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)

Prep week’s started…that means 3 weeks till Race Start!

Some of my team mates are currently in Gosport living aboard yacht CV25, otherwise known as Punta del Este, dealing with a never ending list of tasks that they have to get through during ‘Prep Week’ before I join them in 7 days time to deliver our team’s yacht safely to St. Katherine’s dock in London for the start of the race.

Race start officially begins with a Parade of Sail 3 weeks TODAY (that’s a mere 21 days to go)! Given I have been mentally and emotionally living with the Clipper race for two years already, I am finding the reality that the race begins in earnest in only 3 weeks, quite hard to fathom. Even stranger, was the realisation my husband had whilst we sat eating dinner after work on Thursday evening – 8th August – that a year to the day I’d be officially crossing the finishing line onboard Punta del Este back into St. Katherine’s dock (all being well), having sailed in the Pacific and across the North Atlantic in the process! That means this whole mad-cap adventure/challenge will be over in just under a year!

Since I am barely able to focus on getting myself race ready and to Gosport next Monday in order to be part of my team’s yacht delivery crew, the fact that in a year hence, I will have returned from playing my part in this race feels odd. I have read many biographies of sailors, kayakers and ocean rowers to know that my feeling of being overwhelmed and wishing time would slow down before race start is quite ‘normal’ and one shared by anyone who is about to embark on a big, life-changing challenge. In the past I have been very excited and animated about what lies ahead, but currently I just feel numb. There’s a long list of things I need to do such as: making a will, getting a US maritime visa, buying flights to Seattle, sorting out paperwork regarding our car and house whilst away, sourcing appropriate ocean racing kit, booking medicals and vaccinations, getting prescription sunglasses and meds, learning some Spanish etc. etc. All this, whilst juggling three jobs and ensuring I fulfill my obligations at work and being there for my own family and friends. I can’t say I have been good at any of these of late!

Aside from the rapidly advancing big day, there’s also the official big news I can now announce because I have now been informed of the details by Clipper HQ. So, finally, I can now tell you dates and ports for my part in this race and how you can follow our progress in real time…

(drum roll!)….I’m a ‘multi-legger’ crewing in the last two legs of the race – that’s Legs 7 & 8 and they involve the Pacific and North Atlantic oceans. The schedule is as follows:

Leg 7’s race start = 2nd May 2020 from Bell Harbour Marina in Seattle, but I will need to register for duty on 27th April 2020 (any one with friends in Seattle please do let me know as I’d love a friendly face to wave me off and perhaps offer to put me up for a few nights whilst in town).

From Seattle we sail down to Panama to Flamenco Island marina on the Pacific side and await to transit the Panama Canal as a whole fleet on the 2nd/3rd June 2020 to Shelter Bay Marina on the Atlantic side. Then, on the 5th June 2020 (my middle brother’s birthday actually), it’s a sprint up to Liberty Landing or North Cove marina in New York, USA.

Leg 8 starts on the 27th June 2020 with a race to Royal Bermuda Yacht Club involving a week’s stop-over in Bermuda. Having never been to Bermuda this sounds very exotic to me (and probably eye-wateringly expensive too)! From Bermuda we set off across the North Atlantic on the 9th July 2020 to Derry-Londonderry’s Foyle Marina. Last, but not least, on the 2nd August 2020 we depart Derry-Londonderry for our last race that will take a mere 6 days or less to return back to St Katherine’s dock across the finish line (probably off Southend) on or before the 8th August 2020.

I have never been to the USA, nor Panama or Bermuda so for me, this will be one huge voyage of discovery. If you have family or friends in Seattle, Panama City, Bermuda, New York, Derry-Londonderry who you think would be up for showing me some hospitality then please do get in touch. I would much rather sleep ashore and enjoy a decent bed and shower than sleep onboard in the marina of each stop-over. But most of all, I know from speaking to previous race crew that some friendly faces to welcome me in each port would be much appreciated and a morale booster.

If you want to follow the race over the coming year then you can do so by going to the RACE VIEWER page of the official Clipper RTW Yacht Race website. There is also a closed Facebook group you can request to join called Crew, Family and friends of Team Punta del Este and we have our own Instagram account, if you’d like to follow us there too, to see short profiles of some crew members, updates from training and prep, useful tips and advice, and fun shots from the team! You can find the profile under @puntadelesteteam on Instagram.

Finally, for any of you who’d like to be there at Race Start and join me in waving off some of my team then there are Race Start Spectator Boats. There are a limited number of tickets available, which you can order here (remember to wear yellow to support our team and let me know if you’ll be there to join me and my husband):