66. It Will Be Lonely This Christmas

You wait weeks for a blog post then three come along close together, just like London buses. (Third one close behind if this one is full). Not only that, I got the title of the last one wrong, now corrected. I’m confusing my legs and my races. With luck a lot of you were fast asleep when I posted it and didn’t notice. Blame the never-ending jetlag I’ve probably developed this year.

Christmas wasn’t at all lonely, just different. Before then, though, we had a second prize giving with Punta, Sanya and Unicef. The night Unicef arrived we had our additional own private prize giving for them. The Elves had created certificates, pennants and medals (the last out of chocolate coins that were eaten very soon after being put around necks). We had a short speech for them, which I reproduce here.

“For anyone who has not heard, Unicef had to divert to Durban for a crew member who developed appendicitis. He had an emergency operation a few hours after being taken off CV31 and there is no doubt that the swift action of the crew saved Andy’s life. In addition, Thomas was taken off after suffering a fall on board and it transpired that he had a broken jaw as well as losing five teeth. These two crew members were on this leg only. We, the Unicef crew supporters, feel the need to acknowledge you, the crew’s, actions. You have been at sea for almost five weeks, sailing for two weeks longer than any other boat. I’d like to call you up by name to receive small tokens of recognition of the sacrifice you’ve made in this race. First, the man who has to take the responsibility for these actions, never knowing until afterwards whether he made the right call: Skipper Ian. Second, AQP Mike for being Ian’s right hand man and support during the race. Next, the medical team of Holly, Antonie and JD. The two watch leaders Dan and Alex. Two leggers: Tim and Rob. One person from the start who’s leaving us now: John Dillon. Four circumnavigators: Andrew, Danny, Sandra and Geoff. The youngest member of the team, Seb. The Norwegian representative, Anne Elisabeth, known as Aser. The on-and-off again crew member, Sophie. The three nicknamed crew, Kiwi Keith, Commo Keith and Mikey. And finally, the two crew members who are not here, Andy and Thomas, we hope you both have a full recovery and look forward to following you on Race Viewer in the next Race!”

We had a brief weekend before John and I parted, as I was flying to Sydney early Monday morning. Most of the weekend was taken with boat stuff once again. The morning after they arrived, all crew had to be on the boat for 0815 to see customs about any prohibited foodstuffs etc. We found out that one circumnavigator was leaving, as he was not feeling well, and another was not allowed back as she had hurt her hand in the first week from Cape Town and hadn’t realised how bad it was. The bones had started to heal but there were fragments that needed attention. I’m not sure of the outcome. After the customs, the general crew briefing had to be attended, even though they were sailing 48 hours after the others. There was a Clipper presentation of a match cup to Punta and mention of both Sanya and Unicef at midday. In the evening we had a Unicef dinner at Bathers Beach House. It was the only time that George and John really had to catch up, along with the “sausage sizzle” and drinks when Unicef arrived.

Clean-shaven at last!

On Sunday the first tranche of the fleet set sail. John had to be on the boat so I and my pal Liz went to the Maritime Museum area to see Qingdao sail past with the other seven setting off. We then drove around to North Mole to the start line (where we’d greeted Unicef on Friday night). It was nice and wide to avoid any more collisions. John and I managed to see each other for the afternoon and evening, and watched the first prize giving and other Clipper videos on Facebook Live.

Then goodbye again. Early on Monday 23rd I flew to Sydney. As the time difference is three hours I left Perth at 10.35 and arrived in Sydney at 17.45 after a four hour flight. Our friend and sort of relative (I don’t know, in-law in-law cousins?) Debbie picked me up and we went back to Mosman where she lives, a suburb of Sydney. We had intended to have Christmas in the Blue Mountains but due to the bushfires that was cancelled. However, Debbie had planned and bought all the food etc so we were ready to party! Debbie’s two daughters joined us for Christmas so it was an all girls’ party, unlike my normal life which seems to feature more men than women (starting with John and George of course). I’ve never had barbecued turkey but it worked very well. The actual cut was a bit of a puzzle: it should have been boned and rolled but there was a bone in it (one legged turkey?). The size was also not quite right: Debbie had asked for a joint big enough for four with some leftovers. This would have fed a whole Clipper crew and leftovers!

