I may have mentioned this before but I think it’s worth mentioning again: on every leg of this race, for the past year, the only thing that I can expect is that my expectations of what the leg will be like will be confounded. So far Leg 8 has borne this out. My expectation of the North Atlantic is of big waves (a la Perfect Storm),
cold cold temperatures and icebergs (a la Titanic) and grey seas and sky (a la normal weather in my home town of London).

The first few days has certainly had the grey, which has made me feel very at home – and homesick for getting back to London. The big waves and biting cold have thankfully not materialised however. I am particularly grateful about the temperature; since the Pacific I would be most happy never ever to experience that level of biting and prolonged cold again (especially when accompanied by wet everything in a situation where I can’t get off, or press pause and get in a hot shower). Instead, the Gulf Stream has pushed us out into the Atlantic on a stream of warm water which, most happily, has also given us a couple of knots of extra speed with the following current. There is no bite to the wind and when the waves come over the rail it’s like being doused in a lukewarm shower rather than an icy bath. The sailing is also really enjoyable – occasionally a little challenging as the winds pick up to gust around 40-50 knots. But the first few days have been all downwind sailing, which has given us a flat boat and fantastic speeds.

The only downside (which is, ironically, also somewhat homesick-making) is the rain. This has possibly been the wettest 5 days we have had on this race, with constant storms, squalls, showers and drizzle. Everything is wet and the water regularly pours through the companionway into the port side wet locker, which has now completely saturated all the clothing hung up to dry there. The conversation about how not waterproof the Henry Lloyd foulies are has surfaced again, and everyone is damp by the time they get off watch. At least it’s not cold. And, finally, today the sun is out and all the wet gear is laid out on deck drying out. We currently look like a laundry.

The downwind, spinnaker sailing has given us one casualty however; Madge, our Code 2 kite, took a dive into the ocean a couple of days ago when we broached after the kite sheet got an override and couldn’t be fed out in time to prevent the sail going in the water. It was All Hands On Deck, and since I was Mother I ended up on the low side rail, pulling the kite out of the water dressed in nothing but my life jacket, a thin pair of leggings, a T-shirt and a pair of flip flops. We got the kite in finally but the head was pretty much ripped off. Wendo has therefore renamed the kite Anne Boleyn, since it was headless. The worst thing was that before we broached we were rapidly overtaking the lead boat, Derry, who were off our port beam and who saw the whole thing (apparently their skipper Dan couldn’t watch and had to go down below!). So far, thankfully, the lack of a Code 2 has not worked too badly against us as conditions have been more in the Code 3 territory. However, David G and Kirsty have worked like Trojans to get the kite mended and have spent the last four days down below, working 12 hour shifts in the damp, airless heat of the galley to get everything sewed back together. This is particularly impressive because Kirsty gets seasick so spends 10% of the time with her head in a sick bag, while David is obviously pining away for the chance to get back on deck and do some actual sailing. We are now waiting for the wind to veer again so we can fly Anne Boleyn and see whether all the repairs have worked.
If not, I hope that Frankie (who is coming out to meet the boat in Derry), will help with some of the repairs. She promised to mend our sails for us only if we got a podium place, so it’s extra incentive to get there ASAP.

I didn’t do much sailing on the first two days on board as I was unofficial Mother for race day, followed by official Mother for Day 1. I chose to do this so that we could do justice to the huge amount of fresh meat (fresh meat on the boat!!!) that was most kindly donated by Bridget and her family from the wonderful crew BBQ that she hosted in New York.
It’s an auspicious start for meals, but I have already warned the crew that the food will only go downhill from here, as we work our way through the dry bags. We have a lot of extra food that we bought for Leg 7, which needs to be eaten before any more can be bought (our budget is limited and we overspent massively in Seattle and Panama), so we will be eating a lot of pasta and rice noodles, freeze dried chicken and dehydrated camping meals. However, I have cheated somewhat on the menu planner and included as many meals as I can from those that I know the crew always like. We will therefore be eating a lot of macaroni cheese, vegetable pasta bake (Wendo’s favourite – or at least one of them!), chilli con carne, baked sweet potatoes with coronation chicken and patatas bravas. I am hoping that our frugality on the Atlantic crossing and on the race from Derry to Den Helder will allow us enough left over to blow our remaining budget for the last two-day race on fresh bread, cheese, pate and other yummy fresh food.

Home and what happens after the race is now the subject of most interest, at least for the RTW’s. All of us have plans for what we are doing once we finish, whether it be new career paths, holiday or new relationships. It’s very difficult not to talk constantly about life after Clipper but I am attempting to keep my mind on the here and now as much as possible. This is partly for the new leggers and rejoiners, for whom this is a big adventure, and who should not have to hear constant talk of what happens when it’s over. It’s also partly because although we have sailed most of the way around the world and have been on the boat for 10 months or so, we are still undertaking an ocean crossing – a feat which should not be underestimated.
The North Atlantic can be treacherous (as Titanic, Perfect Storm etc. can attest to), so it’s up to us to keep our heads in the game and stay focused on the real prize of arriving back in London safe and sound. But, oh, how I want to get home!

Guest Blog by Valerie Saint-Pierre