Qingdao to Seattle: Leg 6 Race 9 – the Toughest Yet

The sun shone for us as we left Qingdao to another cultural departure ceremony. There was a lot of waving to be done too with three laps of the parade of sail loop before race start. We in fact did a fake start for the adoring fans lining the harbour which was then ended as we had an overnight motor before the real Le Mans the following morning. I much prefer the Le Mans start as they feel a much calmer experience to a regular start line as there isn’t the need to fight for the perfect line as the order is pre-drawn. We were lead boat which meant that Dan had to run the start and ensure the fleet stayed within the rules. Not long after the start we encountered a fishing fleet who must have wondered what was going on as 12 yachts raced towards them!

I have to admit I’ve never looked forward to this particular race and crossing the North Pacific. It’s always been something I’ve known needed to be endured to become a circumnavigator and not necessarily an ocean I would have chosen to cross. It certainly didn’t disappoint with the promise of being wet, cold and miserable! We were treated to a few days of ‘warmer’ weather before we passed Japan, which was unexpected. I thought I’d experienced cold on the previous race but that was only a few days. This time we had weeks of being wet and cold not only on deck but below decks also. Even our drysuits got renamed damp suits as after a while they gave up as after being pounded by waves on deck they never had the chance to dry out before the next watch. It got to the stage that you’d talk of putting on the damp rather then the very damp items of clothing. The most treasured item of kit was my sleeping bag, which I managed to keep dry on the inside, which gave my body the chance to thaw out during off watches. When on watch we would rotate who was on deck and the others would go below to hug hot water bottles and have warm drinks. It was so cold that there were sleet showers and hail just to bring more excitement to life on deck.

The landscape was pure grey. I can only describe it like one of those trendy black and white photos which has some touched up colour added. The colour being the yellow drysuits of the crew on deck. This was the longest we have gone also with out seeing anything or anyone. No planes flew over, no other shipping, no land which makes you realise why not many have tried to sail the North Pacific either! The lack of shipping showed so much that one day we got called up by a tanker – we were in no danger of collision it was more the guy on the tanker wanted to say hi! There wasn’t a lot of wildlife out there either, we saw Dolphins, a couple of whales and birds but not everyday or even week. We really were at times the only thing out there!

We crossed the international date line which meant going back in time and re living 24 hours again. This means with the leap year that I will have had 367 days between birthdays! And yes it was an extra day of wet and coldness!

Despite being warned of massive seas we have yet again had a race with every weather going. Who would have thought we’d be flying a wind seeker in this race?! But we did! We also had the other extreme of 60kt winds so we were very much kept on our toes throughout! When the waves came they were mighty and powerful and we were lucky as a crew not to be damaged by them like many others in the fleet were.

This race has sadly brought another tragic death to the fleet which was hard news to get. The news of Sarah’s death following falling overboard IchorCoal shook us all. Clipper is one big family and a loss of a crew member affects everyone and the further round the world we go the harder this news is to digest. I had the pleasure of knowing Sarah. Her smile could be seen across any port we were in. I will never forget the drinks on New Year’s Eve in Hobart which I shared with Sarah where we spoke of our hopes for 2016 and what post-Clipper life might hold. I know that now Sarah has gone, she will be with all of the Clipper fleet for the rest of this journey shining brightly, like her smile, in the stars that guide us. We will never forget you, rest in peace Sarah.

The greyness of this race meant that you had to find ways to carry on when all you wanted to do was hide in the warmth of your sleeping bag. I’ve been fortunate to be in a fabulous watch and there has always been someone there to cheer you along on the hard days (I also had tonsillitis which didn’t help the body get up on deck!). We have had chats about everything while on deck and shared in laughter and tears together. I’ve also been mother with Ellie this leg which has been awesome as again we get the chance to catch up and more importantly we have been catching up on Downton Abbey (still not at the end so no spoilers please!) and officially shut the galley for an hour each afternoon we were mothers and created our own cinema to watch in!

Once again we have worked hard and sailed ourselves to another victory. People keep asking what’s the secret and I honestly don’t know! It’s great to be on the podium again and each member of the team has given something to the effort so it truly is a team effort. Before the start of each race we have a team meeting and one of the questions Dan asks us is what we are hoping for from the race. This time I said I wanted to be in Seattle for my birthday and lo and behold the team delivered! It was a birthday to remember as we arrived first thing on my birthday to rousing happy birthday singing from the race team and DLD supporters and arriving meant I could have celebratory pizza and drinks too!

I’m so grateful to be part of this team and have some amazing friends to sail with. This was the toughest leg yet, not just for the sailing conditions, and I know I couldn’t have got through it without various members of our team. I’d like to thank them for everything and to the race team who have been so supportive of everyone since we have arrived in port too. We are losing some great leggers here too and I will miss them on the next race.

We may be nearing home, but it still feels worlds away. I don’t want to wish this adventure away but I can’t wait to have real hugs from my family and friends as sadly virtual ones aren’t quite the same. I can’t believe I’ve done the Pacific and 6 of 8 legs of this race. I am digging deep, putting the smile on and am ready to get through this no matter what. It’s tough physically, mentally and emotionally and the further we go the more shattered I’m becoming. Thanks for all the positive messages from home, they mean a lot and I’m lucky to have such a support team around me and I know how tough this leg has been for you all back home too.

Right, now to go and explore Seattle and eat my body weight in pizza, coffee and ice cream!

Love you all xx