Get set, ready…vamos!

Today all the race crews will be assembling for race start and setting off from Punta del Este for the 2nd leg in the circumnavigation. The 2nd leg is also the shortest leg, involving a crossing of the South Atlantic to Cape Town, South Africa. Whilst all the crews focus on what lies ahead and have everything to play for, I thought I would share this footage taken from across the fleet from Leg 1. Captured is my team’s Skipper, Jeronimo, looking very happy at the helm with his feathered companion; one of the quieter, more relaxed moments from the race before the full force of the Pampero hit.

The Clipper Race fleet experienced everything on Race 2, Leg 1. From days of going nowhere in the doldrums, to the heat of the equator, where King Neptune came to visit. Finally, with the race finish within sight, an almighty storm descended, testing all the crews to their limits.

Tide and time wait for no (wo)man

It was my husband who casually pointed out to me on Saturday night – whilst we were cooking dinner together – that it was exactly six months until we board a plane from London bound to Seattle; it will be our first ever flight/trip to the USA and for me, it’ll also be hot on the heels of a 3-day ‘refresher sail’ aboard a retired racer – a Clipper 68 – in the Solent. Although we haven’t bought our flights yet, we’re pretty certain we’ll need to get a flight on the 20th April 2020… a date consisting of a curious combination of zeros and twos; please tell me they are not unlucky numbers!

All this means that as I sit and type this blog post, I have even less time before my departure and suddenly, I feel I have crossed some invisible time zone where my active part in the Clipper race, which always formerly felt far off, banished to another year’s diary, is now lurking round the corner of Christmas and there’s SO MUCH to organise, secure and attain before then!

Last week, uncannily the same day as my team reached Punta del Este, Uruguay, marking their finish of Leg 1, I started the first of many Tuesday night evening classes studying for my RYA Day Skipper with 11 other wannabe confident sailors at Bristol Maritime Academy. I was pleasantly surprised by the mix of ages and the fact I wasn’t the only woman in the room; I was joined by a Slovakian woman who wants to feel confident sailing on flotilla holidays in the Med, rather than relying on her husband when offshore; an English woman who has ambitions to charter her own boats and seems to have done quite a bit of sailing already and an Italian woman who wants to confidently sail in the Southern Med. There’s also a young man who’s gone in with some of his friends to buy a J class racing yacht (as you do) and now wants to learn to sail her (!) and one older man who was involved in the TV production of Mutiny (recreating the 4000-mile trip of Captain Bligh in a tiny wooden boat after the mutiny on the Bounty) and seems to have sailed all over the world, so I have absolutely no idea why he’s on our course! We make a curious bunch of students with one thing in common – we want our RYA Day Skipper ticket – because even our sailing loves are not shared; we’re a divided class between those who own or use power boats and those of us who prefer or own (indeed, aspire to own!) sail boats.

My first night class of many at Bristol Maritime Academy.

I have my second class tonight – the curriculum states we will be covering tidal theory, true bearings and nautical measurements – whilst my team mates in Punta del Este will be having their last meal and sleep ashore, ahead of tomorrow’s Leg 2 race start racing to Cape Town, South Africa. A number of the crew are new to the race having convened in Punta del Este over the last week and from my brief WhatsApp messages with a few of them, wishing them all the luck in the world, I know they’re nervous. I also know I will be too, when my turn comes. I don’t think there will be much sleep among them tonight.

The film footage below was taken by a media crew member aboard Punta del Este in Race 2, Leg 1 and shows the challenging weather conditions the crew had to deal with when less than 24 hours from the finish line and port at Punta del Este, Uruguay; absolutely no amount of Clipper race training or RYA Day Skipper study and exams is going to prepare me fully for this.

…I am in awe of all the crews who sailed through this and all those crew sailing from the safety of Yacht Club Punta del Este tomorrow have a right to be nervous.

After a hard fought and challenging 5,200 nautical miles across the Atlantic, the Clipper Race fleet faced one more hurdle in the last 48 hours as they started to get closer to Punta del Este, Uruguay. The notorious Pampero wind is a meteorological phenomenon commonly found around the lowlands of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. This burst of cold polar air can be violent and picks up very quickly. The Clipper Race fleet experienced this natural force as they raced down the coast. Strange cigar shaped cloud formations, known as roll clouds, appeared ominously and the crews set to work quickly reducing sail and preparing for the inevitable. In the case of the Punta del Este team, the winds hit hard and gusts of up to nearly 80 knots were felt on deck. A Code 2 Spinnaker is certainly not designed for anything like those conditions and as the crew battled furiously to take it down, nature did its thing and decided it would come down but in many more pieces than it went up in. The crew’s experience and skill meant that up against the elements, they dealt with the situation extremely well and were back racing along very quickly to an outstanding and warm Latin American welcome as they arrived at the Yacht Club Punta del Este.
A hero’s welcome for the crew of Punta del Este at the end of Leg 1 as they survived that almighty weather to arrive safely into the marina of Yacht Club Punta del Este a week ago (October 15th 2019).
Overall race standings at the end of Leg 1 (London to Punta del Este)

Weather Watching and Seasonal Change

My (not so) daily weather log for February 1991.

