Loading

Brisbane Stopover

We were all pleased to finally arrive in Brisbane after everything that had
happened. As usual, we were met by friends, family, and Derek! In true
Clipper fashion nothing slowed down after our arrival and we would only
have a few days in port.

That first day was the usual deep clean and maintenance. I had the joy of
organizing that. Adding to my stress level (no sleep, no shower, no food,
sorting the deep clean) was the fact that I’d be taking over the role of
chief-of-staff. It’s basically a paperwork job, sorting visas and
immigration forms and various shore bits. Unfortunately, our Chinese visas
needed to be applied for in Brisbane, which meant quite a lot of work and
herding of crew members. On top of that was the debate over whether one of
the crew members that had joined for the previous race from another boat
(my assistant watch leader that I clashed with) would be permanently moved
to our boat.

It all added up to me having a first-day meltdown. I ended up sobbing and
explaining everything in front of one of the race office staff (and then
later Matt as well). Not my finest moment, but perhaps the start of a
series.

I managed to remedy some of the basics (most notably a shower and some
snacks) that evening thankfully. We all went out for food and drinks and
just generally had a relaxed time. Brisbane saw quite a few chill nights
out, always followed by days working on the boat. There’s never enough time
to get everything done. Before we knew it, it was sailing time again.

I can’t say I really saw much of Brisbane. The marina was miles and miles
outside the city in a really industrial area - there was just nothing
around at all. Quite disappointing really as I’d heard some nice things.

04.12.14 ♥ 0

leaving Hobart, part 2

After the medevacs we turned back to Hobart with Qingdao following. We had
no functional engine, not enough crew, and were seriously shaken. We moored
up late that night. As it turns out, Qingdao was going to do even more for
us. They loaned us two crew members so we could get numbers back up to sail
again. It’s a serious sacrifice for people to get off their own boats,
leaving their own crews, skippers, and lifestyles, to help out others. Now
we had three crew members from other boats.

Qingdao left Hobart that night as quickly as possible in an attempt to
rejoin the fleet and return to racing. We all tried to settle into some
sleep so we could at least attempt a bit of rest before starting all over
again.

It was morning all too soon. We got word that Derek was still in
hospital but would be okay - he’d had a nasty concussion. Katherine would
even be rejoining despite the injury to her ribs. It was a huge relief to
know that both had avoided anything permanent.

That morning we had a team meeting on deck. We’d all been really shaken by
the situation - how could you not be? Losing Derek in particular was a real
shock. He’s one of our RTW crew and we’d only had 4 left anyway! We started
in London with 9 RTWers - 6 guys and 3 girls. Now, leaving Hobart (again),
we only had the 3 girls left. I’d always expected some attrition - this is
after all an incredibly long, tough trip - but a full two-thirds is beyond
that. I can’t imagine what it felt like for him to leave the boat, to get
on a plane to Brisbane, and to watch us sail in without him. That’s not
part of the plan.

Anyway, race director Justin came to our team meeting. I can’t remember
exactly what he said, but it was a good reminder to look after ourselves
and, more imporantly, look after each other including Matt. Sometimes we
forget that he’s just as human as we are and these things will affect him
too (actually they’ll make even more of an impact). Tears were shed. Hugs
were had. And we went sailing as quickly as possible.

Looking back, it’s strange to compare our medevacs. We had Dave with the
injury to his leg in the Southern Ocean and now we had Derek and Katherine
outside Hobart. Derek’s seemed so much scarier and I think that’s partially
because we had time to think about it. It’s certainly also due to the
different natures of their injuries. The situations we just very different.
When Dave was injured in the bad weather, the only option we had was to
turn around, carrying on in the bad weather, until we could get back to
Port Elizabeth. If we wanted to help Dave, the best we could do was sail
the boat as best we knew how. With Derek there was no sailing - sails came
down immediately to slow the boat enough for help to get to us. You have no
options and no power when you’re simply waiting for a rescue boat, waiting
for answers. As a crew we also knew Derek much better - he’d been with us
nearly 5 months while most of the crew only knew Dave for a couple of days.

Here’s hoping we’re done with the medevacs anyway. Here’s hoping the fleet
is done with medevacs - I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

04.05.14 ♥ 0

Hobart to Brisbane - finally racing (sort of)

We managed to sail safely out of Hobart the second time around. There’s not
too much I can say about the race because it was never going to feel like
one for us. We’ve had enough experience with turning around. Starting so
far behind the rest of the pack means you’ll never catch up, though you can
always make some good gains. I think our strategy for the race became
simply to beat at least one boat.

