Busy Busy

Yesterday was a day of kite mares. Standing orders from our skipper including many practical instructions to keep us safe including notification of approaching shipping, engine room equipment maintenance etc. They also include more basic requirements for racing with kite up… namely – no broaches, no wraps, no f**k ups.

This can be quite a challenge. Perhaps inevitably with inconsistent wave patterns and wind strength, we had a couple of breaches of these standing orders – net net tired crew, now well practiced at quick kite drop, new smaller kite up to maintain speed, repair work done, wool-ing, packing, get small kite down, larger one back up – phew. In these sticky conditions it is tough and exhausting.

Everyone is working hard and at this stage we are focused and playing to people’s strengths. So it was quite amusing when with the 3 of the 4 grinders being manned by women, men watching on standby with less demanding jobs and skipper observed this might not be best approach. Despite all training in gym I had stitch, plus a good cardio work out, before we all got the giggles, which might just have slowed us down a bit – haha! Question mark, early stage delirium setting in as sleep deprivation and surreal nature of living in closely confined space for our now very closely knit team.

Out and about we have had more commercial shipping, sadly little evidence of marine life other than the odd flying fish landing on deck. We seem to have avoided further kite mares and today has brought sunshine.

After three weeks at sea we are now in the final 400 miles, in stealth mode for 24 hours, closely watching with our nearest competitors, as winds are expected to decrease the pressure is on as we approach race finish and China.

Smiles. Susan.

How fragile we are

After the sunshine comes the rain. Beautiful, cooling rain, rain and more rain. The last few days have brought plenty of rain and today I wonder whether it’s possible that my skin might go mouldy, with these humid conditions.

Subtle changes in temperature, environment, what we eat, how interrupted our sleep pattern is, remind me how sensitive we are. How resilient in some ways and yet how sensitive. So too our world. Having spent a week on an ecological paradise called Lady Elliott Island at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, I witnessed the dedication and commitment of a few to nurturing and supporting the regeneration of a fragile ego system. An island that was almost barren has through revegetation come to support a haven for birds who in turn bring the nutrients to support natural trees and plants. Through their scientist’s education I appreciate more profoundly than ever the impact of rising temperatures on coral systems and the incredible, fragile bio diversity of our oceans.

Here and now on Qingdao we have started the Ocean Sprint part of our race, but Mother Nature decides our fate with light breezes it feels rather too gentle and our progress somewhat frustration compared to previous days. After the sunshine comes the rain, then more rain and drizzle… then more rain. At some point some sunshine again for sure.

We celebrated Valentines Day and then yesterday Chinese New Year. Our two Chinese ambassadors, who join as crew sponsored by the government in Qingdao, cooked us some traditional Chinese food. And today it’s more simple fare…wraps corn beef and spam again. Some 1000 miles from Sanya and the possibility of fresh fruits and vegetables!

Smiles. Susan.

Mile ( and chocolate ) Munching

Tracking steadily north west in beautiful conditions with good speed in the right direction. How lucky we are … endless blue seas, glorious conditions, light clouds, occasionally grey with some warm rain, but not often enough to make the addition of soap worth the risk that it stops mid way through nature’s shower. And by night we have the Southern Cross kite still visible as a backdrop to our own kite propelling us across the ocean. Exhilarating helming with our massive sail plan.

Conditions down below are basic, continuing extraordinarily sticky. Compounded one evening by having to cook sausages, mash and beans, although much appreciated by the crew, working over a hot stove is an endurance test requiring much humour to help preserve ones sanity.

Happily I gave up on any semblance of sanity many moons ago… evidence abounds including signing up for a leg which promised the extremes of heat and cold and much more along the way!

Food and the ritual of meal times becomes super important… with creativity required to make very basic ingredients, tasty…with corn beef, spam, cheese wraps again for lunch, I am very grateful to one of our round the worlders, Andy who has just shared some of his Lindt dark chocolate orange intense … His wife brought kilos of this delicious treat to the Sydney stop over all the way from their home in Switzerland. Kindness and chocolate = bliss?

This is surely an experience of sensory extremes: compact racing boat showing no signs of cooling down; 20 people bunk sharing, or napping in the forepeak on salty damp sails, pressed into anywhere with a vaguely flat surface; short bursts of intense physical activity; hours of concentration and focus on instruments, or the luff of a sail, and endless trimming; reviewing forecast and competition activity; searing sunshine and heat and the respite and gift of night time with an infinite starry landscape. And for sure there is more variety to come. Sanya our first Chinese destination is now 1800 miles to go.

Thank you to family, friends and all supporters, with especially big hugs to Charlotte and Nick whose birthdays I have missed this month – smiles. Susan.

