The Caribbean. There something about just the name that inspires fantasies and daydreams. Pirates. Treasure. Palm trees and white beaches. Rum cocktails in tall, cold glasses. Daniel Craig coming out of the water in a tight pair of speedos. (Ahem!)
And here we are, finally. Panama and Costa Rica was exotic but so distant from the home base in the UK. But travel through a few miles of Canal and suddenly we are in the home hemisphere, my local ocean and a completely new kind of exotic and tropical. The weather is still hot and very humid, the seas are a milky, pale blue and conditions are not really much different from other equatorial regions we have sailed through. And yet every time we see a new cay or island there is excited discussion about what it would be like to stop there for a while, what might be buried there and whether we are going to meet Captain Jack Sparrow. Now we just need some suitably heroic Hans Zimmer music coming out of the galley and we are sorted.
And we are racing again. It’s amazing. Suddenly we are not watching everyone else sail away from us and wondering what we are doing wrong. Now that our rudders are clean and in line, and the fishing nets are gone from the prop shaft we are keeping up handily with the big boys, and the conversations revolve around currents and tactics and which is the best course to steer through the Bahamas. Even better, we are going fast and making excellent time. Keep this up and we will be in NY early (another reason for much excitement – we might even beat Bridget there. And she’s flying!). There is something immensely satisfying about doing 10-11 knots with the head sails up, for hours at a time.
Of course there are periods of no wind. Race start was one, where our Le Mans start was delayed by 12 hours while the fleet motored out of a big wind hole off the coast of Panama. Our start was not without incident, as usual. Were all the sail ties off the head sails (as in Qingdao)? Were the yankee sheets properly tied on to the sail ( as in Airlie Beach)? We checked and checked for anything else that could go wrong. What else was there? Oh yes – the halyards. Our stay sail went up beautifully but the yankee halyard got wrapped around the shroud, which meant we had to partially drop the sail before raising it properly. Very gratifyingly however, we still managed to get our head sails up in the same time as the other boats around us, and our position at the upwind end of the race start line meant we had good wind to power ahead at the beginning. Wonderful!
We fell in to another wind hole about 24 hours ago and spent the 3 night watches doing a slow dance with Derry, L Max and GB, each trying to find wind and get a jump start on the others. A lot of time glued to AIS, reading course directions and speed of the competition, and trying to work out whether their sail plans were more effective than ours.
And sail changes. Lots and lots and lots of sail changes. Yankee, stay sail, spinnaker, windseeker. One after other, and back again, with spinnaker sheets changing from lightweight to heavyweight for good measure. I’m pretty sure we had all our toys out of the box over the course of the night, except for the Ginger Ninja. I ended the first night watch with my T-shirt literally soaked through with sweat, hung it up to dry during the 4-hour off watch and it was still soaked when I got up for the second night watch. This sort of constant sail changing is immense fun though, and very rewarding, and is also the reason why we have pint glasses for juice and huge numbers of Snickers bars on board!
Most satisfying again, when the sun came up we had got past LMax and GB and were about 600m away from Derry.
With the sun came a bit more wind but it remained desultory.
James commented that if we had had the correct music and a Richard Attenborough voice over, our sailing could be the subject of a TV show; “Clipper in Nature”.
The voice over might go something like this:
‘And here you have the majestic mating rituals of the Clipper 70s.
Note how the males puff up their spinnakers to their fullest width,
while the female circles around them, flaunting her white head sails coyly.’
You get the drift. It’s up to the audience to decide which boats, of LMax, Derry and GB are the males and which the female …
Currently we are around a mile or so behind Derry, leading GB, Qingdao, PSP and Unicef. LMax is behind us and nowhere in sight. The sun is shining and we are making 10-12 knots of speed, with a cay on our right, tropical beaches beckoning. The only fly in this ointment is the bugs. We seemed to have picked up a crew of mosquitos and other bitey things while going through the passage between Haiti and Cuba, and they are feasting like blood is going out of fashion on absolutely everybody.
The perennial scents of sweat, damp, bilge water, sun screen and aloe vera (with a slight under note of smelly shoes) have been joined by various accents of Deet and antihystamine cream. A heady cocktail indeed.
Who says ocean racing isn’t a glamorous business?
Guest Blog by Valerie Saint-Pierre