The sailing itself had its ups and downs. We crossed the infamous Bass
Strait for the third time in a month and it delivered its third beating.
You’d think that since we’d crossed it in both directions, we might at
least have the wind behind us at some point. But no. Always strong winds in
front and big waves to smash into. Naturally the race also brought the
traditional Mission Performance wind hole and all its own frustrations. At
least it was only a short trip (about 10 days). The one really memorable
moment came while downwind sailing one night (I can’t remember if the kite
was up). All the electronics on board shut off while I was driving. What
that meant on deck was that I had no instruments, no compass, no windex
even to drive by. It was just a case of feeling the wind and trying to keep
it in the same place it had been beforehand. I spent two hours like that -
some of the most difficult driving I’ve had. Another crew member
volunteered to drive about an hour in, but if there’s going to be a crash
gybe that destroys the boat or any crew injuries I want them to be directly
my fault as watch leader.

I should mentions that with Derek gone we went back to regular watch
patterns - meaning I became a full watch leader earlier than expected. I
had planned to use this race to attempt to get the most out of both Derek
and Neil. Clearly that didn’t work out so well. Safe to say I really
struggled with the position. The biggest factor there was simply clashing
with my assistant watch leader. He came off one of the other boats and had
done some watch leading there. We often butted heads with methods of doing
things. I know the crew spent a lot of time confused about who to listen to
and what to be doing. It’s a real shame because every person on that boat
(with the exception of the guys from the other boats) knew how to sail our
boat well, how to perform evolutions quickly and smoothly. In the face of
the Kate vs. assistant watch leader clash that fell apart. People lost
confidence and our sailing went downhill. It really hurt to watch.

I’m sure I could’ve been doing more to change that situation. I can beat
myself up all day about it but ultimately I was trying to settle into the
watch leader position. Let’s just say that it wasn’t a particularly happy
or fun trip (at least for me) and I was glad to get it over with. We had
six hours or so of motoring around sandbars and up the river into a
terrible marina in Brisbane. Everyone was just glad to have it over with.

04.05.14 ♥ 0

leaving Hobart, part 1

We left Hobart a day later than anticipated thanks to issues with the
rudder bearings on one of the boats. That was a good thing for all of us,
as we would have been leaving on New Year’s Day otherwise. Funnily enough,
being exhausted and hungover isn’t exactly conducive to the greatest
sailing in the world.

We set up for the Hobart-Brisbane race a bit differently than any race
before - it was going to be the first time we had so few crew members. We
lost quite a few in Hobart, leaving us with only 11. To be fair though, it
was an incredibly solid group of people who all desperately wanted to be on
the boat, and more importantly racing the boat. Unfortunately Clipper won’t
let the yachts race with less than 12, so we took on a crew member from
another boat. We also organized our watch system and mother rota differently
to take into account the short numbers. Basically we had three watches with
four people each, and always two watches on deck. This was to be my watch
leader training leg so that I could step up when we lost one of our long time
leaders in Brisbane.

We had a really fantastic race start out of the Derwent River. A couple hours
later though, everything went seriously wrong.

We were sailing upwind into decent sized waves, heeled over significantly
(around 40 degrees). I was on watch, on deck, as we woke the guys who had the
first sleep. Next thing I knew, Matt was popping his head up on deck and
telling us to heave to and get all the sails down - immediately.

As it transpires, two crew members had taken a big fall down below. One woman
slid into one of our watch leaders, Derek. The two of them went from high
side to low side, smashing into the bottom of the wet locker. Derek hit his
head hard and was knocked out.

While we were running around lashing down sails so as to prevent them going
overboard in the waves, the guys below deck were lashing Derek down to our
stretcher while Matt started the mayday sequence. It’s still the most
terrifying thing that’s happened during the race. Looking down the hatch, all
you could see was Derek unconscious on the stretcher, in a neck brace, with
his eyes open and unfocused. He spent six minutes out of it like that, while
we all wondered if he was dead.

On deck was still go go go. When we had the sails down enough I took over the
helm. That meant I could hear everything coming in on the VHF radio - from
Coast Guard, other Clipper yachts, Clipper Race office, police, and so on.
Turns out we had an engine failure (right at the worst possible time, of
course). A helicopter flew out to meet us and pick up Derek (only time I’ve
ever seen a flare used) - it also had an engine failure. Eventually it was
agreed that we’d turn around and head for a sheltered bay where a police boat
would meet us. One of the other Clipper boats, Qingdao, came with us as
support.

