t leave a proper score to follow. The concert was about two hours but I could have listened all night. It’s not music you hum along to like Abba or Queen (well, I don’t) but you get lost in it when they’re playing. One thing I’ve yet to work out: the drummer (sorry, percussionist) kept resting his nose gently on the drums. Testing for vibrations? Answers on a postcard please (or via the comment section of this blog).

View from my seat (after the performance)

Talking of the comment section, thank you to all who commented either this way or off line to say how relieved you were that I’m not going to China. The trip was preying on my mind so I’m glad the decision was made for me by the FCO.

I guess at some stage I need to mention the Race. They are now through the Doldrums Corridor and have passed over the Equator again so are back in the Northern Hemisphere. Those new leggers who had not crossed the Equator (pollywogs) had a visit from King Neptune and all are now shellbacks. I still don’t know how tadpoles become turtles, must be something to do with evolution. However, the Trade Winds have not yet appeared (Sunday night) so if you look at Race Viewer they seem to be milling around with no obvious line of sail. (If you’ve forgotten where to find this, go to https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/race/standings and click on the windsock to see wind speeds (or lack thereof)). Blue is bad and has been there for days. A few boats have been in or are in Stealth mode. The boredom on the boats has been relieved by them playing Assassin, not a game I’d come across but a bit like Cluedo. Each crew member has a weapon, a place and a fellow member to murder. If successful, you get the victim’s “cards” and so have another murder to commit. I guess you need to be in an enclosed space to play it well.

Which way should we go?

The Scoring Gate has been passed and the results are: Ha Long Bay (HLB) three points, WTC Logistics two points and Dare to Lead (DTL) one point. This is great for DTL as it’s their first bonus point. It’s not so great for Qingdao as HLB is now only two points behind them. It’s getting exciting!

…It’s now the Manic Monday of today’s title. I started off with trying to sort out finances. Having gone to the bank on Friday without some of the documents I needed, I went back today with everything, I thought. All went well until he asked “security” questions like what direct debits had been cancelled in the last year and when did I open the business account (I didn’t even know I had one). After an hour all seemed to be sorted but I now need to investigate this business account, apparently it has money in it!

Are we there yet?

That wasn’t the real manic bit though. At 1300 today, the Clipper office announced that the fleet would not be going into Sanya (think we’d worked that one out) but they WILL be going into Subic Bay early and staying there for “a minimum of nine days”, with the arrival window estimated to start on 13th February. NEXT WEEK! Much liaison between supporters as it’s recommended you don’t stay alone out there. Yes, dear reader, I’m about to be your foreign correspondent again, not from China though. I managed to get the last room in a hotel close to Subic Bay marina. Also, the fleet now have a bit of orange and red to the winds so should speed up. Just not too fast please, I need to be there first. You’ll also see that the race end has been updated to Subic Bay.

If you’ve read enough from me, here’s a crew diary from Angie that mentions JD’s culinary skills. https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/crew-diary/unicef/1046 and one from the man himself https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/crew-diary/unicef/1048

Philippines, here I come!

69. Slow Boats To China

This race, being race 6 and the start of Leg 5, is certainly off to a slow start. This race was meant to start on Saturday 18th January, the day I left. The plan was to have the Parade of Sail (PoS) then motor beyond the Great Barrier Reef after which there would be a Le Mans start (see below for explanation of this if you are interested). John went off to the Unicef boat to prepare. About an hour later I had a frantic phone call: “can you book me back into our room for another two days? The start has been delayed”. I rushed down to reception where I was told I was the third in as many minutes! Mission accomplished, I proceeded to tell other supporters what was going on. Three or four water makers had broken down on the way into Airlie Beach and the spare parts had not arrived in time but would be there shortly. The PoS would go ahead then the whole fleet would return and go out when they were all ready. The good news was that all crew had a spare day with NO TASKS! The fact that I was not there probably made it even more relaxing. If you read the official announcement on the Clipper website you’ll see that Sir Robin downplays the situation: he “averaged a litre a day for 312 days but… in these days people expect more”. He doesn’t say whether his litre included the beers and brandy he took with him (see his book “A World of My Own” for his epic trip 50 years ago).

