Well, having sailed around the whole of the Ice Box to balmy weather, we have finally started heading North in a serious way, and the dank, grey, cold of a typical British Summer has finally materialised. The seas and skies are grey and the cold damp is that type which seeps slowly into your bones and stays there. It’s certainly not as cold as the Pacific in terms of temperature, but it seems that however many layers you put on (and I can put on a LOT of layers!) they are never enough to stop you feeling chilled through by the end of the watch. Apart my foulies, my current clothing choice includes 5 layers on my legs, 2 pairs of socks (plus plastic bags), 6 layers on my top, 2 pairs of gloves (plus plastic gloves), and 2 layers of hats/buffs.
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I am back to a 30 minute clothing routine every time we go on watch, which means I actually have to get up as soon as someone wakes me up (rather than having an extra 10 minutes in my bunk) in order to get up on deck on time. A very unwelcome change from 5 minutes T-shirt and shorts through most of Leg 7. I suppose one benefit though is that you get fewer bruises up on deck – lots more padding!

It’s particularly annoying since only the girls on the boat seem affected. Clothing-wise, Craig and David G are having a Tough-Man-off about who can hold off adding layers the longest, and both only started wearing their boots on the 2.00-6.00am watch last night. Previously they had both been wearing their Keens sandals. I think that Craig is currently slightly ahead in the game (much to my surprise, given the legendary toughness of the Tassies) – he was only wearing a pair of shorts under his foulies last night, while David actually cracked and dug out his leggings. Nutters, both of them.
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Stuart and Hugh are also contenders for clothing Tough-Men. Stuart because he’s Scottish so damp and cold is therefore his natural habitat and Hugh because, well, he’s Hugh and doesn’t seem to bother with things like thermal layers. Or shoes. I have finally made him put on a pair of sailing boots someone left on the boat, rather than watch him run around in the biting cold with bare feet (I kid you not). Next off is getting him to wear socks. I really don’t fancy having to deal with frostbite of the toes. I have been explaining the concept of Northern Hemisphere cold to him since we started, but I think he has now finally started to have some concept of how chilly it can be.

Apart from the cold, we are enjoying excellent speeds and almost all downwind sailing. We have had a kite up as much as possible, and only take it down when the sea state is unsettled enough that there are not enough helmers to steer properly. We have definitely been pushing our sails more this leg than ever before. This is mostly a good thing as our speeds are better and we are eating up the miles beautifully quickly.

Occasionally however, as is always the case when you push your limits, you come a cropper. Sadly, the latest incident involved Anne Boleyn yet again, and a truly impressive spinnaker wrap. Again I was on Mother (maybe me mothering is putting a jinx on our Code 2? Note to self; stay out of the galley when we are flying spinnakers!), this time with Marc. We were both woken up around 1.00am by a call for All Hands on Deck and I threw on my boots and lifejacket and ran upstairs in my T-shirt and base layer leggings to find the kite half in and half out of the water, with the hallyard stuck and the tack and sheets wrapped 4 times (4 times – impressive work!) around the outer forestay. Since all corners of the kite were still attached to the boat, the kite acted as a sort of cup in the water, which made pulling the thing out of the drink extremely hard work. Eventually we managed to get enough up on deck to stop the dragging, so I went up on the bow to help unwrap the tack. I ended up sat out on the prodder with the boat bouncing up and down on the waves at 10 knots, freezing water going up my back, down my pants and into my boots.
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Then unclipping and unwinding the tack line from around various protruberances and trying to figure out which sheet was which, and how they were attached to which bits of the boat. Quite a puzzle. But lots of fun. And once I was down below again and had dried off and changed my clothes I slept like a baby –
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for all of another 2 hours until I was woken up to start prepping breakfast.

Kudos to Kirsty, who now has intimate knowledge of all of Anne Boleyn’s seams and stitching. She has spent yet another 24 hours down below patching up the poor kite, which now resembles a large jigsaw puzzle. We have to hope that our Code 2 incidences don’t come in threes – I’m not sure Kirsty should have to put herself through yet another mammoth repairing session!

One of the downsides of getting such good speeds across the Atlantic is that we are due to be in Derry much sooner than anticipated – several days in fact. Unsurprisingly, Derry doesn’t really want us there so early as it doesn’t fit into their plans for their big maritime festival. So we had an email this morning from Justin Taylor in the Race Office to tell us that the race was being extended to do a loop around Rockall, and possibly even St Kilda, before arriving in Derry on 6th July.
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This is extremely annoying, especially since Clipper promised faithfully after the South China Sea extension (where we spent an extra week doing pointless loops between the Philippines and Vietnam in order to arrive in Da Nang on the day they wanted, rather than racing and arriving when we could) that this would not happen again. I understand why they have done it, and I guess for the leggers it’s a nice extra bit of sailing. But I am more than ready to be back on land again so every extra delay is unbelievably frustrating. And, even worse, the loop we will be doing goes North from Northern Ireland and then back again – a route we will then be retracing as we do the next race around the top of Scotland.

As you may gather, my mental state is more and more focussed on Life After Clipper, and finishing the race. I am still trying to keep my head space in the here and now but I am tired, bone tired, utterly bored of the same menus (especially freeze-dried meat) and feel that I have achieved everything I set out to do with this experience.
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I will of course, no question, finish the race as I want to complete my circumnavigation. But all my focus now is on the next steps in my life after I return home, so adding even a few extra days is unhelpful mentally. I see many of the other RTWs in the same place. Instead of talking about what the Derry to Den Helder race may be like (let alone the last Channel crossing from Holland), we are all talking about what we will do once it’s over

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– what we want to see in the stopovers of Derry, Den Helder and London, and what we think we have learned during the year. There is a lot of introspection and stock taking. But we have to finish first. That’s the rub. A lot of conversations about sailing conditions and strategy end in the words ‘2 more weeks’. 2 more weeks of sailing, and then it’s over.

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Guest Blog by Valerie Saint-Pierre

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