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!

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!)