A week of ‘should have beens’

Firstly, I want to announce the winner of my quiz. The lucky winner gained a score of 22/30 and will receive a book about the maritime origins of everyday expressions, which is currently wending it’s way to them on the Isle of Wight. Congratulations Lenka!

In many ways it feels very apt that Lenka should win the quiz as I went to visit her on the Isle of Wight straight from my initial Clipper application interview in Gosport in September 2017. We sat up till very late drinking too much wine and binge watching previous editions of the race on DVD, because Lenka also shares my passion for boats and the sea, having been a member of Ocean Youth Club (as it was called) back in the day. We were both enthralled by the exhilarating footage of huge seas and exposure to storms at night. Lenka mused that were she not a mum, then she too would like to sign up to the race, but then both agreed she is blessed to share her life with her special daughter. So happy reading Lenka and thank you to all of you who took the trouble to submit your quiz answers.

This week has been an especially difficult one emotionally for me as every day of my diary has had an entry for a Clipper race-related commitment at Seattle’s Bell Harbour marina; be it a refresher sail, crew registration, onboard crew brief with my team mates and Skipper and today…Well today, I would have hugged my husband for the last time from the pontoon that Punta del Este was moored to and stepped aboard at 11am in order to be ready for slipping the mooring lines for a ceremony at noon and parade of sail. This is a marker at the start of each race, which I have avidly watched via Facebook live for all the previous legs. Dave and I were going to take off our wedding rings and replace them with symbolic silicone ones (so that I reduced my chances of a nasty injury whilst using the winches over the coming months!). He’d also written me a song in honour of this moment called ‘Sailing Free’. So today, instead of stepping aboard Punta del Este and separating for 3.5 months in Seattle, we are very much together reflecting on a few ‘should have beens’ at home. We decided to mark this day by Dave performing his song on camera. I hope you enjoy the song (it has a catchy chorus to sing-a-long with).

My husband performing this song he’d written to mark the eve of my part in the Clipper race 2019-20. Performed at home in Bristol, England, on the day and hour we were meant to be saying our last goodbye to each other on a pontoon in Seattle before I embarked Punta del Este for Legs 7 & 8 of the race.

Even if I can’t physically be on the ocean tonight, I shall be imaginatively transported there. It’s canny timing (again) that at 6pm GMT tonight, Sarah Outen is giving a free online talk about her experience of 500 days alone ocean rowing. Given that Sarah’s books about her cycling, kayaking and rowing adventures inspired me to re-apply to Clipper in 2017, I can’t help but think it is very apt she’s giving this lecture tonight; marking what would have been my first night on the Pacific ocean aboard Punta del Este. So if you’d like to hear her talk too, then you can watch it here.

Tomorrow is a new day and also a new chapter in the Changing Tack adventure story. Until the close of today I have been living my life in lockdown in full knowledge of many ‘should haves’, but as of tomorrow, there are none. My diary is empty for the rest of 2020, because I was to be offshore. Off air. Beyond reach. Jumping off into a huge unknown, trusting that it would all be OK and things would work out one way or another. I had no plans beyond returning from the race safe and sound in around 60 days time into the embrace of my husband. So it’ll be quite a relief tomorrow to finally wake up to a new chapter where my life at home under lockdown finally matches what the experience of crewing in the race would have demanded; to just try to go with the flow in the face of great unknowns, make the most of each moment for what it is or brings and know that there will be great challenges ahead, but also beautiful moments too. I think that’s what life in lockdown asks of us all too.

If you’ve been reading my blog, thank you for being part of the journey and contributing to the story as it unfolded. Remember that whatever circumstances you find yourself in right now, an adventure awaits. Take care. Stay safe. Be strong.

I received this beautiful pin badge through the post yesterday from a good friend and work colleague who wanted to remind me that although “the world and their plans have been utterly turned on their head, I’m sending you this to remind you that good times are ahead…It’s a reminder that the world will continue after this pandemic and who knows where you’ll be and what you will do. Life is for living.”

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)

The race of our lives has officially begun

Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I saw the start of a yacht race and no ordinary race either, but the Clipper 2019/20 RTW yacht race with my crew mates aboard Punta del Este vying with 10 other identical Clipper 70 yachts at 10am on the start line just off Southend pier in Essex. I feel like I have just waved off my children, wondering if and when I’ll see them again! I didn’t sleep a wink last night for thinking about how they were doing, what they’d likely be doing on board and how everyone must be feeling after a momentous weekend in the public eye and much hand shaking and flag waving. The last 4 days have been a blur of speeches, blessings, hugs, flag waving, greetings, drinks receptions and heightened emotions. I have not done much sleeping nor eating of hearty meals if truth be told.

