My first yacht delivery…it was epic!

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.

The Punta del Este delivery crew all wearing our Clipper race uniforms (well, except Sue, but that’s another blog post!) and smiling just before we slipped the lines out of Gosport.

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!

Here we are in the Solent heading out into the Channel with our main, staysail and yankee hoisted admiring our brand new set of sails.

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.

We all admired our team logo on the mainsail and feel proud to sail under a smiling sun; I hope she bodes well for us in the race!
Not only was I not prepared for the emotions I felt during the yacht delivery, but I also wasn’t prepared for the media crews and crowds. This footage was filmed by a camera man who flew over the fleet hanging out of a helicopter in the Channel. Just watching it sends shivers down my spine. This epic race has begun for me and I can’t quite believe it! I also love how Punta del Este’s hull looks in the water; yellow was a great colour choice.

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!).

To the untrained eye this may look like an awful sanitary situation at sea. To me though, I was absolutely delighted by the addition of a soap dispenser, paper towel dispenser and storage unit for loo paper to the heads. Dare I say, it felt a wee bit luxurious for the first time ever in my Clipper experience! Up until now, visiting the heads has been a grim experience of soggy loo paper because it’s rolled onto the floor, no hand drying options and only the loathsome antibacterial gel to ‘wash’ hands with. These amendments pictured above will be a small blessing and morale booster during the race.
Again, to the untrained eye you may think this looks like a sterile, almost devoid environment, but I was delighted that someone in my team had taken the initiative during Prep Week to create this rope guard running down one side of the companionway steps. In heaving seas this netting will provide some much needed support and hand-holds. In the background is the port-side wet locker with half the crew’s newly-arrived race foulies from Musto. We have modified them to have our initials emblazoned on them in reflective tape so we know whose belong to whom and to help identify each other on deck.
One of the boat’s adjustments I was involved with; helping put up extra net stowage units.
The net stowage gets filled with things like this! On board we have enough crisps and Haribo sweets to feed an army! Ocean racing does not involve a healthy diet that’s for sure and hence, why I am only doing Legs 7 & 8, as my medical consultants flatly refused to let me do more legs or the full circumnavigation because it’s guaranteed to flare up my oral Crohn’s disease.
Again, to landlubbers this may look like a pitiful meal, but to me, it was the best thing I have yet to eat on board. It was almost fresh (!) and therefore, very tasty and gobbled down by all crew…Definitely a contender for the ‘Best Mother’s Meal On Board’!
Punta del Este’s Media Crew in the nav station tweeking the communications on board and getting to grips with the go pros. During the race we will be posting crew diaries online via the Clipper website. I have provided a link at the end of this post.
Our team’s Medical Crew: Tono (Spanish) is a Urologist and Hillary (English) is a nurse. They’re a great, reassuring asset to the team!
Sue is also a huge asset to the team as she’s a ‘can do’ woman with anything involving tools and sewing machines. She spent a lot of time during the yacht delivery below decks fixing up extra stowage for personal effects by our bunks and making extra stowage below the bunks for potatoes and onions.
One of Sue’s creations attached to a lower port-side bunk for storing potatoes for weeks on end at sea.
Me, cleaning bunks. Always cleaning!
…And tidying our lovely new lines in the sail locker once we’d sat on deck whipping the ends of all the sheets!
Our Skipper in the water off Southend-on-Sea in Essex cleaning the keel whilst we were at anchor waiting to motor as a fleet up the Thames.
Another addition to the boat is this notice board in the galley, which quickly got utilised by the mothers as a way to keep up morale with the promise of food! We did get served toasties and crumpets that day as we motored up the Thames, but they weren’t as hot or as well presented as one might expect from the advertising here 😉
Motoring up the Thames past the Thames Barrier was so exciting! I will always remember it and treasure it. It was a privileged vantage point to see the city of London and I was blown away by the crowds along the river banks.

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.

