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16 June 2014 | News
We were very pleased to have the opportunity to offer assistance to Karen as she sailed around the world for her chosen charity (please see the end of this blog article for details). What follows is her report of the race.
Dear Family and Friends
Some time ago I wrote to let you know that I had decided to take part in the Round the World
Clipper Race. I had undertaken 3 levels of training in Gosport the previous Spring in readiness for
my 'maritime adventure'. I have now returned and thought you may be interested in how it went.
I flew out to San Francisco in April and was there to welcome my yacht, PSP Logistics, when it
arrived on 14th April. They were the last boat to arrive but with redress (they had been unable to
leave Qinqdao on time due to engine problems) they were actually placed 10th out of 12 yachts.
Once the yacht arrived there was work to be undertaken. I started by helping with the deep clean
and the following days learned how to repair sails. (Each yacht carries 10 sails.)
On Sat 19th April we did a sail-by to thank our hosts, the San Francisco Yacht club, for their
hospitality. The sail-by was led by us as this race was sponsored by PSP Logistics.
Once under the Golden Gate Bridge we manoeuvred in readiness for the start. The gun went off but
unfortunately we were the last to cross the start line. We quickly recovered and overtook the other
yachts and were soon in first position. However with 21 days of sailing and almost three and half
thousand nautical miles ahead of us anything could happen.
Racing has a lot to do with the choices the navigator makes. Our skipper/navigator decided that we
would take a more coastal route south in the hope of maximising the benefit from the currents and
winds. However this proved to be the wrong decision as the wind died on us and we finished the
race in 10th position. (However all was not lost, from my point of view, as the coastal route afforded
us the opportunity to see more wild life than those on yachts that had been further from the land.)
The first few days were a little cold and wet and we wore our foulies (waterproof Salopettes and
smock) but then the weather became pleasantly warm and sunny before turning hot and humid.
Below decks it was oppressively hot as there was no air circulating. (Racing yachts are stripped of
all non-essentials so heating and air conditioning do not exist on-board.)
The boat operates on a watch system. There were two watch teams. Throughout the evening, night
and early morning each watch alternates between 4 hours on deck and four hours off-watch. During
the day there were two 6 hour watches. After two and a half weeks I wrote a crew diary (the
Clipper organisation print one a day from each yacht) and I wrote about my favourite watch – the
3am to 7am. I described how when you first go on deck it is very dark and peaceful (it was for us
as there was not a lot of wind). The night sky was amazing as it was so clear and so vast. We could
see so many stars and the Milky Way and I wished I knew more about the various constellations.
We would look for shooting stars which we often spotted. The only light apart from the stars and
moon was the spinnaker (sail) which reflected the mast light. It appeared as a great white billowing
sheet cut across by the black shadows of the rigging. We were joined by squid and flying fish who
launched themselves at us often to be found dead some time later on the deck. We think they were
attracted by the light on the white sail. Some nights we became aware of a 'poofing' noise and it
was dolphins who were swimming alongside out yacht.
An amazing phenomenon that I had not been aware of is marine phosphorescence. It looks like
dancing disco lights that bounce across the bow waves and in the wake left by the boat. It is caused
by phytoplankton and other microscopic organisms as well as jelly fish which emit light in the same
way as glow worms do. It is beautiful and fascinating but unfortunately none of us had cameras that
were able to capture it. As the time passed someone would spot the sun and, on this watch, we
witnessed stunning sunrises.
During our journey south we also saw large numbers of turtles who were migrating north.
Apparently they swim thousands of miles to return to the very beach upon which they had hatched.
After two weeks of 'champagne sailing' the wind became stronger and changed direction. We went
onto 'squall watch' as the wind around a squall can be unpredictable and sails may need to be
The photograph shows the cloud formation of a squall with its associated rain.
The spinnakers were replaced with the white sails and I had to learn to adjust to life at 45 degrees.
This was difficult on deck as trying to get your balance at this acute angle while undertaking sail
changes, using the large coffee grinder winches or operating the other winches was hard. However
the difficulties of coping below deck were even more apparent. Moving around the boat while it
lists at 45 degrees is extremely difficult. Going to the 'heads' (toilets) when you have to brace
yourself with one leg against the wall and then trying to wedge yourself between the toilet and the
wall so you can pump (flush) the loo is so hard. After a few days of such sailing my shoulders were
severely bruised from bouncing off walls or slamming into protruding objects.
On Saturday 10th May we arrived in Panama. We arrived at night during a storm with thunder,
lightening and heavy rain. We were like drowned rats. Close by was a cruise ship and I thought of
the passengers eating, drinking and watching us – and to think we had paid more for our passage!
We worked on the deck fish-tailing the main sail and putting on the PSP cover. We then
disembarked after 21 days at sea.
We had 2 days rest in Panama, a much appreciated break, before commencing our journey through
the Panama canal. It is the centenary of the Panama canal. They are currently building a second
canal which is due to be operational in 2015.
We had to slip lines early in the morning and were joined some time later by our pilot. The clipper
yachts were to go through three at a time and were tied together to stop them drifting.
