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 — “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 — 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.


58. Leg 3, Race 4

Before I start to tell you about the next race, a little information on the rules. You can find them on the Clipper website under “The Race”. There are general rules that apply over the whole year, governed by international sailing rules in the main, then course-specific ones for each individual race. Of interest today are the penalties, either in the form of a time penalty or in penalty points. The time penalty will reflect where you are positioned in that race, penalty points appear in a separate column in the race viewer “overall race” section (on a computer, not on a phone). As yet no penalty points have appeared but we expect that to change very soon.

The fleet in harbour

If a boat is over the line when the start is signalled, they will have an hour added to their time, plus one minute for every second they are over the line. If they go around and recross the line the penalty will not apply but they’ll obviously lose time in doing this.

If they do not hand in the forms that are required before racing, at the appointed time, they will get two penalty points each for the three different forms that are required, so possibly six penalty points. Failure to hand the main ones in before starting to race will result in a disqualification for that race (no points awarded, wherever they come in the racing). For the others there are more penalty points as time passes with no forms appearing. Similar rules apply for the forms required at the end of the race, although instead of being disqualified they’ll get another two penalty points. Forgetting your paperwork could result in your having minus points for a race!

Cloud between Table Mountain and Signal Hill

Opposite to penalties is redress. If a boat has to divert to help another Clipper yacht or any other vessel, they may be granted compensation for time lost. This could result in a yacht being bumped up the results table, such that the first three over the line may not always be the three on the podium.

For any sail repairs by external companies costing more than £500 over the whole race there will be two penalty points for every extra £500. For example, you spend £250 in Race 1 having a sail repaired, then £300 in Race 2, you’ve exceeded that £500 limit. If Race 3 requires repairs costing more than £450 you’ll reach £1000 and get two penalty points. If a sail cannot be repaired and has to be replaced, a penalty of five to eight points will be allotted (depending on which stage of the race that this happens). This is why sail repairs by the crew are so important. As well as the repairs that happen in port, there will be people down in the sail locker carrying out repairs during the racing. Unicef are lucky in having Holly, a circumnavigator (and surgeon), as the sail repairer. Qingdao also have a circumnavigator, Bertrand, but have lost Jo, who only signed up for Legs 1 and 2 and was very experienced at repairs. The same rules apply to lost or damaged equipment. In the last Race (2017-18) I’m told there were only a couple of boats that did not exceed these costs.

Seattle and Bermuda

Course specific instructions will cover the exact position of the start and finish lines, the Scoring Gate and the Ocean Sprint. It will detail areas that cannot be entered, for example in Race 3, there was an exclusion zone of 3 nautical miles off parts of the coast around Cape Town, resulting in Punta del Este being knocked off the podium and leading to a Dawson One-Two of Qingdao and Unicef. I may have mentioned that already?

Unicef crew with their pennant

Enough technical stuff for today. Leg 3 consists of Race 4 only, from Cape Town in South Africa to Fremantle in Australia. Race 3 was described by many crew as “brutal”, constantly cold and wet. Race 4 is likely to be more of the same. Where Race 3 was around two weeks in length, Race 4 will be over three weeks. They leave Cape Town on Sunday 17th November and the arrival window is December 9th to 14th. I arrive very early on 9th so let’s hope I’m not kept waiting too long (nor that they are kept waiting for me).

As Cape Town was the end of a Leg, crew changes will be happening. For Qingdao, I think that four crew leave (two who did Legs 1 and 2, one who did Leg 2 only and one who will be returning on later legs). There will be an extra eight arriving, so overall Qingdao will gain four. For Unicef, five are leaving (three of whom did Leg 2 only, and two who will be rejoining the boat at a later leg). They are gaining seven, so an increase of two, although one of these did Leg 1 and is now returning for Leg 3. I know of other boats where people are leaving early, due either to illness or for personal reasons. I’m not aware of any getting off our two boats when they were expecting to continue.

Qingdao crew with their pennant

I had promised the Race 3 results in this post but as Crew Briefing takes place later today (Saturday) and any penalty points accrued to date should be announced then, I’ll keep this for the next post. The midday gun has just been fired, MBB are on their boats preparing for the race start tomorrow and I have other things to do. More later. Bye for now from your Cape Town correspondent.

