Leg 5 has begun with a race from Airlie Beach to Da Nang Vietnam which we knew was to be the longest race to date. I was given the role of assistant watch leader which I haven’t done since leg 2 so it was good to stretch my brain a little further. We left the marina in glorious sunshine, only to be completely drenched on the parade of sail with squally weather whipping up the wind so strongly that it tore our feather banner in two! This race began with a 150-mile motor as the race committee decided that 12 yachts racing through the tight passages of the Great Barrier Reef was a recipe for disaster (any sailing followers out there, think back to Vesta in the Volvo Ocean Yacht last time!). Because of this we had a Le Mans start where all the yachts line up together with main sails up, the crew are all at the back of the boat until the start is called and then everyone rushes forward to hoist the Yankee and staysail. The downside of the 150 miles of motor was that I’ve added another mark to the seasickness list as the bumpy motion didn’t agree with me (this leaves the tally at Ruth 2, seasickness 5!).
Not long after the start we hoisted our spinnaker and were the first in the fleet to do so. This meant we powered off and the motion of the boat was a lot calmer and so my sickness didn’t return.
The weather was hot and conditions down below at times were unbearable. The sweat levels were high, even more then leg one. I’d never considered myself to be a sweater before but oh my how things have changed! Worst thing about it all was the high level of salt in the sea, mix that with sweat you you end up with a spotty rash which we referred to as the boat plague. Life aboard an ocean racing yacht doesn’t allow much for washing yourself but I managed to perfect the art of showering when I got the chance to when on mother watch. Even if you are sweaty again almost instantly, the chance to get at least some of the grime and salt off your body was welcomed. It’s been a chocolate free race (!!!!) due to the heat but this has been replaced with ice pops which were so refreshing although there turned out to be a secret ice pop eater and we nearly ran out of refreshing cool treats!
We were treated to some spectacular squally weather where you would go from being hot and sweaty from the heat to full-on drenched in a matter of seconds. The dilemma was always do you wear your waterproofs and be a little warm or get drenched but be cool? There was an 18-hour period where it rained full on non stop, and a night with massive thunderstorms to keep us on our toes.
The moon has been so bright at times on this race that it was as if the deck light was on. There has also been the treat of being able to see the Southern Cross and the North Star at the same time. I have to admit my ignorance when it comes to stars as I didn’t realise it was possible to see both simultaneously – it was almost like I expected to change hemisphere and one to disappear immediately. Saying that, for the majority if not all the journey since London, Orion has been with us – different ways up and sizes but always there watching us. We held another equator crossing ceremony and with the majority of crew now already being Shellbacks, Ewan was kind to the Pollywogs on board!
I’ve been fortunate enough to do quite a bit of helming this race which I love. I’ve changed watches and there is some friendly inter-watch helming rivalry going on to see who can get the top speed. It’s great to push yourself but some of it is down to luck of the right wave to surf in the right direction! It’s an awesome feeling when you surf a wave – it’s like floating above the water. I hope to continue to get the opportunity to helm in all weathers and improve my skills. We have come quite close to lots of shipping and Dan has had to call them up to make sure they realise we are sailing. Their responses have been varied from, ‘You’re so slow, I have no need to change my course’ to ‘You’re so fast for a sailing yacht’. Another, on hearing we were a sailing vessel, replied with ‘You’re so brave’, so I dread to think what the South China Sea shipping is normally like!
This race we managed to be in the lead from early on. Every 6 hours we find out the position of the other yachts and kept hoping the gap between the other boats and us would not get smaller. We flew through the ocean sprint and were speeding towards Da Nang when we got the news the course had been extended as we could not arrive before February 17th. This meant we had another 14 days of sailing to keep in the lead for and I have to admit at that point I wondered if it would be possible. Every light that appeared on the horizon behind us I feared would be a Clipper yacht (or a pirate as we were going through pirate waters!). However I’m happy to say we managed to keep hold of the lead and win our first race of the series. This felt mega and the reception from the people of Da Nang was out of this world. There were so many people lining the river bank waving us in, drummers, dancers and we each got flower garlands. It was like being a famous celebrity and I was interviewed by a number of TV channels, there was a media scrum of photographers and people wanting individual photos with the winners! I couldn’t help but think, it’s just little old me, I’m not famous or special, I’m quite ordinary!
Da Nang Arrival
As we had won we decided to get blazers made locally for prize giving – this was another fantastic experience being tailored for. Prize giving was overwhelming – it took place in a grand ballroom and when we were called up on stage to receive our pennant and trophy we got a standing ovation! That was not expected at all – I mean we beat everyone else and they were happy for us! I couldn’t stop grinning! We held the lead for 80% of the race which was quite an achievement but the other teams kept us on our toes and pushing hard to keep there.
I realise in my last blog I talked about how hard I was finding this challenge. I wondered if I could carry on as some aspects were really getting to me. However I’d like to report that this past race was like a restart. I’ve managed to remember why I’m here and what I love about sailing. I spent a magical time trimming on the bow for hours one watch but being there with the sound of the waves, the spectacular sky and looking back at the friends I have made in my team and thinking this, this is what it’s all about. I’ve been revived and as we are back in the northern hemisphere and have passed the official half way mark for miles and time I feel like I’m homeward bound from here on in although the temperature is going to take a dramatic plummet from here and the sea be just as challenging. Thank you to everyone who has supported me this far through the ups and downs as without you I don’t think I’d have had my revival! It means a lot knowing you’re all thinking about me.
Now a chance to experience a little of Vietnam and excitingly my first visitors of the Race with Lizzie and Jonny and their son Timothy coming over from Hong Kong to help continue my positive revival.
Da Nang Sightseeing