Level 2 Clipper Race training began with a day-long Sea Survival course. This involved a day in a classroom learning about all the things that could go wrong and the theory of what to do in each circumstance. We learnt everything from distress signals to when you should pee on entering a life raft (!). The day ended with a two hour pool session where we very quickly got to know each other as we learned how to tow a casualty and stay together in the sea as well as launching and getting into a life raft. We also had a team race to see who could link together their entire team and swim a length of the pool (obviously it goes without saying the team I was in won -whoop!). It is incredibly hard to swim when your lifejacket is inflated and even harder to pull yourself up the ladder into the raft. A life raft is a bit like a floating bouncy castle in that it is inflatable (although not for jumping on!). My first attempt on getting in the raft ended in a near quick exit straight out the other side! Luckily attempt two, which was when we had a team scenario, was much more successful and my group managed to get everyone in safely. They aren’t very big inside and I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in one for a long period of time in a choppy sea. I really hope that I never have to put my training into action although I am glad to have had the pool experience to prepare me further for the sailing adventure.
After the sea survival course we all headed to Clipper race training HQ to find our yachts, and homes, for the remainder of the week. I had been allocated CV2, which seemed like home as this was the same yacht I had done half my level 1 training on (read my blog about level 1 to find out why only half the week!). It was also nice to see familiar faces from level 1 with Jo and I being allocated the same yacht and Jono was our skipper once more. Our training began straight away and ended with just enough time to make a visit to the local pub before the day was over.
The next morning we awoke bright eyed and bushy tailed all eager to get to sea. Unfortunately there were a few stumbling blocks in the way with regards to the weather! We went out in the afternoon for a sail with the plan of returning to Gosport that evening because there was bad weather planned and our skipper didn’t want to throw us in the deep end. We were in the Solent, when we hoisted the mainsail and then went to put the reefs in (the wind was strong!). As this happened there was an odd sound and reefing lines 2 and 3 both snapped! This put a halt to our sail and we dropped the sails and headed back to the marina. Readers please note however that we girls of CV2 made a ‘no shower’ pact as we were meant to be at sea and decided we weren’t allowed to shower until we returned at the end of the training.
The following morning we waited for the Clipper repair team to come and fix the reefing lines which they did without a hitch. So again the crew of CV2 eagerly awaited the call to depart when we were then informed that an embargo had been put on all vessels for movements in the marina due to the weather (we were getting gusts of 40kts tied up!). Sadly, although the yachts are built for the wind, they aren’t at all manoeuvrable under engine and there was no way of getting safely out of the marina. We carried on with training as best we could and practiced man overboard with the manikin ‘Bob’ being rescued from the pontoon! Finally the wind eased and we were able to slip our mooring lines and head off out to sea.
We successfully managed to hoist our storm sails and start sailing on the Solent. We then changed to our mainsail which involved me going up the mast to get the storm sail down. You would have thought gravity would have helped but it got stuck and it was quite a challenge to get it down successfully – good job I’m confident up a mast and dangling on one leg! After that we managed to get the reefed main up and the new reefing lines did their job. We did a few evolutions to remind ourselves how to tack and also did a man overboard drill before going into the watch system. The watch system we were following was 4 hour watches during day light and 3 hour watches at night. This meant that you slept in short bursts which was an odd experience as in a 24 hour period you went to bed 4 or so times so you never quite knew which day you were on! Lucy and I successfully survived mother watch which involved cooking the dinner for everyone and then went to bed ready for our first night watch. When we were woken for watch it was then apparent that a number of our fellow crew mates had join green watch i.e seasick. I felt OK until, as I was putting my oilskins and life jacket on to prepare to go on deck, two people vomited in front of me and the smell was something else. I dashed on deck and started out to sea in the hope that all would be all right. Sadly it didn’t take long for me to make an inspection of the stern of the ship, obviously just to make sure it hadn’t fallen off or anything…! I kept going and was asked to helm which I did. Thankfully Lucy wasn’t too far away from me so we did a double act so that every now and then I would say ‘Lucy please take the wheel’ then I would disappear for a few moments and then you would hear ‘I’m back’ and I would take the wheel again! Out of the six members of starboard watch (the watch I was in) only three of us made it on deck for the first part of night watch which meant that both the skipper and the mate stayed on watch with us. There was one somewhat stressful time for me when I was helming and the rest of those on deck, who were in any fit state to work, were all forward sorting out the storm jib. Well the motion of the ocean got to me again but there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t let go of the wheel, nor could I spew on my feet so I just had to do all in my power to keep us sailing in a straight line and not be sick. I was somewhat relieved when the team returned and someone was able to take the wheel for me! You may be interested to know where the rest of the watch were. One member was sent to bed as they were very cold and ill, another decided to fall asleep in one of the heads with their head literally in the bowl (nice!) and another was on deck with us but getting someone acquainted with Bob (the man overboard dummy) who was somewhat covered in said person’s stomach contents! Apologies if that is too much detail for you readers but I wanted you to have a feel for what we were going through! I was very glad when Port watch arrived and I was able to go to my bunk for some sleep. 2.5 hour later we were woken to go back on watch. Luckily for me although I still feel nauseous, I was able to carry on and wasn’t sick again.
