71. The Best Laid Schemes

Well, I’m neither man nor mouse but my plans are ganging aft agley. I’ll be missing out on the promised joy but hope not to have the grief and pain promised in Rabbie Burns’ poem To A Mouse. I had been ambivalent about this trip across the three Chinese ports (Sanya, Zhuhai and Qingdao) with Subic Bay thrown in. As well as a seven week trip and all the preparation that entails, I would be going from temperatures of mid-30s in Subic Bay to just above zero in Qingdao. A normal trip to one zone has required two large bags, what would I need for this?

New (smaller) cabin bag

In preparation I bought a Kindle while flying home as a lot of my weight is books. The day after I arrived home I went to have my fingerprints taken at the Chinese Visa Centre. I found the phrase books I had. I bought a smaller cabin bag so I wouldn’t have to struggle so much (it fits on top of the big case without falling off everywhere). I bought some cotton dresses and trousers that were larger than I needed so that I’d feel cool in the heat of Sanya, having felt way too hot in Australia. I downloaded a VPN and the WeChat app for use in China: for the latter I needed someone who had been using it for over a month to “sponsor” me, luckily I have a Chinese pal who did this. Items that George had ordered arrived so I packed them ready to take. I bought some earrings to compliment my birthday necklace. I ordered Sealskinz socks and a Spinlock bag and Musto gloves that John had asked me to get for him. I received two birthday cards from families for crew members on other boats to take out to Sanya. An email from John and another Unicef crew member asked me to buy more socks so I did that.

Christmas present for John, yet to be seen!

My passport had not come back by the promised date (I paid extra for it to be fast-tracked) so I chased the agents. It was delayed due to Chinese New Year but would be with me the next day. They called me back the next day and said I had been issued with the wrong visa, valid for only 30 days, so I’d need to go back and have my fingerprints taken again. This was arranged for 31st January, still plenty of time before my flight on 7th February.

My birthday necklace plus earrings from London

Then on 28th January the FCO issued advice about travelling to Wuhan and the Hubei province in China. That was OK, I wasn’t going anywhere near the areas highlighted. The following day I woke to the news that BA had suspended flights to China, shortly followed by the FCO saying travel to anywhere in mainland China was not recommended. This was becoming serious. Even if we could get there, would we get out again? I spoke with Sue, who was meant to be travelling with me, and we decided to cancel the whole trip.

I have kept the hotel in Subic Bay for the moment, if the boats land there OBB may need the rooms, even if I don’t manage to get there. We don’t yet know what’s happening with the fleet, they are still on the way to Sanya. With luck by the time I do my next update I’ll be able to tell you. If they don’t go to China, Clipper need to find a port that can take eleven large (ish) yachts at short notice, when cruise ships and other shipping are also trying to divert. They need a port that has sufficient shops to allow the crews to buy enough groceries to take them to Seattle. Zhuhai (close to Hong Kong) is the end of this Leg, so there will be crew members needing to get off and go home, and other crew members wanting to join their boat. If the Hong Kong flights are cancelled then they’ll need an airport that is open and close to wherever the fleet ends up.

If only Unicef had seen this route to Durban!

Meanwhile I’m using the time to empty my in-tray, complete my to-do list and practice the piano. And the Chinese visa? Well, because my passport isn’t British, the visa wouldn’t last for two years so I’ll reapply when I need one. By then I might need to apply for one to live here as well, today is BREXIT DAY! Happy New World everyone and BYE until the next time!

50. Leg 1 Race 2 (b)

I promised some more photos of Portimao, there are some dotted around this Post. Also, before you sailors get too excited, despite the title, this is about life during Race 2, both theirs and mine, so it’s a pretty long post. Grab a cup of tea and sit down.

