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.

R&R

29. Rhapsody in Blue

Now to John’s boat. Before I start though, I thought you might be interested in a book John was given for his birthday, not by me!

No comment!

This is a gripping book, addressing the original voyage that Sir Robin took. Although it was not intended as a race, it became known as the Golden Globe Race and nine men set off in various types of boats with varying degrees of experience. One man continued beyond the start as he would not consider racing and ended up living in Tahiti. One was Donald Crowhurst, who faked his position and looked as though he were winning until he disappeared. (There were two films made about him in 2017). I’ll not tell you the rest, it’s well worth a read.

John is on the Unicef boat, commonly referred to as the Big Blue Boat. They came sixth last year with 108 points. The Unicef boat is the official charity of Clipper and is the only one that does not have a sponsor. I may have said this previously, but I hadn’t realised that Unicef relies entirely on donations. This is the third time they’ve been the Clipper charity and are hoping to get above £1 million this time. As the last race raised over £374,000 and all three raised a total of more than £700,000 this sounds achievable. As well as John raising funds I’ve now joined in with my Clipper Supporter Unicef hats. That’ll add a few more pounds! I’ll not bore you with another picture, just go back to my last post. I have now knitted two decent ones. OK, here’s the proof. The next time you see them it should be at the race start on Supporter heads.

The Big Blue Hat

On the Unicef boat there are 63 crew listed, 42 male and 21 female, aged from 18 to 70 years old. John is not the only 70 year old so may not even been the oldest on this boat (and on George’s there’s a 72 year old). He may be the oldest Round-The-Worlder though, I need to research the other boats before being able to say this with confidence (see a future post?). On the Unicef boat there are eight circumnavigators. Fourteen nationalities are reported to be sailing, so far I’ve found eleven: British, Australian, Canadian, American, Irish, Swedish, South African, Swiss, Spanish, Norwegian and Italian.

The Skipper is Ian Wiggin, a 30 year old Brit who has been working towards skippering a Clipper boat for the last ten years. The AQP is Mike Miller, a 50 year old Brit who was a crew circumnavigator last time on Sanya, the winning boat. I’m sure he’ll want to keep that position! I have a photo of Ian, courtesy of the Clipper website. (I couldn’t get the others to download for some reason. Need more skills).

“Wiggy” on his boat

As I said last time, the RTW’ers are given a specific job, and John will be the Medical Assistant. This should not be too demanding as there are at least five doctors on board as well as a renal nurse, but not all going for the whole trip. The Skipper is responsible for medical care on the boat but John will be responsible for keeping the medical kit and log safe and up-to-date. We’ve been told by a crew member from a previous trip that everyone will have an injury at some stage, the vast majority being minor, so sticking plasters at the ready! He’ll be going on a two day course in July for all the Medical Assistants and we have both signed up for a four day course in August to learn about first aid on board. You never know when you’ll need it. You know the official colour by now, BLUE!

Every boat has a kitty which the crew can decide to spend on a luxury or two. George’s crew are busy discussing whether to have a freezer. Whilst they think of their stomachs, the Unicef team are much more cerebral. All John’s correspondence (?) on WhatsApp seems to have been about the Team Song. Even though there are only 63 crew it felt that about 150 songs were suggested. I have spent many a happy hour listening to them. Last weekend there was a vote (a bit like Eurovision but not so camp. I think). One crew member one vote. I won’t tell you which one John voted for but the winner with 17 votes was Here We Go by Wild. They are from Los Angeles so maybe they’ll come and cheer us into Seattle? The runner up had 6 votes and I’m Happy to say that no-one went home with nul points. If you don’t know the winning song here’s the YouTube link to it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08beVMVWfnI&feature=youtu.be

The words are up there so no excuse, I expect you all to be singing along on 1st September. Rather apt, in view of the fact that on the Golden Globe Sir Robin was considered to be lost, are the words “We’ll get lost until we’re found”. Let’s hope not. (He insisted he wasn’t lost as he knew exactly where he was, it was just that the communications had failed).

One last item of interest. John is sailing this week (level 1 helping the newbies) and next (level 4 on His boat). He sent me a picture of a proper BOB, not to be confused with the HOB we had in post 27. Personally I think it looks like one of the Dr Who monsters but that’s just me. Isn’t it?

A Cyberman in disguise?

Next time, for a bit of light relief from all this sailing stuff, I’ll let you know how my preparations are coming along.

