(Don’t) Miss the Boat

Idiom: to fail to take advantage of an opportunity.

Remember life before COVID-19? Back in those days I had a BIG plan for today. Today was the day I was catering for 35 friends who would join me at the Benjamin Perry Scout Hut in Bristol for my Race Departure Party. Dave had produced a nautical themed playlist and I had written a quiz for the early part of the evening to be enjoyed with rum and a hearty buffet of home-cooked food.

The party invite I had sent out to friends over New Year 2020.

Today also sees in the start of British Summer Time. We would have lost an hour’s sleep upon waking up tomorrow, but I saw that as auspicious and entirely apt for life at sea.

This is where I should have been partying tonight on the harbourside.

Rather than get in the doldrums about it, I thought it would be a homage to all my husband and I were looking forward to by sharing his playlist and inviting you to do the quiz. You have until the 30th April to send me your answers using the contact form on this blog. I will announce the winner on the 2nd May, which would have been the start of Leg 7 racing from Seattle aboard Punta del Este.

The winner will receive a copy of this book, which I am happy to post anywhere in the world in the spirit of adventure and dreams of circumnavigating the globe under sail; if I can’t, at least the book can!

A copy of this book is up for grabs if you’re the lucky winner of the quiz below!

Just promise me you don’t cheat, because, after all, it would be far too easy to simply Google the answers if you don’t know them already. I also encourage you to enjoy doing this quiz whilst listening to some of the tracks from Dave’s playlist below and pouring yourself a rum if you’re lucky enough to have access to any under lockdown!

Quiz

  1. In what year did the first Clipper round-the-world yacht race start?
  2. Who founded the Clipper round-the-world yacht race?
  3. Which legs of the race was I competing in?
  4. Name all the port cities or locations I would have been visiting in the race, including the city I was to set out from? (There are 6, so 1 point for each correct answer)
  5. Ocean-racing involves fast, responsive deck work as a team with each crew member assuming a specific role. Which of the following deck roles is the fake one? a) Bowman b) Lugger c) Grinder d)Helm
  6. What is the image on the hull of the yacht I was meant to be racing aboard?
  7. In what country is the coastal city of Punta del Este to be found?
  8. What is the country of birth of my team’s Skipper?
  9. In what year did the construction of the Panama Canal begin?
  10. What is a toilet called on a boat?
  11. What is the name of the inlet of the Pacific Ocean that I would have sailed along upon departing from Seattle?
  12. What is the name of the very large sail flown at the bow of a yacht in light airs?
  13. Is Bermuda part of the Caribbean?
  14. What is the term for the watch who are assigned to cook meals and clean below decks?
  15. What was the city of New York formerly known as?
  16. In what year did it become known as New York?
  17. What is a lee cloth?
  18. What do crew clip their 3-way safety tethers to when working on deck?
  19. What festival was scheduled to take place during the Derry-Londonderry stopover?
  20. Name the three corners of a sail. (1 point for each correct answer)
  21. What is the longest pleasure pier in the world?
  22. Which of these knots cannot be used as a stopper knot (stopping the end of the rope pulling through a hole)? a) Figure of Eight b) Admiralty c) Sheet Bend
  23. Which of these is not found on the deck of an ocean racing yacht? a) Cockpit b) Snake pit c) Pulpit d) Sand pit
  24. Sailing involves learning a huge amount of technical or maritime language. For example, a rope is NEVER called a rope! So, what is the name of the rope (line) that is used to hoist or drop a sail?
  25. What is the name of the rope (line) that is used to control the trim of a sail?

Dave made a playlist for tonight’s party. Here are some of my favourites, if you fancy listening to them whilst working through the quiz questions.

The La’s – Liberty Ship

Waterboys – Fisherman’s Blues

Tom Waits – Shiver Me Timbers

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – Lee Shore

Fairport Convention- A Sailor’s Life

…If you have any nautical themed tunes you want to share with me then please do make suggestions using the comments box below.

Unlikely Voyages

“You can do anything, but not everything.”

A year ago I was training aboard CV21 in the Solent with my level 3 Clipper Race training crew under the experienced eye of Skipper, Bob Beggs and First Mate, Sophie O’Neill; one half of Seas and Summits, currently sailing in Antarctica!

Stood beside Sophie at the helm. Getting my first real taste of what a heeled over racing yacht feels like!