Jetty at our hotel

The fleet left Airlie Beach properly on Monday and duly motored beyond the Great Barrier Reef through Hydrographers Passage, a deep-water shipping channel discovered by Lieutenant Commander James Bond (not that one I’m afraid), of the Royal Australian Navy survey ship HMAS Flinders, in the 1980s. H.M.A.S. Flinders was awarded the Royal Geographic Society of Australasia’s J.P. Thomson Foundation Medal as a tribute to its accomplishment ā€” “a valuable and permanent benefit to Australia’s maritime trade.” Commander Bond, on behalf of the officers and men of Flinders, accepted the gold medal from H.R.H. The Duke of Kent in Brisbane in April 1985. (Ref. Through the Barrier ā€” The Hydrographers Passage Story by John C. H. Foley Presented at a meeting of the Society 27th August, 1987). https://espace.library.uq.edu.au/data/UQ_205745/s00855804_1988_13_5_171.pdf?

Washing Day on the boats

Back to the race. The Le Mans start is used when it’s not safe or convenient to have the usual start, and was developed by Clipper. In essence, once it’s safe to do so, all the boats get into a straight line two to three boat lengths apart, (in an order decided by Clipper at the Crew Briefing before they leave port) with the Lead Skipper in the middle. All the crew on every boat are at the back of the boat until the signal is given, then they rush forwards and sort out the sails and start racing. Full details can be found here: https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/uploads/annex-a-to-clipper-2019-20-race-sailing-instructions.pdf

Victualling In The Sun

Another useful bit of information comes in Jeronimo’s skipper report of 23rd January on what happens when the fleet come into a stopover. Much as the crew would like to rest, you’ll realise from previous posts in this blog that I don’t get to see MBB much during the day. Here’s why: https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/skipper-report/punta-del-este/race6-day4-team42 although I think only two days for victualling is optimistic. And the second part: https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/skipper-report/punta-del-este/race6-day5-team42

This sail should be ONE PIECE!

What’s that I hear? An anguished cry around the world? Enough about the bally boats! We didn’t sign up to this blog to hear all this sailing guff. Where’s our intrepid narrator? Last we heard, she was celebrating her birthday all alone and deserted by MBB (OK, am I overdoing this aspect? Too much martyrdom?).

Hotel jetty at night. So romantic!

Fear not gentle reader. I survived the beautiful Whitsundays, neither eaten by a shark nor stung to death by the dreaded “stingers” (don’t you just love the Australians? Why use confusing names when a simple word will do). These are the Irukandji and Chironex fleckeri or Box Jellyfish. A sting can be life-threatening. It’s recommended that if going into the water (even paddling), a full Lycra body suit is worn. By the beach we saw a BIG sign warning people, if stung, to wash the area with two litres of vinegar and call medical help immediately. At the side of this sign was a holster with a bottle of vinegar in it. I should have taken a photo but instead you’re having to put up with the sights of Airlie Beach and the yachts.

Not exactly a racing vessel

But I digress. Airlie Beach was the perfect place to do nothing but sunbathe (for health reasons, to top up vitamin D you understand), eat, drink, read books (More Abell Men, a local book; The Outside by Ada Hoffmann, an interesting SF book about AI; and Sunfall by Jim Al-Khalili, who is at my alma mater of the University of Guildford) and swim. All of which we did. As well as a bit of work for Unicef crew, sail repairing and victualling, as you can see from the photos in this post.

R&R

53. South of Rio

Back to my trip. I set off from London on Wednesday 9th October for a ten pm flight to Sao Paulo. I had to change here for a flight to Punta del Este: it was meant to be a five hour layover but the flight was delayed so I arrived in Punta at half four on Thursday 10th, with an hour’s taxi drive to the hotel close to the port. Thankfully not cancelled like Portimao! I didn’t know it at the time but there were at least another four Clipper people on the same flight. As I walked to the gate, I noticed this, with two of the five destinations being places I’ll be visiting. A long way round though, via Brazil!