We continued in the watch pattern and were all glad to see day light as that seemed to make everything a little easier for everyone. We’d done one circumnavigation of the Isle of Wight and were back in the Solent where more drills were carried out. We had a full crew meeting and it was decided to carry on sailing and to do another circumnavigation of the Isle of Wight. This was slightly mind messing as we were often feeling, ‘have we seen that before?’ when of course we had the previous day! The second night at sea found all six members of Starboard watch on deck together (well for part of the night anyway!) and more of us had stopped being sick (although sadly for some this continued). By this point the last few days were taking their toll and we were all tired. I was finding it hard to stay awake at one point on watch which was soon sorted out as a cold icy wave appeared out of nowhere and I took it full in the face – most definitely awake for the rest of the watch after that! The second night at sea made the drills go more smoothly as we were all getting into the swing of life at sea and things were becoming a little easier to cope with.
Once the sun had come up we were all told the watch system was over and all crew would remain up for the rest of the day. This allowed us to continue with training and carry out tasks such as racing headsail change and of course more man overboard drills (and oh my did Bob need a wash after all the spewing on him!). We were also lucky enough to be treated to a show while we munched on our lunches by Ben Ainslie who was out training and sped by us a couple of times in his catamaran. The day time hours pass a lot quicker than the night ones do and before long it was time to drop all the sails and head back to Gosport marina once more. We were treated to an impressive sunset while we stowed the sails.
The pact was over and we had all survived and very much enjoyed the shower on return to land. It’s odd really as while you are sailing you don’t care about these things. There isn’t time to do more then sail, sleep and eat (ok and vomit) and you are all in it together only caring about sailing the yacht along. However once you can see showers you suddenly think about the lack of washing that has occurred until then!
The last day together involved the deep clean of CV2and rig check. I was lucky enough to get to go and do half the rig check which involves being winched to the top of the mast. I also had to change the steaming light bulb while I was there. I taught everyone a lesson in how not to do things… I was sent up with the skipper’s phone so that I could take photos of any defects while I was up the mast. This was all going well until I got lowered to the first spreader and went to look underneath it for defects, thus tipping backwards slightly. Suddenly I felt something falling… you guessed it reader, it was the skipper’s phone! I took a sharp intake of breath and then saw it hit the deck and luckily bounce inboard. It didn’t half make a thud! Even falling from this great height remarkably only the screen smashed and I have had reports it is now fully working again. Not the best thing to do to any object but especially not the skipper’s phone! We did a good deep clean and then level 2 was over.
Level 2 has definitely got me thinking. We were wet and at times cold for three days and out of the 12 crew onboard 10 of us were seasick. Am I going to be able to sustain this for 11 months? There were however a lot of laughs to be had along the way and we know that there will be dark time throughout the journey, like there can be in life on land. I just hope that the crew I’m in for the race contains at least half the amount of laughs we had in the training as these are the moments you live for and keep you going. Take the icy cold wave that hit me in the face. Yes it was cold but it was also quite funny as if I had turn a milli second later it would have hit the back of my hood instead. Or the variety of different approaches to seasickness -although you feel horrid while it was happening once the sun came up and we all started to feel better and you could have written a lifetime’s supply of comedy sketches from just our crew. The further I get into the clipper journey the more you realise it not just about sailing. Anyone can learn that part but it is the people you meet that make the experience worth it. I mean who in their right mind would sign up to spend 11 months in cramped conditions, being wet and cold, vomiting on a regular basis, changing you underwear once a week and showering rarely? I have, because despite all that I am really realising what an amazing experience I am part of and how much this experience is going to shape me. I have come through smiling thus far and intend that this will be the case for the rest of my training and the race itself.
So thank you Skipper Jono and Mate Paul for you guidance and teaching. Lucy, Ed, Dave, Ana, and Helen (aka Starboard watch), Jo, Denis, David, Roz, Charlie and John (aka Port watch) for making me realise I can do this. I wish you all the best for your own journey and believe you can all do this too. See you on the water!