onboard
Just as we were about to start the Ocean Sprint for this leg, the wind picked up.  One would think that was a good thing.  No.  Just the opposite. We had been trucking along quite nicely with the spinnaker up, when the seas got progressively choppier and the wind a little stronger.  Every other wave that hit the boat collapsed the spinnaker, and everyone held their breath to make sure that it came out and didn’t wrap.  Until the last time.  The spinnaker got wrapped around the forestay, and the call came from the back to drop it.  It was an “all hands on deck” moment – luckily coming at just before shift changeover, so most people were almost ready to go on deck.
allhands

The wind was becoming fierce some, and it took the strength of several strong men to even hold the sail from being completely blown away in the water.  It looked a bit like a one sided tug of war, with several people holding on to the sheet of the spinnaker to keep it on board the boat.
tug
It was a no win situation – the sail had partially gone in the water and was being dragged alongside the boat, making it virtually impossible to pull in.  We managed to put the sheet on a winch, and very slowly started to grind it in inch by inch.  It took some time, but it did eventually come in, and with several people bear hugging it on the cuddy and others shoving it downstairs to stop the wind inflating it again, we got it down the companionway successfully.  How there wasn’t a man, or several men, overboard in all the carnage trying to get the sail in I will never know. With all that wrapping and dragging, we all thought there was bound to be damage.  Several thought they saw a tear, so the job was then to go over the sail to inspect it.  No one could find any damage – seemed like a miracle!  It was woolled and put away, but meant that we started the Ocean Sprint with slower white sails instead of the faster spinnaker.

That was the end of the first night shift.  We came up for the beginning of the second night shift of the night, and the wind decided to pick up once again.  We were all of a sudden experiencing winds of over 40 knots per hour, with gusts of over 60.  The yankee had to come down.  Everyone had to go forward to grab the sail as it came down – I was on the sheet in the pit.  Thankfully, I don’t do beyond the mast!  It was the job from hell.
With that amount of wind powering up the sail, it really did not want to come down.  Wendo was at the foot – the hardest part to get in and over the guard rail.  There was a line of people all sitting and trying their hardest to pull the sail as it descended, without it going in the water. That would make it doubly hard to get in.   They battled with the sail, and at one point there was so much pressure on the guard rail it snapped. Everyone was tethered on, so if anyone was washed over the side they could only go so far.  Even so, nobody wants to go over tether or no tether.

At this point I am going to mention Kirsty.  This is her third leg, and she has slowly but surely become more confident and capable.  She has become a huge asset to our watch, both in her actions and her attitude.  On this particular evening, she earned the nick name of “Mighty Mouse”.  She punched far above her weight in pulling in that sail, at one end and then the other.  And in the midst of all that managed to grab hold of the back of Wendo’s life jacket when Kirsty thought she was leaning over the non existent guard rail at one point.  A well deserved nick name, and one that I think she will keep.
mighty
The unfortunate part is that she will be leaving us in Qingdao, and we will lose another valuable member of the Danangers.  The fortunate side is that she is rejoining for Leg Eight.

The culmination of all that wind and no sails meant that the speeds for the Ocean Sprint were not as good as some of the boats that had gone before us.  We are at present sitting in third position for the sprint, but as there are only points for the winner it is slightly irrelevant.  One day!

swell
We seem to have found the large Southern Ocean swells that never were in the South China Sea though.  David has that glint in his eye as he helms and surfs down a huge wave, taking our speeds to nearly thirty knots. Everyone has set new personal bests in the last day or so – we even managed to get about 23 knots with only a stay sail up and a reef in the main sail. Crazy – it looks as if we could still potentially arrive early in Danang even with the extra 1200 miles added on.  But we have been told that no one will go in before the 17th, so no point getting our hopes up!

After my last rather emotive blog, I have received a huge number of messages of support that Paul has passed on.  I am overwhelmed.  You have no idea how much strength that has given me.  Especially Chewie telling me to “Let it go” and “Man up”.  That brought a smile to my face – I could see him standing there telling me off!

It is hard – I knew it was going to be hard before I even signed up for the race.  Some days are easier than others – you don’t have to be on a boat to experience that.  Those that know me will realise that I have a certain determination combined with a stubbornness that I hope will be enough to see me through this.  I am sure it is not the last low point that I will encounter, and it is thinking of all the friends and family back home that are willing me on that gives me an extra bit of oompf.

The former crew that have sent such lovely messages make me think that I am not a liability – although they are the ones that have supported me throughout when I was a liability! I suppose being a liability is perception.  Some will think I am not, whilst others will only see the clumsy way I move around the boat and the limited help I can give on deck.   The easy way would be to get on a plane and fly home, but then I would have to live with the fact that I had given up.  That will not be pleasant to live with – probably far harder than gritting my teeth and continuing to live with twenty people in the proximity of a garden shed.

Hopefully my patience will last, and I will come out of this with another string to my bow – delivering tact and diplomacy.  (Anyone that works for me will now be rolling around the floor with laughter.)
laugh

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A huge thank you to everyone who took the time to send Bridget a comment, on this blog and on facebook. It did the trick!
Paul

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