It took a few hours, but the boat did eventually make it to pick up Derek and
Catherine (suspected that she’d broken some ribs). We offloaded them and
turned around to return to Hobart for the night.

That’s the basic facts.

What that’s not going to tell you is what it feels like to genuinely not know
if a good friend of yours, someone you’ve sailed 15,000+ miles with, has just
died or broken his neck, or just had a concussion. It’s overwhelming. I am so
thankful we had so much to do instead of having downtime to think about it. I
remember standing next to the main as we were tying it up as what was happening
really dawned on me. It must have been written on my face, because one of the
other women on board looked at me, grabbed my arm, and said “you need to keep
it together right now.”

And she was right. So right. If there’s one thing serious thing I’ve learned
from the race it’s that fear and panic spread so quickly. If you can’t stay
calm (at least outwardly) in the really tough conditions, as everything goes
wrong, then you shouldn’t be in charge. Emotions have to stay out of the game.

04.05.14 ♥ 0

our time in Hobart

The atmosphere when we arrived into Hobart was amazing. Not only were all
the Sydney-Hobart boats there, but two other races finished at the same
(ish) time - one from Melbourne, and one from elsewhere in Tassie. Plus
Hobart holds a big food and wine festival at that time every year (Taste of
Tasmania) which attracts quite a few.

Point is, there were people everywhere. We had a bit of a clean up around
the boat before heading off to showers and the all-important pub. The place
all the sailors head is Customs House, which is actually open 24/7 around
the race. There’s a sign on the wall in there, wedged in between photos of
race-winning boats, that says “you haven’t finished the Sydney-Hobart until
you’ve been to Customs House.” It’s such an incredible atmosphere. Safe to
say we all spent some serious time in that bar, chatting with other
Clipper-ites and guys off proper pro boats. I was a bit surprised, but
everyone was really receptive to what we were doing. Our boats have nothing
on real race boats - and why should they? We are amateurs after all.
Throwing us into high-performance boats would be an absolute disaster
(sailing these ones is dangerous enough as is!). Anyway, it was really
encouraging to hear seasoned sailors talk about how much they respect you
for doing something like the Clipper Race - putting up with the many
disastrous bits of boat (always broken) and pushing for 11 months.

How did the fleet do compared to the pro guys? Pretty poorly, no surprises
there. We had all been hoping for a downwind race - that’s when these boats
are at their best. Unfortunately it ended up being an upwind one and we’re
seriously slow that way. Both the 68s beat nearly all the 70s - they are
faster upwind boats. It’s a shame, but what can you do with the weather?

We were originally supposed to leave Hobart on the 1st - New Year’s Day.
Can anyone see a flaw in the plan here? Sailors funnily enough drink quite
heavily, and that’s a pretty heavy party night. Luckily (?) for all of us,
a couple of the boats needed rudder bearings fixing ASAP, and that was
going to take some time.

New Year’s Eve saw the fleet partying pretty hard, as we can all imagine.
People spent time at Taste of Tasmania and Customs House. For the countdown
to midnight, most of us went back to the boats - where better to get a view
of the fireworks over the harbour? It was so much fun. Probably half the
fleet was just full of people, drinking, watching the fireworks, just
celebrating being in an incredible place for the New Year.

The next morning saw quite a lot of hangovers, as you can imagine. A few of
us from Mission went over to Shippy’s - another sailor-heavy Hobart pub for
a drink. We made it back over to Taste of Tasmania for some more after
that. And so on.

We left the next morning - but that’s a story for another blog entry. The
moral of this one was just that the Hobart stopover was fantastic, and I
can’t imagine a better way to have spent my New Year’s.

02.28.14 ♥ 1

Our arrival into Singapore

02.18.14 ♥ 2

Check out an awesome gallery on the Clipper site. We’re not specifically in any of the pictures, but the conditions are so universal to the race that you easily swap any of the people out.

02.18.14 ♥ 1

Sydney-Hobart

Leaving Sydney was something really special - something so much bigger than just (just?) the Clipper Race: the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. It’s a “real” race, done by pros, with a tough reputation. Safe to say we were all seriously excited just to be participating - and did not end up disappointed. 

