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!)

65. Race 4 Results

The results were already known, even before all the boats had finished. Before I list them, here are a few other exciting things I got up to in Fremantle.

The first was listening to Christmas music. Every time I came into the hotel and every morning when I sat down to breakfast, it was blaring out at me. The first day when I had lunch with George and we sat outside, I honestly though there was a busker on the street. I am rather partial to playing Christmas music from mid-December, but NOT THE SAME TUNES! I think it was on a loop of about half an hour as during breakfast it repeated.

Prize giving was a bit subdued with three boats missing, but once again we had Qingdao on the podium so much cheering.

As we knew Unicef would have a very tight turn-around, the supporters that were in Fremantle formed the Unicef elves group (as mentioned in the previous post) to try and get as much done as we could for them. The main issue was victualling, buying and sorting the food for about 18 people for 20 days. Without the day bags, we had heaps of food all over the house Angie had borrowed from a pal of hers. When Unicef arrived, the new “leggers” were drafted to do as much as possible on the boat to allow the circumnavigators and returning leggers some rest. A good learning experience.

On the “fun” side, I went off to Penguin Island with Cheryl and Lizelle, two other Unicef supporters. The only penguins we saw were ten in the rescue centre, the rest were out at sea, but there were thousands of bridled terns, pelicans and other birds we couldn’t identify. A lovely restful day communing with nature. We then had some lunch at Rockingham on the way back to Freo. The place we stopped at looked better than it actually was. Ketchup and mayonnaise cost extra, and the loos required a key from the bar. The first door was open so we walked through. After about five minutes wandering around back corridors, we found the Ladies locked. The Gents next to it was open, so we took it in turns to guard and use that. Nothing if not resourceful! I also had a couple of beach walks and a stroll in Kings Park in Perth.

There was an ongoing joke at work meetings about the Late John Dawson. Well, he surpassed any of those timings this race. However, looking on the bright side, Unicef crew certainly had their money’s worth since leaving Cape Town. Their deadline kept going backwards and they eventually arrived Friday night 20th December with a leaving date of 24th, together with Sanya and Punta, forty-eight hours after the main fleet. The next race is going to be interesting to calculate who is winning.

George and Cheryl waiting for Unicef

Results. I’m sure if you’re really interested you’ll have looked them up by now, but for the record here they are. Scoring Gate: Qingdao 3 points, Ha Long Bay 2, Imagine Your Korea 1. Ocean Sprint: GoToBermuda 3 points, WTC 2, Korea 1 again. Race: Qingdao 11 points, Ha Long Bay 10 with Joker making it 20, Korea 9, Bermuda 8, WTC 7, Zhuhai 6, Dare To Lead 5, Seattle 4. The three late boats: Punta 9 based on past performance, Sanya nil due to being disqualified for crashing into Punta, and Unicef 3 for being last.

The race so far therefore is Qingdao in the lead with 62 points, Ha Long Bay second with 51, Punta third with 36, Sanya fourth with 32, Unicef still fifth with 26, Dare To Lead sixth with 25, Korea seventh with 23, Zhuhai eighth with 21 (if you think my addition is wrong, I forgot to mention they had two penalty points for sail repairs), WTC ninth with 20, Bermuda tenth with 19 and Seattle bringing up the rear with 17.

64. I’m Still Waiting…

I forgot to mention finding clear plastic recycling bags in Pimlico. You’d think it would be easy in these times of Extinction Rebellion to do your bit for the planet. Not here seemingly: no local shops sell them, the council won’t send them to blocks of flats, eventually I found out I could pick them up at the library. Having found out where the local one was, I strolled in and asked at the desk. “Downstairs” I was told, so headed off and found a chap at the desk there. When asked he pointed wordlessly to a heap in a bin. It felt a bit like the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy where the plans for the bypass are hidden in the basement protected by a leopard. (I may have this slightly wrong, I’ve not read the book or listened to the excellent production on the BBC for a long time. Feel free to correct me).

I’m missing not making a Christmas cake this year (go all the way back to Post 10 for last year’s effort). Also, do they have mince pies in Australia? I’ll know by the time this goes out so a pointless question, but for the last few years we’ve had a tasting of all the commercial ones we can find. It’s not so easy when there’s only one of you as they often come in packs of six. I’ve been told that Starbucks do a good one but not yet tried it. I did try a mincemeat croissant from Paul, interesting, good mincemeat but I don’t think it’s the right combination. I did bring my Christmas tree to add a bit of festivity to my room.

I’m now in Australia and so far have not had a mince pie. I have had espresso martinis but a bit disappointing, no lovely shaking sound in the bar to make you salivate before they bring it to you. Yes, they are READY MADE out of a packet! They do have Earl Grey tea but I’ve not found this very appropriate brand (thank you Julia for the picture).