Sardine sculpture

A correction to Post 49, it was not Cyclone Garry but Jerry. This was replaced by Karen then Lorenzo. Some of the boats in the fleet were hoping to hang onto the tail coats of Lorenzo and get a faster push into the Doldrums, but this didn’t happen. A good feel for this is given by Jody on Qingdao in the crew diaries. https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/crew-diary/qingdao/278

Portimao dome

The first two to start motoring in the Doldrums Corridor were Qingdao and Unicef. In addition, Qingdao had a problem with their generator so were burning fuel too quickly. Ha Long Bay and Sanya were diverted to perform a boat-to-boat transfer to them. They practiced this during training weeks: at that time I gather a tin of baked beans went from one boat to the other. Josh (skipper on Ha Long Bay) said he was going to ask for jam, peanut butter and Nutella in exchange for the diesel. What he actually received was some jam and a few Smarties! (Sanya had the promise of beers in Punta del Este when they arrive). Unicef are a bit more upmarket in the snacks they want us to bring out.

Back on Unicef, there’s a crew diary entry from John dated 27th September (day 12 of Race 2). https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/crew-diary/unicef/294

Eventually every boat motored for a spell, the last one being Seattle. As they can only motor for a limited period, there isn’t necessarily an advantage to starting at the beginning of the Doldrums Corridor and getting ahead of the rest if you then get stuck at the end and wave to the latecomers motoring past.

Bridge in Portimao!

And while they’ve been battling the elements I’ve been enjoying London. Ironic really when you consider that John was the one wanting to live here and savour the sights. I’ve been to the V&A to see the Mary Quant exhibition, a bit of a disappointment after the Dior, but of its time. At Tate Britain the William Blake has just started so I went to that, the surprising thing is that his illustrations were so small as they were intended in the main for books. The development of his art was interesting as was the involvement of his wife and patrons. Imagine commissioning an artist to paint you 200 works of art these days! Although not commissioned, I did receive a personal journal made for me by my pal Sue (who also made me the amazing push-me-pull-you hat you saw in Post 44). This picture shows you the construction of the hat. You can see how it’s either Unicef or Qingdao depending how I fold it up.

Talking of which, in addition to the dual beanies knitted for the three Fs I now have two unique tee shirts supporting Qingcef and Unidao.

Well, the way the scissors cut it’s Qinef and Unicgdao but that’s too difficult to say. Look out for me at the start and finish of the races!

By Monday morning 30th September the first three ships (Sanya, Qingdao and Ha Long Bay) crossed the Equator and presumably held their ceremonies. I hope to hear about it in Punta del Este and let you know more, although some details are on the Clipper website in the Skipper reports or crew diaries. A lot of visits from King Neptune and sins recounted with baked beans and flying fish featuring in the punishments. There is a suggestion that some on Unicef had their head shaved. Will we recognise them?

Unicef supporters tried to have a glass of bubbly as Unicef crossed the Equator, we weren’t quite sure of the correct time so I think we started on Friday and continued until Tuesday, just to be on the safe side. My toast was during Sunday lunch with some other Unicef supporters at The White Hart, a pub about two minutes stroll from Waterloo station.

The rest of my weekend consisted of brunch at Bill’s in Victoria (I think my next brunch will be at Browns, as they offer Lobster Benedict), followed by a doggy birthday party which ended up in Mazar, a Lebanese restaurant in Battersea. The host of the party was Milo, a three year old Golden Retriever who is best pals with Clint, who you saw in Post 39. The owner of Milo, O M Faure, has recently published some books and very kindly gave me three. I started the first one on Sunday and have been reading the series in every spare moment, including on the Tube. The first is called “Chosen” and you can find it on her website, https://www.omfaure.com/.

This Monday morning I received a communication (my first) from JD on CV31! “Thinking of you, can you buy me a head torch (exact type specified, an Exposure RAW Pro) and a water bottle to attach to my life jacket (Spinlock)”. I’d already sorted out the head torch, Exposure suggested I go to Arthur Beale, an amazing chandlers close to Covent Garden on Shaftesbury Avenue. They had to order one so I said make it two as John has already gone through two and it’s only one month into the journey. Should I place an order for another 18? They don’t stock Spinlock and I couldn’t find said water bottle on the internet.

