It’s 3 days till race start!!! I can barely register that. How did THAT happen? The anticipation is palpable, both in my home in Bristol and at St. Katherine’s Dock in London…. I had the privilege to join 21 other Punta del Este crew in order to safely deliver our yacht from Gosport marina (which I have been sail training out of for the last 2 years) to St. Katherine’s Dock in London for the official race start this coming weekend.
I was keen to utilise the yacht delivery as my last opportunity to get some further sail training on board CV25 before the fleet sail over the horizon and, also to meet more crew in my team, including a few of the crew from Punta del Este.
We had absolutely glorious weather for the 3 days it took to (motor) sail to St. Katherine’s and the clear night skies were a delight to behold when I had to do a night watch or anchor watch.
I wasn’t prepared for how emotional I felt leaving our familiar pontoon in Gosport. It really hit home that the next time CV25 is tied up on the same pontoon she will have sailed over 40, 000 nautical miles and it will be her last circumnavigation before retiring from the race fleet. I may or may not be part of the delivery crew who bring her home to Gosport in just under a year’s time. I was also struck by the fact that the next time I step on board CV25 it will be to take part in the race for real and in Seattle, a city I have never been to, in order to perform in a sport’s event that I have no prior experience of. Yep, I was in a reflective mood as I heaved the mooring lines back on deck. This was it! The race of my life was starting. No more Clipper training weeks, we were on our way to race start in London and there was an awful lot of boat preparation to do on board to get her race-ready in the meantime!
Until this point I had never sailed with new sails as our training sails are all the tired, worse-for-wear sails that barely make it back from a previous circumnavigation. As soon as the main was hoisted I was pleased to notice straight away the difference in it’s shape on the boom. I had also never sailed with a full crew before, but noticed very quickly the lack of space on deck as a result. If you are not doing a job it becomes even more imperative that you simply sit out on the high side (windward) with your back against the guard wire netting. If it’s a breezy day, you notice how quickly your back gets a soaking and feels numb in the breeze.
Since I was last on board CV25 for my final week’s training in June, many modifications have been made to the boat to get her race ready by fellow crew during the week prior to the yacht delivery. It’s called ‘Prep Week’ and madness and chaos ensues in Gosport’s marina as victuallers buy and stow enough food and sanitary provisions for a crew of 22 for 4-6 weeks at sea. The engineers and bosuns have to re-rig the yacht and ensure all the gear is in tip top shape. The sail repair team had to add all the branding to the sails and a myriad of other jobs and sourcing of random things took place. I think Gosport’s Aldi benefited hugely from this (as did Weatherspoons!).
As we motored up the Thames as a fleet with all 11 yachts displaying their colours and flags, we all stood on deck marveling at the views, seal spotting and taken by surprise by the crowds and support from the river banks. Lorry drivers on the rubbish tips and industrial sites would hoot their horns at us, stop their trucks and jump out to wave at us. All the many and varied leisure boats on the Thames would bib their horns and all the passengers wave at us. One flat along the Thames had a huge sign hanging from it’s balcony that read ‘Vamos Punta del este!’ and the owners came out to wave at us. The RNLI kept coming alongside us in their rib and taking pictures of us, there was another rib that kept visiting us along the way and taking photos, whilst 2 men in a sail boat drew alongside us and chatted to us about our respective sailing routes, departing us with “rather you, than me!” and waving their beer tankards at us. It was an extraordinary day. I kept thinking, “if this is our arrival into London for the yacht delivery, what on earth is it going to be like when I do this again in just under a year having just crossed the finish line eagerly awaiting seeing friends and family at the docks?”. It all felt very overwhelming and surreal, but exciting and magical too.