My level 3 training taught me just how miserable seasickness can be and also introduced me to spinnakers; prior to this training week I’d never seen a spinnaker, let alone hoisted or woolled one! The week was intense and despite the sunny, clear blue skies, very cold. I remember being in awe of Sophie’s agility and strength and her confidence to lead an unruly crew at times.

Gives you an idea of how enormous spinnakers are! Here is one of three spinnakers that each yacht carries, laid out on the marina pontoon in Gosport so that we can practice wooling it on dry land before having to do it for real offshore.

So it takes a while for me to get my head around the fact that rather than Clipper race training out on the Solent, a year later, like the rest of Britain, I am living through ‘lockdown’. Currently, my world has physically shrunk to our tiny terrace and a vision of rooftops from my windows rather than being confined to a Clipper 70 gazing upon an expanse of the English Channel. Given that in 3 weeks time I was meant to be back pre-race sailing in the Solent and then down the Puget Sound from Seattle for the ‘real deal’, these last few days I have been reflecting on the subtle similarities between life on dry land in ‘lockdown’ and my life aboard a racing yacht offshore.

Both ocean racing and our day-to-day life under ‘lockdown’ involve restricted movement and living in confined spaces with others. At least on dry land I get to sleep in a dry, warm bed!

Both ways of living necessitate a restricted diet and being economical with resources. Just as with life offshore ocean racing, fresh coffee, fruit and vegetables are a luxury, not a necessity. My Clipper training stands me in good stead for not being fussy about instant coffee, milk powder and tinned veg. In fact the other day, I dug out my old sprouter which I haven’t used for years and have been enjoying freshly sprouted fenugreek and mustard seeds, which have been a blessing as our fresh veg is running low and looking a bit sorry for itself. I remember Sarah Outen telling me that she used to try sprouting from her ocean rowing boat when she was crossing the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans.

Enjoying some sprouted fenugreek seeds for lunch under lockdown.

At sea there are ALWAYS cleaning, maintenance and repairs that need doing, so it would appear I am adjusting to a simpler, quieter daily life under lockdown by busying myself with cleaning and repairs. At least on dry land I can readily refer to YouTube for ‘how to’ videos if I don’t know how to do something or I can call a friend and ask them for advice. Sailing on an ocean, however, demands that crew not only know how to sail, but can also fix engines, sails, boat leaks, attend to plumbing, electrics and clean. Those bilges always need pumping! Weirdly, I dunno what it says about me, but I quite liked pumping out the bilges. I saw it as good exercise…and the satisfaction of a job done.

Ocean racing does involve quite a bit of sitting and waiting. Waiting for the wind to pick up, hours watching the sails perfecting sail trim, watching the clouds on the horizon getting some indication of the weather ahead and, for me, one of the joys was watching the wake we left as we surfed down waves. I used to get utterly absorbed in staring at the wake… Now, confined to our ‘2 up, 2 down’ terrace with a tiny concrete back yard I am finding myself starring at the sky above and listening to the birds. Since less people are travelling from their homes there is much less traffic about in the city, which I think means the air is cleaner (at least, I can’t smell the usual overpowering whiff of diesel on the main roads) and bird song is more audible. I’m delighting in that at least. So, be it on deck, in a chair or stood in the back yard, stopping, looking and listening is very absorbing and it’s amazing what you start to notice and what captures your attention and gaze. The last six days we have enjoyed very settled weather with clear skies, which has also made for some wonderfully starry nights even in a city full of light pollution. Each night before going to bed I have gone to stand in the yard and look up and imagine how I would be feeling if I were gazing upon these same stars from the deck of Punta del Este on a calm night watch.

But I also ponder the things that I have to hand at home under lockdown that I would not if I were aboard Punta del Este, namely:

  1. The option to call, text, email or write to family and friends.

2. Sleep that isn’t limited to 2-3 hours at a time in a damp, smelly bunk.

3. Despite running low on fresh food, my diet at home is still far more varied than anything I would get aboard an ocean racing yacht.

4. I can wash both myself and my clothes on a regular basis …with fresh water; from a tap! Even under lockdown, there’s no need to rely on the odourising qualities of merino wool undergarments and wet wipe body ‘washes’! For that alone, I am extremely thankful!

With each new day I am adjusting to this new ‘normal’ life and accepting a new version of 2020 to the one I thought I was on the cusp of living out. I hope it is the same for you and that you are grateful for whatever blessings, big or small, this new normal brings for you.

…If you have any other suggestions for blessings to be mindful of with regards to life under lockdown, as opposed to life on an ocean wave, I’d love to hear them. Post your ideas in a comment below.