On the way to Arthur Beale I was waylaid by a cosmetic shop selling lovely hand and body lotions. I bought some for myself and an appropriately named hand cream, Ocean, to take to Punta for the workers. On the way back to the Tube I called into Brigit’s Bakery in Chandos Place for brunch. Wonderful looking cakes but I avoided them (this time!).

Sam’s travel Journal

I mentioned the travel journal above, I’m sticking little mementos in it as I go along to remind me of the events, both abroad and in the UK. I’m sure it will appear a number of times over the months, here it is from the outside. It’s created from the book “Global Challenge”, a 1997 business management book based on the BT Global Challenge round the world race. The bookmark you can see poking out at the top is from Volume 1 of the Admiralty Navigation Manual 1938. It is the most incredible work of art.

Back at the race, the first three boats (Sanya, Qingdao and Ha Long Bay) are through the Ocean Sprint (Thursday morning 3rd October). As this part of the race is not first-past-the-post but the fastest passage, the points are not allocated until the last yacht is through, which may not be until Monday 7th October by current estimates. Imagine Your Korea has just entered the “course” and they could still win if the wind picks up for them. I gather that Unicef have squalls which are not helping their speed.

We are lucky enough to have thoughtful people back at home. Jane-the-gardener sent us some shots of John’s greenhouse. Look back at Post 36 in August to see a photo of the plants John put in before heading off to the wide wild blue yonder. These are from last week. Thanks Jane, a wonderful reminder of what we’ll be coming back to next summer.

burgundy palm
Variegated palm

It’s looking as though Sanya and Qingdao will be first and second into Punta, but we’ve been here at the end of the first race. We were wondering why Qingdao seemed to be so much slower than Sanya for much of the time, Captain’s Log Star Date 2nd October gives us a glimpse of what happened:

https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/skipper-report/qingdao/race2-day17-team47

I’ll be in the air whilst the last part of the race is being run so I may not be able to tell you who won until I’m in Punta. The next dispatch from your own correspondent should be from sunnier climes than London, let’s hope it’s not another saga like the trip to Portimao! If anything exciting happens in the meantime, such as the Ocean Sprint Results, you may have an earlier post.

London October 1st

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!

Practicing

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…

23. The Known Knowns

Plus a few known unknowns. Whilst I’ve been wittering on about all sorts of stuff in this blog, the Clipper website has been telling us stuff about the actual race, so I thought I’d do a summary of what we know so far. I feel like we’re stuck in our own personal Bxxxxx: we know we’re leaving but not when! Actually it’s worse, we don’t even know where we’re headed. This is the twelfth race (I think) and none have had the same route. Here’s a summary of this overall race:

LegLeavePortArriveDestinationRacesNumber of  Ports
1Mid AugUKEarly OctS America23
2Mid OctS AmericaLate OctS Africa12
3Mid NovS AfricaEarly DecFremantle12
4Mid DecFremantleEarly JanE Aust12
5Early FebSanyaMid FebZhuhai34
6aLate FebZhuhaiEarly
March
Qingdao23
6bMid MarchQingdaoLate MarchW USAN/AN/A
7Early MayW USAMid JuneE USA23
8Late JuneE USALate JulyUK23

This is what’s been announced so far, I’ll update as I hear official news. It looks like the leg from Eastern Australia to China is missing, not sure what the precise timing is there, some time in January. My dates will be shorter, possibly flying out to South America (Uruguay? Brazil?) for early October 2019 and flying back from the East Coast of the USA in late June 2020. However, as mentioned in Post 22, there is a possibility that the first leg will race over to mainland Europe first so I may leave sometime in September.

That’s as much as we know about the actual race today. There will be eleven identical Clipper yachts, with a maximum of 22 crew per leg, of whom two are professionals and the rest amateurs. As some (sensible) people only do a leg or two, there will be roughly 700 people involved in total. John and George have each met maybe 30 of these people over their training weeks so far, so lots of new friends waiting in the wings (or should that be in the bilge?).