Many who know me would not be surprised I am on board the loudest boat! 😉 This was posted by the guy who kept following us up the Thames in his rib. We gave him a special wave from deck captured by him on his mobile phone, pictured above.
I was totally taken by surprise by Caroline! As we came into St. Katherine’s Dock she was stood at the dockside waving us in. I was chuffed to bits to see a familiar face and she, in return, is the first of our crew supporters who got to board the yacht and take a tour once we’d moored up. I met Caroline in Bangladesh when we were both VSO volunteers 17 years ago; we’ve certainly shared a few of our life (mis)adventures together over the years!
The fleet’s safe arrival into St. Katherine’s Dock.
Punta del Este’s yacht delivery crew; all smiles as we let the realisation sink in that we’re days away from race start and our respective sailing challenge of a lifetime!

“Vamos Punta del Este! Vamos!”

Don’t forget you can follow our progress in the race by using the Clipper Race Viewer here:

Using the Race Viewer above, we’re indicated by the yellow boat for Punta del Este.
Mentally getting ‘race ready’.

If you’d like to read the official Clipper Crew Diary entry for the yacht delivery for Team Punta del Este, click on here.

Look-back Time

“I discovered the ocean in my imagination. I discovered the ocean in books.”

Sailing to the Edge of Time: The promise, the challenges, and the freedom of ocean voyaging – John Kretschmer

I have had an albeit, quite private, bookish love affair with boats and sailing since my early teens when I discovered the writing of Robin Lee-Graham, Slocum and Chichester and would vicariously go on their sailing adventures and ocean crossings as an armchair stowaway…They fuelled my romance and longing for big adventure, an expanse of ocean and exploring new horizons. How I wished for the freedom and romantic adventures of Robin aboard Dove!

I got my chance in 2005, when an opportunity presented itself to go and live aboard a 32 foot ferro-cement sloop called Crystal in the Bay of Islands, the North Island of New Zealand for six months.

The relationship with the boat’s owner was disastrous, but my relationship with Crystal was instant. She opened my eyes to the sheer joy and freedom of waking up each day at anchor in a secluded bay, lying tucked up in my berth listening to the wind clatter the shrouds and the tide pull at the anchor chain. All those stunning sun rises and sun sets viewed on deck in delicious solitude!

I never knew the phrase ‘live-aboard’ until I met a vibrant, eclectic mix of live-aboards from around the the world, all sheltering at Russell in the Bay of Islands, hatching up plans for their next ocean crossing once the weather improved. I was fascinated (and a little envious if truth be told) of those children who had grown up at sea and never knew the constraints of life ashore. Self-contained kids who were confident to make friends and entertain themselves wherever they were, communicating in an excited, confusing babble of languages and hand gestures; What a life! What freedom! I was also impressed by the adults who seemed self-assured, so eternally positive and ready for anything. I was inspired by this cruiser community, but in my heart knew it remained out of reach at the time.

Although living aboard Crystal opened my eyes to a whole new way of being upon this earth, I would hardly credit it as a sail training opportunity. The boat very much belonged to the ‘other half’ at the time and he took full control and was not patient enough to teach me about sailing or the boat. But in many ways it didn’t matter, because sharing life aboard his boat for six months was enough for me to vow to myself that if I could, I’d find a way to learn to sail and go to sea on my own terms.

Crystal at anchor somewhere in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. 2006.
Living a dream: Fishing off Bird Rock at sun rise in the Bay of Islands (New Zealand). February 2006.

That was 13 years ago now. After an all too brief spell living at anchor in New Zealand I found myself back in Thailand trying to survive on meager wages from publishing restaurant reviews and articles in a Thai luxury lifestyle magazine and teaching for the British Council, but it wasn’t long before I found myself back in Durham doing a PhD (more on that in another post as the subject matter has played a central role in why I applied to the Clipper Race!). After completing my PhD at Durham University in 2010, I packed up my postgraduate life in Durham – forever my spiritual home – to take another life gamble. This time I was moving down south, to Bristol, to join my now husband and seek work. I have often lived and worked abroad since originally leaving home at 19 years of age to go to Malaysia and seek my fortune (it didn’t happen, obviously, but I credit my time in Malaysia for the woman I am today). However, until Bristol, I had never lived south of the Peak District when in the UK; the north of Scotland, yes, but the West Country was new territory for me.