Cape Town and Table \Mountain from the water

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.

37. Be Prepared!

Nothing to do with the Tom Lehrer song of the same name, but go and give it a listen if you want a laugh (depending upon your sense of humour). I promised last time to let you know what MBB were up to. The header to this post is Suhaili berthed in Gosport, the boat that started it all 50 years ago. (Most of these pictures have been provided by John and George’s crew mates so if anyone wants to claim copyright just shout at me). This is the last week before the current Clipper fleet set off for London. They’ve been racing each other in Training Level 4 over the last couple of months (unofficially, so no results posted). They all know how they’re placed though! George was there last week, he says Qingdao was winning at one stage then hit a wind hole and finished 10th. Here he is before then I guess.

There is a management saying “fail to prepare, prepare to fail”. None of the Clipper crew are prepared to fail. After George’s level 4 he stayed on to start preparing the fleet (well, maybe only Qingdao, we don’t want to give the opposition any help do we?). Officially “prep week” started on Saturday 10th August. All RTW’ers and those crew embarking on Leg 1 to Punta del Este are encouraged to go and get the boats ready. As they’ve been racing, all rigging (bits of rope and steel that you see all over the boat) and sails need to be replaced. Everyone with a role will have extra training. I don’t think I’ve told you about the different roles people have, I’ll check and make that another post if not. John is Medical Assistant on Unicef and George Social Secretary on Qingdao. John had a couple of days earlier in July learning about what he may need to do, such as hand out sticking plasters or contact Praxes, the official supplier of 24/7 remote medical advice. They will also be at each stopover providing support if needed. More on that and other official suppliers at a later date if there’s no room here. Gosh, there’s so much to say and so little time suddenly!


The main item on this week’s agenda is victualing, pronounced more like “vit’ling” than the spelling. This is getting all the food for 22 people for almost a month stowed on board. I’m not sure how long they will have fresh food, but I know from a phone call with George that they have bread mixes so that’ll be pretty fresh. I’m useless at making bread so let’s hope John becomes an expert over the next year. This must be a major job as it’s taking place all week (vit’ling, that is, not bread making!). Possibly two or three boats a day rather than a free-for-all every day.

Where’s our grub?

Various members of the crew get specialist training as well as the medical training that John did last month: Garmin navigation equipment, Media Crew, Sail repairs with Hyde Sails, Spinlock life jackets, Marlow ropes, Engineering, Fundraising co-ordinators with Unicef and Sat-comms. I think every boat has two crew attend the training then they’ll pass onto the others what they need to know (like how to put your life jacket on). In addition to this and the victualing (which I want to spell with two “l”s but this site KEEPS CORRECTING IT!) there are sails and rigging being issued and race start briefing. Fundraising is going well, as I type the whole fleet has raised over £77,500 with the Unicef crew hitting their target before they have even set sail.

John in his element

If you go onto the Clipper website they have the complete race details there. Notice of Race (the official details), Sailing Instructions (how the whole race is controlled with forms to show they’ve not broken the rules or incurred penalty points by, for example, losing a sail) and Course Instructions (how each leg is controlled, not yet posted on the website). There’s a one page form to be completed before they can race. This confirms that they (consider they) have enough food and water, all equipment is working, they’ve practiced their MOB drill, everyone knows what they’re doing etc. There’s a six page form of which charts and publications they’re taking, the intended route with distances and timings planned, when they’re likely to leave with weather forecasts for the first three days and any weather or navigational issues they could encounter, ports of refuge, exclusion zones and who is on board. At the end of each race they’ve got two 12 page checklists of all safety and rig checks. I’d be in my element with all these forms!

On Friday they all leave for a relaxing weekend (?), then on Monday MBB go back to start sailing on Tuesday, bringing them around to St Katherine’s Dock. If you’re in the area 22nd August (Thursday afternoon) at 5.30 you could stop by and see them come in. I’m planning on being there.

Some of the fleet

There are only 18 days left to September 1st and I still haven’t knitted enough beanies! Back to work…