The good news is that we found the carrots! As well as a few other vegetables that had been put in “safe” places until the smell told us where they were.
We seemed to have been last or next to last for quite a bit of the start of the race – we didn’t actually know as the boat lost all communications for about four or five days. No emails in or out, including weather reports and scheduling which should happen every six hours to let us know where we are in comparison to everyone else.
Once we had left the Brest Lighthouse behind – eventually – we set off across the notorious Bay Of Biscay. Not a bit of it – it was as calm as calm could be. The spinnakers were flying regularly – when we launched one Tony’s toothbrush fell out. Not quite sure how that happened! When it came down, it ate Kat’s glasses. That was a bigger problem – she is my watch leader and I can’t have someone in charge not being able to see which way we are going. Can’t blame that on the instruments showing us as going backwards – something else that is not quite working correctly. Perhaps that is why we are last!!
We then had a couple of hundred dolphins jumping and swimming with us for a good half an hour. Fantastic! We got a sat phone call from Race Office that Sleepless in Seattle (Visit Seattle) had a tethered man overboard, who was recovered uninjured thankfully. We also now have Mission Impossible (Mission Performance) and the Telly Tubbies (Telemed). I am sure we will think of more!
The next night shift was pay back for all the good weather and seas we had been experiencing. All of a sudden the winds increased to 40 knots. The spinnaker had to come down very quickly, and a couple of reefs had to be put into the main sail. The rope that holds the reef lines in place on the boom had snapped, and all the reefs were bunched up, so we couldn’t do what was required to depower the boat. With tough winds and waves, Sam had to lean over the side with a boat hook, tethered on and held in place by three others. At this time I was sitting on the high side taking no part in this – I would have been more of a hindrance. It took ages, but he managed to do it. What a star!
We put the reefs in, and everything got far less scary. Until a wave washed over the whole of the ship. Everyone was tethered on. When that happens in the dark it is difficult to see everyone on the deck, so we have to do a count. We all have a number, and have to shout it out in order. I am number eleven, and thankfully one to ten were present! I think even Wendy found that a tough shift, and said as she went down that she hoped the rest of the fleet was safe.
This was unfortunately not the case. One of the watch leaders on Ichor Coal had an accident that was fatal. The first fatality in the history of the race, and a bizarre accident. This had a huge moral issue on our boat, as a few of the crew had sailed with him. It was very sombre for a while, until we heard that once Ichor Coal had put into Porto they were going to continue the race in Andrew’s honour.
Because we were not getting weather reports, it was very difficult to know which way to go. We had to stay out of TSS’S (Traffic Separation Scheme) otherwise we would incur a minimum of a six hour penalty. Just before I was due to come up for watch the boat heeled over massively and there was a call for all hands on deck. The two other boats in our visual range had made a late change to go the other side of a TSS, and without a weather report to make our own decision Wendy decided to follow their lead.
That meant we had to go on a very precise heading to miss the corner, and everyone had to sit on the high side to get the boat down to help the boat keep on course. Everyone was up with pants and pyjamas on – except me. It had to be done so quickly, and the boat was at such an angle that I just couldn’t get there in time. I decided to jump into one of the lower bunks on the high side to help, but couldn’t even get into that. We missed the TSS by 400 yards, and everyone cheered. I had a few tears below deck feeling pretty useless. My first low point.
We then started to get sporadic emails in, and one said that we had made it up to sixth. That lifted everyone’s spirits. That night we saw a dolphin swim backwards and forwards past the boat underwater, and it was lit up by phosphorescence. It was like seeing the dolphin swim past, and then leave a smoky trail behind him. Magical. The moon and the stars out here are so vivid – it is beautiful.
We had moved onto a new chart now – 4100 or so miles to go. Tenerife is on the new chart – and Wendy has marked Tony’s house where he lives. He has invited us all for a barbeque at his house when the race has finished. At this point we were 260 miles off Rabat and 240 from Madeira.
Our bad luck didn’t stop there though. When Pops went past the mast to go to the loo he noticed there was a “bit of movement”. Basically, something that holds the mast in place had dropped off. Wendy had contacted Race Office, and it seems that we would have to put in to port to get it fixed. Not so! Pops, Tony and David (70, 67 and 65 and aptly now called Dad’s Army) set to task with the few tools that we have on board and fixed it. A bit like Apollo 13, I feel! Amazing what a carpenter, a foundry man and a chartered engineer can do on a sailing boat!
We are having to share bunks, as most nights everyone on the off watch has to sleep on the high side. Lara asked me to feel her bunk one night, because she thought it was wet. Not wet I informed her – sweat from the last person that slept in it. Gross! Then I found that it was the same in mine – on my lovely 400 thread Egyptian Cotton sheet to boot!
The personalities are certainly coming to the fore on the boat now – I feel that I may have a lot of grin and bear it to do. Not an issue at the moment – I will let other people let off their steam first! If anyone heard my presentation on the race – I have one of each of those people on the boat with me!!
We have just logged over 2,000 miles, and have just had the news that we are now fourth. The biggest cheer went up when we heard. If we can get fourth with all the catastrophes that have happened to us in the last few days, what can we do when everything goes well???