I am now adding the Clipper race viewer to an already growing list of things that help me procrastinate with academic work on a daily basis. I have been rather glued to it waiting to see who will strike out from the fleet and lead on over the horizon towards the finish line of Race 1 off Portimao in Portugal in about a week’s time. I love the significance of the publication date for the first Crew Diary entry and Skipper’s daily report from the boat – both being my birthday – so I hope that’s an auspicious start to the race for Punta del Este!

But before these were both posted from the boat on the 3rd September, St. Katherine’s Dock and Southend Pier had seen a lot of frenzied activity, media crews and displays of strong emotions, which for me, began with our yacht’s naming ceremony on Friday 30th August.

Race Start officially kicked off with our racing yacht being named at 6pm on Friday 30th August in St Katherine’s Dock by the Commodore of Punta del Este yacht club (far right) and Sir Robin Knox-Johnston (middle) with one of our team member’s, Fernando, from Uruguay.

The crew who are on Leg 1 and the circumnavigators (of which our team has only 8 out of a crew of 69) were joined by other Punta del Este leggers, such as myself and Sue (pictured below). We cheered on our crew with much chanting of “Vamos! Punta del Este” and waving of anything matching our team/boat colour, as well as the pennant for Punta del Este yacht club (our team’s boat sponsor). Our cheering and chanting could be heard from St. Katherine’s Dock all the way down the Thames estuary to Southend Pier.

Family and friends turned out to see Punta del Este slip her lines and motor down the Thames in the 11-strong fleet, accompanied by media in helicopters and accompanying vessels of all sizes on the Thames. The atmosphere was electric and I was quite emotional at the thought that the next time I am on the Thames hearing “Vamos! Punta del Este” I will have just sailed in the Pacific and across the Atlantic and be coming home myself after 3.5 months on board; that’s in just under a year from now – a few weeks before my next birthday.

A lovely surprise for my family and friends who had turned up to share in this momentous day was seeing the iconic Tower Bridge opening up to allow the fleet of Clipper 70s to pass down the Thames.

Team Punta del Este was leading the fleet down the Thames since Punta del Este is the destination all the yachts are sailing to marking the official end of Leg 1. Their estimated arrival window is the 14-16th October 2019.

I was joined for the Parade of Sail by some family and friends and they all did me and the team proud by sporting (unofficial) Punta del Este team t-shirts (despite all declaring that yellow “wasn’t their colour”!) and the two youngest supporters in our gang had even been practicing the Spanish lyrics to our team song the night before! I was so proud of them.

A close friend and her daughter looking fabulous in yellow.
My kind-hearted mother-in-law and my number 1 junior crew supporter.
I think yellow rather suits my dad.
My number one supporter! My husband, Dave.
Capturing our Race Skipper’s ambition (aside from winning of course)!
I hadn’t got the heart to tel her they were upside down!
Skipper with fellow Spanish crew and the Commodore of Punta del Este yacht club, just before slipping the lines from St. Katherine’s Dock
Marking the start of our parade onto the stage as a team to wave off friends and family.
Punta del Este crew, well,some of us anyway.
Captures our hopes!
All I kept thinking as I observed my team from the spectator boat was “I wonder how they must be feeling and what they’re thinking?”

All the spectator boats left the fleet at the Thames barrier where they continued to motor down river and we turned back towards Tower Bridge. The following day I was up very early to make my way to Essex from Fenchurch Street train station to catch the fleet begin their 40,000 nautical mile circumnavigation from Southend Pier. Three canons were fired to mark the official race start at 10am (GMT) on Monday 1st September. I watched the fleet jostle with each other to claim an advantageous start line position and then wrestle with their spinnaker hoists before sailing off into the horizon. I had very mixed emotions about not being aboard with my crew mates at this stage of the race, but as I walked back up the pier I thought, race aside, I just hope all the yachts and crew return safe and well in mind and body. We are all amateur crews, so it’s remarkable really that we’re even living this opportunity to race around the world under sail. I am privileged to be a part of it.

Given my inexperience of sailing, let alone racing, I do find these yachts a little too close for comfort.
They crossed the start line in the lead too!
Getting those spinnakers up in close quarters!
It looks like Punta del Este have Korea hot on their heels…or should that be stern? 😉
Heading out of the Thames Estuary towards the English Channel, with spinnakers flying.
The last photo I took of the fleet before turning my back and walking towards Southend’s shore. I will not see Punta del Este again until I fly to Seattle in late-April 2020. At this point I’m not sure how I feel about that.

So, the race of our lives has officially begun and for the next 7.5 months I will be vicariously living it with my crew via the Race Viewer and reading the daily Crew Diary posted from the yacht and the daily Skipper’s Report. As they say in sailing circles; “fair winds and following seas”.

You can watch the Clipper live stream of the race start below. Punta del Este appear about 16 minutes 24 seconds in.

…And as I publish this post I am pleased to say Punta del Este have climbed up the leader board into 4th place!

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):