We shared out passage with an Argentinian Tall Ship.
We left the Pacific ocean and the first lock raised us to a much higher level – the level of the river
that had been flooded to provide the 51 mile water-crossing to the Atlantic ocean with a holding
lake. As we motored through the waterway with the tall ship following a rainbow appeared.
Sometimes boats are 'held' in this area for hours or days and we were advised if that happened to us
not to be tempted to sail as the waters are inhabited by crocodiles!
After motoring across the Panama waterway we entered a second lock, the water level was lowered
and we emerged into the Atlantic. We spent one night in Colon and then motored 25 miles north for
the start of our next race on 14th May.
This second race, which would end in Jamaica , was just under 600 miles. This time we had a Le
Mans start. All yachts start with their main sail up and the crew standing in the rear. Once the
starting gun fires everyone rushes to their place to get the other sails up as quickly as possible.
Meanwhile the helmsman watches the other boats and tries to manoeuvre into a superior position.
Photo of Chris our skipper taking the helm at the start of the second race on leg 7.
Three days later we arrived in Port Antonio in Jamaica. We came 6th in this race so there was much
jubilation on board.
We were made most welcome by the Jamaican Tourist Board. The Round the World Clipper Race
has docked here before and the crew from the 12 yachts bring much needed US dollars to the town.
We were given complimentary rum punches on the afternoon of our second day and the Tourist
Board hosted our crew party.
We had a well-earned week's rest in Jamaica. For those who had started their round the world
journey on September 1st 2013 in London it was only their second long break, their previous one
being in Australia over Xmas.
On Saturday 24th May we left Jamaica. Our final race to New York was 1500 nautical miles. The
weather when we departed was overcast but we had unfortunately arrived during the rainy season!
In honour of our hosts, we did a sail-by before moving to the start line for our final race.
We sailed north up the windward passage with Cuba on our port side and Haiti to starboard. The
passage lived up to its name and we were once again using our white sails and sailing at 45 degrees.
We continued up into the Bermuda Triangle but all 12 yachts came out unscathed!
The beautiful sunsets ...
… and sunrises continue to enthral me.
We continued north and had the benefit of the Gulf stream which was also going north.
Unfortunately the wind was coming from the north so we continued beating up wind, bouncing
from one wave to the next. It was exhilarating on deck as long as we were not required to do too
many sail changes!
On my night watch on Sunday 1st June (the date we should have all arrived in New York) we faced
our most severe weather. We sailed through gale force 9 winds with gusts of up to 43 mph. Those
on the bow would have been carried off to sea had they not been fastened on. Knowing my lack of
strength, sailing ability and poor balance in these conditions I remained in the snake pit and even
there found it difficult to stand upright. Later that day, when the weather had calmed down, a large
pod of dolphins swam determinedly towards our yacht and entertained us for quarter of an hour
swimming under the keel and re-emerging on the other side of the boat.
We crossed the finishing line on 2nd June and came in 7th. We were pleased with the result.
Monday 2nd June – our first view of New York...
...and further up the Hudson River
We arrived to what felt like a heroes welcome. There were a number of relatives and friends who
had come out to New York to meet us. My friend Maggie was among them. We drank champagne
(thanks to Helen's family) and we leggers, who were leaving the yacht forever, congratulated
ourselves on completing our leg!
After three days in New York I returned home. Anna, my daughter, had invited me round for a
meal. When I arrived there was a surprise family party which she and Bob had arranged. My
family had come 300 miles from Newcastle to High Wycombe to welcome me back. My two sons
were also there and my three grandchildren. It was totally unexpected. Anna had bought a dozen
champagne glassed and had them engraved with the following message ' Congratulations Karen.
Clipper Race 13-14. PSP Logistics' and her friend Emma had made a cake in honour of the yacht
upon which I had sailed.
So that was the end of my maritime adventure. Would I do it again? No but I'm glad I did it once.
Finally I would like to thank everyone who contributed to the 'Chottu fund'.
When I worked in Kochi, southern India as a volunteer English teacher I met Spiwitha, a teacher,
who was pregnant. Her son, Chottu was born in September 2012 and is severely disabled. Together
your contributions, those of the sponsors below and with money donated by Nicky, Gemma and
Andrew (fellow crew members from PSP) you have raised £2,000 which is 200,000 rupees.
If anyone was considering making a donation but were wise enough to see if I really did go on the
'challenge of a lifetime' (to quote Sir Robin Knox-Johnson) before making a payment the dedicated
account is still open. The details are available on request.
Thank you for the support from the following sponsors:-
Sweaty Betty – supplied bamboo base layers for all female crew on PSP Logistics
shoesinternational.co.uk – provided me with complimentary Sebago deck shoes + made a contribution to the Chottu fund
MRIB Independent Insurance Brokers - made a contribution to the Chottu fund
Classic and Contemporary Bathrooms Ltd – made a contribution to the Chottu fund
Paul Kingham Residential Lettings (High Wycombe) – made a contribution to the Chottu fund
Archipelago Health Care www.archipelago-health.com – made a contribution to the Chottu fund
Posted by Mike Small.