2011, following the completion of my apprenticeship into academia by becoming Dr Rumble, was a tough year for me, as I was once again starting over, but this time ‘austerity’ had taken a firm grip on squeezing the hopes, dreams and opportunities of those living in the UK. After much effort, I secured some very short-term academic research work and some zero-hours work for a year crewing for the Bristol Ferry Boat Company, which all helped pay the rent whilst writing my first academic book and settling into Bristol city life.

Aboard Emily, one of the ferries I regularly crewed upon in 2011, whilst working for the Bristol Ferry Boat Company. Not quite an ocean crossing, but much better than nothing!

Working as crew with the ‘ferry family’ was great fun and a lovely way to get to know a city and some of it’s ‘characters’ and sights, but it provided a lousy and unpredictable income at the time, which didn’t help me to feel settled in my new home. Nevertheless, it did present me with my first opportunity to sail aboard a very special boat, The Matthew of Bristol, from Fowey in Cornwall to Ramsgate in Kent. This was to be my first taste of coastal sailing in the UK and only served to galvanise my dream to get a few RYA sailing tickets during my life so I could enjoy more time at sea. At the time, The Matthew was hired out to be transformed into the Dawn Treader for the Narnia film, hence why we were sailing her to Ramsgate; it provided much needed funds to cover her maintenance and expenses.

The Matthew is a replica of the Tudor merchant ship that John Cabot sailed from Bristol in 1497 taking 54 days to make the crossing to Newfoundland across the Atlantic. Cabot was searching for a sailing route to Asia but ended up ‘discovering’ Newfoundland instead. The modern replica that you see in Bristol harbour today and that I had the pleasure of sailing aboard, was built to celebrate and recreate the 500th Anniversary of the voyage in 1997. The ship completed the task and returned triumphantly in 1998 (the same year I left home to venture to Malaysia). She remains a working ship and is available for private and corporate hire and can be visited when moored up in Bristol’s historic floating harbour.

When I sailed her to be delivered to Ramsgate for her transformation into the Dawn Treader, it was March 2011. It took us 4.5 days to sail there, including 24 hours in Gosport’s Haslar marina due to poor weather. The trip was roughly 300 nautical miles with an average of 5-6 knots; we were not sailing fast! I joined a motley crew as a deck-hand with absolutely no experience of traditional boats and barely any sailing knowledge, but a whole lot of enthusiasm to muck in and make the most of the journey. Our Skipper was Rob Salvidge, himself a former Clipper circumnavigator, the larger-than-life Sasha Hall as First Mate and a very taciturn ‘galley slave’ called Dave, who was a force to be reckoned with! Conditions were cold, damp and smelly, but we had a lot of laughs and I got to fire a cannon in the Channel, which gets a mention in the ship’s log.

An unconventional log book entry.
An unconventional crew.
But a very, very traditional sailing ship! This photo captures me feeling very, very cold, but relishing my precious time offshore aboard The Matthew; one of my treasured memories.
Somewhere in the Channel at sun rise. I loved how the sun’s rays made the deck work glow orange; a sight to behold!
Damp, smelly conditions down below, but still a LOT more comfortable, drier and roomier than what I’ll experience aboard Punta del Este in the Clipper RTW yacht race!
The Matthew arriving into Gosport/Portsmouth in 2011. She felt very out of place moored up alongside power boats and super yachts, but I love The Matthew and smile whenever I see her back home in Bristol Harbour.

Once back ashore and between writing job applications in Bristol, I wondered into a ‘charity shop’ on Gloucester Road and found an unused, but old edition, of an RYA logbook. I promptly bought it and took it as a sign that I must make it back to sea in my lifetime. Seven years later, to the very month (!) that very same log book received its first official entry from my Level 1 training Skipper, Emily Caruso, for 110 nautical miles sailed over seven days aboard CV2, a former Clipper 68 racing yacht, on the Solent. I was beaming. I was FINALLY realising a long held dream. My return to Gosport’s marina wasn’t only about sail/race training for the Clipper RTW yacht race, it was also very nostalgic and emotional, as I recalled how my life had changed course since I first sailed into Gosport seven year’s previously aboard The Matthew. Life moves in unseen loosely-drawn circles at times and I am full of gratitude for that.

The Clipper 68 training fleet moored at Gosport marina.