OK so hands up who knew you could stitch ropes together?
No, neither did I, but thats just what we did! See, it’s amazing what skills you learn while training with Clipper! I have no idea quite how we fixed those reefing lines, we just followed instructions and did it.
While it was quite frustrating the lines broke, we did actually learn a lot. If it happened mid ocean we’d have to fix it so it was great practise and I think we were all a little thrilled in truth for our first day out of port to be so exciting.
The only downside of exciting was that those of us on Starboard watch only got 40 minutes downtime before we were due up for our first 10pm to 2am night watch. We were actually too excited to get any rest and ended up sitting below drinking tea and eating biscuits until it was time to go on watch.
Now the truth is, the next few days kind of all blended together. We lost track of days and times, the days were only broken down into 4 or 6 hour watches. We knew what time our next watch was and that was it. To be honest, it took most of us a couple of days to realise we hadn’t even cleaned our teeth since leaving port! So don’t expect a day by day account as I can’t really remember what happened when.
The first night however was somewhat choppy. Someone said it was a Force 7 and we had 3 metre waves but as it was dark, I’ll just take their word for it. What I do know however, is that I *loved* night watches. There was only three of us crew and Rob, the mate on our watch so it had a really close feel about it. At night, you have to rely on your senses a lot more. Surprisingly once your night vision is established you can see quite well. You keep a look out for the lights of other boats all the time, and the odd lighthouse but apart from that, you only really have the stars to look at. And let me tell you, from the middle of the English Channel those stars look amazing. The sky is so clear, we actually got bored of pointing out shooting stars by the end of the first night watch. You also have some really random conversations on deck at 1am!
Helming while close hauled, heeled over, doing 10 knots crashing through waves in a Force 6 or 7 under the stars is really quite exhilarating. It’s also quite hard to keep your balance at times but you soon learn to anticipate the waves. I think my helming improved through the week, mostly under fellow crew member Nigel’s watchful eye. It’s quite handy when one of your fellow crew is a Coastal Skipper!
Every day both watches had lunch together on deck. It was a chance for skipper to brief us on the weather, how far we had sailed, what we would be doing and for us to discuss anything good or bad that was bothering us. Although we had regular watch changes, if anything happened or we were doing a MOB drill, the off-watch had to stay on watch while required. It meant that on some occasions, we only got 2 hours sleep at a time. Also, when you have 4 hour watch changes at night, by the time you factor in the getting below and removing life jacket, foulies and boots while heeled over, you’ve lost 20 mins of your off watch time and you lose a similar amount of time before going back on watch putting it all back on again.
Believe me, it is surprising how quickly you can go to sleep when off watch. Even though you’re crashing through waves, the water is passing over the hull a few inches from your head and the winch above your bunk seems like it’s in constant use! Crash gybe? What crash gybe? (Tip – if you have any spare bunk mattresses, when sleeping, put it between you and the cave lockers. In the event of a crash gybe etc, the lee cloth will keep you from falling out of your bunk but if you go the other way and find yourself getting up close and personal with the cave lockers at speed – it hurts. A lot. I have the bruised arm to show for it!)
The rest of the time seemed to be full of dismal attempts at racing headsail changes and MOB drills, the latter of which we improved at as the days went on. We had some terrible ones, where the skipper let his displeasure be publicly known, the one where we lost Bob (the MOB dummy) for some time and the now infamous 5am one. The one where we lost Bob upset me quite a lot as I was the person tasked with keeping him in sight and pointing. Admittedly I didn’t lose sight until he was 250m away and Bob is only a dummy, but in the back of your mind is always the thought that it *could* be a crew member. The 5am one started with me fast asleep in my bunk but being awoken by the feeling of the boat heaving to quite quickly, then my half asleep brain heard someone calling Mayday. it didn’t take many seconds for my sleep addled brain to work out what was going on when someone came in the Ghetto yelling “Man Overboard”. It was 5am, it was dark and we weren’t due on watch for another hour.
Our entire watch was up on deck very quickly, for my part I was only wearing merino base layers and a life jacket so it’s a good job it wasn’t cold. Despite losing sight of Bob once again, we got him back on board quite quickly and worked well together as a team to get the job done. Despite me taking most of Bob’s 40kg weight on one arm which has caused some issues since, it was a great recovery. I think Skipper was a tiny bit proud of us as he didn’t make us do another MOB drill after that!
Other highlights include –
- Seeing Dolphins – they followed us for hours one day and well into the night. We knew they were still there after dark as we could hear them breathing when they leapt out of the water alongside us.
- A Storm Drill – where we had to drop the boom to the deck and rig the Storm Sail (there was lots of swearing involved with that one) – that gave the off watch quite a fright when they came on watch to find we’d trashed the deck and strapped the boom down and that we expected them to fix it all as we were going off watch now!
- Seeing two spitfires flying over us in formation when we were coming round the Needles on the way back to Gosport.
- Tea & Scones for afternoon tea on the way back to Gosport.
- Feeling really proud when we got back to Gosport that we had been out of port for days and hadn’t stopped. No anchoring, no stops in port – just 475 miles of constant sailing. (Unlike the other L2 boat I might add 😉 )
- Did I mention Night Watches already?
- How about the stunning sunrises and sunsets?
Have I made it sound completely idyllic? Well it wasn’t. It was also bloody hard. Someone asked me today if there were moments when I felt like quitting. Ha! Yes, every damn day. Several times a day! When my knees were hurting and I had to get on hands and knees to pass under the traveller, or to put some weight behind a winch. When I had to go onto the bow as I really, really hate bow work. When lifting another bloody sail. When I’ve only had 2 hours sleep and someone’s yelling at me to grind or not saying please. When I really couldn’t be arsed to do the washing up at a 45 degree angle again. Or when you’re sat on the heads and they go through a series of tacks. When you’re really tired you start trying to find excuses not to do things, reasons not to continue on this journey, “I can’t” sits in the forefront of your mind. But there are lots of laughs, lots of cups of tea and we pull each other through it. That’s what Clipper is all about. If someone is down, the kettle will go on, someone will tell a joke and everything will be ok again. There is also a huge sense of achievement – there really is nothing like helming while surfing a 68ft yacht down big waves at 10 knots, doing something for the first time and knowing that “we did that”. That and the sheer bloody mindedness that yells “I bloody well will do this” just at the point where you’re ready to give up.
Special Mentions –
Skipper – Master of Cheese Jokes: Dave – Thanks for all you taught us, for pushing us really hard and for your brutal honesty. Also for the book recommendation, it’s been interesting.
Mate – “No you can’t wave at them”: Rob – Thank you for your quiet confidence in us, for all the extra things you took the time to explain and for making all those cups of tea during night watches.
Nigel – Thanks for all your help while helming, and for not getting totally exasperated.
Konstantin – Sorry about the Marmite, Gravy & Jelly Babies!
Tom – When are you going to tell your family?
Tony – Always happy to talk Politics!
John – Always first to volunteer to help, thank you
Artemis – Fellow only female on board – thanks for getting us up for MOB and for great tea at breakfast.