As a social anthropologist I am acutely aware of the myriad of ways humans cultivate and understand their surroundings through the material changes and attunements they make to their homes and immediate surroundings over a lifetime. These temporal and material changes can be both reassuring and distressing. Reassuring when your home reinforces your sense of who you are and your belonging in the world and utterly distressing when one’s home and surroundings are fundamentally changed, destroyed, taken away, leaving an existential vacuum that brings into question people’s lives, identity and future possibilities.  Similarly, through my academic research with the bereaved and terminally ill, I have become very aware of the necessary sorting and sifting through of memories, artefacts, administration and emotions that a death of something close requires. The never ending cycles of life and death.

But seasons change in other ways too. Over the last year my family have been dealing with the myriad of ways their lives have registered the changing of the seasons so to speak; my brother has just moved into a new home for his expanding family, my father has sold his home to downsize for retirement and my mum is having to leave the family home out of necessity. I have been helping her sift through 35 years of memories, paperwork and objects that reflected a once active woman with a myriad of community roles and creative talents, who now takes up to three hours just to get out of bed each morning. Childhood toys and schoolwork have all been sequestered to a skip at the bottom of the garden or into storage boxes that might never be opened again. More symbolically, to our family at least, the tiny caravan we used to all go on holiday in as kids, including the family cat, dogs and budgie, has been broken up for a scrap metal merchant to come and collect. It has been rusting away for years, gradually eroding into the driveway through years of exposure to northerly winds and peaty rain, but always reassuringly there. That is, until the day that the scrap metal merchants turned up to take it away.

A former shell of a beloved caravan that mum rather incredibly managed to take herself and 3 kids away on holiday in, complete with family pets.
Almost gone. Family holidays rather swiftly and efficiently dismantled into the back of a van.

The spaces we occupy in our lives become enmeshed in our everyday lives in so many ways; not just the house or flat, but the adjoining spaces too: a shed, a garden, a yard, a basement, a vehicle, driveway or street….it’s taking me and my mum considerable time to physically and emotionally go through these spaces and sift, sort, discard and sometimes, re-purpose. Very occasionally this activity has served up a long-forgotten memory or reveals a long-lost treasured item, but most of the time it just hurts (more for mum I admit). Whilst I am currently observing a fundamental change in the seasons for my mother and siblings, I used to (as a bit of serious kid), patiently record the micro-weather systems and seasons through my daily observations, measurements and encounters with nonhuman life in the same bit of drive-way where the rusting, rotting caravan stood until very recently. Of course, I had forgotten all this until sorting through mum’s dresser with her a few weekends ago yielded the re-discovery of my (formerly) beloved ‘complete weather fun kit’ (as the packaging declares).

Within the box my spidery, handwritten recordings still reside, complete with all my terrible misspellings. The ones that make me laugh as a 41-year-old woman today are my handwritten notes to my former kid self, to remember to check the ‘rain gage’ and to refer to the ‘bofort scale’ when recording wind speed. I also smile when I see that under ‘special features’ on the weather entry for February 1991, I have written ‘white snow’! Such recordings of the seemingly obvious and mundane by a 13-year-old me, I now figure were one of the formative ways I registered changes in my immediate environment, the seasonal calendar year and ultimately, my advancement through life. Mum would encourage me and my siblings to also keep nature journals during the school holidays (we always groaned at this, but I appreciate it now), encouraging us to develop our engagements with the plants, animals and sounds of our immediate environment, as well as the atmosphere and local weather. So in a way, the meteorological register that sailing requires is a process of attentive watching, listening and feeling that began many years ago for me, as a 13-year-old girl stood in the driveway of our family home, clutching my compass, notepad and pen, looking up to gauge visibility and identify cloud formations. Even today, living in a very urban, polluted city environment with just a concrete yard for access to outdoor space, I nonetheless find myself each night stepping into the back yard to look up and observe the moon and stars before going to bed and each morning, as I wait for my coffee to percolate, I stand by the back door listening and watching. When I step aboard Punta del Este in just over 6 months’ time, I will be similarly attentive to my immediate environment by observing wind direction and speed, cloud formations and sea states. I will also have to learn to trust my instincts more, especially when helming and trimming sails. I have an awful lot yet to learn and understand, but in some tiny way I acknowledge that this process began when I was a child with my clumsy driveway weather recordings.

In the midst of serious concerns about irreversible climate change and global weather extremes, my daily weather recordings may be understood as one minor register in understanding weather encounters. Of course, I write this fully aware that a key register in collectively understanding weather and climate encounters begins today; an international rebellion organised by Extinction Rebellion. My husband will be in London to participate by playing his beloved sport, cricket. He and some of his friends have set up an Extinction Rebellion Cricket Club; look out for them if you are in London this coming weekend.