27a. It’s A Small Small World (5)

There are two small worlds here but individually too small to really divide up into two posts. The first one: when I went to pick the Home Team (see post 2) from the kennels after our sailing trip detailed last time, I got chatting to the owner about our adventures. Not only did he once live in the same village as Sir Robin, he used to go shooting with him! Here’s Polly recovering from the ordeal of being away from home.

Life is hard

Then, a couple of days later, after my Pilates class, we went and had a coffee (no cake) as usual. Chatting about which boats George and John will be on, one of my pals told me her grand-daughter Georgia (not quite George) had spent a year in Qingdao studying during her degree. I’d never heard of the place before Clipper, although I think we’ve all heard of the beer Tsingtao. I’ll have plenty of pictures of China over the next year but in the meantime here’s a dragon.

Chinese New Year celebrations in the UK

Now I’m ready to let you know all about the two boats my crew members are on….

25. And The Boys Watch The Girls

Because of course everyone can go on Clipper! Although on this header more people seem to be watching their phones. Some of you will have already found out what happened on Crew Allocation Day, May 11th. If you watched it live you can probably miss out this post. For those of you waiting for this update, I’m sorry you’ve had to bite your nails for a week. The next post will tell you what else we’ve been up to.

Back to May 11th. We arrived in Portsmouth the night before to meet up with George, who had been on his Day Skipper course. The next morning we joined the queue to get into the venue.

Outside the Guildhall

We found out that it was the biggest crew allocation to date, with over 400 crew in attendance and 300 watching live. There are five weeks of Level 4 training, starting in June, with 535 crew booked and about 140 yet to book. Sir Robin warned that anyone NOT completing Level 4 will NOT sail in Clipper. In addition there were over 150 of us supporters in the room. We had a reminder of the race rules and features (see Post 18 if you want to remind yourself). During the night hours, the racing is according to IRPCS, the International Rules for Prevention of Collisions at Sea. Race specific course instructions will be sent to the crew about five days before each race.

The race skippers have completed eight weeks of training with another 14-15 weeks to do. We were introduced to them, here’s before they sat down and obscured the details. We have AQPs (additional qualified person, in effect a First Mate) for the first time but we didn’t get their specific details. You can find them on the Clipper website, https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/news/article/meet-the-clipper-201920-race-aqps

Skippers

Four yachts have already been rebranded: Unicef, Sanya, Zhuhai and Qingdao. At the meeting we found out that both Seattle and Punta del Este will be host ports and boat entries. Only another five to go! I’ve not got any pictures of them but I’m sure you’ll have had enough by the end of the race. We also had a LOT of information on safety. Crew will be clipped on if the speed is over 15 knots, at night time and if the Skipper says so. Both tethered and untethered Man Over Board (MOB) will happen before each race and the Skipper will have to email HQ that this has been done.

We then heard a bit about Brand Ambassadors, essentially crew who volunteer to represent a particular brand associated with Clipper. Team partners have not all been confirmed (see Post 14 for the different types of partners and Post 23 for announced ones) but they should all be announced in the next few weeks. After this each crew will know their team colours and identity and be issued with kit. Cape Town and The Whitsundays (in Australia) were announced as host ports in addition to Seattle and Punte del Este. We still don’t know a couple, see the updated table below:

LegRace numberLeavePortArriveDestination
0 (Prep)16th Aug
1a11st SeptSt Katherine’s Dock London??????
1b2??????14-16 OctPunta del Este
Uruguay
2323rd OctPunta del Este7-11 NovCape Town
3417th NovCape Town9-14 DecFremantle
4522nd DecFremantle9-12 JanWhitsundays
5a618th JanWhitsundays10-15 FebSanya
5b721st FebSanya25-26 FebSE Asia
5c828th FebSE Asia2-3 MarchZhuhai
6a99th MarZhuhai17-19 MarchQingdao
6b1026th MarQingdao19-24 AprilSeattle
7a112nd MaySeattle27 May -1 JunePanama
7b125th JunePanamaMid JuneEast USA
8a13/14Late JuneEast USAMid JulyN Europe
8b14 or 15?Late JulyN EuropeEarly AugSt Katherine’s Dock London

As you can see, the very first race destination isn’t known and once past the Panama Canal we’re off into the unknown. The Race will actually start on 2nd September from Southend Pier. I’ll update when I can. We then had information on stopovers (see Post 22); we’ll know more eight then four weeks before each one. I hope to get myself organised before that though. We heard that there is a travel company who will be announced in the next few weeks, mainly for crew who are only on one or two legs and so need to arrive in the right place at the right time, but I’m sure we can piggy-back on this. Unicef updated us that each yacht will have a fund-raising co-ordinator for the first time. This is not an extra person but one of the crew. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that every crew member is going to be wearing a number of hats, especially the circumnavigators.