Despite only having two days in Fremantle John managed to buy me a lovely necklace for Christmas, which I am sure will appear in this blog sometime soon. George gave me a couple of bottles of wine from his trip to Margaret River which were much appreciated with Christmas dinner (outside in the sun, there’s different). We played a card game I’d never heard of, 5 Crowns, and I managed to lose twice. After that we went onto jigsaws. Debbie had bought two 1,000 piece jigsaws and we finished both during the holiday. We got the giggles one night when Debbie produced her special Orrefors glasses for the dessert wine and I misheard her, thinking she’d said orifice. A special Australian custom maybe?

On the evening of Christmas Day we had a stroll up a local street where all the houses seemed to have gone overboard with festive lights. As well as the pedestrians admiring them, there was a non-stop stream of cars cruising up and down.

Boxing Day (December 26th for those of you who don’t celebrate it) is traditionally the start of the Rolex Sydney to Hobart yacht race of 628 nautical miles. Hobart is the capital of Tasmania and the race takes a few days (exact number depending upon size of yacht and of course the wind). This was the 75th race and the first time for a few years that the Clipper fleet was not taking part. Debbie and I, with a couple of her pals, went to Georges Heights with a picnic to watch the start. As well as the actual 157 yachts taking part, from 30 foot up to 100 foot “super-maxi” yachts, it seems that anyone in Sydney with a boat takes to the water to see them off. For more information see this link: it makes Clipper rules seem very simple. https://www.rolexsydneyhobart.com/about-the-race/yachts/

Sydney-Hobart race start

Eventually I had to move on from this wonderful relaxing atmosphere and Debbie drove me to the Sheraton Grand in Sydney CBD. With my background, this acronym means cannabis oil, but well before that became fashionable it meant Central Business District. A great spot, not as boring as it sounds, with my hotel room overlooking Hyde Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens. It really is confusing here, so many places names relating back to the UK.

Sydney’s hazy sun

Val (George’s other Godmother) joined me on Sunday 29th for Sydney and Airlie Beach. We met two Unicef crew members, Sophie and the other John D, for dinner one night at The Butler, a great restaurant that should only be 15 minutes walk from the hotel if you can read your phone properly, and was actually nearer 30 minutes as I think I must have had it upside down. We got there eventually and grabbed a cab back to the hotel.

Me, Sophie and John Dillon

The highlight of my world trip so far came on New Year’s Eve at Sydney Opera House. First was a slap-up Gala Dinner with free-flowing wine, then the first two acts of La Boheme before the “family” fireworks off the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Darling Harbour. Back to the opera then a post-production party with copious champagne and canapes and a live band. Before the world-famous New Year Fireworks we were treated to a “parade of sail” where the boats had lights on them which changed colour as they progressed around the harbour. As if that were not spectacular enough, the firework display was amazing. It lasted about ten minutes and lit up the water as well as the sky. After it was all over we walked back to our hotel (the nearest taxi rank operating being beyond the hotel and the nearest open train station opposite the hotel).

Happy New 2020 everyone!

Sydney fireworks (looking away from the bridge!)

57. Race 3 Results

Here I am in sunny Cape Town ignoring the sun to bring you the news. It’s a hard life. Actually I think I’ll go get some sun and come back to you later….

The view from our room on a sunny day

Later, the next day. The sun isn’t so strong and there’s a wind so here I am again.

The view from our room on most days

Day 3, will this blog post ever be finished? I ended up helping with the sails yesterday, not the sewing this time but the folding (“flaking”) once they were ready to go back on board.

Sail packed up ready for the boat

If you’ve been following the Clipper website you’ll already know the results but here they are for those of you relying on me. I arrived very early on 7th November, the first day of the arrival window. As we know from the last race, boats may arrive before the window if racing hard, but I did ask Qingdao not to come in too early as I didn’t want to miss them. I was sitting at breakfast when I saw them in the distance. I didn’t want to get too excited after Portimao, but no-one else was in sight.