Punta del Este airport is tiny, even thought International it’s not got any amenities at all. A shed is the customs and passport area. I had a walk around Punta in the evening and ended up having an early meal with a crew member from GoToBermuda at a self-service fast fish restaurant. Although he is a circumnavigator, he had to get off at Portimao and fly home for his daughter’s wedding in the USA. He’s not the only one, another circumnavigator had to do the same for his daughter’s wedding in Australia. These children are so thoughtless, interfering with their dads’ plans! Punta is a typical seaside town out of season, the view out of my hotel window seems to be a burnt out cinema. The summer starts in December and finishes in February so very short. Most of the tourists are from Brazil or Argentina, they have weekend apartments which are shut up most of the time. The Uruguayans are very friendly, nothing is too much trouble and the crime rate is one of the lowest in the world. A new chap joining Unicef left his phone and cards on the bus: it turned up safely (but not, unfortunately, until he’d cancelled all his credit cards).

On Friday there was the excitement of waiting for the first two boats. There was a thunderstorm in the morning which blew over so I didn’t need my raincoat. I called into the Race Office to confirm that I was on the list for prize giving and other events, of which more later. Those of us who had arrived in time walked along the coastal path to see if we could spot the first yacht: as you’ll have read in Post 52 it was Qingdao. We waited to see them in, so we supporters had our lunch at about 3 pm. (They’d eaten before they came in, whilst preparing the boat and themselves for port). That evening we went to Moby Dick’s, a pub that seems to be the unofficial headquarters for Clipper. I also managed to book George into our hotel as he’d only booked an airbnb place from the 16th.

Spot Qingdao on the horizon

On Saturday there was an even bigger and noisier thunderstorm with fork lightening which lasted all day. George and I went out only as far as the next corner, where the Cuatro Mare restaurant was. Great food, a buffet with lots of salad which was just what George wanted after a month of tinned and dried food on board. As one of the first supporters into Punta I had been tasked with finding somewhere for us supporters to eat on Saturday night. Even though no boats were scheduled to arrive, I found us Le Marea, on the seafront just in case any sped up and arrived before they were expected. After that we had a post dinner drink at Moby Dicks.

Sunday was taken up with watching boats arrive and the celebratory beers in the Yacht Club. We waited at the Punta del Este Yacht Club and had lunch there. Each boat in the fleet has local “ambassadors”. We at Unicef are incredibly lucky with the Canepa family: Gabby, Norberto and their children Tito and Flopi! They are really looking after everyone and helping out with supplies, hospital visits etc. The hospital was for Angie, a RTW’er who managed to slip and break her wrist in the shower the first morning. She obviously hadn’t regained her land legs. Flopi is a photographer and a lot of the shots you’ll see on the official website were taken by her.

The Canepa family

John has a real beard, as you should have noticed in the last picture in Post 52. If not, here’s a close up. Whilst everyone agrees he looks like a real sailor now, they don’t have to kiss him! It’s very rough, like having a bristle brush thrust in your face. He’s allowed to keep it till next August then we’ll have another discussion. If he buys himself Crocs as well then I’m definitely not having him back!

Every day John had some task either on the boat (deep cleaning, sorting sails, showing local school children around) or near by (manning the spinnaker for signing at the Dome, sorting out the medical records and supplies for the boat). We managed to meet most days for lunch, sometimes with George, and had dinner together every evening. Tuesday night there was a tango demonstration which we felt was too short. Wednesday was the prize giving which of course was very exciting for Qingdao. Before that, in fact the first award of the night, was to Holly Williams on Unicef. She’s a paediatric surgeon from the USA who had raised the most money of all crew across the fleet. A great start! It was in the Yacht Club so not easy to get a good view. Here are the winning team with their pennant and Commodore’s Cup (which has to stay behind, I’m sure they’d not want that weight on board).

Spot the Joker

On Friday everyone had the afternoon off to go to an Asado hosted by the city. This is basically a meat feast. WHOLE cows, sheep etc are cooked on massive grills. I have some photos but thought you might be put off your chickpea stew. It was in a sculpture park around a lake and the weather, for once, was warm so no need for raincoats.

G&T at the Asado

Cast your minds back to Post 51. I mentioned that John had won the sweepstake for guessing the time they crossed the Equator. I think he won a Chupa Chup (he said “a lollipop”). That post was also where I said I’d bought something for Skipper Mike on Imagine Your Korea. I found him at the Asado and handed it over:

Mike’s Penguin keyring

If you’ve read his early blogs you’ll have seen he was desperate to see penguins. Now he’s got one to look at whenever he wants! Although I understand that some of the fleet saw Magellan penguins close to Uruguay.

On Saturday there was a beach clean which John and George took part in. I decided I didn’t have the energy to walk along the sand slowly digging things out so I went to help Holly in her new day job, as sail repairer.