The next section addressed communications. Race crew news will be via email to the crew. The website will carry information as will Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. I’m going to have to get into this century and join all these. There will be on-board reporters (a crew member) and Youtube stuff, with Skipper daily blogs and crew will also be encouraged to blog. If you sign up on the Clipper website you should received updates in your inbox. However, don’t forget that they will be far from civilisation, so “daily” may not actually mean what we think it means. A RIB will go out to each boat at the end of each race to interview crew members and there will be local press interviews.

Smile and wave!

After all this and greater details of the race than I’ve given in the table above, we had what we’d all come for, the crew allocation (from midday, so we had about three hours of anticipation). To prolong the agony, each Skipper stood up in turn and announced HALF of his crew, so if you were in the first half you could relax. I didn’t have a bird’s-eye-view so not good photos, but here are our two teams.

George 4th out of the sorting hat!

Team Chris was first to speak so George didn’t have long to wait. Chris Brooks is Skippering the Qingdao boat: George needs to start learning his Mandarin. (Louise, you volunteered Neil to accompany me on this leg so we can test his Mandarin, you thought you were joking!). The AQP is Rhiannon Massey.

John had to wait a bit longer.

The eleventh Skipper to stand up was Ian Wiggin but luckily John was also in the first tranche. This is the Unicef boat, so John is already ahead of the game in terms of fundraising. His AQP is Mike Miller, who went round the world in the last race. For completeness here are the other two halves of our crews.

Rest of Team Chris (Qingdao)
Rest of Team Ian (Unicef)

After this we had lunch then split into teams for the afternoon. I’ll tell you more about these two boats and the host port Qingdao next time, as well as what we learnt in the afternoon session for supporters. You may be getting one of these posts a day for the next week.

20. That Was The Week That Was

Otherwise known as TW3 to those of us of a certain age. Or as Training Week 3 in our house from now on. (If you were trying to find Post 13 it may have been missing for a short while as I was correcting a typo spotted by one of my followers. No prizes but thanks).

I had intended to post this on Friday 15th as I wanted to tell you to listen to a programme with Sir Robin Knox-Johnston on Radio 4, talking about his first round the world trip on Suhaili 50 years ago. It was well worth listening to even though the Clipper race was not mentioned so go onto BBC Sounds or whatever it’s called and catch up. It also makes today’s title very apt as there was a lot of other stuff from the 1960’s as background to his reminiscing. Impressive when you think how much has changed, what was once an endurance race is now a pleasure (well, I’m told so). My header may make you think otherwise. This was the Unicef boat coming into Liverpool last year.

The reason I did not get this out is that we have temporarily become a one-computer family and John had more serious deadlines to meet. However, it is serendipitous that the post will go out today as it is Sir Robin’s 80th birthday. Happy Birthday Sir Robin (even though he hasn’t a clue who I am). Here he is with the Visit Seattle crew last summer in Liverpool.

He made a few interesting observations that John noted down for reference: in order to get a good wash, soap yourself up, dive in at the front of the boat, let it sail past then climb back on. Repeat as necessary. Of course Suhaili is smaller than the 70 footers they sail in now so once may be enough! Regarding the cooking, open a load of tins and add them together to make pot mess. When you get fed up with it, add rice to make a risotto and when this palls then add curry powder to make a curry. At the end of the week wash the pan out then repeat with different tins.

Onto week 3 I hear you cry. This was meant to be all about using the spinnakers but I’m not sure much practical work went on. I haven’t had the chance to talk with George about his week but he did send a few photos. I’ll get more details for another post but here he is on his week. He had signed up for a week in February hoping he’d get rough weather. Well it was to a degree, they didn’t sail for the whole week. Apparently when they did their MOB (man overboard) drill, he was at the tiller, oops sorry, wheel, in charge of bringing it round to the MOB. In practice it is a mannequin so don’t panic about their safety.

