So we came through Storm Katie unscathed and really quite grateful that our skipper had made the decision to keep us in port for the worst of the weather.
Each day started pretty much the same, whoever was “Mother” for breakfast had it ready for 7.30am and by 8am each watch was either tasked with cleaning the boat or raising the ensign and getting ready to depart. Despite the fact that we weren’t actually going anywhere. It was all good practise.
On Monday afternoon, after a lot of knot practise Simon, our Skipper announced to rowdy cheers that we could finally be underway and take this boat out for a sail! We were heading to Cowes for the night, there were big black clouds on the horizon but everyone was in high spirits. But first we had to learn *how* we actually get off the pontoon and slip the lines.
Then the really hard work started. Balancing and walking round on a boat attached to a pontoon – easy. Balancing and walking round on a boat heeled over bouncing through waves – not so easy. I’m used to tacking (turning the front of the boat through the wind) & gybing (turning the back of the boat through the wind) while always holding the main sheet (rope attached to the main sail). You also don’t get winches on dinghies so you don’t have to use them for your headsails when tacking or gybing. Everything requires teamwork and good timing. It’s fair to say that in our first 3 hour or so sail across the Solent – we learnt an awful lot.
Things I learnt during our first sail –
- Why I should have taken knee pads. My left knee looked an attractive purple colour by the end of the day, and the right one I stupidly put between two spinnaker poles that lie on the deck when folding a sail and twisted it to get it out. It quickly went an odd shape and swelled up alarmingly.
- Helming a Clipper 68 is amazing! It’s so responsive and light to the touch. It felt like I was constantly correcting oversteer but apparently it looked pretty straight to everyone else. It even has a handy dial which tells you the wind direction. But I’m told it’s not always accurate so you shouldn’t pay much attention to it, but it was quite a novelty anyway.
- It’s hard to move about when wearing 2 layers of clothes and foulies on top.
- When you tie a bowline in a yankee sheet to attach it to the clew of the yankee sail, pull it really, really tight. 😉
- This is going to be way, way harder than I thought.
After our first short 3 hour sail, the following 2 days followed a pattern of leaving port shortly after 8am and returning about 6pm. They were full on, hard days with very little rest. We had a lot to learn in a short space of time and we needed to make up for those 2 days spent in port.
That’s not to say that it wasn’t also immense fun, we had a lot of laughs and we all got on very well. But there were also (quite a few if I was to be totally honest) times where I wondered what on earth I was doing and if there was a way to get out of this without losing face. I’ve heard stories of people leaving the course mid week as they couldn’t deal with it and I can sympathise.
It’s a steep learning curve, you’re cold and wet, more tired than I thought possible, injured and the weather is not being kind. I’m really glad I stuck it out, I have my crew mates to thank for that, even though most are probably not even aware of it. Besides, even tough birds have wobbles, its how you face things that makes the difference. It was really physically demanding, a couple of hours in the gym 3 times a week is not really going to be enough preparation!
Anyone would question what they’re doing when kneeling over a winch on a bruised knee with cold rain stinging their face and freezing fingers! But you’re a team and you’re not there alone. No-one can sail the boat on their own and our Skipper and Mate were exceptional motivators. Especially when calling for 6 tacks in a row. That one really raised everyones spirits…..as did both bowlines on the yankee coming off at the same time when we tried to hoist it. <cough> I may have been responsible for one of them <cough>
Quick tip – don’t try hiding an injury from your crew mates. They will notice when you’re not volunteering for jobs and doing as much as you should be. It’s also really embarrassing later when you promptly burst into tears while waiting for pain killers to work.
Funnily enough, no-one had any trouble sleeping on the days we’d been sailing! Spirits were high as we’d been sailing but everyone was also very tired. I suspect I wasn’t the only one questioning my judgement in signing up to do this. But then if it was easy – we wouldn’t want to do it so much. It’s no coincidence that the words “challenge” and “adventure” feature prominently in Clipper marketing.
We tacked and gybed our way through those two days, learned about boom preventers (just *why* do we not have these on dinghies?), carefully lowered crew mates over the side to “rescue” buoys and Bob the dummy.
The sun came out long enough for us to get sunburn and we even saw Alex Thomson and the gorgeous Hugo Boss IMOCA 60 yacht, after it was relaunched at Easter before heading to the Vendée Globe.
One thing seems to be guaranteed though – it may be sunny all day, you may have sunburn, but the moment you try to come into port and want to “put the boat to bed”, it is going to lash with rain the whole time. Every day, just typical!
Thursday night we all went out for a crew meal to a local restaurant – Hardy’s at Haslar, which seems to be the Clipper HQ for crew refuelling. A chance to relax a little before the deep clean the next morning, no-one had to cook and no-one had to wash up. It was an amazing meal with some amazing people.
The deep clean however was not so amazing! As previously said, if you were expecting to avoid housework by doing the Clipper Race, it doesn’t work. When I say deep clean, I mean “DEEP”. Everything comes off – kit, bunk mattresses, saloon seat cushions, sails, lifejackets, the lot. Everything that remains gets cleaned with antibac. From ceiling to bilges. The floors come up and everything. I got the job of cleaning the galley. (Yes really, I come away for Clipper Training and I still end up cleaning the kitchen!)
It could have been worse though! Everyone got stuck in and before we knew it, we’d had lunch and it was time for the dinghy rowing. Only slight problem here – I love sea kayaking but I
hate, really hate small boats. Whoever came up with the plan of rowing backwards anyway? Surely being able to see where you’re going would be an advantage? After proving I could row an inflatable dinghy (but not necessarily in a straight line) and a rather undignified exit onto the pontoon, it was time for a personal de-brief with the Skipper. This is where he tells you what a terrible sailor you are and how you should absolutely reconsider continuing with your training………
I’m joking. I’ve booked Level 2!
All in all, an exhausting, physically demanding, painful at times, but exhilarating week.
Huge thanks to Skipper Simon Bradley & First Mate Carol Eccles for their patience, humour and repeated safety talks. We appreciate them more than ever now.
Also huge thanks to my fellow crew mates – Vincent, Mo, Arjan, Debbie, Claire, Paul, SamSam & Robin – hope to see you all again soon and whatever you do guys – stay safe.
Also, thanks for photo sharing, can’t remember whose is whose, so full credit to everyone. x
Finally, HUGE thanks to my husband Mike, who has been flying solo and single parenting while I was away exploring the high seas. Hope you’re recovered by August dear! 😉
In the meantime – I’m off to the gym to discuss High-Intensity Interval Training….