Unknown Waters

Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.

Publilius Syrus

I’m writing this one week after Clipper’s announcement that the outstanding legs of the circumnavigation have been postponed till 2021; a year since I took a friend on an introductory row in the harbour with Bristol pilot gig boat club and nine years since I first sailed in and out of Gosport (where I subsequently did all my Clipper race training) aboard a beautiful replica of John Cabot’s ship, The Matthew.

I am also writing this on the first day of Britain’s ‘lockdown’ after our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, made the official announcement calling it last night; a historic broadcast from the PM according to British media.

It’s been a bewildering, emotional roller-coaster of a week; a week in which Britain began to shut down in a desperate attempt to contain Covid-19. It firstly began with panic buying in supermarkets prompting the restriction of sale of specific items to 2 or 4 units per customer and a dystopian vision of empty shelves. Then there was the death knell to the cultural sector, as all social and cultural venues closed their doors. Little did I know that seeing Yorkston, Thorne and Khan play a mesmerizing gig at Bristol’s Folk House on Sunday 15th March would be the last gig I am going to go to for many months, or that the pint of beer I had with my RYA instructor following my last Day Skipper exam would be my last visit to a pub for quite a while…or that the commiseration lunch I had at a café on the harbourside following the race decision from Clipper would be my last café outing for the foreseeable future too. The staff at this café were arguably ahead of the social distancing curve, replacing all crockery with plastic or cardboard and were offering take-away with non-cash payments only. All staff were wearing plastic gloves and the usually busy café was eerily quiet with just a few lone workers at their laptops. I was bemused if truth be told. Then public transport began to empty out and finally citizens started to stay home with much social pressure exerted via social media channels. I started to receive relentless emails from CEO’s of companies I didn’t even realise held my email address, informing me of their plan of action in the face of COVID-19 and all commitments in my diary were very quickly cancelled or postponed. For me, the most challenging cancellation is a face-to-face consultation I have at my local dental hospital to receive the results of a biopsy I had taken from the palate of my mouth a month ago. When everything else is up in the air and in limbo, I was holding out for a comforting ‘all clear’ from a consultant following a visual diagnosis. Now, even that has been replaced with a telephone consultation in a week’s time.

Reading back over this blog, whilst processing that my husband and I are not imminently setting off to Seattle, something I wrote on the 19th November 2019 (in response to the collision of Punta del Este and Sanya at race start out of Cape Town) really jumped out at me:

“This is one of the scenarios I dread. All those months and years emotionally, financially and mentally committed to the race and then, BOOM! It’s over. Just like that.”

Prophetic. Makes my hairs stand on end. Within a week my blog now feels that its title has come to pass, but not at all in the way I was intending!

We are all entering unknown waters and I am painfully aware of how invisible our most vulnerable are right now. People who were already struggling to cope with daily life when all was ‘normal’ could well break. I have three very close friends who have children with complex needs, some life threatening and requiring constant care. I feel for them all during social isolation and ‘lockdown’. Whilst we are all going to experience the coming months in very different ways, no doubt it will be challenging for us all. So, in a bid to make myself useful I googled: ‘coronavirus response volunteers Bristol’ and found a campaign run by our city council called ‘Can Do Bristol’. They are actively inviting volunteers, so I signed up. Who knows if I’ll be called upon or when…Maybe there’s something similar in your community or neighbourhood?

In the meantime, I have stowed away all the sailing gear that for the past year has been gathering dust in a pile at home and taken down the race schedule that has been stuck to the kitchen cupboard door since race start. For each leg I have noted which team won and our team’s finishing position. I have also rearranged the furniture in the living room to hide the spaces that were, until this week, stacked with technical sailing books I had on long-term loan from my local library, as well as lengths of rope for practicing my knots. I think my husband is pleased about that at least, as I notice he’s replaced my sailing paraphernalia with his oil paints and song-writing books! I have left the oil painting he did of Punta del Este sailing into a sunset out on the bookcase as a homage to all that we had worked towards and were looking forward to. At least with some cleared away floor space I have a bit of room to keep up my planking and floor exercises during lockdown I suppose.

…For now dear readers, hold fast, for we are entering a storm; but like all storms, it will pass eventually.

Dave’s oil painting on cardboard of Punta del Este sailing into the sunset, which he gave me a few weeks ago. It’s ‘going to be a while till she loses sight of the shore again, since the entire fleet are now moored up in Subic Bay marina (Philippines) until the race resumes at some point next year…Maybe.

