Before I knew it the time was upon me for my final level of Clipper Race training. Level 4 is intended to be a taste of racing life to come with practice starts, races with other boats in the fleet and drills to ensure we are race ready. As with all the levels of training the weather didn’t fail to disappoint us and ensured the week was indeed a true reflection of what is to come!
We were on CV29 (‘my’ yacht) and sharing with the ClipperTelemed team. We were in two watches (Derry~Londonderry~Doire team as one and ClipperTelemed as the other) and with 21 of us on board it was a chance to understand what going to sea with a full crew will really be like. This was also the first chance to sail with members of the team I’m in and with my skipper Daniel.
It’s odd as when you’re in port the yacht seems small and cramped with people falling over one another but when you get out to sea it feels there is more space! It helps to be in a watch system as when half the bodies are sleeping and the other half on deck this means you are only falling over one another because you’re not yet used to living at an angle. I can tell you now it is going to be many weeks into the journey before I fully master going to the toilet on such a slope – you should try it some day. Put on lots of layers (making sure at least one is a onesie or the like), then imagine walking into your bathroom and finding the toilet at a 45 degree angle and you need to work out how to strip down the layers and make it to the bowl. For added excitement once you’ve finally put your backside on the seat and feel like you’re won this game, you then hear the shout of ‘tacking’ and the 45 degree lean violently changes from one side to the other (all while you’re trying to pee..!). You may be sitting reading this laughing to yourself but it is serious stuff and one of the many challenges to this Clipper Race life. Don’t worry readers, I will update you on progress with the tactics I adopt as the year progresses.
Level 4 is all about preparing you for the race so the week involved two races with other yachts in the fleet. There are two sorts of racing starts in the Clipper Race. One involves a starting boat with the race committee on and a point across from them which creates your traditional starting line. For this type all the yachts are trying to fight for the best position to cross the line and have the advantage of the wind at the exact time the race starts. This is intense and involves some close manouvering with other yachts. The other start is a Le Mans start which is used for races where it isn’t possible to have a committee boat line up. This involves the boats lining up with their engines on and main sail hoisted and the fleet remaining in line with the middle (known as the lead) yacht. All of the crew must be behind the grinder and when the time is counted down the engines are switched off and the crew surge forward to hoist the agreed sail plan for the start of the race. This was quite fun and with everyone involved in the cheering and hoisting we even decided to do a random bobbing dance as the countdown started.
We started off well in race one and were in second place for a time. I was on Mother watch which means cooking duty! It was hard being down below and cooking at the angle. Being kind, I made the skippers a cup of tea only for them both to be needed on deck, the yacht to lurch over suddenly, the teas fly across the galley and empty themselves all over the back of my arm. Needless to say I screamed as it was quite a shock seeing as I had my back turned as I was washing up at the time! Risk assessments show I shouldn’t ever make the skipper a cuppa again! Oh and my shiny white new Henri Lloyd t-shirt is no longer so shiny as it sports a tea stain on the back of the arm – at least I know it’s mine. While we were washing up from lunch the sea state increased and it was hard going down below. I’m sorry to say there is another point on the vomit tally from me as being down below got all too much!
During my afternoon rest I was asleep and suddenly I was woken as I was flung into the side of the bunk (poor Sally was flung out of hers!) and heard a lot of activity on deck. The Code 2 spinnaker had broken! The watch on deck got it down and some of us now awake helped pull the tattered pieces of sail down below. Bye bye C2 and bye bye second place. Lucky no one was hurt and this is just the way it goes sometimes.
I was glad to be back on deck the next day after mother watch and ready to get going for the second race whichhad a Le Mans start. We were lead boat so everyone else had to line up with us which was fun. We started off well again and it was great to see the yachts chasing us as specks in the distance. The weather started off being dry and sunny for this race, however we experienced nearly the full spectrum as the race went on! One particularly low moment (but funny now) was when I was on for the foredeck and we were taking one of the Yankees down as the wind was building. It was hard going as by this point everything hurt but I made a good go and was lying on the sail to help keep it down. We were bouncing about on the waves and every now and then a wave would land on us. I hadn’t fully got to grips with the new waterproof I’d been issued so didn’t notice the smock had lifted up leaving my gaping salapets exposed just as another wave dumped on me. This meant it all went down the back of my trousers and I was soaked through!
We may not have won the second race either but we have learned a lot which puts us in good form for the real races ahead. The last day of training was used for drills such as man overboard, transferring stores (great fun, and what anyone tells you my line made it to the other yacht, just maybe landing on the bowsprit made it more challenging for the other crew to get but still a hits a hit!), transferring people and towing another yacht. We also talked through some disaster scenarios and what to do if pirates come our way.
I’m glad to have met more of the team and sailed with Daniel, my skipper. In Clipper Race terms I am now ocean ready having passed all four levels of training. I’ve come away feeling ready and that maybe this isn’t a dream but is real. Everything aches and I have some impressive bruises so hoping there is a point in the next year when my body gets used to this strain, wear and tear. Although the training is over, the adventure is yet to begin but I am looking forward to what this brings.
Thank you to Daniel, Diane and all the crew on aboard for my level 4 – it’s been great to get to know you and I look forward to sharing this journey together.