Qingdao in the distance

I finished my breakfast and went down to the docks to see them come in, FIRST, at six minutes past seven on Friday November 8th. (I was not eating a very early breakfast, once over the finish line they spend about an hour taking down the sails and tidying themselves and the boat up then have to motor into the dock). They had an amazing welcome with Isebane se Afrika performing for them. You can watch it here although it is rather blurred in places. https://www.facebook.com/ClipperRaceLIVE/videos/532013007361150/

Unicef in view

Next in was Punta del Este at 15.25 that afternoon, THIRD was Unicef at 17.02 and fourth Ha Long Bay at 18.00. As you can see from the times, a hard fought race for these positions. At one point on the breakwater we could see Ha Long Bay behind Unicef and it was very tense watching. You can see from the photo above how strong the wind was. They were tacking close up to us then way off into the distance to try and reach the finish line. We were able to distract ourselves with the black oystercatchers and George managed to get a good shot for me. I couldn’t hold the camera still enough, the wind was so blustery. If you go onto Facebook live again you’ll see a video of Unicef arriving, with John being interviewed. I can’t get the exact link for some reason but if you follow this you’ll know which video to click on! https://www.facebook.com/ClipperRaceLIVE/videos/

Black oystercatcher

On Saturday another five of the fleet came in. It is now Monday and we are waiting for the last two, Dare to Lead and Zhuhai, expected late tonight and very early in the morning. They will miss the prize giving ceremony tonight but I think they’d be too downhearted to celebrate with the others after taking so long to get in. The wind here can be very fickle and they can see Table Mountain long before reaching the shore.

Last night we heard that, due to infringement of the rules on how close to the coast they can sail, Punta del Este had a six-hour penalty imposed. If you go back to the times above, you will see that this meant they were actually placed fourth and Unicef promoted from third to second! Our first double Dawson podium one-two (first of many we hope, with Unicef allowed to beat Qingdao some of the time). It was extra special as two of George’s Godparents plus a very good friend from Somerset had joined us in Cape Town. Here are three of the groupies!

Me, Anne and Fiona

With the overall points known, but no penalty points yet announced (for damage to sails or other equipment, costing over £500 for the whole race), Qingdao are still in the lead with 48 points. Punta and Visit Sanya are joint second with 32 points each, Ha Long Bay fourth with 29 and Unicef move up from seventh to fifth with 23 points. I think Qingdao are the only boat to have a podium position in each race. We have been told that it’s consistency that will win the whole Race so let’s hope this continues.

Next up: a brief rundown of the rules and details of the next race, plus total results and scores.

54. It’s Raining Again!

This song (by Supertramp) was played on constant loop at The Punta del Este Yacht Club (YCPDE) when it was raining. Heaven knows what the staff there thought if this happens every time, a form of mental torture. Whilst writing this post I’m listening to Supertramp so it didn’t put me off.

I really caused discussion with Post 53, I’ve never had so many comments. Go back and have a look: beard or no beard. A new B word!

Which do you vote for?

To return to the end of Post 53. Tito came and set up a mini-Asado on the parilla (grill) at the back of the crew house. Most of the crew and supporters were there, although I have been asked to shout out to two of them who wandered up and down the road for an hour looking for the place then went home bereft. Cheryl, now you know what it looks like maybe you’ll find it next time!

Unicef crew at Alex’s 30th birthday party

We had a great time, as you can see from the empty plates and beakers. On our way back to Hotel Atlantico, a great little boutique hotel where we were staying (with a resident sparrow in at breakfast time!), we walked past a heaving Cuatro Mare restaurant. As John hadn’t been there we decided to go the next night. In the morning, some of Unicef had a bus trip showing us the highlights of Punta. If I say the best bit was going over the wavy bridge very fast four times you’ll get a feel for the sights. Just to show there is more, here’s a shot of the lighthouse (which was closed). The buildings around are only allowed to go up to four storeys so they don’t block the light.