The eleven professional Skippers have been chosen and announced on the Clipper website. We don’t yet have details of the Mates, the first time two professionals will be on each Clipper.
https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/news

Obviously we are only interested in the ones that our two Brave Boys will be sailing with, which we should know on May 11th. If you want to learn about all of them, pop over to the Clipper website, link above. I notice that they are all male this time: I guess the fact that the first and second places last year went to the two female Skippers was too humiliating to allow any this time (hah!). At this stage we know who won’t be one of them, see below. Maybe the next race, although as George is cantering on with his Yachtmaster training it’s more likely to be him.

Skipper John (AKA Captain Pugwash)

In addition to the known ports and Skippers there are some Partners who have been announced. If you are a keen sailor you’ll be interested in all the details but for the rest of us landlubbers here are the highlights. So, in no particular order here they are. I’ll discuss the ports another time.

Spinlock. They will be providing the life jackets (PFD, personal floating device), safety lines and clips for all the crew members. Each PFD has an AIS (see below) to help find anyone who gets washed overboard.

This is NOT what he will be wearing!

AIS stands for Automatic Identification System. This applies to all boats (ships?) over a certain size and you can track any of them on this fascinating website (but be warned, it’s a great time waster). I’ve just looked and found two Clipper boats out training. https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/home/centerx:-12.0/centery:25.0/zoom:4

Musto are the official Fleet Partner with all the official sailing clothing. If you go back to Post 17 you’ll see an example. I suspect you’ll see much more before this voyage is over.

Before I go onto the actual yacht equipment, the leadership and team building will be undertaken by Grahame Robb Associates Ltd. All the Skippers and Mates will be trained on how to cope with a disparate bunch of random people who decided to get away from the daily grind and sail round the world (I paraphrase).

Some of the crew on Week 3

The actual equipment next. Coppercoat is a copper coat (duh!) on the bottom of the boat (hull). Prior to this, some poor volunteer would have to get kitted up and go under the boat to scrape off the barnacles etc (yes, underwater). The boats were also taken into dry dock in Australia and thoroughly cleaned up. With Coppercoat they can go all the way around the world without the need to do all this mucky work (but don’t worry, there’s plenty of other mucky stuff for them to do).

You can guess what Hyde Sails supply. They are based in Hamble, nice and close, and have been supplying sails for all sizes of yachts for 50 years, including Clipper sails since the 13/14 race. Originally they were called Musto and Hyde, so maybe you need to know who Musto was as he keeps cropping up.

Keith Musto (born January 1936) competed in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Supposedly considered too light and short for the Flying Dutchman class he was competing in with Tony Morgan, they decided they had to be the fittest crew and trained every day including Christmas Day. They won Silver, narrowly missing out on Gold to New Zealand. This training was in the days of Guernsey sweaters and flannel trousers (no doubt with a pipe gritted between the teeth!). Deciding things had to improve, he set about making specialist clothing and sails, splitting off from Hyde Sails in 1980.

Possibly a Hyde Sail?

In the picture above you can also see bits of rope and stainless steel rigging attached to the sail and the mast, holding the whole contraption together. For Clipper, these are provided by Marlow Ropes and Sta-Lok. Marlow has supplied Clipper for the last 16 years whilst Sta-Lok started their collaboration in the last (17/18) race. For our race, Sta-Lok will provide 450 bespoke fittings and 2,150 metres of wire.

Next to navigation. TimeZero by MaxSea is the navigation software on each boat. This is their third Clipper race. It has a Weather Routing Module which I guess allows them to see what they are heading into and what to avoid. They can be followed by Head Office and each yacht can see where the others are (unless they are using Stealth Mode, see Post 18).

There’s LOTS more information on all of these companies and the products on the Clipper and individual websites so if any of these interest you in depth go find. I found it fascinating reading about all the technical background stuff you don’t normally even think about.

And finally the official charity, Unicef, for whom John is attempting to raise money. Pop over to his just giving page to see how he’s getting on. https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/john-dawson25

Help!