Champagne Sailing

Nearly two weeks at sea and we are blessed by breeze again, miles and miles of blue ocean and an expansive sky scape…sailing by stars or a few fair weather clouds. In the last week we have come through the doldrums with some motor sailing through light patches, a visitation by Neptune and a fun celebration as we crossed the equator, and then against expectations we came across a big wind hole which has meant very slow progress for 2 days. Happily a chance to have salt water showers, slowdown our routine, rest a little, chill out, chat and get to know each other.

We are a well run ship with our skipper, mate and initially two watch leaders and a clear structure and understanding of jobs to do to ensure we remain fed, clean and equipment monitored and maintained. A lean racing machine … haha! In fact we had pretty much got settled into our routine when it was decided to change the system from two to three watches. Objective to enable people to get more rest, improve sharing and allocation of jobs and trial a routine that will keep the optimum number on deck in what is searing heat and as we progress further north upwind and colder more challenging conditions.

The changes led to quite a lot of initial consternation and confusion. Most notably because some people had to change their bunks and arrangements for bunk sharing. Including sorting out and shifting all their kit. Bunks even when shared are a semblance of personal space and privacy. Most had some practical extra work and then there was some friction and evidence of concern about invasion of space. Also it was quickly realised that the watch timings suggested would mean everyone having the same pattern of time of deck. Mine would have been noon – 1600 and then the graveyard slot from midnight til 0400 am. Every day. Oh joy!

Happily the timings were sorted out with further tweaks to the plan. Good news, and yet more confusion.

24 hours on our skipper led a good team meeting and we are settling into the new structure and routine. These are critical building blocks for us all. We are good spirits. I am very happy with the changes …it has meant a new watch leader and team. It is easy to find yourself only getting to know people on your own watch, this shake up means more friends, increased variety and because we have more free time, more conversation. And hopefully as we are happy and better rested, a properly lean efficient racing machine… with perhaps a little time for us reflect on just how blessed we are to be here, now, witnessing the wonders of our universe.

Time is something we may have more than previously anticipated… as light winds mean so far we have only covered just over a third of our expected distance of 4242 nautical miles!

Much appreciation to all family, friends and supporters, smiles. Susan

Time Flies

Day 7 finds us in the doldrums with a cormorant resting on our starboard helm.  Since we left Airlie beach it has got hotter and hotter and we are all melting. Burning sun and high humidity.  Night time is glorious not just for the wide expanse of stars some nights but also simply because of the relative relief from the heat.

Our team is made up of a diverse crew of 20 – mostly Europeans, Swiss, German, French plus our Chinese ambassadors.  Our round the world crew are an experienced pretty well bonded bunch, who have shown us newbie leggers much patience as we become reacquainted with sailing the Clipper 70.

We are lucky that the conditions so far have been quite benign, mostly off the wind, although even the little we had upwind was pretty uncomfortable.  Scrambling around at 45 degrees becomes quite a challenge above and below decks.

So far mother nature has been kind to us… one night we witnessed a wonderful lunar eclipse, another a massive rain squall of warm rain, which was a blissful shower and temporary respite from the heat. Helming with intense rain tested the capability of my eyelids as I struggled to see, with mouth wide open to enjoy the taste of fresh water, happily not captured on film by our media crew!

Hard to believe we have been at sea for a week. Little time for conversation not related to sailing and the race, as for the most part we are pretty focused. This is of course essential as we have much to learn to work together on sail changes and all aspects of contributing to the safe running of our boat.  As we have more time together I hope this will change. And we certainly do have much time together as this is a long race.  Each day seems to merge into another and as we wake after being off watch it matters not what time of day it is… sleep ,eat, sail, repeat.

For me this race will be as much about the sailing as about the people – what can we learn about ourselves and from each other in these cramped conditions. What I have noticed so far is that simple kindness, being willing to contribute and appreciation for advice or help given makes a massive difference to living together.  And I remain deeply curious to discover more about my fellow team mates.

Last night before race

Final Race brief, dinner with Qingdao team and last night in bed and room with air conditioning…  this is going to be a hot hot race up to the equator!

We have a great crew of 20 in total – some super experienced round the world crew and a mix of newbie leggers like me. We have a new skippers mate, another Chris – so that makes 4 x Chris….Chris-skip, Chris-chief… our chief engineer who joined from Greenings, Chris-known as Q, our bosun/quartermaster, and Chris Sargent…henceforth Sarg – coincidentally with a military background!

Our race starts with a short inshore race then a motor through the Great Barrier Reef for an off shore start.  And you can follow our progress on  https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/race/standings

Much appreciation to family and friends support that has got me this far… smiles. Susan

Ready for off

Qingdao in SydneyQingdao is in Australia and already nearly half way round the world – and I am about to fly out to spend some time with Charlotte, my daughter who will see me off when I start Leg 5, in late January, racing from Airlie Beach to Sanya, China.

After training and preparing for more than a year it feels slightly surreal to be finally off next week.

If I believe we should expect the unexpected, this challenges the ability to prepare 🙂