You were left checking Race Viewer to see whether Qingdao arrived before I flew out of the UK. The answer is yes they did, I was checking into my flight at Heathrow when they crossed the line. By the time I arrived in Fremantle on Monday morning, the first four had arrived (Qingdao followed by Ha Long Bay an hour later and Imagine Your Korea an hour after that, then GoToBermuda as I was flying into Perth) with WTC Logistics a few hours after I got in.

Waiting to check in

We now (Saturday 14th) have all but the last three in. Punta del Este is due on the afternoon of Thursday 19th, Unicef on Friday morning and Sanya Friday afternoon. All three are now allowed to motor in order to arrive on time (large areas of little or no wind threaten) although Punta is racing under sail to see if they can be placed in the Ocean Sprint.We should know the results of that by Monday. As these three are arriving so close to the race start, it has been decided that they will have an extra two days and leave on 24th December (yes, Christmas Eve) exactly 48 hours after the others. All will race on elapsed time so the first three into the Whitsundays may not be on the podium if these three are faster. Here we go Unicef!

So far this stop has been one of anticlimax. First I missed George coming in and now I’ll miss John leaving. Let’s hope this does not happen again. So what have I been up to, other than kicking my heels? Not a lot, in this heat. The day I arrived George popped over and had some lunch with me at my hotel, the Esplanade, a rather splendid Victorian building on the site of a former prison (this is Australia, after all). Later in the day my pal Liz who now lives in Perth came over and we had an early supper at Bathers Beach House (oddly enough, on the beach. This is Australia, after all).

My sleeping pattern is thrown at the moment. I am waking up around 3-4 am local time, mid evening UK time. I can only guess it’s because my body thinks it’s time for supper. (Shades of being a dog owner here?). The Code 3 (sail) for Qingdao is severely damaged and due to the heat they have been starting work on it at 5 am. Despite my new sleeping pattern I’ve not been able to get there before 9.30 but I have spent two days trying to help, cutting out sticky tape to hold it together before it’s stitched.

Sail repairs

The Fremantle Sailing Club, where the yachts are berthed, is about 20 minutes’ walk from my hotel but not a walk I fancy in this heat. Instead, there’s a free bus on a circular route, every ten minutes, which I’ve been catching. On the first day I managed to lose my Musto cap and it’s not turned up in lost property. Cheryl bought me a lovely Perth cap which is almost as good. We shared a steak sandwich at the sailing club to celebrate the hat replacement: it was so big we still couldn’t eat it all. After that we walked it off by going to see the boats. Due to their draft (draught?) we’ve been told they cannot moor close to the sailing club, so it’s a good 15 minute walk through the boat yard (easy to get lost amongst all the boats), ironically towards the hotel. Unfortunately there’s a big fence in the way so we can’t take a short cut.

On Wednesday night we went for a sail at the Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club with one of the Clipper crew who lives in Perth and is joining Unicef to head off to the Whitsundays on (now) 24th December. What we were not told was that Wednesday is traditionally “Twilighting” when they race against other boats in the club. It’s not serious racing like Clipper, we had alcohol on board, but it was pretty cramped with (I think) 19 of us crammed in. I didn’t see much as I was down in the bilges! Later in the week we found out that we’d won so here we go Unicef!

At the risk of tempting fate I went to the Shipwreck Museum one afternoon. It’s air conditioned, a definite plus here. It was mostly about the early shipwrecks in the 1600s when the Dutch East India Company was seeing if there were any natural resources to exploit. After that I strolled along to Joe’s Fish Shack then Bathers, as one of the Qingdao crew had a birthday.

The following day I abandoned Qingdao in favour of Unicef. You’ll remember the Christmas stuff stuffed in my case? Well a crowd of us supporters got together, pretending to be Santa’s elves, to make up Christmas stockings for the crew. There are a number of things they need for the boat so we bought these and made up “Secret Santa” presents for everyone. They may be disappointed when they realise they’ve been given such things as measuring jugs and scissors.

Santa stockings!

In other worlds, I am VERY disappointed that Labour did not get in, I was promised my missing four years of pension by Jeremy Corbyn. How am I expected to fund this year long jaunt? The British public just did not think of me, did they?

Well, must stop now and go and get some sun and Vitamin D. Prize giving is later today at the sailing club, Qingdao getting the gold pennant again. I’m running out of space on George’s wall.