Yellow Jack. No going back.

I woke up this morning to a raft of WhatsApp messages and emails of condolence, sympathy and ‘thinking of you’. I knew then that Clipper had (finally) made a decision. I am not in agreement with their decision – for what it’s worth, I wish they’d just called this edition of the race a day – but there we go. It’s done. My journey over the last 2 years and 9 months has been postponed; 4 weeks and two days before I was to depart from home. I am mostly feeling numb with occasional bursts of anger and tears. It’s a process. I shall learn to re-orientate my compass in time. I shall not write about how I am feeling right now for the risk of writing anything I’ll regret in time, but suffice to say there is a lot more at stake in all this than simply sailing in the race itself.

 

This is the official statement I received from Clipper today, which I know many of you have been expecting over the last week.

All current Leg 6 race crew are currently quarantined on the yachts in Subic Bay marina. Subic Bay is located on the Filipino island of Luzon, which is currently under ‘enhanced community quarantine’. Reports from current crew is that they are getting by with access to a toilet and cold showers and lots of games of backgammon and silliness to keep up morale.

Although the mosquitoes, humidity and general anxiety on board about whether they will get themselves and their luggage back home before lock-down are real challenges for them right now, in my eyes, everyone who has crewed in this race so far is a winner. It has been an unprecedented edition of the race because of all the geopolitical and environmental challenges the crews have encountered along the way. None of us ever thought for a moment that a pandemic would hinder us in achieving the race of our lives. Rather, we were all talking about unemployment, ill-health, bereavement, pregnancy as being the possible events that would curtail our plans to achieve what we set out to do.

Historically, the Clipper fleet would have to fly a “Yellow Jack” – a yellow signal flag (Q for Quebec) to indicate that they were under quarantine. However, in modern maritime use a yellow flag now indicates the opposite; as a signal of a ship free of disease that requests boarding and inspection by Port State Control. Today, the fleet would need to fly the Lima (L) signal flag in harbour which is made up of black and yellow squares to indicate that the “ship is under quarantine”. According to that free resource of dubious provenance my students all rely on, Wikipedia: 

“In International maritime signal flags, plain yellow, green, and even black flags have been used to symbolize disease in both ships and ports, with the colour yellow having a longer historical precedent, as a colour of marking for houses of infection, previous to its use as a maritime marking colour for disease. It is sometimes called the “yellow jack”, which became a name for yellow fever. Cholera ships also used a yellow flag. Plain yellow flags are still commonly used to mark a recent death in a neighbourhood in cities such as Jakarta, regardless of the cause. They are placed in intersections leading to the home of the recently deceased as direction markers for mourners, and to mark the funeral convoy so that it is given the right of way.”

As a Death Studies scholar I find all this very interesting, but I was doing the Clipper race as an opportunity to leave my scholarship behind for a change and to get out there and exist in the raw elements rather than behind a computer screen or book. My work colleagues at the Centre for Death and Society (University of Bath) had only a week ago written a heart-felt
announcement in our monthly newsletter, which read:

“This month we want to say a special thank you and bon voyage to CDAS member, colleague and friend Dr. Hannah Rumble, who has worked with us for nearly a decade on projects associated with funeral costs and practice. You probably know her best for the fantastic Dead and Buried project. Hannah is about to set down her academic tools and embark on the adventure of a lifetime, racing in the global Clipper sailing race. We are extremely proud of Hannah and want to thank her for all she has contributed to CDAS over the years. We will miss you Hannah and look forward to hearing about your life on the high seas when you return to the UK later in the year. Safe travels!”

So OK, I am now not departing anywhere at all; each and everyone one of us is feeling the effects of the coronavirus pandemic in our lives somehow. I wish you all the luck in the world for facing and living through the unknown. Now more than ever, hold fast!

Ironically, in the meantime, I have the last of my RYA Day Skipper exams tonight, but given while I was writing this blog post Clipper emailed to say my refresher pre-race sail has now been cancelled, if any of you reading this need an extra deck hand or know someone looking for crew, please pass on my details!

Another milestone.

My 60 day count down till 60 days spent ocean racing aboard Punta del Este was marked by the first of my RYA Day Skipper exams and the arrival of my prescription sailing glasses…getting my sailing face on!

The wraparound frames take some getting used to, but otherwise I like how securely they fit.
The Velcro glasses retainer is a good design as it means I no longer have to fight to get my glasses over my head.
My revision cards clearly paid off as I found out today that I passed my first exam. Just got to keep practicing my chart work!