Punta del Este Lighthouse

We had lunch at Artico, the “fast fish” cafe where I ate on the first night. You take a ticket and join a queue: when you get to the front you order what you want. You then get another ticket and join a second queue whilst they cook it to order. If you cannot be bothered to wait there’s a cold counter with lots of fishy salads that you help yourself to. As you pay for these by weight and they all look so tasty, it’s not the cheapest option. We went there three times in all so we did enjoy the food. Early evening John and I went along to a caviar-and-champagne tasting on a private yacht belonging to the Vice-Commodore of the Yacht Club. Someone has to do it. The Clipper crew members were very taken with the heads, bilges and engine, as well as the fact that there were real beds with sheets and a door to close out the world! We then headed off to Cuatro Mare only to find it shut. The opening hours of all the restaurants were somewhat random, possibly as it was not high season. Moby Dick’s opened early in the season just for us, I’m sure it was worth it for them as every time we walked past it was busy. The music started at midnight or 1 am so I missed it all. Rumour has it that crew members picked up instruments when the bands were not in situ.

The view from the yacht looking at our fleet.

The next day, to ensure freedom from bias, I went on the bus trip again with Qingdao. It was shorter than the previous day: the church we’d been into was closed (scaffolding and hoarding all over it) and the rain was lashing down so no decent photos to be taken. We did, however, go over the bridge another four times! I’m not sure how it competes with being on real waves but everyone whooped as we went over. The rest of the day was taken by the sailors packing all their gear to go back onto the boat. In the evening we had a tasting of Garzon wines (one of the sponsors of the Punta boat). I’m not sure if we can get them here but greatly enjoyed the “Reserve” Albarino and Marsalan. (I’ve checked, if you’re trade you can order from Liberty Wines but not if you’re retail).

Tuesday was weigh-in on the boats prior to sailing on Wednesday then team briefings in the afternoon, first as the whole fleet then individual boats. Us supporters went along to Yateste (the old yacht club) and continued the wine tasting as we waited. Not sure what it was (we were offered red or white) but not as good as Garzon. Unicef did a deep clean as they’d had three school parties on board the day before, then we had a meal to say goodbye to Jayne, who only sailed on Leg 1 (but wants to join up again if she can). Unicef seemed to be doing much more cleaning than the others. They may not be the fastest (yet) but they have to be the cleanest! Half the actual boat seemed to be laid out on the dock being scrubbed.

Which bit goes where?

I’m not sure my picture of the sail loft gave you the right impression so here’s a better one. If you see a sail with red writing on it (“The Race of Your Life”) then I’ve been told it’s a Code 2 Spinnaker. An egg-shaped triangular sail that you can’t lie flat, hence us having to roll it tightly to feed it through that tiny gap you can see in the sewing machine.

And so to the leaving of Punta del Este. Just before we get there I need to show you two pictures of a brass compass that Donna is taking around the world with her prior to auctioning it off to raise funds from the Qingdao boat for Unicef.

I’ve undertaken to try and get a shot of it in each port so you can see it travel around the world. It’s tied to Donna’s belt so will be even more used (and scratched) by the time we get to London next August.

Although the race didn’t start until 15.00 all crew had to be on board by 10.00 so we said goodbye and left them to it. We were on a spectator boat which was also bouncing up and down so I can’t show you the fleet leaving as I did for Southend (it looks pretty much the same). Before they set off there was a band playing traditional navy music which we’ve not had in the other ports. Then speeches in Spanish and English before each boat slipped its lines to the sound of its theme tune (battle song?). You can watch this on Facebook live (it starts after the band and speeches). Unicef are on at about 12 minutes 40 seconds with John at the back (stern) in white sunglasses (which get mentioned by the commentator!). He waved at me but I can’t catch myself in the crowd, maybe you can see the two-tone tee-shirt? George appears at about 24.20 minutes, he’s in the cockpit (?) just under the letter D of Qingdao. https://www.facebook.com/ClipperRaceLIVE/videos/531849127360175/

When the race started, Unicef were first out of the stalls (or off the blocks or whatever the nautical term is) with Qingdao second. I’m not sure if my two skippers planned it but they were talking together at the prize giving.

Ian (Unicef) and Chris (Qingdao)

After we’d seen them off into the distance it was back to the Yacht Club for a celebratory, oops sorry, commiseration drink or two, then a last trip to Moby Dick’s for supper. Of course, on the way back to the hotel, ALL the restaurants were open, now that the fleet had left! A final picture, of Qingdao’s halyard with the two pennants they have won so far, plus two pennants from special yacht clubs.