This year saw 95 boats racing including 5 maxi yachts, the 12 of us, and 2 of the old Clipper 68s. We sailed out early to do a bit of a parade by the Opera House and Harbour Bridge (photo opportunities galore) before joining the queue to pass by the race committee boat with our storm sails up (it’s a safety thing to check that we have them and know how to fly them). This is where I should probably point out that I graffitied our storm jib so that it now has a giant smiley face on it (who doesn’t want to be cheered up when the weather is terrible enough for a storm jib?). I hope it made the race committee smile anyway. It makes everyone on the boat smile. After that we were off, sails hoisted, jockeying for position on the start line. Or not really. We are by fans of hanging back a bit to avoid the terrible things that can come from dozens of boats (big big boats) all trying to be in the same place at the same time. We still ended up in a pretty awesome position though, right up against the line. Minor issue when we got accidentally rammed by Switzerland whose bowmen seemed a bit lacking in their ability to communicate with their skipper. No serious damage though.

I’ve never seen boats quite like that before. The Harbour is big but not huge and 95 is quite a number to squeeze in there. Not to mention the insane amount of spectator boats swarming around just outside the race exclusion zone. Getting out through the heads and into a bit of sea room was like taking a deep breath. Here boats split pretty fast, with the maxis shooting off immediately as expected.

We had a few more crew for this race which was a nice change - including three media crew. One from Clipper (on the other watch) and two from the Sydney Daily Telegraph (Craig and Nathan, on my watch). Craig has loads of racing experience (he usually does the Sydney-Hobart on Brindabella, one of the big boats). It was awesome for us to see that kind of mentality - he was much more on top of trim and things like that. Plus he had loads of useful tips and tricks for getting more out of the boat. 

The difference between ocean racing in something like the Sydney-Hobart versus Clipper is huge. S-H is only maybe a four day race. Sure, it’s tough (no one is dumb enough to deny that) but it doesn’t have the sheer endurance factor that comes with 11 months of Clipper. By the time we started S-H we’d been sailing nearly 5 months. There’s a level of exhaustion that comes with that. And perhaps complacency as well. It was really great to have Craig around to keep us on top of things.

As for the race itself - it was tough. The Bass Strait is notorious for unpleasant conditions which we of course had the joy of experiencing. It turned out to be heading upwind into quite breezy conditions - lots of bouncing involved. We lost a lot of crew members to seasickness. That did include me for a change. 15,000 miles sailed without incident, and the S-H took me out. I’m sure I mentioned doing my radio course in Albany in prep for this race. Basically we had radio scheds several times a day: two reporting ones and two listening ones. During the reporting ones all the boats were called in alphabetical order to report their gps position in degrees and minutes, which I’d write down. I’d call our position in during our turn. All-in-all, things took about 45 minutes of me camped out with the HF radio in the nav station, writing away. And I got so sick. Eventually I ended up just taking a bucket with me and trying to lie down in there (not exactly easy when the boat is seriously heeled over and bouncing into the waves). It was so unpleasant. I missed several watches because I couldn’t stand up long enough without being sick to get up on deck. I spent a few curled up at the back of the boat as well. I’m still having HF radio flashbacks of fear now (thank god it doesn’t actually ever get used).

So yeah, that’s what most of my memories of the S-H consist of. At least I had about three sickness-free days (out of the five). Here’s hoping never again.

02.15.14 ♥ 2

Returning to Sydney

I flew back into Sydney on Christmas Eve, early in the morning. The break at home was amazing. It was exactly what I needed to recharge and get excited about sailing again.the vibe back at the marina helped as well. There were loads of boats prepping for the Sydney-Hobart - people everywhere, sails everywhere, etc.

One of the best bits of returning was just seeing everyone again, particularly my crew. These are people that I quite 
literally spend every moment with - some for the past five months. Not having that around is a very strange feeling. I can only imagine what race finish will be like based on that.

A group of us went out clubbing that night, which was a good time. Christmas Day turned up a bit cold and rainy which was a shame. We spent a good chunk of the day camped out at the yacht club bar, seeing people as they came and went. A couple of the other boats organized a barbecue in the park just next door, so we did head over there for a bit (and got fed extremely well). One of the really cool things about going round-the-world rather than just doing a leg or two is that you get to know quite a lot of people on other boats. Everybody knows some from training, but constantly being in the same ports, the same bars, and such means you do end up talking to quite a lot of people and seeing them over and over again. It’s pretty cool.

02.15.14 ♥ 0

We’re currently camped out in Kota Kinabalu (Malaysia) waiting to refuel before motoring to Singapore.

It’s been a really tough trip up here from Brisbane. I’m in the middle of writing more blog entires - I promise they’re on the way. If all goes to plan in Singapore, I’ll have enough time to get it all done. Here’s hoping!

02.09.14 ♥ 0