62. I Think Its Gonna Be A Long Long Time

Not long after I published Post 61, John called me from Durban, where they’d diverted when Andrew developed suspected appendicitis. As well as Andrew, crew member Thomas left Unicef as he’d fallen earlier in the Leg and damaged some teeth. CV31 stayed in port long enough for the two of them to be medevac’d by the NSRI (equivalent to the UK’s RNLI), the crew to have showers and for the boat to be refuelled and re-victualled. They were back on the water within about three hours. They should get back to where they “stopped” and then their race time starts again, but I think in view of the time lost they are just racing to get to Fremantle. Depending upon the winds, I guess that will take another two to three days and that they’ll be about a week late. I’ve not changed my flights as George will be there and I have pals in Perth. We’ll all be getting as much victualling etc ready as we can for the three late boats, Unicef, Punta del Este and Visit Sanya. These latter two set off on Thursday 28th with a race start for them on Friday 29th. Here’s the path to Fremantle with all in sight (just).

Sanya and Punta far left, Unicef under “art”, Qingdao just in front

There’s possibly a bit more excitement on Friday, as Zhuhai discovered that their planned route takes them through an area where the US Navy will be doing some rocket missile practice, whatever that means. I’ve not had the chance to read today’s Skipper reports to see if Zhuhai still exists. Let’s hope they don’t use our yachts as target practice!

On a more personal note, I had another family phone call, one of John’s grand-daughters auditioned for a film and got through. I’ll tell you more about it when shooting starts. So it’s not just OBB who are stars! Talking of stars, you should remember that I took out a sleeping bag for one of the Unicef crew. She sent me a bouquet of flowers as thanks:

Thanks from Sophie

Enough about everyone else. Since I returned to London, in addition to being glued to the Clipper website with all the shenanigans going on, I’ve had a busy time. The first thing I did was reduce my resemblance to Boris Johnson’s unruly mop of hair. Then John’s brother and wife came over for the weekend so we celebrated whatever needs celebrating.

Me, Claire and Alan

On Friday night we went to About Thyme, a local restaurant which would have been even more local if we’d not walked past it first time! A couple more pals came over on Saturday and we had a late afternoon tea starting at seven, as you do. Then Monday night I went out for supper with yet more friends and had my first experience of using Uber. The day it was announced their licence has not been renewed in London. Better late than never?

Wednesday evening Rene and I went to the National Osteoporosis Society Gala Dinner with a fashion show by Julian Macdonald. Here we are enjoying the evening.

Rene and me

It was held at Banqueting House in Whitehall, so I experienced another travel first when we caught the bus there. Easy! Not so easy the next morning when we caught the bus back to Rene’s place and caught the right bus but going in the wrong direction. One stop on we got off and walked back to where we’d started.

A bit of history here, Banqueting House was where Charles I was beheaded in 1649. While he was still on the throne he commissioned Rubens to paint the ceiling which is magnificent. This is not the best picture of it you’ll ever see but you’ll get the picture (sorry!).

Rubens’ ceiling, Banqueting House

I thought that there had been a Christmas tree installed outside Tate Britain as there were a lot of bright lights. I walked down to have a gander and was rather thrown by the fact that it is an art installation of what initially looks like toilet paper. On closer inspection it is cut-out material. I have to confess I think it looks better from a distance.

Tate Britain

On Friday I went to the Royal Academy in Piccadilly with Val to see “Eco-visionaries”, to “Discover how architects, artists and designers are responding today to some of the most urgent ecological issues of our times”. It was interesting but I’m not sure I discovered much. I missed the message of what to do to help avoid future problems and took home the message that jellyfish are going to take over the world. Maybe I should go again and concentrate harder. After that Val and I went to Fortnum and Masons to have a snack. I can recommend it, you get a tiny ice-cream with your coffee!

Val and coffee

As we were sitting there we heard a commotion outside and saw a dozen or more police vehicles and ambulances trying to get down Piccadilly. It was only later that we found out there’d been another London Bridge attack with two victims dead and one critical in hospital. I can’t let the terrorists rule our lives and stop there, on such a sad note, so I’ll show you the bracelet I’ve been building.

Go back to Post 42 in August and I mentioned a Pandora bracelet I’d been given to add mementos of my journey. I’ve not found trinkets I thought special enough so I’ve been having some made by Jo who is @work just up the road from me. Here’s the work-in-progress:

Bracelet with charms

You’ll see numbers for the podium positions, a Portuguese rooster and a sun from Uruguay. I think it may get pretty crowded by the time next August comes along.

Before then, however, I’ll be in Australia for Christmas. Knowing I’d not be home, Anne very kindly bought me a tree to take with me. It’s here together with the souvenir I brought back for myself from Cape Town, a rather stylish red wine glass (so you get an idea how big the tree is!).

I snapped the message in the header at a local coffee shop and I think it could be applicable for today. If you can’t read it, here it is again. With luck and a fair wind, the next post should be more optimistic.