I know it looks as though we’re all in bed, but we were doing a very important job. You can’t see the sewing machine behind the sail but we had to wrap the surplus material very tightly so it could pass behind the needle then feed it through whilst Holly sewed it up. You can just see Thom sitting behind us, he made sure the tension was kept steady. As the sewing machine only goes one way we had to thread it backwards and forwards. Prior to sewing, strips of material are cut and stuck to the tear. There are four to six lines of sewing per tear, so it’s a lot of work for each one. Then the sail is the size of a tennis court so it’s not easy to lay out and find all the damage. There were crew there every day for four days, on Saturday there were four of us supporters helping out to make sure it was finished. If you cannot mend it then it’s sent to professional sail repairers elsewhere. For ALL damage to the boat, any costs incurred are added up and if it exceeds Ā£500 (across the whole race, not per leg) then penalty points are “awarded”. If you go into Race Viewer on a computer, under “overall race” you’ll see the penalty points in the final column before the total points. There aren’t any yet but keep an eye on it. https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/race/standings.

That evening we had a birthday party for Alex, one of the Unicef crew. He and a few others had rented a “crew house” which was along the coast. We could not believe we weren’t back in the UK when we saw it. Maybe the colour of the sky is a giveaway.

This is in sharp contrast to George’s airbnb, which was a converted retail unit. The first hint of trouble was the railing he had to climb over to enter the block. There was then what looked like the ramp of a multi-storey car park to negotiate before he got to the unit, all glass so nice and airy. There was hot water, a bed, a shower with the toilet integral (I guess it was probably there first and the shower added when it became somewhere to sleep). However, there was no insulation and no heating so after one night he moved out to a place where other crewmates were, which was heated.

I’ve got lots more to write but other things to do so no more for now.

51. Leg 1 Race 2 (c)

First, I’ll try not to post any more shots of Gloomy London, I realise I finished Posts 49 AND 50 with similar views. If there’s snow later in the year I may change this decision (but snow isn’t gloomy). The header is of the view I had when I woke up yesterday.

I forgot to tell you that John won the Equator sweepstake on Unicef. It sounds like he may not have won in everyone’s opinion, due to the application of ship time and/or UTC. When I next see him I’ll find out what he won, probably an extra Haribo or something! https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/skipper-report/unicef/race2-day17-team48

I also forgot to detail my cinematic experiences. At home, we often plan to go and see a film but usually by the time we get around to it the film has moved on. Since Portimao, I have been to see The Farewell (a film well worth seeing, even if the synopsis sounds depressing, a Chinese family getting together for a fake wedding when they hear that Grandma has only a few weeks to live. Based on an actual lie it says). Then Downton Abbey. It possibly helps to have watched the TV series so you know who is who. I mentioned Netflix in an earlier post, well to make up for never having seen Downton Abbey I’ve binge watched the first two series of The Crown. I think I still prefer Matt Smith as Dr Who. I’m now binge watching Sherlock (the one with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, not Basil Rathbone or Peter Cushing!).

In John’s crew diary of 27th September he mentioned needing to buy a bird book in Punta to enable him to identify the birds that are flying around. In Ian’s Skipper report of 4th October he says they have one, ‘Seabirds of Southern Africa and the Worldā€™, by Gerald Tuck of the Royal Navy Ornithological Society. https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/skipper-report/unicef/race2-day19-team48

I don’t know how old that book is, but I managed to find a different one for John with photos. As it’s over 300 pages I’m not sure how easy it will be to ID a bird flying past at speed though. THE book on ocean birds was, apparently, Peter Harrison’s 1983 “Seabirds: An Identification Guide” but this new one builds on that with the use of DNA and subsequent reclassification.

Reading Nick’s Zhuhai log of 3rd October, I think maybe I should have bought the book for George instead. Nick says that Qingdao seem to think all the birds they see are some sort of gannet. https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/skipper-report/zhuhai/race2-day18-team45 . Another skipper seemingly preoccupied with birds is Mike on Imagine Your Korea. I’ve bought him a little present but you’ll have to wait until I hand it over to see it.