Race 1 third at the bottom, then Race 2 first, then Chris’ local yacht club in Essex and Punta Yacht club at the top

Next time, a bit more about Punta plus what I’m up to back in Blighty.

48. Don’t Bring Me Down

I finally found the picture of me bandaged up (refer back to Post 45) and it’s this header. To be in the Doldrums can mean to be low or depressed. As both MBB are away for the best part of a year many people expect me to be in this flat place. I’m actually enjoying the novelty of eating when I feel the need and popping out to a museum or random cafe when I fancy it and seeing lots of friends as London is easier to get to than Somerset (or so they tell me). I’m treating the year as a series of business trips. I’ll probably be seeing George more often than when we’re all in the UK. Possibly I’m just a hermit or recluse by nature, although (unlike some people we could name) I’m not neglecting my personal hygiene nor stockpiling my waste or throwing it over the side of the flat.

Before I get to the meat of this post, I forgot to tell you that, if you’re eagle-eyed, you can find Jane and me at the Portimao wine tasting on the Clipper website, well spotted Julia! Note that Jane is not holding a wine glass (but she did have one). https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/news/article/crew-explore-the-sights-and-tastes-of-the-beautiful-algarve

Shot from Clipper website

…and on Facebook Live, in the 18 minute video showing the fleet leaving Portimao on 15th September, a brief interview with George. https://www.facebook.com/ClipperRaceLIVE/videos/516330142456305/

Enough frivolity. Today is a technical blog post. Another definition of being in the Doldrums is to make no progress. This could be happening to the fleet in the next day or two.

Race Viewer

They are just out of the picture here at about 08.10 Thursday 19th. The screenshot of the Race Viewer shows the Scoring Gate that they are all racing towards, the Ocean Sprint and, in the middle, the Doldrums Corridor. In case you’ve forgotten (or I forgot to tell you), the white line is the shortest distance between start and finish, known as the rhumb line. The dark blue wavy bit in the centre is (are?) the actual Doldrums. The darker the blue, the less likelihood of wind so VERY calm. The area is also referred to as the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone or ITCZ (pronounced itch).

As you can see, this band goes all around the world either side of the equator, but for this race we’re only interested in the bit between Africa and South America. Put simply, the northern (red in the slide above) and southern (blue) trade winds clash and effectively cancel each other out. Remembering the last day or two of race 1, where the leaders (Qingdao and Unicef) ended up third and sixth due to lack of wind, we may be waiting a long time for them to cross this part of the world. In a past Clipper race some boats were stuck for four days. We may even get fed up with checking Race Viewer!

The race has a reasonably tight arrival window so we can’t just leave them to wallow around on their own without cleaning their teeth or showering or changing their underwear. They cannot avoid the Doldrums. Clipper have therefore defined an area over which the fleet can elect to use their motors.

There are strict rules though. The Skipper has to tell HQ he’s going to do this at least three hours beforehand. They can only motor for a maximum 6 degrees of latitude (roughly 400 miles) and must stop motoring at 03 degrees North (just above the Equator). They have to send a photo of their position when the motor was started and when stopped to show that they’ve gone the 6 degrees. If it takes less than 60 hours they have to hang around and cannot start racing again until the 60 hours are up, possibly having to go back to where they stopped the motor. Thus, if the wind picks up, they may have been better off sailing. They can’t change their mind once they’ve said they’re going to use the motor.

Here endeth today’s lesson. If you’re looking at the Race Viewer (and who isn’t?) you may be confused as to who is in the lead. You need to take into account how far away from the rhumb line they are as they’ll need to get back there at the end. If you’re reading the Skipper and Crew Diaries on the Clipper website you’ll see how they are getting on. It’s interesting reading them all, not just “ours” as they are all having different experiences. Some are interested in wildlife, some (most) in the food on board, some give details of the issues they’ve encountered. Talking of food, here’s what I had for my first “proper” meal in Portimao (after the room service sandwich on arrival).

Ooh, Friday morning and Ha Long Bay Viet Nam has deployed Stealth Mode. This means that for the next 24 hours we won’t know where exactly she is and neither will the rest of the fleet (she hopes). They must have a plan to beat the others to the Scoring Gate. Once through the Scoring Gate her position will become public. Stay tuned!