43. Leg 1 start, up to Race 1.

Sunday was The Big Day. Everyone had to be on board by 12.30 at the latest, most skippers wanted the crew there well before then. John gave me a few last minute instructions then headed off at about 9 o’clock. I sorted myself out then headed off about half ten. I haven’t told you something very important though. A couple of weeks ago, we had dinner with some good friends (Michael and Lesley) who gave John a present that he needed and hadn’t yet got around to buying, a Swiss Army “Skipper” knife (GIVING HIM IDEAS ABOVE HIS STATION!).

As we were chatting, Lesley discovered I was trying to knit beanies for the world (it feels like). She ordered some yarn the next day and in less than a fortnight knitted me seven Unicef ones. What a wonderful pal! Did she sleep I wonder? Here is the final heap we created. More were made but some had already been delivered, and another pal Sue knitted two very special ones for me and her. You’ll see these at some stage, Sue is my Companion for China.

Back to Sunday 1st. I arrived before I had to, just to wander around and relax before things kicked off. Here’s a Qingdao supporter, Daisy, who came down from Cardiff and is looking VERY relaxed.

Her owner very kindly took a shot of me so you can see the hair cut and judge if I’m tidier than in Blog Post 39. George says he’s never seen it so short so I’m hoping it lasts me to Uruguay. Usually people say he looks like me, I think for once you could argue I look more like George. I’m wearing my Qingdao tee-shirt mentioned in post 42. Whilst I was there on the quayside, Qingdao crew came around with Fortune Cookies (in exchange for a donation to Unicef). Mine said “Keep your plans secret for now”. Maybe I’d best stop this blog, or I’ll have to come round and shoot you all!

Having had a quick word with George, I strolled over to the Unicef boat but they were all busy so I missed seeing John. There was some excitement on Zhuhai, however, we wondered if they were about to be arrested. It turned out to be just a photo opportunity for the Old Bill. What confused those of us on the quayside was that only crew were meant to be on the pontoon. No-one’s going to argue with a copper just before they try to leave the country!

We had 36 family and friends coming on the Spectator boats. Another eight members of the family (John’s nephew and niece and their families) did not have time to get on these and get home afterwards (school term begins) so we had lunch with them at Vicinity, part of the Tower Hotel right next to St Katherine’s Pier from where we were sailing. As we were eating, George sent me a message saying he’d got some Qingdao pompoms for the children so they all rushed off to see him. Whilst they were gone, all the other supporters managed to find us. When the kids came back, there were an extra two dozen or so at “their” table! We all wandered off, most of us to the boats and the others to see the fleet slip lines (leave their berths). You had to make sure you were the correct side of the bridge as it was lifted for the fleet to come out (see Post 40 for a picture).

There were eight Spectator boats taking over 1500 of us along the Thames with the fleet. We had to embark (get on) at 15.00 hours and were told to start queuing at 14.45. Needless to say, the queue started about 14.00 and by the time we were ready to join it, it snaked all round the pier. Time to deploy our Secret Weapon, John’s mum. I’ve been used as the Little Frail Old Lady before so was quite happy to pass this role over. Here’s one of the boats, then the inside of ours with a beanie on view.

Unfortunately this meant we missed the crews parading around the quayside and bopping away to their battle songs on a special stage, but there were plenty of people sending videos and you can still see it on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PyJsAh8oDAg&feature=youtu.be if you have three hours to spare! If you don’t, Qingdao were second on stage at about 20 minutes in and Unicef last at about 55 minutes. The fleet was blessed around one hour into the video, with George in view at 1.04 (on my machine). Then Qingdao slipped their lines at 1.16 with some good views of George as he was on the bow (at the front). With hat, of course. Fast forward to 1.54 to see Unicef set off, with more good shots of John on fender duty.

Here we go Unicef banner!

The eleven boats came out from the Docks, with the first ones circling around Wapping waiting for the latter ones so they could all go under Tower Bridge together. We got great views of them, rushing from one side of the boat to the other. I read one of the Skipper’s reports and he was in fear of us capsizing as we did this.

Six or so in view

When all eleven were out and had all done a few circuits, the traffic was stopped on Tower Bridge and it majestically opened. We had a bit of an obscured view as you can see in this shot. If you want to watch Tower Bridge open that’s at about 2.14 on the video above.

The fleet remained on the other side for about half an hour, sailing past HMS Belfast, then the bridge was re-opened (about 2.44 on the video) and they all paraded out. They are not under sail even though they have their battle sails up with all the Sponsors names. I was getting worried that they had lost Stormhoek (who provided the fizz last year for the winner to shake up on the podium). However, at the last minute I noticed that Garzon, a winery in Uruguay, is on the sails. I didn’t think shaking a bottle of Coca Cola would have the same cachet. Something to try when I get there (Garzon, NOT Coca Cola!)

Great view of St Pauls

There were lots of boats zooming around them and getting great views. Another supporter posted a brilliant link of the Woolwich Ferry greeting them by sounding its horn (?) and doing pirouettes, which I can’t believe it normally does. It’s on newsflare which is a new app to me if you can find it. Talking of which, the junior supporter link is not easy to find on the Clipper website, John’s daughter was signing up the three Fs and almost committed her ten year old to the race!

Punta del Este, Qingdao and a Thames Rocket

We saw George a few times, the first time he seemed to be drinking a cup of tea or coffee, although someone said they had seen a bottle of red wine on board. Surely not, it’s meant to be a dry race (dry regarding alcohol, incredibly wet regarding water of course). The second time he had a plate of food and was scoffing away. Very relaxed.

We didn’t spend all our time watching the fleet, there were two Clipper commentators on board giving all sorts of interesting information about the race. They also interviewed the three Fs about the hats and “Grannie Sammy” (ME) got a mention. There was a bar but no food apart from one bag of Revels which the bar staff refused to sell, even when offered £10. Probably their supper. We saw some iconic sights in addition to Tower Bridge opening. See if you recognise these:

Cutty Sark, an original Tea Clipper
Millennium Dome

As I said, we were rushing from one side of the boat to the other to see things. At one stage a couple of our pals decided that John’s mum needed to be on the opposite side, moved her over and gave her a Clipper flag to wave out of the window. George saw her and blew her a kiss. He’s here just above the dragon’s eye.

Unicef sent their own tribute with their “dance”. There’s a GoPro video of “The Official Unicef Supporters Guide” which shows us how to do this as well as The Fist Bump. It has a certain John Dawson dancing, well, bouncing up and down. I’m not sure if I can share it. The crew at the back (stern) are attempting it here.

Finally after a few hours we had to start waving a final goodbye (for the time being). We got a great view of them in formation and then going through the Thames Barrier.

We had to turn round here and go back to SKD. Some smaller boats continued or joined them along the route to Southend. We were the last boat to get back to the pier and I had to get to Southend for the race start the next morning. Eventually a taxi turned up, for some reason I had a massive heavy bag for an overnight stay so didn’t fancy the Tube. I must be more disciplined next time. I went to Liverpool Street station and hopped on a train. With my Senior Railcard it cost less than £9 (one way, couldn’t work out how to get a return that would let me return when I wanted to). Final picture for this post, George checking out something technical at the helm with Donna in the background, taken by a team member. We’re hoping he’s not actually helming as he’s got his arm through the wheel.

Very soon, the delights of Southend and the start of Race 1 to Portimao.