Enjoying the sun

This is their first time in the 70 footers, in weeks 1 and 2 they sailed the 68 footers that were raced previously. They are quite different, not just twenty-four inches added on. They have two wheels for steering and the 16 bunks are all along the sides instead of having some at the front, which is now the sail locker, so more chance of staying dry I’m told. Here’s one of the sails being taken down (I think, corrections welcome) on John’s boat. That may be him front left.

Doing something with a sail

John had a more exciting week than George. We had Storm Gareth (or was it Freya?) and they only got out two days of the week. You may ask why they don’t go out considering what they will meet when they do set off around the world. It’s nothing to do with them being unable to cope, it’s getting the boats out and back into harbour at Gosport. We don’t want to lose any yachts before the start.

RNLI to the rescue!

As you can see from the photo above, they did have an issue. Not a man overboard but one poor soul managed to catch his thumb in a winch and badly mangled it. So at least they had a real-life practice of ship-to-ship transfer. John had his own small crisis too. Remember the watches I gave them both for Christmas? (See post 10 if not). This is the first time John’s has been out. He tells me it’s good for telling the time (always useful) and has a nifty little light for use at night so you don’t blind everyone else (use a red lamp if you can on a boat or else face the wrath of whoever is up top). However, sometime during the night he managed to press some button that set an alarm off every five minutes. How not to endear yourself to fellow travellers! He buried it at the bottom of his sleeping bag which seemed to work thankfully.

A last photo of his Clipper yacht in action. In a future post I’ll give more details of the training they have in each of the weeks.

18. Rules of Engagement

A little more on the actual race itself. The first pic below gives some detail which I shall attempt to flesh out. Before I do, I was asked if the last (proper) post should have been “kinky boats”, a pun I missed, so here at the top is a kinky boat from Liverpool!

The Race is divided into different legs, each having a race or two within it. Each race has three placings but every boat gets points in each race, so the overall winner has the most points over the whole Round The World. Clear? I’m sure there’s an easier way to describe it.

Once the race is underway it’ll be easy to see how the individual yachts are getting on by signing up to the Race Viewer on the Clipper website (link to follow once it’s active).

In addition to the details above, there are Scoring Gates, an imaginary “gate” in the sea through which the first three yachts get bonus points. There are also Ocean Sprints between two lines of latitude or longitude which again give points to the fastest. Some Skippers may ignore these if they think they can win an overall individual race by taking a different route, although there are also limits to how far South they can go (for safety).

Which is the quickest route?

AND THEN there is stealth mode, when you can “hide” from the other yachts (and us the supporters) for 24 hours if you think you might have an advantage in taking a particular route. The office will still be tracking the boat in case of difficulties so no need to panic if they disappear off the screen. Oh, and each team also has a Joker which they play once in the whole Race, scoring double points. This cannot be used on the Scoring Gates or Ocean Sprints: realistically you’d want to use it when you hope to double your first place of eleven points.

This all sounds very complicated but once they’re underway it’s pretty easy to follow, honestly. You may wonder why they don’t all follow the same “path”. Weather, my dear! Although all the boats are identical, the Skipper may think that there’s a better breeze (wind? tempest? whatever the weather throws up) coming along and try to take advantage of this by trimming the sails differently or taking a different more Northerly or Southerly route. Once you start watching them on the Race Viewer you’ll see that sometimes one goes way off course. He’s not lost, just trying to pick up a different sea current.

You’re now asking me what you win. Well, each race has a pennant for first, second and third:

Race winner Derry / Londonderry to Liverpool

As well as the first, second and third for each race, the sponsors may give a pennant. Here is last year’s Liverpool Team getting one for being good eggs (can’t remember exactly what they did, most sponsorship or something? Saving other people when their boat was sinking?) Just looked on the Clipper website, it doesn’t say exactly why they received it only that they would have been nominated by lots of people.

I’m not sure how much of this stuff is for the individuals but on the final race Team Seattle all had individual pennants for their second place win. Here’s a delighted recipient. I need to clear a space on the office walls for all the ones John is planning to bring home.

Finally, the winning yacht gets a big trophy. Here’s Wendy Tuck and Sanya Serenity Coast winning last year, with Sir Robin Knox-Johnston on the right.

Clipper Round The World victors

All of this takes a massive amount of organising and they have a lot of coverage once they are out there. Last year there were about 30,000 stories in the various media that we have these days. Each boat has someone responsible for media; they’re given a waterproof camera, filming diaries and a daily blog on the team pages. At the end of the Race all the crew get the diaries, photos etc. You’ll be glad you’ve got me summarising it all for you once they set off this summer!