As well as managing to see films that otherwise pass me by, and eating foods that have not yet hit rural England, I walk to the shops most days with my little carrier bag to buy food (no filling up the boot once a week or less). This does mean I look more at what I’m buying, and imagine my glee when I found this, a combination of my favourite cocktail (espresso martini) and my favourite brand of yogurt (The Collective).

I needed it before I tried to squeeze the warm sleeping bag layer John wants me to take to Punta or Cape Town into the compression straps I had to order. On its own it takes up my whole suitcase. I was assured by John that the straps would make it small enough that I could pack my clothes (and his) as well… Really? Just take a look and tell me what you think.

Saturday morning the results of the Ocean Sprint were announced by Clipper. Unfortunately neither of our two boats were fast enough. Our arch-nemesis, Punta del Este, came first, gained three points and and so have leapfrogged Qingdao (17 points to 14). Grrr. Ha Long Bay were second so have a total of nine points and Visit Sanya scraped the third place, one point, to give them 10 points overall. Dare to Lead were in fourth place (nul points) only one second slower than Sanya. You have to feel sorry for them.

Skipper Mark of WTC Logistics says in his log of 5th October that they came sixth only nine minutes behind Sanya. He also comments on the fact that the fleet of matched boats but with all amateur crews can be so close. Read the full account from the link below (then click onto the other skipper reports as they are all interesting and you’ve got nothing else to do today, right!). https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/skipper-report/wtc-logistics/race2-day20-team40

This weekend I had two pals visiting, Victoria up from Somerset and Rene. Well, I guess I had three as Clint came too. Victoria and I went to Tate Britain to see the William Blake (again, for me, but I still missed bits of information). First we went to the Members’ Room for some lunch. I’d not been there and it takes some finding. Up the spiral staircase and up and up. It’s pretty much in the dome that you see on top of the Tate. According to my clever phone I climbed three floors. It felt more like six, both of us needing to take a breath when we arrived before I was able to show my membership card. I don’t think it’s as impressive as the V&A Members’ Room, and more of a canteen as it’s self-service, but sitting up in the light-filled dome was an experience. I have said if I do it on a daily basis my fitness will improve, with the incentive of a coffee when I arrive, but I’ve yet to repeat the trip. Knowing what faces me should make it easier. Extinction Rebellion are out in force so I’m not sure I’m brave enough to wander near Parliament.

Lambeth Bridge, MIllbank Tower, Tate Britain

On Sunday morning all three of us (with Clint observing) had another go with the compression straps. I don’t know exactly how it was managed, but here we are with a better packed layer. It now doesn’t quite take up all of my case although I still don’t have room for everything I need. I’ve been advised it’s not necessary for the next race so I’ll take it to Cape Town, when I’m not having to change planes.

The other interesting thing that happened this week (if you’re a Clipper Addict) is the appearance of two posters depicting two of the Crew Members, as the recruitment for the next race (2021/22) jumps up a gear. One of these Crew Members you’ve already come across, you shouldn’t be surprised when I tell you it’s Donna. I went to see Victoria off on Sunday, then onto Arthur Beale to collect the head torches I’d ordered (see previous Post) and look who was smiling down on us!

I’ll remind you, Donna is a 48-year-old British chiropractor going around the world on Qingdao. We met her before we knew she was on the same boat as George and she’s doing the same job as John on board of Medical Assistant. Just to be fair, I’ll give you the shot of the other Crew Member, Mark Pollard. He’s a 30-year-old engineer from Australia and he’s sailing Legs 1 and 3 on Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam.

Now I have a new game, seeing how many I can spot and hoping that Clipper will add others for us to hunt down. A bit like Pokemon Go! Although less interactive.

Not to be outdone, you can see John to the left of the last picture on this Clipper news article about the Ocean Sprint. It doesn’t look as though he shaved his head. We’ve not seen George for a while, I wonder if he has? https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/news/article/closely-fought-dell-latitude-rugged-ocean-sprint-sees-just-one-second-between-two-teams

Sanya have gone into Stealth mode, 06.10 UTC Monday morning, so we won’t know where they are until Tuesday morning. Meantime, Qingdao are effectively in the lead. Go Qingdao! The weather for the next few days has very deep lows developing, little wind and wind gusting and veering in different directions, so it’s all to play for. Are Sanya trying to get closer to the shore and benefit from the offshore winds that played such a crucial part at the end of race 1?

And on that cliffhanger, I’ll leave you with another picture of London Today.